Friday, June 15, 2007

Charge Stove: first impression review

Edit: I posted a follow up to this review a few weeks later.

Since my lovely Trek 1000 got nicked by some TEA LEAF SCUM in Mile End a few months ago, I have been on the hunt for a new bike to use to commute to work. I do still already have two bikes, but a heavy full-suspension bike is a bit overkill for the Barcelona seafront, and let's face it, a BMX really isn't the most practical of tools for commuting. All of which gave me a handy excuse to try out a bike I've had my eyes on for a while, the Charge Stove.

Charge are a newish British bike company and the Stove is their bottom-of-the-range 'Pub' bike. It's a rather bizarre label, and it means that da kidz over at the comic's forums get very confused. To paraphrase a typical young know-it-all's opinion "the Stove is not a jump bike or a street bike. It's a pub bike. Can't you tell that by looking at it?"

Well, I'd class a 'pub' bike as one that's as-near-to-free-as-possible, and impossible-to-be-nicked (rather like a Barcelona Bicing - they really are great). And while the Stove fits neither of the above criteria, I'll just run us through a list of what I'd expect to see in your average jump/street riding bike, and we can see how many boxes the Charge ticks:

- Heavy chromoly frame with gussets in all the right places. Check.
- Heavy chromoly forks with oversized dropouts. Check.
- Heavy chromoly 3-piece cranks. Check.
- Heavy wide rims supporting heavy fat tyres, built on heavy 10mm axle hubs. Check.
- Single speed, with heavy BMX chain linking heavy chainring and heavy freewheel. Check.

Now I don't know about you, but I see a theme developing here, wouldn't you agree? Okay okay, so the geometry's all wrong for an out and out jump bike - the top tube is rather high and seat tube a little too straight; but it's certainly not going to fall apart on you in a hurry. And, in fairness, the little squirts at the comic forums do have some sort of a point - because it isn't designed to be and out-and-out jump/street bike. That frame geometry enables you to raise the saddle to a respectable commuting height, which makes it the perfect commuting-while-being-able-to-stop-by-the-skate-park-on-the-way-home bike, or the Cwbatsbtsp. Doesn't roll off the tongue in the same way as 'pub bike' bike, I'll give them that. The only shame is the confusion such branding causes for da kidz. Ah well.

So how does it ride? Well a full analysis of its ability to commute to work along the Barcelona sea front, periodically stopping to play on interesting street furniture, will follow forth-with. For now my experience is limited to riding from Kings Cross to Cricklewood (oh yeah, I'm in London til next Wednesday, by the way, for work), and going out for a little play this evening. However, I can confirm that it's really rather good fun. It commutes perfectly adequately, yet with the saddle slammed down it hops very easily and rides really smooth, basically like a 26" BMX. Good fun, and I'm very pleased I bought it.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cathy and Mark visit

This weekend saw the visit of Cathy and her boyfriend Mark, his first time in Barcelona. A good time was had by all. On Saturday we did quite a long walk along the beach and then all the way into the old town to see the sights, before heading out to Gracia in the evening for beer and lots of very good tapas. Sunday was spent having a lie-in, then while Cathy and Mark went to look at the Sagrada Familia, Djanira and I moved the first load of stuff to our new flat. Finally we went climbing at a nice limestone crag called Gelida, where it started to rain (?!) for about 20 minutes, but cleared up nicely in time for sunset. Lovely!

On Tuesday we'll have moved permanently to the new flat so it's bye-bye to the terrace, but hello to the nicer area, so we're looking forward to that. I am back in London on Wednesday for a week, fortunately for DJ her friend Rachel is coming to stay for that week (must be the way I smell, or something!) so she'll have some company. The the week after that I'm driving down to Barcelona with a carload of stuff with my Dad! What a legend!

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sport climbing on La Mola

Last night I met up with Ferran again and we went sport climbing at a crag called La Soleia. It is situated on a hill called La Mola, just near Sabadell, a city about 20 miles from Barcelona, and is in a really beautiful location. The climbing is excellent but slightly strange, because all the routes start up a band of rather poor chossy conglomerate for a few metres, before reaching the main band of grey conglomerate. The latter is some of the finest rock I have climbed on, a really rough texture and loads of pockets; I like pockets, they are generally very positive and you can wrap your fingers around them and crank.

The strangest thing is that, in one sector at least, the lower band of rock is so devoid of holds that it makes all the routes much harder for the first few metres, as the decent rock above tends to be better furnished with holds (if a bits steeper). So the resourceful Catalans have sorted the problem out by chipping lines of holds in the lower band - the size and spread set strictly in keeping with the difficulty of the upper section of course. On a couple of lines they have actually bolted on a series of plastic climbing-wall-holds. Can you imagine such a thing happening in Britain?! The end result seems to work though, because rather than all the lines having to climb something 7c-ish on 5m of rubbish rock before finishing up 25m of something 7a-ish up decent rock, the routes become a lot more balanced and more people get to enjoy the good climbing above.

Anyway after warming up Ferran and I set to work on a 6c and couple of 6c+s. One of them apparently gets 7a in some guides and I was quite pleased to onsight it, but I was so tired afterwards then I failed miserably on the last one which is supposed to be easier. I was so weak at the top that I couldn't hold on to clip, and had to make a chain of three quickdraws to elongate the belay!

Djanira is coming back today, which I'm very pleased about, and then Cathy + new boyfriend arrive (very late) this evening. Should be good!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

El Paret dels Diables

On Saturday I was invited by my mate Ferran - creator of the finally updated (molt bé, Ferran!) - for my second ever Montserrat climbing experience. The first was over a year ago, when a group of us from London visited the south face of the mountain to do some sport climbing. The south face is a very pleasant place - accessible, sunny, with generally quite short routes that are well equipped with new bolts. The north face is a different beast; its dark, sheer walls are only breached by a handful of routes, almost all of which resort to aid climbing at some point (non-climbers: see note at bottom). We were off to El Paret dels Diables (The Devil's Wall) with the goal of doing one of the very few all-free routes i.e. no aid climbing. 330m, 10 pitches, max grade 6c+. Gulp!

Fortunately, it wasn't quite as scary as it sounds. The route, called Sanchez-Martinez after the first ascensionists, has been recently rebolted (replacing the original hand-placed nail-bolts) and so we could afford to enjoy the exposure and climbing free from the worries of having to place protection, although we had a rack of nuts with us which were used on occasion. The route starts up a 6a+ wall before diving into a chimney, which was ascended in true mountaineer, back-and-foot style. After three pitches we were spat out on a handsome ledge which was the start of the route proper. A pleasant V+ pitch led us up to the start of the difficulties, a 6c+ hanging crack which was led in fine style by Ferran. I thought the pitch was completely nails, and was absolutely knackered as I came round the corner to the belay. After a minute or so's recuperation I glanced up in trepidation at the next pitch (my lead!) knowing that it was 6c and therefore almost as difficult. Then my mouth dropped as I saw the most perfect hanging slab you ever seen, capped by a huge arcing roof. The crack where we were stood led straight up for a few metres for gradually curving round to the right until it reached horizontal. It reminded me instantly of photos I've seen of the Great Roof on the nose of El Capitan in Yosemite (except half a kilometre lower off the ground, and several grades easier to climb!). The climbing was perfect, delicate slab padding up along the crack, not tiring at all, just absolutely, mind-blowingly, brilliant. Undoubtedly the finest pitch of rock-climbing I have ever done in my life.

After that it was all over, with only a handful more pitches around the V/6a mark to reach the top, where hands were shaken in the traditional style and off we trooped to find the descent path. A brilliant day's climbing was topped off by driving round to the south face to meet up with Raquel who, like Ferran, I had met at the BMC international meet last April. It was great to see them both again and good to climb with Ferran. Moltes gràcies!

Finally it was off on the 45 minute drive back to Barcelona for a quick shower and then out to party with Dan + friends. Today I'm shattered!

Note: Aid climbing is the opposite of free climbing in that you are required to pull/step on bits of metal that you place into/onto the rock - it was once common everywhere but now is generally practiced only in areas where free climbing is too hard/dangerous.