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It appears that the whole cycling world has gone a little Cyclocross mad. Oddly, I think I might have been a little ahead of the wave and sold my last one just before everyone else bought one. Alongside Cyclocross there’s another, similar yet different cycling genre that’s gaining popularity, the discipline of Gravel Racing or as I like to term it … Farm and Forest Track.

Now, obviously you can ride pretty much any bike anywhere and riding a mountain bike on the kind of terrain that F.A.F involves would seem like a good choice but do you really need one. Wouldn’t something a little lighter make life easier? Does it really warrant 2.4″ tyres? If it was faster maybe you could ride further? Of course, any answers to the above questions will be subjective but my answers were, yes, no and possibly. So, in an effort to help determine if any of my answers are actually correct, I’ve pieced together a new bike … project F.A.F Tracker.

There’s been quite a number of criteria for selecting the components for the ‘build’ with the prime one being budget. At times it’s been quite a task juggling them without making too many compromises and losing sight of the bikes intended purpose … The next few months will decide if I’ve been successful and whether, Yes, No and Possibly are in fact the correct answers.

Pinnacle Arkose 3 Frame and Fork.

Frame and Forks … Both Carbon and Ti were non-starters in the search for a frame. As lovely as these materials might be, the potential cost meant they weren’t viable. Aluminium or steel then? I’ve a rather big soft spot for steel frames and if I were building a mountain bike it’s almost certain that it would have had a steel frame … BUT … I wasn’t building a mountain bike and the options for a lightweight, disc ready, steel cross frame are limited, you can buy one but it’s costly. Seeing as costly hadn’t been invited to the party, that left one option – aluminium.

One thing the frame had to have was disc mounts. Generally the easiest way to make someone quicker is to give them better brakes, canti’s might be purist CX but I’m not. I imagined the disc mount requirement coupled with a budget just the other side of bugger all would mean a long and painful search … but luckily I was wrong. Within a few hours my search was over … Lightweight? yep. Disc mount? yep. In my size? yep. Big money? nope. I was looking for the catch but there wasn’t one, the frame met all my criteria and was easily available, all I had to do was click the button.

There’s a new stem on order to help remove the spacer mountain!

The remainder of the build was fairly straightforward and largely governed either by budget or by what stuff I had lying around the workshop. There’s nothing exotic in there and I suppose that’s reflected in the overall weight which is 22lb on the nail … not light by CX standards but feathery by mine.

I’ll be back to report on how it and me and getting on and whether or not my answers were correct.

F.A.F Tracker Update

So, it’s been a couple of months since project F.A.F Tracker actually ventured onto the tracks and trails it was built for, so I thought I’d let you know how we’re getting along.

The first item to get swapped was the stem, it was always on the cards but when the thing was pieced together a stem of the right length and rise wasn’t available, hence the big stack of spacers in the initial pictures. The new stem is 80mm long and features a 35 degree rise … I know that sounds awful but it keeps the bars in the correct position and importantly, allowed me to shorten the steerer. Why did I want to shorten the steerer? Because it’s carbon and I didn’t want to put anymore stress on it than necessary … the shorter it is the more it’s supported by the frame / headset and the less stressed it is.

Lightweight mountain bike or heavy road bike?

The second thing to get the chop was most of the drivetrain! I’m no stranger to hills and generally they hold no fear but the 34/48 double was really hard work … it wasn’t just hard work, it was harder than it should have been. I’ve no idea why it was as bad as it was but if I was going use the bike where I intended to, something had to change. That change came in the form of Deore double with 28/40 tooth rings. I also decided to treat it to a new cassette while I was at it and took the decision to go 10 speed … with a lowest possible  ratio of 28 x 36 I now have no excuse for not reaching the summit of each and every hill.

Birdseye view of Bird Rock.

So how does it ride? … I think that depends on what you’re used to. A stiff aluminium frame coupled to rigid carbon forks and 35c tyres is only really going to ride one way off road and if you’re coming from a fully suspended background it might be a bit of a shock to the system. For me, the transition from fully rigid mountain bike to what I consider to be a different style of fully rigid mountain bike, didn’t cause any real issues. Yes, it’s a little more rigid and the tyres only provide a tiny amount of cushioning compared to 2″ + mountain bike tyres but it actually handles off road terrain very well. I’m not going to be throwing it down any steep boulder strewn chutes or launching it off 3 foot drops anytime soon but that’s probably a good thing because it was never built (or designed in the first place) for those kind of shenanigans. However, point it down a washed-out gravel track or through some wooded singletrack and it really shines. It doesn’t feel nervous or twitchy, in fact it urges you to push that bit harder, which I’ll admit did come as a bit of a surprise. I think a special mention should go to the Kenda Kwiker tyres here – I’ve yet to experience any lack of grip, even wet off camber fields present no problems, the tyres just grip … highly recommended.

There’s still more riding and tweaking to do before I’ll be fully happy with everything but once the gearing was changed to something a little more forgiving the bike came alive. Previously it had felt that we were fighting each other on the climbs and pulling in different directions but now it feels like we’re both truly on the same side. If you spend most of your riding time on the road or somewhere flatter then the initial gearing I fitted would be fine and the new 28/40 may be too much of a compromise … just ask yourself whether you want a lightweight mountain bike or a burly road bike and go from there.

We’ll return with another update later in the year.

If you’re considering splashing out on something similar but don’t want the hassle of building from scratch, then the 2014 Arkrose bikes are now available and probably cheaper than you think.


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