by Pascal Lally
Introduction to Strathpuffer
Strathpuffer is a 24 hour endurance mountain bike event that takes place in the Scottish Highlands during January. Racing the Strathpuffer means to be part of a unique atmosphere with weather conditions varying from thick mud to deep snow and racing containing 17 hours of darkness. This year, it takes place on 21st and 22nd January.
I got an offer of a spot to race in the solo category of the event and with limited experience of track or marathon racing, I sought the advice of the people I will be racing with to build a bike suitable for the conditions.
In Part 1 of my Strathpuffer adventure, I explain the bike I am going to be using and how I have set it up for the race. In Part 2, I will report back on the race itself.
Trek Stache 5
The bike I started the build from is a Trek Stache 5. Whilst not perhaps a typical XC hardtail in terms of geometry, the Stache still climbs well and is a confident descender.
Front End and Cockpit
When building the bike the biggest question was whether or not to fit suspension and I concluded that I didn’t need it. I am already used to riding the Stache with a rigid front end and the lack of suspension will help keep the overall bike weight down.
I slammed the stem and flipped it upside down to put my weight as much over the front as possible – this will help keep more traction on the front wheel and is a better position to be climbing from.
Drivetrain, Brakes and Cages
The bike originally came with a 1 x 10 Shimano drivetrain which I have left exactly as it is except for a new chain. Simple “1 x” drivetrains are a popular choice at Strathpuffer with some racers even using singlespeed setups. I quite like having gears however so a 1 x 10 setup minimises extra parts yet gives me enough range to tackle the entire course. My pedals are the popular and reliable Shimano XT Trail SPD.
The brakes are Shimano M395 with 180mm rotors which came as standard on the bike. Strathpuffer is renowned for destroying brake pads as the local mud is highly abrasive so I will be taking 4 sets of already bedded in brake pads in case I run out part way through.
I opted for two carbon Bontrager RXL bottle cages which I prefer to the plastic RL cages as I think they have a firmer hold on the bottles – which is especially important on a rigid bike.
Saddle, Seatpost and Guards
I chose a Bontrager Montrose Pro for my saddle. Lightweight and comfy for extended periods in the saddle, the Montrose Pro has been one of my favourite saddles for a while now. Underneath is a Bontrager Drop Line seatpost. Since I’ve started riding with a dropper I would never go back to a static post for off road riding as the minimal weight penalty is absolutely worth the increased control when descending.
I don’t normally use mudguards on bikes as they can affect the look of the bike (it’s a personal choice) but they do serve a purpose. If I want to stand any chance of riding for 24 hours I will need to be as dry as possible so mudguards were essential. I went with a basic folding plastic mudguard for the fork and Crud Racepac 29er on the back.
Wheels and tyres
Tyre choice is difficult for Strathpuffer with the range of weather conditions that can occur throughout the race. Ice-spikes are popular with some racers but they are extremely slow rolling on anything except ice and with the sheer number of riders on the course, icy conditions tend to turn into mud after a few laps. With this in mind, I went with a pair of Bontrager XR Mud tyres – plenty of grip in sloppy conditions and an acceptable rolling speed.
I will also be taking my 29 plus wheels with my Bontrager Chupacabra tyres – which I will use if the course is dry.
For the wheels, I have a Bontrager Rhythm Comp front wheel and a Hope Pro 4 on Stans Flow EX Mk II on the back. Both wheels are solid and reliable with the 44 points of engagement on the Pro 4 and well known reliability.
The Stache uses a custom Stranglehold Dropout which allows you to fit 29+, 27.5+ and 29 inch wheels in just one frame and to shorten the chainstays appropriately. I am using standard 29 inch wheels but I left the dropout at its most extended position to maximise the mud clearance.
Ready to Race
So we are ready to go! I’ve taken advice and recommendations on board but the real test is the race itself. I have full faith in the quality of everything I have chosen but only time, and the abrasive Strathpuffer mud, will tell!
Look out for Part 2 and my report on Strathpuffer 2017 – the race itself.