Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Review - Vaude Kabru Light II Insulated Down Jacket

Review - Vaude Kabru Light Jacket II
The Vaude Kabru Light II Down Jacket has achieved the rank of 'favourite' amongst my insulated off-the-bike jackets, within a very short space of time. Much like the Vaude Termatic RC Mountain Bike Boots, and the Vaude Winter Cycling Jackets, it is an incredibly well thought-out and executed piece of kit.

What makes it the best lightweight down jacket that I've come across to date?

  • First, there's the colour - that perfect blue (regular blog readers will know I'm a sucker for this).
  • Second, there's the fit - not too flappy, not too tight. Vaude call it a 'Sportive' cut.
  • Third, there's the build quality, and the weight of the jacket - it reaches that sought-after balance of feeling featherweight, but with a German quality that promises to last many winters.

The Kabru Light II is the kind of jacket that I would wear on a smart business field trip; an evening walk; or take with me on my next bikepacking trip.

Intelligent insulation

This jacket is feather light... (pun intended). The 90/10 down insulation weighs next to nothing, and you certainly won't notice it if you stash this in your riding rucksack or pannier.

Vaude haven't just used down insulation in the Kabru Light though; they've also integrated high-end packable Primaloft Silver insulation in the cuffs and side panels of the jacket. This is a very sensible idea, as the humidity-repelling material means the jacket is less susceptible to damage from moisture in these key contact areas.


It's not just the intelligent synthetic/down insulation mix that makes the Kabru unique though; Vaude have also considered other possible wear areas.

They've used a durable Pertex quantum material on the outer shell; this is like a water resistant rip-stop material. Then they've also added stretch fabric inserts under the arms, to allow greater flexibility, and less chance of ripping. It is details like these that set the Kabru apart from other lightweight down jackets.


Packable, lightweight, yet built to last. Those three attributes are a bikepacker or bike tourer's golden trio; but also make this jacket superb for off-the-bike wear.

This is another winter winner from the Vaude brand.

View the Vaude range at (Link)

Vaude Kabru Light II Insulated Down Jacket
The Kabru Light II has a slim sportive cut, and a slight drop in the rear hem to keep out the chill

Vaude Kabru Light II Insulated Down Jacket
Comfortable, packable, lightweight and durable. Winning attributes on the Vaude Kabru Light.

Vaude Kabru Light II Insulated Down Jacket
Another winner from the German brand

Friday, 10 February 2017

Riding the TorTour UltraCross Cyclocross Stage Race

Three days of mud, gravel, sub-zero temperatures, and flat-out racing. An invitation to ride the world's first ever cyclocross stage race, seemed like an opportunity that couldn't be missed...

Race Report: Stage 2 - 74km - 1,530m elevation

I pushed from the gun - trying to hold my own in the front group. 

I didn't quite push hard enough though; before long, the five front-runners had got a gap, and I was left in the chasing pack. Nothing for it... solo bridge time.

It turned out to be a long bridge to cross. Almost an hour of sitting at threshold, trying desperately to regain the wheel of the last rider in the group ahead.

Eventually I made junction. Exhausted; I clung to the wheels. By now the two professional riders were long gone into the distance, and our small second group comprised of two Swiss junior riders (one the U23 National Champ), a super-strong German, and myself. 

Up. Up. Up. Today was a day of hunting vertical. From vineyards, through forest, and then up above the snow-line. 

Ice and boulders lurked beneath the thin layer of white dusting. I took caution, after the German rider wiped out in front of me. The two Swiss juniors were fearless though - long gone on the technical descent.

Fortunately, there was more climbing to come. A chance to regain some of the ground lost from my timid descending. 

Chasing wheels, running up stairs, hurtling round corners, praying for grip.

The last twenty kilometres flew buy. Joined by two Frenchman racing in the team classification, we powered on down through the valley, on cycle track and single-track.

In the last 5 kilometres our small group splintered. The two Frenchman sprinting off, whilst I managed to draw out a small gap too. Legs burning, I eventually crossed the line.  

I finished 4th on the stage, and moved up to 4th on General Classification as well. 

What an incredible event. I need to race 'cross more often...

Solo bridge across to the lead group - it took a good hour at threshold

An hour at threshold, to make the junction

Stage 2 took us up... into the snow

Proper snow

Incredible scenery, to distract you from burning legs (Photo: APIX)

The finishing 20 kilometres took in some fast paced cycle paths and blue skies

What a race

Sun on the finishing straight

Final Rankings - Spot the Brit

Race Report: Stage 1 - 80km - 830m elevation

Endurance bike racing is a battle of attrition. You've got to know your limits; ride within those limits; and hope that your limits extend further and deeper than your competitors'.

It makes for a rollercoaster ride. 

You might start at the back of the pack, and spend the first part of the race working your way up through slower riders. You'll find a small group of similar ability riders, and hopefully you'll work together - to make progress on the lead group. Then, as bodies tire, and will power fades, the group will get whittled down... leaving you sprinting against a small group of riders, whose limits are similar to yours. 

That was how today's stage of TorTour CX panned out: There was no let-up from the word go, and before long I found myself in a good group. We worked together through open fields, forest roads, sharp inclines, and muddy single-track. By the time we reached the final 10 kilometres though, what was once a group of 15, was now a two-up time-trial.

The legs felt good, and the everything seemed to work well. I placed 5th on the stage, moving me up to 5th on Solo Male General Classification, too. Tomorrow, we head to the hills...

Kit choice for the first stage of TorTour Cyclocross

Working my way up through the field

Racing on the open flatlands (Photo: Apix)

Challenging riverside trails

Stairway to Hell (Photo: Apix)

Superb trail conditions (Photo: Apix)

A stunning day's racing (Photo: Apix)

The weather conditions proved favourable again, with the sun coming out in the afternoon

Refuel - after a chilly, but enjoyable day's racing

Race Report: Prologue Stage - 23km - 640m elevation

From the gun... 

The sound of pedals clicking into cleats, and knobbly tyres buzzing on tarmac lasts only a handful of seconds. 
Then you hit it. 'The Wall'.

Pebbles ping from beneath tyres; heart rates jump to high heaven; lungs are shocked into a frenzied gasping fit. The prologue of the TorTour UltraCross might only be 23 kilometres long, but each one of the 8 laps starts with a 25% leg burning kicker.

The first ascent of the climb instantly strings out the field; riders jostling for places, just as they are scrabbling for grip.

I start mid-pack, in the 200 strong field. By the top of the first climb, I can see the Elites riding off into the distance; but I've placed myself in the forward ranks of the following pack.

Lap after lap, 'The Wall' continues to cause havoc. There is little time on the top of the hill for your body and mind to recover, before you swoop down, and hit it all over again.

As we come round to lapping riders, the game intensifies. You try to hold wheels, as you weave in and out of other riders; it's like a conga line going in and out of moving bollards.

I have good laps and bad. The last two aren't so strong, and at one point I have to put my foot out on a loose section of gravel. Valuable metres and seconds lost.

Still, I cross the finish line after 49 minutes of racing; with a finishing position of 7th in the Solo Men's Category.

A decent start... but there's still a lot of racing to go. 

Rider briefing - numbers ready

Ahead of the carnage

Calm before the storm

And it begins...

Flat-out racing

Prologue done. Beer in bottle cage. This is a proper cyclocross race.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Introducing the '7Countries7Passes' Tour

There is no better way to see the world, than from the saddle of a bicycle. From flatland forests, to mountain peaks; 'Life In The Saddle', as a cycle tourist, is a physical, visual and cultural discovery. 

I'm certain that this year's planned September bike trip - the #7Countries7Passes tour, will be no exception.


One of the great highlights of my 'Coasts and Cols' tour was the diverse cultural shifts; as I rode from Spain into the South of France, and then up the western coast. From the vast vineyards of Bordeaux, to the sleepy villages of Brittany; it was a mix that provided great interest, and a distraction from my aching legs.

The second notable highlight of the tour, was the mountains. I have a love-hate relationship with mountain summits; they provide challenge and reward, in equal measure.

It was these two highlight experiences that provided my inspiration for my 2017 trip. How can I cram as much cultural diversity, and as many mountain passes as possible, into one exhilarating tour?

Route Plan

Start location - Copenhagen, Denmark
I love travel. I don't really like planes, trains and automobiles. With that in mind, I always try to combine my trips abroad, to make the most of the airport/travel time.

This August, I'm racing the Hansen's Cykellob with the GripGrab team, so starting my tour from the beautiful Danish city of Copenhagen, shortly after the race, seemed like a great bet.

Checkpoints - Villengen (Germany) - Merano (Italy) - Corbieres (France)
Travel is always better when you can share experiences with friends and family. There aren't many of my riding buddies that would want to do 10 or 12 hour consecutive days in the saddle, but it is always nice to visit friends in far-off places.

On this tour, I begin with the guys from GripGrab in Denmark; then travel down through Germany to visit my sister in Villengen. From there, it's into the mountains to visit relatives in Merano (South Tyrol). Then finally, I head across the South of France to the Corbieres, where my good friends Gus and Sarah Farmer are based.

Finish - Andorra
Andorra has always been a mysterious country to me - an island in the mountains.

I've been keen to visit it for some time, and the Salvador Dali Sculpture in Andorra la Vella seems like a fitting place to finish. The sculpture symbolises the 'Nobility of Time'; suggesting how time rules everything, and you should make the most of every minute you have.

Route Highlights

  • Start: Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen (Denmark)
  • Checkpoint 1: Villingen (Germany)
  • Pass 1: Hochtannbergpass (1675m) (Austria)
  • Pass 2: Timmelsjoch (2474m) (Austria/Italy)
  • Checkpoint 2: Merano (Italy)
  • Pass 3: Stelvio Pass and Umbrailpass (2757m) (Italy/Switzerland)
  • Pass 4: Col de Montgenèvre (1854m) (France)
  • Pass 5: Mont Ventoux (1911m) (France)
  • Checkpoint 3: The Farmers' (France)
  • Pass 6: Col de Pailhères (2001m) (France)
  • Pass 7: Port d'Envalira (2408m) (Andorra)
  • Finish: Salvador Dali Sculpture (Andorra) 

Similar to the 'Coasts and Cols' tour, this would be a fully self-supported bike touring / bikepacking venture; wild camping en-route, and embracing the elements.

At this stage, this is all a provisional plan. Ideas change, commitments evolve, and plans develop.

On a cold and cloudy February day though, this is my #fuelfortheride