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The joy of one….

I’m the first one to admit that I get bored easily. However if I didn’t there would probably be no Velotastic, I’d be doing the same thing I always did and life would be rather dull.

The same goes for my cycling. It would have been so easy just to stick with riding my MTB just like I did in 1986 and not have a crack at road cycling, the track, cross, gravel or numerous other bicycle related disciplines.

One of the things I’ve been wanting to have a go at for a while is single speed cyclocross. This is a chapter of the broad church of cycling that is definitely tucked away in a darkened corner as an outlier.

SSCX as it is known has its followers though. There is an unoffical World Championships in the USA and a European champs which is being held at the cyclocross mecca of Koksidje, Belgium this March.

My aim was to build a bike out of old spares that I had available and minimise my spend. I was not planning on crossing continents or doing anything epic – just blasting round the local woods and trails and having a bit of hoot.

I set myself a budget of whatever I could get for a pair of secondhand SRAM shifters on eBay which turned out to be around £70.

I’ll stick my hand up and admit that I did happen to have an old cyclocross frame complete with old school cantilever brakes and a set of Winter wheels to hand which helped keep my roughly on budget. All I had to buy was a sprocket and spacer set, chain tensioner and a set of cheap levers.

The ride

I’ve already got a singlespeed bike that I use for commuting so I had a rough idea what to expect. I’d worked out roughly how many gear inches I wanted to push using the Bikecalc website and a few internet forums and settled on around 55″ which worked out as 38:19 on the bike. I hadn’t a clue if this would work in the real world, but thought it would be a good starting point.

There is a certain zen like joy from the sound of a quiet single speed drive train. Hitting this sweet spot of cadence and forward motion makes it all worth while. However I had the hills surrounding Chesterfield to spoil this bit of cycling Nirvana.

Initially anything too steep and it felt like you were pedalling squares and either the drivetrain or your body was going to snap. Routes that I’d done time and time before were taking on a new dimension as I had nowhere to go on the gear hunt and the options were dig deep or walk.After a few rides I’d developed a rather crude technique of attacking the bottom of climbs and managing to keep my legs momentum going. I was slowly increasing the severity of the hills and was managing some shorter 1:8 climbs.

The other problem was the other end of the scale  – downhills and flats. The bike initially spinned out at around 25 km/h. I slowly built up my cadence levels and have learned to pedal a bit quicker and have got this up to around 30 km/h on the flat. Especially on road, downhills turned into a massive freewheel complete with a aero tuck to gain the maximum amount of speed.

Because the bikes a bit old school there are no disc brakes – just canti’s which means braking a little bit earlier and that noisy grinding sound when you get grit between your rims and the pads after going through a puddle of mud.

In conclusion

Would I do it again  – definitely yes. In Winter months when the roads and trails are dirty a single speed is a lot easier to keep clean. OK riding single speed does involve modifying your riding style but it also has the benefits of building your leg strength up and increasing your cadence which cannot be a bad thing.

They are also relatively easy to build and once you have the bike built there are less things to go wrong on the bike which is not a bad thing in the cold Winter months when you want to be riding rather than fettling.

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Hardcore 100

Regular followers of our social media feeds will know that we’ve got a bit of a soft spot for gravel and cyclocross riding. We’ve been riding our local Derbyshire trails on drop bar bikes for a few years now – way before the ‘gravel’ became popular.  It’s good fun and adds a bit of variety to our rides.

We’ve decided to take this one step further and share a few of our local trails with you in the form of Velotastic’s first event – the Hardcore 100.

Faced with a blank piece of paper and a head full of ideas we sat down and had a think about what we wanted the event to be and what we enjoyed.

The first  thing we decided is that we did not want it to be a sportive. These are just not our cup of tea. We wanted an event that would be a bit of an adventure for the riders taking part and not just a case of smashing it round a course following arrows and getting a time and a medal for riding as quick as you can. If you want to race there are plenty of events where you can pin a number on your back but this is not one of them.

The format we decided on was the classic ‘reliability ride’. This dates back to the times when bikes were not that good and the challenge was to see if you could get round a course. They are very similar to an Audax except there is only going to be one checkpoint (mainly for peace of mind for us to see how you are getting on). The ride will be unsupported, so it’ll be up to you to carry a multitool and innertubes as there’s no sag wagon or mechanical support on offer.

There will be no feed stations – we feel that with a lot of events, people turn up, hammer round a route and do not spend any money in the local economy. We would prefer that you chose when and where you wanted to stop and helped out our shops, cafe’s and pubs.

The route will be revealed a couple of days before the event to entrants in the form of a GPX file that can be uploaded to a GPS. It will be a mix of roads, bridleways and byways and is roughly 30% off road. Naturally we would not recommend that you have a go on a skinny tyred racing bike as you’ll probably end up with a long walk. We’ve tried to avoid the main trails as much as possible and chose a  route that can be ridden regardless of the weather. Struggling across a boggy field is not our idea of fun and is also not that good for the environment.

Numbers will be kept down to a maximum of 150 riders. In our opinion this is a decent number to give the event a special feel and also kinder on the trails you’ll be riding on.

A big thanks to everyone who came and rode this event.

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Wear and Tear

Summer seems to be taking it’s final bow and Autumn is creeping up on us. If you are fortunate enough to own a Winter bike you maybe thinking about digging it out of deep storage for a few months riding.

Now’s a good time not only to give your Winter ride a check over but also to service your best bike so it is ready to ride when you get it out next Spring. That way you will not forget about any little niggles that have developed and will not miss it if you are using your other bike.

Like it or not, if you’ve been lucky enough to get a few miles in this year, your bike will have suffered some wear and tear. It does not matter how much you have looked after it – it will, it’s just a fact of life.

Here’s a few things that we usually encounter in our workshop:

Bearing wear

Bearings are the things that keep your bike going round and are an essential part of a bike regardless of how much you have spent on it. Over a period of time these steel balls will become less than round and harder to spin round. In some key areas this wear will be accelerated by the ingress of dirt and water. This can show itself in a knocking bottom bracket, a notchy headset and lateral play in your wheels.

This component is relatively cheap to replace  – think of it as a consumable and part of the cost of running a bike rather than something that should not go wrong.

Cables

There’s a popular urban myth that cables stretch under normal usage on a bike. They don’t. Just think about it, unless the cable is made of spaghetti or elastic there’s not way you could stretch it just by shifting gear – there’s not enough force in the system. What does happen is that when you’ve had the cables on your brakes or shifters changed, the outer cables bed in which causes the inner cable to become loose. This is why your gear cables normally need the tension adjusting after a few rides.

What does happen though is the inside of the outer cable gets a bit grubby from dirt and a little rust. This can cause the inner cable to drag a bit. This causes your gear shifting to take a little longer or your brakes to become a little bit harder to put on. In extreme cases we’ve seen derailleurs unable to shift because of gunked up cables.

An easy solution and a good way to get that ‘as new’ feeling back in your bike is to change the inner and outer cables at least once a year.

Chains

Chains are a fantastic piece of engineering but unlike cables they do stretch over time. If this is not kept in check it can cause premature wear to other parts of your drivetrain like cassettes and chainrings. The reason for this is chains are made of harder material than gears so a worn chain will slowly grind the softer components to match its profile.

We have a tool that can check chain wear. We also recommend that gear cassettes are replaced every 2-3 chains just to keep moving smoothly. It’s also worth keeping an eye on your chainrings as these can be ground down and in extreme cases cause the chain to skip at the crank end of the drivetrain.

Torque 

It’s always worth checking that any nut’s and bolts that hold things like your brakes, stems, pannier racks and mudguards are tightened to the correct torque. An over tightened bolt can cause a lot of damage on an expensive carbon frame so it’s advisable to use a torque wrench to get things just right. It goes without saying an under tightened fixing could be very dangerous – especially if it is something to do with your steering or braking.

We operate a mobile workshop in the Chesterfield area and all of the above items we would check in a standard service. Not only will it lengthen the lifespan of your bike but it will make it more enjoyable to ride.

 

 

 

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Ride Fuel – Banana Bread

If you’ve ever been to Australia you’ll know that the staple in many cafe’s is not flapjack but banana bread. Bananas are often used during a ride but with this easy recipe can be turned into something a little more exotic.

Great either cold or toasted, a slice of this is an ideal post ride snack.

You’ll need..

  • 4 bananas – the mushier the better
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • 115g butter
  • 115g brown sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon

To make…

  • Heat the oven to 180 degrees
  • Mix the butter and sugar together in a blender
  • Add the eggs and bananas to the mix
  • Stir in the salt, bicarbonate of soda and cinnamon
  • Pour into a 1 lb bread tin lined with grease proof paper
  • Put in the oven and go and clean your bike or drink some coffee for around an hour
  • Check the bread is baked by stabbing it with a knife – if it doesn’t come out clean give it a bit longer
  • Once done leave it to stand for quarter of an hour in the baking tin resisting temptation to dive in
  • Remove from tin, slice and consume either toasted or as is.
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Kellham Island Urban Cyclocross

Cyclocross is normally associated with being held in a muddy park in the middle of winter and a way for roadies to keep their fitness up during the off season. Run when the days are short and the rain is horizontal it often results in cold hands, dirty bikes and spectators huddled in any sheltered spots they can find.

Urban cycle across is something a bit different. Kelham Island Museum was recently the location for the first round of the Sheffield urban cx series. Taking place across three locations in central Sheffield, the 6 May saw a small group of riders fill every space of the first event to prove themselves on a circuit around an fantastic old industrial setting.

Gone was the need for pit crews and pressure washers. Instead there were cobbles, North Shore sections through buildings and racing round sculptures and exhibits.

We went to take a look to see what it was all about. First thing that has to be noted was the lack of any sort of consistency not only with the bike used but also the background and style of the riders. There was everything on display drop handlebars on cyclocross with drop bars both old and new carbon and steel, hybrids, gravel bikes, mountain bikes, a lot of 29ers, a lot of single speeds … even 6 inches of full-travel front and rear on an old school 26 “inch wheel mountain bike. Outfits range from full on team lycra to jeans and T-shirts even a man in a skirt and the bra top on his stag weekend … of course what do you do on you stag weekend? A cyclocross race of course!

The races were limited to the number of riders that could take part as this was a tight course wooded boardwalk sections inside old factory buildings, cobbled streets, steps lots of concrete, lots of different surfaces, cobbles, wood, polished painted concrete, slabs, plywood, more cobbles in a lot of variety in different places. If it had been wet might of been a different result for many.

The race was split into four categories – Amateur Men, Sport Men, Women’s and Vet’s. Each category had two qualifying races with the fastest six from each leg going through to the final. The riders started 20m away from their bikes a Le mans style start. They then dashed down the cobbles jumping on their bikes and disappearing off to the first corner. Once round that first corner you sneaked around the outside of the main factory building over a short section of Boardwalk to turn back on yourself and then do a sharp right up a steep ramp sleep that took you up to the first floor of the museum building. Once inside you are met with more boardwalk a a couple of rises, a lovely bermered corner, then negotiate a couple of lifts before then you disappeared out of sight from the spectators down some steps and out the back the old buildings return again down along cobbled street to start lap two.

Spectators were treated to some great vantage points out on the old bridge that links the two main buildings that firm Kelham Island Museum. Inside on the upper floor away from the cold wind that was whistling round the site spectators could watch the race as it sped round some pre-fabricated north shore style trackway.

Beer, coffee, sandwiches all available a few steps away in a couple of rather nice cafe’s – a far cry from the groggy old coffee van in the middle of the woods or muddy field in the middle of nowhere.

The racing was fast and furious and despite some of the clothing people were clearly trying and taking this seriously. Like most cyclocross races, the course was very spectator friendly and there were good viewing points around 80% of the course. There also wasn’t much time in between each race and they kept feeding out riders group after group to keep people entertained.

I can’t help but think that the people with the biggest chance of winning are those deliveroo riders, you know the guys with the blue boxes on their bikes racing to deliver food around town probably the best equipped for a course like this.

We caught up with Adam for a few words about why the event had come together and where the others were going to take place. He said the next event would be at Park Hill flats in September and he’s got a venue in mind for a third event.

Personally I think the format has a lot going for it, good entertainment good quality riders, food and beer on tap, central city location, after the kelham island event there was a local peddlers market … that’s peddlers p-e-d-d-l-e-r people selling goods not just bike bits! craft beer, street food, local makers and artisans just round the corner so you could make a day of it turn up at lunch, watch the racing and go on into the evening in the market round the corner sounds too good to be true good way to bring people into an old inner city area.

There was a good feel to the event and no bike snobbery and plenty of smiles from both the spectators and competitors. Rider Anna Lowe summed the course up “”It was just so intense, the whole thing felt like a blur of cobbles, steps, ramps & corners. Such good fun, how often do you get to ride inside a museum? I won’t forget that one in a hurry!”

For further information  check out sheffieldurbancx.co.uk

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When the circus comes to town.

It’s not very often that a UCI World Tour comes to your home town, but when a stage of the Women’s Tour both starts and finishes there you feel rather lucky.

This year the 4th stage of the Women’s Tour is starting and finishing in Chesterfield. The final details of the route have yet to be confirmed but from what we can gather and with a little bit of local knowledge it looks like it’s going to be a cracker.

The 133 km route could be considered as the race’s Queen stage with over 2300 metres of climbing in the Derbyshire hills. It could also be the deciding stage as it is also the penultimate before the final days racing in London.

There will be 107 riders, from 17 teams including British squads Drops and WNT.

For more information check out the Women’s Tour website.

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Learning to Fly

Questioning someone’s cycling ability is a bit like questioning someone’s driving or bedroom ability  – you just don’t go there!

However, you sometimes wonder whether you are doing things right and could you do things better.

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to the National Standards Instructor training course for Bikeability. For those not in the know, Bikeability is the 21st century name for Cycling Proficiency.  However, where the old course was sometimes run by enthusiastic parents and normally was restricted to the playground, Bikeability includes exposure to real roads and real traffic and is run by trained professionals.

The course is split into three levels. Level one is playground based and covers the basics, including setting off, stopping and steering.  Level two moves onto the road and covers the outcomes of junctions and road positioning and level three builds on the previous two courses and includes route planning, roundabouts and more advanced junctions.

Well how did I get on after 40 years in the saddle and no previous training?  Being a driver was a help as I had a knowledge of the Highway Code and traffic.  The main thing that myself and the three other trainees took away was road positioning and observation.  Being assertive and “controlling the lane” enables you to communicate where you want to go and what you want to do.  Reflection was another message that was given.  If things don’t go to plan – what can we do differently to avoid that situation in the future.

If you ever get the chance to do the Bikeability course as either a trainee (many local authorities offer level 3 training for free) or doing the instructor training – do it.  It will open your eyes and may get you thinking of cycling in a different way.

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Favourite places

We feel very lucky to be based in Chesterfield. We have a choice of heading out west into the Peak District or east into the flatlands of Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

Many of our rides end up an eatery of some kind or another. Here’s a few of our current favourites for if you are ever up our way.

David Mellor  – Hathersage

Sat on the edge of the popular Peak District village of Hathersage, this cafe is in the grounds of David Mellor’s eponymous cutlery factory. Also in the same building is a small design museum and factory shop. At Christmas time they usually get a classic sports car inside the cafe to carry the presents. There is also a free factory tour on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. http://www.davidmellordesign.com/visitor-centre/

No Car Cafe- Rushup

High upon the hills above the iconic climbs of Winnats and Mam Nick sits Rushup Hall. Due to it’s location whichever way you get to it (even from the Western side) it involves a monster of a slog up hill. The cafe is in a barn conversion and is so called because it has no car parking  – just somewhere to lean your bike or tether your horse. The food is freshly cooked and tea is served in huge tea pots. Definitely worth the effort to get to. http://www.rushophall.com/

Loaf  – Crich

Crich is one of those picture postcard villages that was used in the 1990’s TV series Peak Practice. As the name suggests Loaf is a bakery, so you are spoilt for choice of what to have your sandwiches made from. Like the No Car Cafe (above) this eatery has table service which is a nice touch. It also offers cookery courses if you want to find out some of the methods and secrets behind their delicious fare. http://www.theloaf.co.uk/

Highfield House Farm – Stonedge

Located on the edge of Chesterfield this farm has its own shop and cafe. A lot of the meat in their food is from the farm is used in their food so as you look out of the window and gaze across the fields you can see what you will be potentially eating in a few months time. The cafe makes what we at Velotastic consider to be the gold standard benchmark full English breakfast. http://www.highfieldhousefarm.co.uk

Ilam Hall  – Ashbourne

Ilam Park is a 158 acre estate situated just north of Ashbourne. This stately pile was built in the 1820’s for the Watts Russell family and in the early part of the 20th century was nearly demolished. Luckily it was saved by a local philanthropist and given to the National Trust to maintain. There is also a Youth Hostel on site if you fancy staying a little longer. Being run by the trust the fare is their usual high quality, but what makes this property is the view across the Italianate gardens towards Dove Dale.  https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/ilam-park-dovedale-and-the-white-peak

The Apron  – Gamston

Airport eateries usually conjour up the image of cardboard sandwiches and tepid coffee. However the Apron bucks this trend with delicious food and lovely drinks. Situated at Retford – Gamston airfield just off the A1 which is primarily used for light aviation, this cafe has rightly become popular with local riders. http://www.retfordairport.co.uk/the-apron-cafe/

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das Fahrrad | the bicycle | le vélo | la bicicletta | 自転車

Half the fun of building an older bicycle is finding the period correct parts. You can spend hours visiting cycle jumbles and scouring online auction sites looking for what you are after. There is a fair chance that you will start looking overseas for items, especially if you have a bike fitted with parts that are from a manufacturer that has ceased trading such as Mafac or Simplex.

One of the obstacles that many of us have to overcome when buying overseas is the language barrier. Google translate can help so far but is not perfect. This is the problem that Munich based graphic designer Adam Bell came across when he was restoring his Gitane. As a result of these challenges he decided to write a phrase book for cyclists which we are now carrying in our inventory.

das Fahrrad | the bicycle | le vélo | la bicicletta | 自転車 is illustrated by Adam throughout. It is a joy to read not only for those who love bicycles, but also people who have a fascination with foreign languages. Initially done as a small print run of 1000 books and there are around 275 words or phrases included.

On the back of the book, the author has gone onto produce an A3 poster naming all the bike parts.

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2016 – Well what a year that was !

For us 2016 has been a roller coaster of a ride for Velotastic and both interesting and challenging.

Way back in Spring we introduced our Routier jersey. Like many of our ideas this was as much of a personal project as a business idea. We wanted to explore and prove the potential for manufacturing a high quality wool cycling jersey in the UK. We spent nearly 12 months sourcing our materials, designing from scratch so we could include features that we likes as riders and most importantly finding a factory that could actually make what we were after. The Routier was the culmination of all of this hard work.

Summer came and we exhibited at Eroica Britannia and met friends and customers old and new. Then less than a week later the decision was taken that we would leave the EU. We don’t want to get into whether it was a good or bad thing (to be honest we’ve feel like we’ve just got to man up and deal with it) but one thing we are certain of is that the costs of any products we bought from abroad became more expensive. Like many things it set our creative juices flowing again and we came up with our 48percent socks.

Things settled down and we started to get our first orders through for Verge custom clothing – another brand that we took on this year. Whilst they are not known that well in the UK, Verge have been around for 20 years and have built a sound reputation for quality clothing and innovative design. One of the great things about them as a brand is that they own their own production facility which ensures a consistency in their products and enables them to have no minimum quantity. Being Verge agents we were given a set of clothing to try and it has now become our ‘go to’ gear as we are that happy with it.

When Autumn arrived we launched a couple of new caps that we had been slowly working on. The Beeley is a wool blend three panel cap that we have had made in the same Leicester factory as our Routier jersey and is ideal for middling days when you want to keep your noggin warm. The Ice Berg cap is for colder grimmer days when it’s around zero or below when you need your big coat on and is made in Italy from polyester fabrics.

We hope you enjoyed reading our mini review of the year and we hope that it was a good one for you. We hope you like what we do. Our aim is to be a little different and have fun along the way. There’s plenty more to come for 2017 and we’ve a bucket load of exciting ideas in the pipeline.

 

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Q & A with Peak District Cycling

We recently caught up with Nicky Griffiths. As well as running digital consultancy Meemo Digital she also writes the popular Peak District Cycling blog.

Why did you start the Peak District Cycling Website – www.peakdistrictcycling.co.uk<?

It is a combination of many things I enjoy – riding my bike, taking pictures, creating videos, and sharing experiences from my travels. I hope it gives people ideas for new ways to discover the Peak District, along with raising the profile of cycling events in the area.

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Where is your favourite place to cycle in the Peak District?

Anywhere around the Bakewell area. The views on the Monsal Trail are wonderful on a quiet day, but it can get very busy in the middle of summer so I tend to head for quieter parts of the Peak District at those times. It is amazing even at the busiest times how easy it is to find great routes to ride your bike away from heavy traffic.

If I’m feeling ready for a hilly challenge, then the area around the Goyt Valley has some spectacular climbs, rewarded with some spectacular scenery.

What are your hopes for the future of cycling in the Peak District?

More off-road traffic free trails, that enable people to get around without the use of a car. I’m convinced that travelling through the Peak District by bike is the best way to experience all it has to offer, and discover what a special place it is.

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What do you see as the biggest barrier to encouraging cycling in the Peak District?

I think the fear of cycling along busy roads still puts a lot of people off cycling some of the routes through the Peak District. This is why it is important to encourage traffic free trails, as well as creating an infrastructure that promotes safe cycling in the National Park.

What are your favourite cycling events in the Peak District?

Eroica Britannia is high up on the list; the atmosphere is unlike any other cycling event. It is a dream for any cyclist to be able to attend a festival purely dedicated to cycling, and the Peak District provides an ideal backdrop.

monsal6

The Monsal Hill climb is another event I don’t like to miss. Hill climbs are always great to watch, you don’t get the blink and you miss it like with a point to point cycle race. I always watch in amazement how cyclists manage to race up hills I struggle to just get to the top of!

What are your plans for the future of the Peak District Cycling website?

More of the same, there are still many areas of the Peak District that I haven’t covered – many more routes to explore. Current technology means it is very easy to share information and I hope to expand with more videos and more engaging content.

All images © Peak District Cycling

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Fresh Luggage

We’ve just had a fresh delivery from our friends at Road Runner. Handmade in Los Angeles, we’ve been selling their tool rolls for a few years now and we thought it was time to expand our inventory.

The bags we’ve decided to carry are designed for long distance day rides  – those days of changeable weather and where you need more kit than your back pockets will carry.

The Fred Bag

dscf1084

Named after the newbie rider who likes to take everything but the kitchen sink with them, this saddle bag is designed to hold multiple inner tubes, tools, spares and even a pump.

The Co-Pilot

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The Co-Pilot straps to your bars and stem and acts as that third bottle holder you often with you had. Use it to carry an extra drink, a battery for your light or fill it full of sweets – the co-pilot will take them all.

The Front Runner

Front Runner Bag

The Front Runner bag is designed to strap onto front racks. It’s great for using for commuting or carrying kit for an overnight trip. It’s got a pull cord and roll top so you can adjust its size according to the load.

Burrito Bag

burrito

We originally got a batch of Burrito bags in early May and they sold out in days. This bag sits in between a set of drop handlebars and is ideal for carrying a waterproof or thermal top on one of those changeable days when the weather can’t make its mind up. The name  – it’s the same size as a Californian XL burrito !

Burrito Supreme

Burrito Supreme

The super size version of the Burrito, the Supreme is twice the size of the regular model. It has a plastic liner and has webbing straps on the front of it to attach anything to your bag.