2015 partners


Great Rock is supported by some fantastic brands for 2015 and it’s something worth shouting about. I’m more than happy to recommend the kit that I use because it’s tried and tested by me and if it didn’t work without lots of faff and fixing then I wouldn’t want it. It also helps if the kit looks good and can put on a pretty face for the relentless Instagram photos!

Kit has to work well in the tough and rocky conditions of Hebden Bridge, as pictured above, as well as at Gisburn Forest, Lake District, Basque Country, Pyrenees and all the other places that it gets dragged, ridden, thrown in vans, carried up mountains, crashed, rained on, sun bleached, sweated on and cleaned over and over again. It’s making me all excited just thinking about all the adventures to come this year!

Frames are Santa Cruz

Clothing, helmets and pads are Sweet Protection

Drivetrains, brakes, pedals and shoes are Shimano

Forks are X-Fusion

Wheels are Mavic

Bars, stems, saddles and grips are Chromag

Tyres are WTB

Dropper posts are KS

Frame protection is Invisiframe

Chain lube and bike cleaner is Squirt

Waterproof socks and gloves are Sealskinz

Trail tools are Lezyne

Bike travel bag is Evoc

Haircuts and beard trims are North West Barber Co.

Santa Cruz Solo Carbon C

Officially it’s called the 5010, although everyone knows it as the Solo. Ratboy calls his a YOLO, but enough of nomenclature, what’s it like? IMG_6759 I’ve had my Solo for 3 months now and have to say that for most of my riding, it’s the best bike I’ve had. Some of the time I’d like a bit more travel and a slacker head angle (and my Heckler ticks this box), but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this less well known bike in the Santa Cruz range. My frame is the ‘5010 Carbon C’ version, which can be bought frame only and custom spec’ed. The ‘5010 Carbon’ is the cheaper carbon frame and is just available as a full built bike. More details are here on the Santa Cruz UK site. IMG_6870 My bike is as light as a sabre at 28lb or 12.7kg. This is an honest weight by the way, including pedals and proper, strong tubeless tyres with 2 scoops of sealant in each tyre. Don’t think though that it’s a lightweight in temperament! The great thing with this bike is that you get a genuinely capable, stiff and strong framed trail bike, with fit for purpose parts, that comes at an XC weight. The light weight helps to make it such a fun ride and it’s a hoppy, quick and agile thing indeed. The lower bottom bracket and shorter chainstays, as compared to the Bronson and Heckler, make it just that bit more playful. It corners noticeably quicker and the weight and shorter back end make you want to hop and skip along the trail all day. Having less travel (125mm at the rear) is also a positive with the Solo and you really feel the bike respond immediately to your input.15061306132_b78a37ca1b_z This is a very capable bike but if you’re going to take it at speed into 160mm bike terrain you have to ride it properly and still be prepared for it to get a bit wild! This can be a lot of fun, but you will be reminded that there is just 125mm of travel at the back if you try to just smash through the trail. In this way it’s a ‘rider’s bike’ that rewards good line choice and the the ability to pump the trail correctly. I’ve ridden mine in the Basque mountains in Spain and on big Lake District passes and I loved it in these environments. IMG_6917 The best trails for the Solo are twisty, flowing singletrack where your energy is not getting soaked up by the travel and you feel so light and fast on the trail. Trail centres are super fun on a Solo. Big day rides in natural terrain are also its forte with the light weight making the climbs easier and the great handling a blast for the twisty bits. For the UK and the majority of real world mountain biking it’s hard to beat. IMG_6847 Round Hebden Bridge there’s a fair bit of technical riding and the Solo shines here. Trails are often short in length and not flat out. The 140mm fork coupled with the shorter rear travel is perfect. You get manoeuvrability, accuracy and a plush, poised VPP ride from the rear end.

The 27.5 specific X-Fusion Sweep fork is great, especially when you take into account the bargain price in the UK of £454.99 RRP! It punches much higher than its price and feels plush with good quality damping and a reputation for reliability. You get adjustable rebound and a lockout. Separate high and low speed damping would be nice to have (if you know how to set them up!) but this would be adding to the cost, and really unless you’re getting picky you can live with the ‘run as it comes’ set up. 140mm travel feels just right for the Solo and the stance is good for going up as well as down. IMG_7550 - Version 2 I’m using Chromag parts again in this build with the excellent BZA 35mm clamp size bars and lovely machined stem. The carbon bars feel fantastic. There is a bit of give making them not harsh at all, yet at the same time they feel precise and they look as cool as can be. The bars come at 780mm width which I’ve cut to 750mm. Grips are a personal favourite, the Chromag Basis, which are firm and slim with a very grippy yet hard wearing surface and super cool rounded end caps. IMG_7036 Pedals are the grippy Chromag Scarab, with clever pins designed to snap rather than destroy the threads that they screw into. These are a reliable and strong pedal with a good sized platform that the ball of your foot sits in nicely. I’ve been using Scarabs on both my bikes all year and have been well impressed. They are ready for a bearing change now and luckily you can get kits for this from Shorelines who supply all the Chromag kit. I’m running a light weight Chromag Moon saddle, which is sleek looking yet comfortable. It has nicely rounded edges for moving around on and not getting stabbed by! IMG_8504 I’m using KS LEV dropper posts and this is the DX model. The posts I’ve used this year proenhance work have been solidly reliable and have a nice smooth action. On my Heckler I’ve got the optional Southpaw lever, which mounts under the bar where the front mech shifter would go. It has a very slick action and is safely out of the way in crashes, or when standing the bike upside down. Well recommended and something I’d like to change on the Solo. Nothing wrong with the standard lever, but the Southpaw is just better and more stealthy. After all we use the dropper lever almost as much as a gear shifter now so it makes sense to use the same ergonomic design. IMG_6772 From new I wrapped the frame in an Invisiframe kit to protect the finish from scratches, rubbing and bashes. Actually I got my son Nial to do it because I can even make a mess of putting a stamp on an envelope! As the name suggests the kit is almost invisible and I know from experience that it keeps the bike frame looking like new underneath. Well worth £50 when you’ve shelled out for an expensive frame, especially when you come to sell the bike on. IMG_7436 I started off with WTB Vigilante tyres front and back and they don’t half dig in and give amazing grip. On the front, and this has stayed, is the Team Issue edition which comes with a dual casing and soft compound. Absolutely love this tyre, it’s really confidence inspiring and great in the wet and dry, on loose and hard ground. I used the TCS version on the rear until I wore it out, which is a harder compound and so faster rolling. This has a single ply casing. Ideally I like a faster rolling tyre on the back and am waiting for the new Trail Boss tyre to come available. I managed to get one (but only one!) of these for my Heckler and so far it is everything I was looking for. Dual casing for toughness on the back where you need it, especially on rocky trails and with tighter blocks and a faster compound, but still keeping a grippy shoulder for corners. The Trail Boss will soon be available in the UK via Hotlines. While waiting for the Trail Boss I’ve been using a Mavic Crossmax Roam XL rear tyre. This is Mavic’s Enduro race tyre and is mega fast rolling. It’s got a great soft grippy rubber which does wear pretty quick. The centre can slide pretty easily, but the edges grip really well. Not everybody likes this, but if you can commit it’s ace! It’s a bit small volume and I found I had to run more pressure than usual in it. IMG_7898 I never realised I needed XTR until I tried it! It’s so light and makes you look sexy! The brakes are the best I’ve ever used, with loads of feel and power. They look gorgeous, are a doddle to bleed and have the nicest levers ever. The shifter has a precise and light action and still feels like it did the day I fitted it. The cassette is a work of art, with hard wearing titanium larger cogs as well as alloy lower gears. I’ve got a pretty special rear mech which combines the XTR body with a short cage Saint cage and jockey wheels, for a neat, tidy and very trick set up. I’m using a 32 tooth North Shore Billet narrow wide chain ring on gorgeous XTR cranks. Overall the set up has been reliable without any other retention, and the bike has certainly been punished! I lost the chain once though when I hit the chain on a rocky step. Maybe this pulled the chain to one side causing it to derail. One other time the chain came off in a fast rock garden which surprised me as I’ve ridden plenty of similar trails with no problem. Maybe just bad luck, but ultimately it might be good to run a top guide and a bash plate to avoid the small chance of losing the chain. I’m not rushing to do it though. IMG_7984   So far I’ve been using a fast rolling Easton Vice wheelset. The rims have stayed true which is impressive, despite picking up a couple of dings on the back. The spokes, especially when new pinged quite a bit as tension was released from them. Not a nice sound but hasn’t seemed to have any negative effect. The hubs go through bearings pretty quickly though which was a surprise especially as it’s been such a dry year. I get asked a lot. “Solo or Heckler?” Honestly I love riding both. I appreciate the extra beef, great uphill grip and extra travel of the Heckler on faster rocky trails. I love the light weight and agility of the Solo and I like the cheeky way it gets all squirrely when pushed. If I have to commit to an answer, it would be that I’d accept the limitations and go Solo. Maybe though I should try a Bronson….or a Nomad, or whatever the Californian wizards come up with next?

Thanks to Doug from Basque MTB for the photos on the Basque coast.

Santa Cruz Heckler 1st week

The first week of riding my new Santa Cruz Heckler has been a cracker. For the first 3 days I was on the bike running skills courses at Gisburn Forest trail centre. I know these trails well and instantly know if I like a bike or not. Then I drove up to Scotland to ride on the mountain trails of the Cairngorms for 3 days, somewhere I’ve never been before. This trip was with Andy McKenna from Go Where Scotland and Benji Haworth to make the next Great Rock video. So 6 days of riding with berms, smooth tracks, drop offs and jumps in the pine forests as well as natural granite rock gardens, roots and real mountains.

The 18 year old Heckler model has been updated for this year with 27.5 wheels, the same geometry as the Bronson, a bolt through 142mm rear axle and it’s even been made lighter than before. It’s a simple single pivot design and I think it looks fantastic., especially in the Club Tropicana blue colour that I have.  It is the working man’s Santa Cruz and deserves more attention than it has had so far with all the attention that has been focused on the excellent Bronson. The Heckler has a lot more going for it than just being cheaper than the VPP bikes though. It’s a great all round modern mountain bike that you can ride anywhere, at home or abroad. It’s capable and fun.


I’ve loved riding the Heckler so far, which is a relief! I rode one earlier in the year which was a size too big for me and that combined with a too low front end and a pretty dull feeling fork left me underwhelmed. These misgivings were instantly gone on my first ride of my new bike.

It is a very capable descender feeling stiff and very stable. It also feels lively with plenty of pop out of corners and off lumps in the trail. It also feels good and grippy when leaned over and it corners well. Uphill, there is plenty of grip in the back end and the bike feels light to ride. Actual weight in this build is just over 30lbs with pedals. I haven’t felt any of this brake jack that people go on about with single pivot bikes.

The bearings on Santa Cruz bikes are pretty cool. I didn’t know before that you can adjust any play out of the bearings rather than having to replace everything. Don’t just tighten the bolt up on the outside! When you take out this bolt and the collet that’s round it, you’ll find an axle inside the frame that you nip up, with the same kind of force that you use on a headset. Simple. Bearings are angular contact bearings which in simple terms means they are just better and more macho than normal cartridge bearings.


I’m running an X-fusion Vengeance HLR fork set at 160mm travel to give the bike a big hitting stance. I’ve heard good things about these suspenders both in terms of performance, reliability and price. My experience has been a good one so far. The damping feels spot on. No diving into the travel, a nice supple action and stiff just like you want long travel forks to be. Stanchions are 36mm wide and there is a Syntace 20mm bolt through axle. The fork can actually be used for 26 or 27.5 wheels giving it added appeal if you’re thinking of changing your frame in the future. On top of all this it has to be said that Vengeance is a pretty cool name for a fork too.

Wheels are the local heros from Barnoldswick. Hope Hoops with the reliable and adaptable Hope hubs and the nice wide and tubeless compatible Flow EX rims. I added Stans rim tape, tubeless valves and sealant along with some 2.35 Schwalbe tyres and went riding. I’m hoping to try some of the new tyres that WTB are now offering next. I’ve been impressed in the past by the strength of their sidewalls and the Vigilante looks like it will be a good tyre for Hebden Bridge as well as trips to the Basque Country and the Alps. I also chose a Hope headset. They make it easy to find the right headset for your chosen bike and offer a pick and mix choice of upper and lower cups to Viagra 100mg suit all the standards that we now have.

I’m sold on the 27.5 wheel size. I liked 29ers until it got very steep and tight and then they were just too big for me at my height. Basically I got bummed with the back wheel! I did love the way they rolled through rocks though and I’m glad that the 27.5s have a similar quality. Enough said on this issue.

My bars, stem, pedals, grips and saddle are all from Chromag. The bars are the OSX Fubars with 5º upsweep and 8º backsweep which is just how I like it. I’ve cut them down to 747mm from 780mm. The stem is the exquisite Ranger at 50mm and it has aroused stem envy in all who have seen it. The Basis grips are nice and slim, quite firm and have a very cute end cap system. The Scarab pedals are awesome. With a really big platform and multiple places to put the pins they are very grippy. The pins are made with a notch part way down them to ensure that they snap off rather than wrecking the threads. You can also remove a washer to make the pins barbarically long and grippy. I’ve not felt the need to try this yet.The beautifully machined pedal body is nice and concave for positive foot placement and they come in all the colours of the rainbow. The Moon saddle has a low profile, maximising standover for my short legs! It has a lovely full leather cover and ti rails. It’s light and the rounded shaping makes it easy to get on the nose for steep climbs and get off the back of it on techy descents. Chromag is available in the UK through dealers as well as directly from Shorelines the distributor, who also do Knolly bikes and North Shore Billet components.


Drivetrain and brakes are from Shimano. I love the XT brakes, nice short levers with a great hook for your finger, lovely feel, great power, easy to bleed and they use mineral oil which is kinder to your hands, paint work and the living room carpet than DOT fluid! I run a 1×10 set up with XT cranks and shifter and a short cage Zee mech with a clutch. Crisp shifting and quiet, reliable and high performance. I’ve got a 32 tooth North Shore Billet, narrow wide chain ring and have not lost the chain at all. Happy days!

How anyone can survive without a dropper seatpost is now beyond me after using them for the last few years. I’m running a KS Lev post which took about half an hour to fit. It is cable activated so you don’t get the hose lengthening like you do with a Reverb. The lever is very neat and fits under the bar out of harm’s way. Everything is smooth, everything is easy.


To finish off the bike I’ve had an Invisiframe frame protection kit fitted. This is a custom sized 3M vinyl kit that is specific to the bike model and frame size. It’s pretty much invisible when you put it on and the material is nice and thin. I’ve seen kits that have been on bikes longer than mine and you can start to see the edges of the wrap, however it’s not that obtrusive and the simple fact is that for not that much money you will be keeping your frame in a much superior condition for when you come to sell it on, or just to keep it nice for you to enjoy until you die. I’m well impressed with this kit.

That’s all for now. I’m looking forward to riding the bike on my home Hebden Bridge trails this week and then packing it up into the Evoc bag and heading off to the Pyrenees to run a skills and riding trip with Doug from Basque MTB. WOOP!

People ask me how I can be independent when I review a bike that I’ve been given. Well I can’t claim to be can I? However I’m not going to say that I like something if I don’t, in fact you won’t see me riding something that I don’t like. Basically I don’t do anything that I don’t like doing if I can at all help it! You will just have to decide if you believe me or not. Chin up!