Monday, 8 May 2017

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Intro

This is a brief write up of the dilly cart / box cart that my kids and I have built for the National Trust, Landhydrock, Dilly Cart Race. I am not racing in the kart, instead my wife, and two daughters are entering because I enjoy building things, but not driving.

The race is a grass track race, and as such the rolling resistance is quite high. For this reason the race organisers suggest the use of 24" wheels or bigger.

Normally a box cart, or dilly cart track is paved in some way, and on these tracks a smaller 20" BMX wheel will serve you well, they have more spokes and are generally stronger.

I chose large wheels, because I think it will be annoying if the cart does not roll well. I think my kids will use the brake quite a lot, and not gauge the track ahead very well in terms of the momentum, required. Bigger wheels will reduce the likelihood of stalling on a grass track. So that is why I think the bigger the better even if you are not out to win.

Watch the length. 2.5 meters is soon used up!

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Specifications / Rules

For Landhydrock, Dilly Cart Race 2017 the carts have to meet the following requirements, unlike many cart races, you only need 3 wheels, which makes things a lot easier in terms of steering!

  1. Carts must have a minimum of three load bearing wheels.   
  2. We recommend a wheel size minimum of 24 inches, as you will be racing on a grass track.  
  3. Carts must have effective steering. 
  4. Carts must have effective brakes. 
  5. Carts must fit within the following dimensions:  

  •     Maximum length 250cm, 
  •     Maximum width 150cm, 
  •     Minimum track width 60cm 
  •     Maximum weight of vehicle, ballast and driver 150kg. 

  1. Carts must not have any sharp edges, glass or loose parts.   
  2. Carts will be examined before racing, and any carts considered  dangerous or unsuitable for the course will not be allowed to race.   However, inspection does not constitute a warranty of safety.   Drivers are solely responsible for the safe construction and operation  of their vehicles. 

Wonky but Functional

Whilst I found the width allowance to be very generous, you will have the watch you length. The 26" wheels add a lot of length as there are approx 60cm front to back so there is 1.2 meters straight away. The pictured cart is 2.4 meter long approx.

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Ingredients

Two bikes will provide moist of the stuff you need, they will have mounts for brakes, wheels, and other handy bits saving time and trouble. To summarise, try to get hold of two old mountain bikes. The recycling centre is a good place to start, where you could get 2 bikes for £20.

To Weld or Not to Weld?

If you buy a welder, then I am pretty sure you will be able to learn to use it pretty quickly. A cheap gasless mig welder can be had on ebay for £120. A welder is such a handy thing to have, by the time you have spent £50 on an alternatives such as epoxy, rivets or bolts etc. then  you may as well make the investment.

If you were to building from wood, that is OK.  I have done this before and the results are not as good. And even then we used some welded parts for brackets etc. I have seen some good wooden carts built with wheel barrow wheels, but with larger wheels it become more difficult.

Extra Tubing

The best source for cheap tubing I have found is electrician's conduit which you can get from any plumbers store or electrician store. Not B&Q, somewhere like plumb-base. It come is 3 meters lengths so unless you have roof rack, take a hacksaw with you.


You will need something to make the seat, this could be a canvas only deck chair type thing, or as I have done a plyboard jobby with a bit of cushioning (roll matt).

Foot Rest

This could be wood, tubing of net / mesh as used in pictures.


I used water based exterior paint, with an undercoat. It was left over from our front door. Metal paint would do a better job, but it is very smelly (high VOC content) and I wanted my kids to help paint it.


I am just using the tires that came on the bike. But you could opt for fatter tires with a shallow tread if you were really keen.


Ballast is a heavy lump of something that you attach to the cart to make is go quicker. Heavier thing have greater momentum, and so speed gained down steeper sections will be maintained through flatter sections.  I am not putting ballast in the cart, I just want my family to have a nice day and I am not bothered about winning. If the dilly cart were to tip over with 25kg or 50kg of ballast in side then I do want a family member underneath that kind of fast moving weight.


Hopefully you can use the brake son the bike. A front wheel break is not ideal as there will not be much weight of the front wheel, causing it to skid easily, at which point the steering will stop working! Not ideal.

1 Break on one side of the rear, will cause a little skewed, when braking, but is an ok option, if you have time then brake both rear wheels.

A very simple solution is a ground bearing break. Pull up a handle and a piece of wood hit the ground slowing the cat in the process.

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Design

Perhaps this should have come before ingredients. . . . . 

HAVE FUN. Do not worry too much about your design, unless you enjoy that part of it. Just try to keep the wheels aligned, and think about the human that has to fit inside the dilly cart. A good way would be to sit on your garage floor and draw around you required seating area, with a permanent marker. Then build the cart around this. 

Two Bikes Stuck Together make the Job Easier

Make sure the cart is strong enough. I will test out our dilly cart before I put my kids in it. I am double the weight of my wife, so I consider that an adequate test. 

So many things in life are prescriptive, why not just make it up as you go along!

Thorpy's Grass Track Dilly Cart Build - Extra Bits

Some extra bit s that might be considered . . . . . 

  • Flags 
  • Streamers 
  • Roll Bar - Stops youngsters getting squashed.
  • Horn
  • Spokey Dokeys
  • Spoiler
  • Mudguards - Stop debris front front wheel going in eyes. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Why?

There are a number of reasons why you might want a hub gear, for most is is the lack of servicing required. For others it is the clean look it provides.

For me it was to avoid the waste of replacing my chain and cassette every 9 months, as they get coasted in mud from rural cycling that I rarely have the time to clean off.

They is also one other bonus for me and that is the reduction in noise level. No chain slap. No crunching of gears. It makes for a relaxing ride.

A neat set up (please ignore pipe lagging!)

I live in a hilly area, and a 1 x 9 set up does not really provide enough range (300%). Whilst the alfine hub, gives a little extra range (400%) and make the steeper hill possible without walking!

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Gear Range

The Alfine 11 speed hub has a gear range of approx 400%, by comparison here are some other systems:

  • Alfine 8 Speed - 300%
  • 1 x 9 (11 - 34) - 300%
  • Sturmey Archer 3 Speed - 130%
  • 3 x 10 Triple - 550%
  • Rohloff - 520%
So you can see that the 400% offered by the alfine 11 is fairly large. You will need a front mech, rolhoff, or new fangled wide range 1 x 11 set up to match it.

View from above drive side.

Whilst a front triple ring setup will offer the same range for less money, the other two will cost the same if not more. 

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Cost 

Compared with systems that offer similar or better range, at time of publishing.

  • Alfine 11 - £350
  • XT 1 x 11 Groupset  - £350
  • Rolhoff Speed Hub - £935
  • 2 x 10 Groupset Shimano - £260
There is one extra cost which must be added to hub gears and that is the building of the wheel. Which can be done for around £25 plus cot of rim (£30). 

Used with sliding dropouts in this instance.

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Fitting 

The alfine 11 can be fitted on pretty much any bike with a 135mm rear dropout spacing. PERFECT INDEXING IS A SINCH. But there are a few extra things to consider.

The instructions although excellent but are split between 2 documents for:

When buying your parts just watch out for:

Chain Tensioning

If you have slot drop outs or horizontal drop outs then, you will be able to run the Alfine 11 without chain tensioners. Sliding dropouts are also an option. 

If you have vertical dropouts then you will need to use a chain tensioner. This slightly defeats the object of having a hub gear as it add complexity to the system, but is not too much of a burden. It will also stop you using a chain cover. 

An eccentric bottom bracket would allow the use of vertical dropouts, with an Alfine 11, without the use of the external tensioner. 

Fitting Kit / Small Parts Kit

In order to fit your alfine 11 hub, you will need to obtain the correct "small parts fitting kit" there are 3 or 4 to choose from. The main difference between each will be the non-turn washers, which have lugs at different positions for horizontal, standard and vertical dropouts. For example:

Be sure to buy correct fitting kit.
Wheel Building

If you intend to build you own wheel (and I suggest you have a go) then head over to "Ed Spoke Calculator" and tap in you hub and rim options. Then buy correct spokes.

Go for a 3 cross lacing, and opt for the 36 hole hub. The high the number of spokes and the thicker the rim, the more redundant strength you are building in to make up for amatur wheel building. 

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - In Use

In use the hub is very pleasant to use, but as with so many things it is a matter of preference as to whether the pros outway the cons.


  • Very snappy gear changes.
  • Shifter several gears at a time
  • Shift at a standstill  - this is really handy
  • Silent whilst pedaling and coasting
  • Perfect indexing very easy to set up
  • large range with no front mech
  • perfect chainline always


  • slightly spongy feel whilst pedalling.
  • rear wheel removal slightly more difficult
  • no quick release
  • slightly more complicated to fix a puncture

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - Conclusions

Whilst lacking the direct feel of a typical derailleur system, the Alfine 11 hub is an excellent bit of kit. 

If you are a utility cyclist, a tourer, a commuter or a rural rambler, then the quiet hassle free nature of the hub will suit you very well. It is set at a good price point and delivers plenty of range for nearly all situations. 

Time has proven the Alfine 11 to be a reliable component, and I look forward to the reduced service intervals, and quiet riding that is to come.

Shimano Alfine 11 Hub Gear Review - More Pictures 

Line up upper marks for perfect indexing. . . .

. . . .  or the bottom yellow marks.

Cable routing. . . a few zip ties required. 

Rapid fire shifter. . .

Upper indicator window is replaceable if cracked.

Shifter units is rather bulky. . . 

. . . bulky. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Commencal El Camino Frame Review

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  -  Intro

Commencal are an ANdorran company that market this frame. The El Camino is billed as an everyday frame, and it a tough, versatile offering which might be considered for building up a commuter or a touring bike.

It is designed for 27.5 wheels up to 2.2" diameter, but I was running is with 26 x 2,34 tires, and it then has room for mudguards / fenders also. Fork is Salsa Firestarter Fork. So the bike can be built like this:

Or like this:

Which makes for a pretty versatile frame.

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  - The Ride 

This was my only negative. The ride is fairly solid, I think this is because I switched from a reynolds steel frame, to this one. Some may actually prefer this it certainly feels very solid and reassuring. I was not zinging this thing down alpine mountain sides so I'll leave any further comments here to those more qualified.

The frame has a lowered top tube by means of the gusseted upper seat tube section, which is a nice features and allows for a low step over height whilst using high vole 26" tires or 27.5" tires. The seat post is 31.6mm which allows for the use of dropper seat posts, although you can get normal seat posts in this size.

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  - Mounting Points

Excellent. There are threaded mounting points a plenty. Lots for mudguards, and the pannier rack mounts near the drop outs, are very deep so should withstand punishment. Unfortunately these do have to be shared is you are using fenders / mudguards, but this can be got round with a simple plate to add an additional hole for mounting fenders / mudguards which after all do not require much strength in the way of mounting points.

Commencal El Camino Frame Review  - Finish

The decals are beneath the lacquer and so are unlikely to be come scuffed. The frame I think is powder coated rather than painted and is a very high quality finish.

Environmental Consultants London

Environmental Permit Applications  

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Intro

A lot of the nicer MTB frame nowadays come with geometry to match a high travel suspension fork. If you want to then fit a rigid fork this limits you options, as you will need a long fork, to match the sagged height of your suspension fork, so as to not alter you head angle and relative saddle  / bar height. You can see Thorpy's Guide to Rigid Forks for more detail.

Used here with 26" wheels. Ideal for emulating long travel forks. 

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Ride

The fork visibly flexes as you ride, and has a lovely soft feel to it. I do not ride hard or fast, so I can not tell much more than that. My main requirements are that stuff is strong and comfortable, and the fork is certainly both of those.

As the pictures show I was using this fork with 26" wheels with 2.35 tires. It did not feel odd in any way, and I think the fork is good quality.

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Length

One of the best features of this fork is the 300mm steerer, but if you are listening salsa why not make this 400mm. Combine this with the axle to crown length of 483 and the whole fork is 783mm long, which is not a million miles away from the Thorn Forks (Mt Tura / Nomad), which measure in at around 830mm combined.

Salsa's "Enabler" Fork has a 350mm steerer, which would be nice, but the drop out spacing =130mm.

Uncut this fork will provide a ride that is considered up right for most.

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Mounting Points

There are mounting points everywhere, but not for low riders. There are 6 bolts holes (all supplied with M5 hex bolts) which are to be used with "Anything Cage Mounts". These are like giant water bottle cages in to which you can strap stuff like dry sacks or stoves.

In the arid expanses of the US I can see this being a OK, if rather clique concept. But in the UK. Everything would end up covered in mud for 60% of the year. Not Ideal.

"Classic" Fender / Mud Guard & Pannier Rack Mounts

Disk Brake Mounting point is present with rotor sizes up to 203mm accepted.

It is a bit of a faff using huib brakes with this fork, as the stanchions are so wide, but I doubt whether many will be doing this.

"Trendy" Anything Cage Mount Points

Mudguards or fenders can be mounted, but you will require some kind of fudge to bridge the mounting point at the crown. On my 26" wheel this gap is large, but on a 29 inch wheel or a 27.5+ it will be less of a problem.

Bodged Torque Arm Mount for Hub Brake. 

Salsa Firestarter Fork Review - Salsa Blurb

  • 100mm Suspension Corrected CroMoly fork
  • Suitable for Fargo and El Mariachi, and many others
  • Specifications*Steerer type: 1-1/8" straight(300mm)
  • *Axle to Crown: 483mm
  • *Fork Offset: 45.0mm
  • *Stem Clamp Diameter: 28.6mm
  • *Crown Race: 30.0mm
  • *Wheel/ Tire Compatibility: 29 x 2.4" max. tire fitment (but I had no trouble fitting Surly 3.0 tyres)
  • *Disc Brake: 51 mm I.S. Mount, 160 mm rotor Min, 203 mm Max.
  • *Fender Mounts:yes
  • *Rack Mounts: at Droput and Mid-blade*
  • Water Bottle Mounts: Anything Cage mounts of front of fork
  • *Dropouts: Stainless steel, forward facing
  • *Front Axle and Hub Info: 100 x 9 QR
Usual Warning 

"Dropper Plate" for Mudguards Required

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Drag Wood with Quad Bike

Drag Wood with Quad Bike - Intro

If you do not have a trailer, or in may case the ground is too boggy for the use of a trailer then you may consider dragging wood behind the quad bike. This is a stupid idea, and I do not recommend that you do it.

This is probably quite dangerous for the following reasons, and some other reasons that I can not think of:

  • The wood could dig in the ground causing you to stop suddenly.
  • The wood could dig in temporarily and then spring forwards hitting you in the spine, neck or skull or the bike.
  • The wood could carry on sliding when you stop and bash in to the quad bike.
  • The ropes could slip of the wood, and spring forward under tension hitting your spine, neck or skull.
To this end consider the following:

  • Use thinner rather than ticker rope so it is will snap easily, avoiding build up of tension.
  • Do not use chain or wire.
  • Do not use hook on the end of the rope. 
Like I say this does not cover everything but is better than nothing in terms of safety precautions. You might try wearing a a helmet and horse rider's body armour if you have it. 

Drag Wood with Quad Bike - How I Did It

I dragged about 300 lengths of wood, about 400 meters across a muddy field. I made slip knots in four length of rope, and put these around bundle of wood.

It worked OK, but the knots slipped off the wood occasionally. It is better to drag smaller multiple bundles than one big one. 

The wood gets covered in mud, and is tricky to work with thereafter. 

Muddy Business

Small Bundles are Better

Drag Wood with Quad Bike - Conclusions

Messy and dangerous but possible. 

Environmental Consultants Bristol

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Specification vs Strategy

Specification vs Strategy 

What is the difference between a Specification and a Strategy?



the act of specifying.
Usually, specificationsa detailed description or assessment of requirements, dimensions, materials, etc., as of a proposed building,machine, bridge, etc.
a particular item, aspect, calculation, etc., in such a description.
something specifiedas in a bill of particulars; a specified particular,item, or article.
an act of making specific.
the state of having a specific character.



  • 1A plan of action designed to achieve a long-term or overall aim.
    ‘time to develop a coherent economic strategy’
    mass noun ‘shifts in marketing strategy’
  • 2mass noun The art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.
    ‘he was a genius when it came to military strategy’
    Often contrasted with "tactics" (see tactic)
    1. ‘non-provocative defence strategies
  • 2.1count noun A plan for directing overall military operations and movements.


Whilst a a strategy may explain what you are intending to do, a specification will describe how you are going to do it. 

Surface Water Drainage Strategy 

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Rigid Forks for Commencal El Camino

Rigid Forks for Commencal El Camino - Intro

The Commencal El Camino Frame has lots of mounting points for fenders / mud guards, racks etc. and as such make a great rough stuff touring, utility frame. To increase loading option still further, you may consider rigid forks from surly or salsa. But what length of fork is right.

Rigid Forks for Commencal El Camino - Axle to Crown

The axle to crown measurement is the one to look for. This is some time listed as AC or A/C. It is the measurement from the axle to the crown of the fork, the crown is where the crown race sits.

The Commencal El Camino full bike is supplied with a RST Blaze 27,5" Fork, the  axle to crown measurement for this fork is 495mm.

Rigid Forks for Commencal El Camino - Sag

When you hop on a bike with suspension forks the forks squash down a bit. This is called sag. Racing bikes are set to have about 10% sag, whilst non-racing bikes might have 30% sag. An average of 20% is usually used. So if you apply this sag figure you are looking at a length between

  • 445mm (10%)
  • 396mm (20%)
  • 346mm (30%)
Bear in mind that the radius of a 650b wheel is 325mm. So allow for clearance, fenders, and mud space. 

Rigid Forks for Commencal El Camino - Shopping

Most forks available from surly or salsa are at least 460mm in length. It is better to go longer than shorter, perhaps adopting the 10% sag figure from above. 

So based on the above we would be looking at the below fork options.

  • Surly Instigator (447mm) - Lots of mounting points. 
  • Thorn Mount Tura (430mm) - No disc brake. Lots of mounting points.
  • Thorn Nomad Disc Fork (420mm) - Excellent Choice. 
  • Gusset DJ26 Fork (430mm) - Cheap. But no mounting points. 

Rigid Forks for Commencal El Camino -  Good luck.

Have fun and cheerio.