Tag Archives: Dartmoor

Lamenting the loss of Bottle Hill

Mining has long been part of the history of Dartmoor, predating the roman conquest of Britain. Evolving from simple beginnings, 20th century mining activity saw the implementation of total destruction of large swathes of moorland to make way for open cast mines. Those familiar with Dartmoor will be aware of the blight of the china clay quarries near Lee Moor.

Part of the Lee Moor china clay quarry, Dartmoor.

Now, I understand that the industries of the world require minerals, that local people need work, that moorland is generally of little economic use except for mining, and that landowners are free to sell their land. But I just can’t help lamenting the loss of some of the most accessible moorland bordering Plympton.

Bottle Hill, near to Drakelands and Newnham Park, is the latest casualty of the high price of minerals. In this case, the aptly named Wolf Minerals has been busy digging up Bottle Hill, restarting the open cast exploitation of one the world’s largest known tungsten and tin deposits.

Illustration of the area to be exploited by Wolf Minerals as part of their Drakelands mine (from miningglobal.com).

Although it’s nice to know that one of my favourite areas of Dartmoor now has such importance for the global economy, and that its exploitation will directly provide for around 200 local jobs (and will help to indirectly support numerous other local jobs), the loss of this beauty spot is difficult to stomach.

This was where, in 1994, I did my first proper mountain biking with a small group of friends (one of whom is now sadly deceased) and my younger brother. It’s where I went to think or to get a bit of fresh air after school, or just to have an enjoyable mountain bike ride on those (all too common) days when poor weather made the higher moorland areas too risky. I recall seeing many other cyclists up there, as well as walkers and families enjoying a picnic on a sunny afternoon.

Bottle Hill, I bid thee farewell…

The processing plant site with the open pit in the background (from min-eng.blogspot.co.uk)

My 1993 M Trax Duo Tech 300

Way back during the early 1990s, Raleigh’s Special Products Division (or RSP for short) came up with the novel idea of bonding titanium or cro-moly steel tubes into steel or aluminium lugs, to build mountain bike frames that had a fairly low weight, a rigid rear triangle, and some of the damping and flex of titanium.

In its day, this was something of a genius idea, insofar as it allowed ownership of a hand-built titanium bike, with prominent ‘Titanium’ decals, for a fraction of the price of a welded, full titanium framed bike. While there’s little doubt that some clever marketing, along with a generous sprinkling of ‘titanium aura’ tinged hype, played a role in the relative success of RSP’s ‘Duo Tech’ framed mountain bikes, their performance and ‘ride quality’ was also usually quite highly regarded by those who rode them.

Originally branded as part of the Raleigh Dynatech range until 1994, and part of the Raleigh M Trax range from 1993 to 1995, the demise of the Duo Tech frameset came when the cost of materials and fabrication rose to such a level that the frameset stopped being profitable — at which point Raleigh switched to more conventional designs and materials.

My 1993 Raleigh M Trax 300 Duo Tech

As the bottom of the range model of the newly introduced M Trax brand, the M Trax 300 was the cheapest titanium framed mountain bike you could buy, retailing at about £350 back in 1993. Bought for the princely sum of £50 from retrobike.co.uk, this is my best value for money bike purchase to date. It’s getting common to rebuild retro bikes to their more or less original specifications using parts collected from ebay, but my M Trax is a true survivor: all original parts (down to the tires, grips, and brake pads), very little use at all, and carefully stored for 20+ years, albeit with some conspicuous rust on the bottle cage bolts and brake bolts.

Raleigh M Trax 300
Raleigh M Trax 300: unpacked and ready to ride

After removing the reflectors and adding modern SPD pedals, at 27.5 lb it is not unduly heavy by modern standards, but is close to the upper weight limit that a self-respecting 90s mountain biker would be able to tolerate. The bike has potential for some easy weigh savings, such as replacing the steel stem, bar and seat post with lighter aluminium versions, and fitting lighter tires.

The good

  • The bike feels lively and springy (less so than a good all-steel framed bike, however), with noticeably more trail-buzz being soaked up by the steel controls and titanium tubing than I would usually expect with the 90s standard set-up of aluminium controls and an all-steel frame.
  • Steel controls and seat post give added confidence (at least for a taller/heavier rider like me).
  • The Shimano Deore II thumbshifters and hyperglide cassette shifted between gears remarkably smoothly, which some may find surprising for a bike of this age. The ability to shift across the entire block or chainset in a single movement was appreciated.
  • Reasonably light in weight.
  • Metallic turquoise paint job looks the business.
  • Titanium at the price of far-east steel.
  • Ostentatious decals on the top-tube emphasize that this frame has TITANIUM.
M Trax 300: destination Nun's Cross
M Trax 300: test ride, destination Nun’s Cross

The not so good

  • The gear ratios are a little on the high side for the steepest off-road riding, with its lowest ratio being 1:1.
  • A design fault in the Altus chainset’s non-replaceable inner ring makes chain-suck episodes all too frequent.
  • The plastic four-finger Dia Compe brake levers look ugly and lack power.
  • The bar is just slightly too narrow to steer the bike properly over technical terrain.
  • RSP’s Duo Tech frames were known to de-bond, and there are anecdotal tales of having a tube pop out of its lug mid-ride, in the middle of nowhere. Thankfully, this seems not to be an especially common problem.