Here we've got the space to share a bit more of our experience and knowledge of cycling, living and working in the Highlands of Scotland. We also welcome contributions from friends and customers that might help or inspire visitors to the North of Scotland or just visitors to this website.
2018 Specialized Diverge Comp E5 Review
I’m not going to try to pretend otherwise. Of the 2018 fleet update, this one had me the most excited. We trialled the Diverge last year as a more adaptable option to our road bikes. With an aluminium frame, carbon forks and 30mm tyres it’s not quite what some of our faster road bike customers are used to but as a fast-touring option it offers much more flexibility and is ideal for cycling the North Coast 500.
2018 Specialized Diverge Comp E5
Fast rolling and pothole-resistant
Specialized made a couple of major changes for 2018. The first, subtle one, is that both frame and fork will now take a wider tyre. 38mm is definitely possible and some 40mm will fit too. Both of these sizes offer increased comfort and potentially more grip with the right tyre choice. The other, more obvious, change is THAT headset.
It all looks a bit weird but the FutureShock is designed to partially isolate the rider from the vibration and action of the front wheel as it passes over the rougher ground this bike is capable of. Bounce up and down on it in the park and you can see it working. While riding, it’s much more subtle but still effective – especially on longer journeys.
The Future Shock
The groupset is a mix of components. Shimano 11-speed 105 shifters and derailleurs offer almost top-end performance. The Praxis Alba super-compact crankset with 48T and 32T rings, together with the 11-32T cassette give a large range of gears with a lowest of 27 inches – not quite as low as our Sirrus hybrids (25″) but in keeping with this bike and the lighter loads it would usually be ridden with.
Shimano 105 shifters and mechs
Rack mounts are built into the dropouts and the seatclamp. The latter makes seat height adjustment a little problematic but once set it’s all good (although we don’t fit them as standard, we can provide racks for load carrying).
As might be expected with this type of bike, braking duties are handled by disks front and rear. The TRP Spyre calipers are cabled up with compressionless Jagwire cables to minimise any sponginess and they certainly make a difference. Good wet weather braking is therefore assured.
TRP Spyre Disc Brakes
Feedback from customers has been good too –
“It worked great for the diverse surfaces of the bike tour we did. The wheels handled the road, gravel, and grass well. Pretty lightweight. Seat was comfy. Shock in handlebars was nice too. ”
Specialized have done something odd with the sizing this year. At 172cm I regularly ride Medium/54cm sized bikes. Not so in this Diverge, where the 52cm is the right size for me. It’s certainly worth considering before renting or buying. Talking of which, I’m seriously thinking of buying one myself when we sell the fleet off later this year! Used Specialized Diverge for sale here.
2018 Specialized Rockhopper Comp Review
Mountain bikes are, perhaps, the most difficult to choose when putting together our hire fleet. The variety is so overwhelming and the uses folk put them to so broad. However, what we’ve found is that most customers want something they can ride from Inverness and, with a few exceptions, aren’t looking to ride something overly tough. That being the case, we stick to hardtails and have, for a few years now, opted for 29ers for their greater ability to carry a bit of speed and to roll over small obstacles. Having said that, we also find that the larger wheels make smaller sizes cumbersome and difficult and so our Small and Extra Small bikes have use the 27.5” wheel size.
Specialized Rockhopper Comp 2018
This year, most of our mountain bikes are Specialized Rockhopper Comp. At first glance, they appear to be identical to the 2017 model. However, very little has been carried across. There’s still a lightweight alloy frame, but the geometry has been tweaked a little, following the fashion for a longer top tube, shorter stem and more relaxed steering angle. They still have a full complement of 3 x 9 gears though. That’s 44/32/22 on the front and a 11-34T cassette. This gives a huge range with a lowest gearing of 18 inches (that’s forward movement for one rotation of the pedals). That’s quite a bit lower than, for instance, our hybrid bikes at 25 inches. That low gearing makes going up steep hills that much easier and is especially appreciated when carrying luggage.
The suspension forks have also changed for 2018. Coil forks have been making a bit of a comeback recently, even at the very top end. While the Suntours fitted to these Rockhoppers are now a bit heavier than last years air-sprung model, the coil spring does mean that they are likely to remain more reliable and, if the worst comes to the worst, will continue to function without losing air pressure etc. I noticed a little “clunking” coming from the fork on rougher descents but a little turn of the preload knob took this away. This is less likely to be a problem with heavier riders as the fork sag will take care of it. Any added weight from the spring fork isn’t noticeable in use and I was easily able to pop the front wheel over fallen trees and rocks on the trails. There’s still a suspension lock-out lever for when the added “bounce” is wasteful but this year it’s simply mounted at the fork crown rather than by remote cable. Again, it’s something less to go wrong.
Braking is once again taken care of by a full set of Shimano Hydraulic stoppers. There’s a 180mm rotor on the front for when things get a bit steep too
Hydraulic disc brakes
The Specialized tyres are pretty good all-rounders. There has been a trend towards a narrower, less knobbly, rear but Specialized have retained a decent tread at both ends with the Ground Control tyres. This might introduce a little more tyre drag but the traction and grip is welcome when the ground gets softer.
I found the saddle perfect. It’s relatively narrow so easy to slide off the back when things get a bit steep but still a comfortable perch for longer days riding. Of course, we’re all different shapes so opinions like these can be a bit subjective. One issue is that the seatposts are quite long and the bottle cage mounts on the seat tube can make lowering the saddle for steep descents a problem. Cutting down the seat post can help resolve this if need be, though care then has to be taken with minimum insertion levels.
Crucially for us, the Rockhoppers still come with rack mounts on the frame. This is a feature mostly missing from higher-end mountain bikes these days but offers a flexibility of use for folk wanting to do trips like the Great Glen Way and not suffer the discomfort of carrying a big rucksack. Our current racks also have a small platform that acts as a simple mudguard and for 2018 we’ve added a small fork-mounted mudguard to reduce trail splatter. I’ve been using similar models on my own bikes for a few years and they work really well.
Luggage rack for panniers
Mudguard to catch the worst of the muck
Overall, it’s difficult to fault the Rockhopper Comp for a simple no-frills, yet competent mountain bike – especially if it’s for a bit off off-road touring.
2018 Specialized Sirrus Sport Review
The hybrids are very much the workhorses of our hire fleet. They are flexible, comfortable and easy to ride. This year we are again using the Specialized Sirrus Sport. We had these in 2017 and they proved to be very reliable with a finish that is easily looked after and long lasting.
2018 Specialized Sirrus Sport
When fitted with our standard mudguards (fenders) and a rear rack they can look a little unglamorous, especially in the very understated metallic grey colour. This is a bit of a shame as they are also known as “fitness” bikes – fast road bikes for those who don’t want dropped racer handlebars. With an alloy frame and a carbon fork the stripped down a Medium Sirrus weighs in at a reasonably svelte 11.9Kg. The carbon fork also helps provide a little “give” on rougher surfaces, for the transportation of the bike it’s important to consider a bike rack for truck bed.
Gearing is taken care of by a 2×9 crankset and an 11-34 tooth cassette. That gives a good range of gearing at the faster end and a lowest gear of around 25 inches (the amount of forward movement for one revolution of the pedals). That isn’t as low as our mountain bikes (18 inches) but good enough for most hills. We always advise cutting down on the amount of luggage when touring with these bikes anyway. It’s no fun carrying too much stuff with you when you get to the hillier parts of the Highlands.
Shimano Sora rear mech
The gear shifters are made by Microshift. They’re a much smaller company than Shimano and last year was the first time I’d used them. They are bit more clunky than the more expensive Shimano shifters but they feel very “positive” and we’ve had only one failure of them. There’s a middle click position for the front changer that helps avoid any chain rub, though most folk will just click through this position on their way up and down the rings.
The handlebars are quite narrow if you’ve been used to riding mountain bikes. Great for aerodynamics though and for filtering through traffic or through narrow trails.
On the wheels are robust 32mm, lightly treaded hybrid tyres. These cope well with most surfaces around Inverness and on the longer routes. Being slightly wider than those on our road bikes means they have a reasonable amount of comfort too. These are ideal for many of the road-based routes like the North Coast 500 where the road surface might have degraded a little or for the varied track surfaces on NCN78 to Fort William and Oban.
You definitely want to take care if the tracks are muddy though as the tread isn’t really designed for more serious off-roading. That rules out routes like the Great Glen Way alongside Loch Ness. The rims on the wheels have a surprisingly fashionable 25mm internal width. This is something the bicycle industry has taken on board recently, appreciating that wider rims, with the higher-volume tyre it creates, are a more comfortable (and aerodynamic) option. It does mean we can’t really fit narrower tyres though, something some folk still ask for.
With hydraulic disk brakes, there always enough stopping power and no adjustment necessary. That makes them ideal for longer trips too – especially if the bike is loaded up with panniers. There can be a little brake squeal on occasion. This seems to happen of the disc rotor is wet but it disappears when the brakes are used and the rotor heats up a bit.
Maybe next year we’ll buy some in a brighter colour. If you’d like to buy one of these ex-hire in autumn 2018 get in touch now.
Specialized Sirrus Sport on Specialized Website
First winter outing
Today 3 of the team headed up into the hills south of Inverness. Above the A9 the Farr wind farm commands fantastic views towards Glen Affric, Ben Wyvis and along the River Findhorn. The weather was kinder than expected but the strong wind made up for the lack of rain. The loop today was 40km in length. A fair bit of climbing but the views that greeted us were incredible. The final dive down to the distillery at Tomatin always leaves you wanting more……
Fort Augustus To Inverness
Charlie was heading to Oban today so I hitched a ride as far as Fort Augustus and rode back. I’d never cycled up from Fort Augustus before and have been meaning to take on the big climb for ages. On the last Sunday in April each year this forms the King of the Mountain section of the closed roads Etape Loch Ness sportive.
Climb from Fort Augustus
The weather was bright and dry, temperature was around 65F / 19C and there was a steady breeze from the south-west, perfect!
The climb starts straight away so there’s no chance for a warm up but at least I was tackling it fresh. There has been a lot of timber extraction recently which has left the hillside scarred but the upside is that the views of Loch Ness are much better. It’s good to see the completion of the new path which will bring an off-road Loch Ness 360 cycle route much closer.
It’s a 1200ft climb over 5½ miles but the gradient isn’t too severe and there are a couple of respites.
After Loch Tarff the summit Suidhe viewpoint is soon in sight. The views at the top are really stunning.
North from Suidhe Viewpoint
There are various great cycling routes back to Inverness from here but I decided not to drop down to Loch Ness at Foyers and headed past Loch Mhor then turned left at Croachy to ride past Loch Ruthven and Loch Duntelchaig (after an abortive recce down the Abersky road).
It was great to travel so far in one direction without looping back towards the start and into the wind. We’re up and down to Fort Augustus fairly regularly so if you’d like to ride this route too, let us know and we should be able to offer a good value transfer. It might be good to extend the route and start at Bridge of Oich for a bit more of a run-up to that climb.
Route, elevation profile and more pictures on our Strava.
Our new MTBs
Our new MTBs
We’ve recently received some deliveries of bikes four 2017 hire fleet. This year our mountain bikes are mainly Specialized Rockhoppers with a few Jynx too in the smaller sizes. See: https://www.tickettoridehighlands.co.uk/bike-hire-mountain.php