Quiet Moments

The wind is uncharacteristically still at the tower.

The heat of the climb is emanating from my jacket and I breathe deeply. In through my mouth then out through my nose, deep in and deep out. I am slowing my breathing and can hear the exhalations loudly in my ears. The usual dog walkers and families burning the Christmas energy are about, but my gaze is elsewhere.

On the other side of the valley the trees are breathing as well.

The warmth of their cover rising in tendrils of mist with every exhalation of their limbs. Thin threads of moisture slowly rising and intertwining in infinitely complex and delicate forms. Barely rising above the uppermost boughs of the plantation, just high enough to meet the cold December air.

The grey sky cracks, and the woodland’s mist illuminates, golden fleece hanging pristenely in the air. The heat from the sun energising and exciting the droplets, they rise and dance. Rapids and eddies of warm and cool air, revealed by the shifting of the subtle density of the woodland’s breath.

The clouds above roll in their own waves, suddenly washing over the crease in the flat grey blanket cover, blinking out the shaft of golden “God ray” light. The mist has risen too high and now begins to dissipate. Like cotton wool in water, it has spread too thin, and slows, and fades.

The whole dance was probably no more than five minutes long. A brief canto in the hills and woodland. One that I would have missed had I been within the canopy, and one I would have missed had I pushed on to get as much riding into the time available. But sometimes, well, most rides, these moments occur. Some are not as delicate as this, but there are always those moments where you can see the land breathe.

They are important. Yet they do not always present themselves obviously, but sometimes, it’s worth stopping just to breathe.

Riding Glenlivet Trail Centre

Glenlivet has had a few changes this year.

It’s also been a while since my last ride there so it was worth a visit to see what’s what.

Most of the adjustments can be filed under “estate maintenance“, and is mostly clear felling. Whilst this does open up the views in the top sectors of the red and blue, it also opens it up to the wind. These trails really suffer from the wind, and it took a lot of pace and energy out of you when it wasn’t at your back.

It also made some of the jumps early on in the red a little dicey, blowing me clean off the track at one point. Now I may have just have been unlucky with the weather, but I suspect there is never a day without a stiff breeze up top.

More excitingly, down at the hub cafe the changes are much more positive with the addition of a new skills park. The feature rich little skills park works as a great compliment to the already excellent pump track.

This development, along with the felling and trail maintenance work is really encouraging to see. All too often when you return to a trail centre a year apart, you find wear and tear, not new features and resolved drainage issues.

All in all, Glenlivet might not be to everyone’s taste, but it is always worth the visit in my view.

Monteer 6500 – Review

Night riding season is well and truly here.

The Monteer 6500 is Magicshine’s top tier offering, coming in £200.00, it features an array of 5 CREE LED’s which are powered by a large separate battery pack. It certainly lacks the convenience of some of its competitors self-contained units, but what it lacks in compact form factor, it makes up for in sheer brightness.

Magicshine might not be the first name that springs to mind when thinking of MTB specific riding lights. But I have been using some of their smaller units for commuting and as backup lights for a number of years. I have been nothing than impressed by the longevity of the lights. They may lack some of the features of other top lights, but their simple rugged approach is not without merit.

The unit itself feels very solid and made of good quality materials, the same can mostly be said for all the ancillary parts. The CNC Garmin style bar mount for the head unit is nicely finished and comes with rubber shims for different bar widths, the battery housing has a reassuring heft but mine had fine hairline cracks. Nothing that would stop me using is but I am keeping a close eye on them to see if they get worse with use.

Once fitted and on the trail the power of the lights is hard to understate, the rated 6500 lumens is more than a credible headline. The range of settings is a welcome feature, with 15 different light settings that are easily navigated through using the single button on the head unit. This allows for you to find the right amount of brightness for the climbs saving battery life for the descents where you need the full power most.

You get some warning of remaining battery life with the on/control button changing colour at preset intervals (100%, 70%, 30% and 10%). It is relatively vague, but enough to give you ample warning.

The bad news, the cabling and battery placement. the cable exits the head unit at a fairly awkward angle, this makes for a messy run of the power cable. The cable itself is also a fairly odd length, too long to mount the battery close to the head tube, too short to get it near the bottom bracket or set tube.

However, this is just nit picking, as once the light is on and you can see through time on the trail you don’t care how messy it makes your bars. Besides, no one can see it in the dark anyway. In reality it is cheaper than some of the more established names, but it is still an expensive luxury accessory for you riding. However, the performance is greater than that of equal and sometimes greater price tag.

Growing Pains – The EWS & Doping

The EWS was (and possibly still is) the wild west.

Not the bad stuff about the white man’s manifest destiny, but the open, wild space where the spirit animal of early downhill had found fresh pastures. But with the announcement earlier this year that the UCI is going to adopt the series, was too strong a trigger for many Pinkbike warriors to resist. They would bring about certain standardizations and (god forbid) rules that would kill what the discipline was, “the spirit of Enduro” would die and whither on the vine.

It was too easy to make Ratboy hiding the bong jokes to see what was coming, yes, drug testing, but also positive results and the inevitable hard questions.

The EWS when it was founded reached out to the UCI. The UCI at that time was not looking (or willing) to adopt enduro as a discipline. That meant, that the EWS was unable to issue the hallowed and iconic rainbow stripes to its champions. It also meant that certain other duties where left to the individual federations of a races host nation. Duties such as anti-doping screening.

With the structure of the EWS being what it is, with each race run by different national organizations and federations, the rules and format at each event can be different. With each race organizer having a different opinion on some of the finer points.

This in the first few years caught out some of the riders at the sharp end of the league table. Riders have been hit with penalties due to infractions that some would argue, wouldn’t have happened during a different race. What constitutes shuttling during practice for example.

On top of this, the penalties for similar infractions have been, varied. Fabien Barel received a five-minute penalty for shuttling at Crankworx back in 2013 compared with Adrien Dailly, Dimitri Tordo, and Florian Nicolai receiving twenty seconds in Colombia earlier this year. Whilst this isn’t comparing apples with apples, it is certainly something to think about when you take a step back and look at the EWS over its 6-year history.

These growing pains were however necessary, for the teams, privateers and the series organizers, to work out what the EWS was and is going to be. As the series has matured, teams have gotten wise and become more attune to these variances, with fewer of these mishaps befalling the top riders.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

From the start there has been a strong statement against doping within the EWS, Chris Ball is very clear on his position on the matter. But with the anti-doping screening programs being delegated to each individual host nations federation, consistency has arguably been lacking.

Consistency in the application of both the testing and contents of the rules regarding doping is something that should have as few inconsistencies areas as possible. One person’s asthma prescription is another person’s positive test response after all.

This all leads us to the anti-doping testing at the Olargues stage of this years series.

What we know so far;

  • 9 male athletes were tested.
  • The tests were carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).
  • 2 riders samples returned “adverse analytical findings”
  • Jared Graves & Richie Rude have confirmed that they returned those findings.
  • Four of the others tested have confirmed their tests came up clean.
  • 3 unknown athletes have not come forward as yet.
  • The AFLD have yet to release their findings and any sanctions.
  • The UCI did not oversee these tests.
  • The UCI may restrict sanctioned riders from racing next year.

So why have we had a round of testing now? And why none of the female athletes? Well the lack of females being tested was due to no female anti-doping officers being present, again the lack of consistency is evident. The AFLD may have opted to test at this race precisely because the UCI would be doing so next year. They may have wanted to appear proactive and not ignoring the event. This is pure conjecture and we will never know why this race.

Why have we not had more people caught in the past? Is Enduro inherently more clean than other mountain biking disciplines? Probably no more or less so, but regular testing doesn’t currently exist. In fact Rude implied that this was the first time he had been tested whilst racing the EWS, which for a two time world champ is kind of incredible.

As the standardized anti-doping test regime and infrastructure of the UCI comes on stream with the EWS next year, the contents of the banned substance list and the true ingredients of the supplements used by athletes will no doubt be poured over by the teams. The level of rigor on the nutritional aspects of the athletes will level up so to speak.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

Cedric Gracia told a story in one of his vlogs about doping in early French XC racing. The essence was that during a race someone from the crowd held out a bidon. He took the bottle whilst passing and his Dad basically saw this and tackled him off the bike. The reason being, you don’t know what is in the bottle. It could be just an isotonic drink, but it could also be a banned substance. It could be an over the counter supplement that contains a banned substance. A deliberate act of cheating would not have taken place, but Gracia’s career would potentially not have happened if he had tested positive.

Something of this nature may have happened, feed stations are an important element of a race day nutritional strategy. This with the fact that other riders in other disciplines have provided positive samples due to a supplement not listing all the ingredients it contains give plenty of scope for how this could have happened innocently.

The fact that they were once team mates and training partners, as well as both sponsored by Rhino Power supplements. Will no doubt raise some eyebrows. However, even without the confirmation of guilt, the fact is that these test results may impact Grave’s return to racing and Rude’s plans for the 2019 season if not beyond.

Whilst this whole episode is sad to see, I am not really surprised that it has happened. We just have to wait for the full findings and any sanctions to be published.

DMBinS Event

Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland invited me to present at their latest networking event.

Hosted by BMDinS and held at the Tor-Na-Coille in Banchory, the evening was a light touch networking event, designed to give local businesses in the sphere (or looking to diversify into MTB), a flavour of the support availble to do so.

DMBINSEVENTbanchory 4

There was a nice range of really great speakers, Danny Cowe and Will Clarke of DMBinS opened the evening and Sam Richards (originally from Strachan) of One Up Components delivered the keynote about the One Up story.

I was representing the university and school where I work (Gray’s School of Art at RGU) alongside James Njuguna of the school of engineering. We were both discussing the ways our schools can support developing businesses and innovation.

Local bike business 20 Twenty Bike Clinic was also in attendance. As a dealer of One Up Components, plenty of their wares were on show as well as some very nice bikes that had rolled out of the bike clinic.

It was a relaxed and enjoyable evening, there are few events that gather the wider Aberdeenshire MTB community together. So the oppurtunity to put names to faces and find out about everyones ideas and projects was really exciting to see.

Time For Something Completely Different

The site and Youtube channel has been a little quiet of late, there have been a few reasons for this, change of work duties, maoving house and my Masters in Fine Art. As part of my MA I made a video essay instead of a normal written one, no less work as I had to essentially write a essay length lecture.

 

Eitherway, I thought I would share it here to show you all what I’d been doing with myself.


Bibliography

Shepherd, Nan, and Robert Macfarlane. The Living Mountain a Celebration of the Cairngorm Mountains of Scotland. Canongate, 2011.

Bloom, Brett, and Sacramento, Nuno. Deep Mapping. Breakdown Break Down Press, 2017

Monbiot, George. Feral: Searching for Enchantment on the Frontiers of Rewilding. Allen Lane, 2013.

Vince, Gaia. Adventures in the Anthropocene A Journey to the heart of the planet we made. Vintage, 2016.
Websites

Outdooraccess-scotland.scot. (2018). Scottish Outdoor Access Code. [online] Available at: https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/ [Accessed 14 Aug. 2018].

Nature.scot. (2018). Home | Scottish Natural Heritage. [online] Available at: https://www.nature.scot/ [Accessed 14 Aug. 2018].

Scotways.com. (2018). Statutory Access Rights – ScotWays. [online] Available at: https://www.scotways.com/faq/law-on-statutory-access-rights [Accessed 14 Aug. 2018].
Government Guidelines Documents

Gov.scot. (2011). The Muirburn Code. [online] Available at: https://www.gov.scot/Resource/Doc/355582/0120117.pdf [Accessed 14 Aug. 2018].

 

Riding Mastermind

A destination trail, a single ribbon of singletrack sublime enough to make any amount of journey time worth while.

Mastermind and the Ridge are to be found on opposite sides of the Dee next to Ballater. The Ridge is a long rugged natural trail that goes steep once it re-enters the treeline. Mastermind however, is a different kettle of fish and a trail worthy of almost any length of drive.

Mastermind Ballater trail time stravaigingMastermind Ballater trail time MTB enduro.png

A lovingly crafted ribbon of singletrack of the highest order, steep and fast, technical yet flowing. Sinuous and supportive turns roll through the trees, with hero lines booting over the berms for those willing (or skilled enough) to hit full send. A true test of skill and bravery, this trail is one to measure yourself against, a litmus test of a trail and one well worth the pilgrimage.

Chapeau to the trail faeries.

Mastermind Mountain Biking Enduro singletrack

Lochnagar

“Eye and foot acquire in rough walking a co-ordination that makes one distinctly aware of where the next step is to fall, even while watching sky and land.”

Whilst I was grateful for how true this was, I was also acutely aware that this would be a mighty foul place to twist or break an ankle. It was at this point that I felt my foot give way and the strength fail in my ankle, bugger.


Lochnagar, an iconic hill and one of the most popular and recognisable in the southern Cairngorms. Not so much a peak, as a promontory that juts from a jagged ridge line into its equally impressive coire. Whilst being the main objective of the days ride, it is in fact one of five munros that can be bagged by foot or bike from this route. Whilst the stats suggest a big day, the numbers can be misleading as to just how big, with more than 1000m of climbing over the 30km of frequently tough ground.

Loch Muick.jpgThe day started on the shores of Loch Muick, the weather gods had blessed and cursed me with blue skies and a blistering temperature to match. I had ample provisions and camera gear and was prepared for a big day on the hill.

Rolling out of the car park the route took me along the southern shores of Loch Muick, I covered quick ground before the wall of the Capel road climb came to dominate my field of view. This stiff and completely dried out sand dune of a climb is an early introduction in what to expect higher on the plateau.

The loose trail surface and record breaking drought had conspired to rob me of any and all climbing traction. But with a mix of pushing and zig-zagging up the unforgiving trail I was rewarded with views over the plateau and towards Mount Keen in the east.

Looking to the east Cappel Road.jpgThe deep sandy nature of the trail persisted as I gained more elevation, the deer grass slowly encroaching into the centre of the trail, rooting it to more solid ground. The drought had also wrought its withering work on the peat bogs. Normally a broken collection of dark black pools would greet you, the depths hidden by the darkness of the peat filtered water. Even with the weeks without rain, I was still surprised to find them dried up. A cracked skin of white glistening sand and gravel reflecting the light where the ripples on the water’s surface should have been.

Peat PoolsThis made me aware that burns to refill my water would be few and far between and that even with the heat, I would need to be careful with my fluids, mindful not to over exert or over heat myself.

After a few quick kms I passed the wind battered pony hut that marks the start of the climb towards Broad Cairn. The initial strides of the climb are on a stretch of newly resurfaced walkers’ path. With large steps and water bars it was very tempting to turn around and rip back down, if it wasn’t for the fact I would have to climb back up again.

I’ve tried this route before, a good few years ago but lack of time and high winds turned me back, that attempt ended at Broad Cairn. I am sure a more efficient route through this munros boulder field exists, I’m sure one time I will find it, this would not be that day. The trail melted into a morass of increasingly large boulders, the route through fading into the chaotic yet perfectly balanced hillside. I didn’t want to climb over the top, the map told me a path around the shoulder was there, I thought I had found it, I had in fact found a deer path.

With the bike shouldered across my back I methodically picked my way, one step following the next. The desiccated moss and lichen squeaked unnaturally as I walked over it, the land was more of a desert than normal. With my mind beginning to wander I remembered a passage from Nan Shepard’s “The Living Mountain” that I had read the day before.

“Eye and foot acquire in rough walking a co-ordination that makes one distinctly aware of where the next step is to fall, even while watching sky and land.”

Whilst I was grateful for how true this was, I was also acutely aware that this would be a mighty foul place to twist or break an ankle. It was at this point that I felt my foot give way and the strength fail in my ankle, bugger.

Estate Boundary lines.jpgSitting on the moss and lichen covered slope I looked at the coire below, shapes moved and gathered. A large herd was rallying to move on, they had no doubt caught my scent on the warm breeze and felt that my presence was too great a risk. The grace and speed that they covered ground with was beautiful to watch. The deer here are used to gamekeepers stalking and rifle cracks echoing off the cliffs from higher ground. Yet had I not slipped I would not have seen them, and if I had kept moving they would have remained still. To see them was to disturb them.

Awaking myself from my reverie, I took some vitamin I with flapjacks and pressed on. The elation I felt when I finally contoured the shoulder and saw the small marker cairn signalling the path, pure joy. Building momentum I joined the line of cairns together, the ibuprofen had kicked in and I was back on the bike and flying across the short alpine grass.

Making up for time, the stretch over Cairn Bannoch to beneath Carn an Sagairt Mor was a euphoric fast blast. Smooth trail, short grass and glacial smooth rocks for booting off of. This is why.

EndlessSo far I had seen no-one since the shores of Loch Muick, but it was now late enough in the day for the hillwalkers to have made it this far in. Small patches of coloured goretex came and passed cordially moving aside allowing me to keep rhythm.

The tempo slowed and after crossing the first hint of running water on the high tops it was on to possibly the stiffest climb of the day. An unrelenting push up the western flanks of Carn a Choire Bhoidheach, it was part of the price for the final descent, re-gaining elevation and being rewarded with yet more sublime views.

A brief spell of implied, if not real, exposure around the edge of the coire cliffs above Loch Nan Eun delivered me to the final push up Lochnagar itself. Steeling myself for the main descent of the day, I could see the trail precipitously falling from view. I had heard rumours of the Glas Allt, a long unforgiving and at times, arguably, the most technical trail this side of Scotland. Hoping the Ibuprofen would hold I saddled up and dropped in.

The rock strewn trail was fast yet deceptive, drops and wheel sized hollows lay hidden from view until you were on top of them. The Glas Allt is famous for its staircases, huge unshaped rocks wrenched into place. The first of these was intimidating as I rolled in, a feeling that only increased the further I went down. Speed control was vital, a little too much or too little of either brake at the wrong point would lead to a high consequence crash.

With my heart rate fully elevated and adrenalin coursing it was on to the first more open high speed stretch. Water bars measured in feet not inches started to punctuate the trail. I tried to pre-hop or use a natural lip to boost across these bars but I started to come up increasingly short, the strength in my ankle started to fail and the pain increase with each loading of the bike. This already long descent was going to take a whole lot longer than expected.

With the whispers starting to become audible in my head, caution and stiffness started to enter into my riding. I was aware that I was riding defensively and features well within my limits were stalling me in a way that they wouldn’t have on any other ride. Breathing deep I knew I would not clean this descent. The main techfest was yet to come and the way I was riding would make the water fall towards the shores of Loch Muick too great a risk. Sometimes caution is the better part of valour.

When I reached the falls the pain in my ankle was constant and quite intense, with that and my head not in the game I dismounted and carried the bike back to the treeline. There is nothing more soul destroying than a downhill hike-a-bike.

Back within the comforting blanket of the treeline a fast spin delivered me back along Loch Muick to the car park. With a day spent amongst proper mountains, returning both sunburnt and hollowed out, yet with memories and emotions that will remain long after the body has recovered.

This is why.

Lochnagar Route.png

Is The UCI Stifling Innovation? – Sick Bike Co Collab

As part of what I hope to become a series of guest Vlogs (still hate that term). I recorded this vlog posing the question “Is The UCI Stifling Innovation?”. I look at the case of DH and XC, looking at how the UCI technical regulation affect and shape the disciplines. I also ask whether they should and what the “soul” of those races should be.


Excert from the UCI technical regulations, the full document can be accessed here.
ARTICLE 1.3.007
“Bicycles and their accessories shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practising cycling as a sport. Any equipment in development phase and not yet available for sale (prototype) must be subject of an authorization request to the UCI Equipment Unit before its use. Authorization will be granted only for equipment which is in the final stage of development and for which commercialization will take place no later than 12 months after the first use in competition. The manufacturer may request a single prolongation of the prototype status if justified by relevant reasons. The UCI Equipment Unit will pay particular attention to safety of the equipment which will be submitted to it for authorization.
 
The use of equipment designed especially for the attainment of a particular performance (record or other) shall be not authorised.” The bicycle must be accessible to all participants. All the components of the bicycle must be available commercially (i.e. available on the market or sold directly by the manufacturer) at the latest twelve months after their first use in competition. To implement this twelve month period, the manufacturer must publicly announce that the product in question is being used in competition and when it will be available for sale. In all cases the product must be in a final stage of development, very similar to the product that will be marketed.
Thus, it is not allowed to use equipment in competition that is not either available on the market or authorized by the UCI Equipment Unit and previously communicated by the manufacturer (with a twelve months period for the marketing). The use of equipment specially designed for a particular athlete, event or performance are prohibited. “Specially designed” means a bicycle with a technical added value when compared with other equipment. No minimum production quantity or minimum price is defined for either bicycles or any component parts.
However, for down
hill and 4X cross mountain bike events, BMX, trials and indoor cycling, specific provisions are laid down in the part of the regulations concerning the discipline in question.

Is Your Clutch Mech Affecting Your Suspension?

You know that little switch on your clutch mech? That magic little mute button? Well does that clutch affect your suspension?

I had a hunch that the clutch on my mech was inhibiting the initial movement of my rear suspension. We already know that anti-squat (pedalling) and anti-rise (braking) affect the suspension ability to do its job properly. So it is only a small leap of logic to assume that the clutch inhibiting your mechs movement, (thus affecting chain growth) is adding to that mix.

I’d proposed this question a few times and was always met with two responses;

“Yeah probably.”

and

“There are bigger influencing forces, like rocks on the trail! The clutch exerts such a small amount of force that it makes no difference!”

So with no way to prove or disprove my hypothesis the debate always ended there, that is until I had an extended loan of a Shock Wiz. The Shock Wiz is a suspension setup aid, it plumbs into the air valve of air forks and shocks, monitors them on the trail and offers setup advice and feedback. With the latest update to the app, this little unit now offers a far more nuanced tool for suspension tuning. It also offered the opportunity to experiment and get some data to further my curiosity on the subject.

Time for the science bit.

The experiment was simple, I had gotten my Shock Wiz score to 88% and I was feeling pretty happy with how it was all feeling. I would do a control run of a fairly typical piece of natural Scottish single track, then again with the clutch switched off. This direct comparison would show if the Shock Wiz detected a difference in the shocks behaviour.

Screenshot_20180603-123930

The test track was a lovely little ribbon of prime condition singletrack on the southern edge of Aberfeldy. Comprising of fast and pedally sprint sections, drops and root matrices, so providing a good variety of trail conditions to test on.  After a few runs it was time to consult the app and see if the Wiz had noticed a difference.

My prediction was that the Shock Wiz score would decrease and the low speed compression would need increased by a few clicks and maybe a few more PSI in the air spring. My thinking being that the clutch would inhibit rider induced movement and would be more active to small bump input.

 

So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension,

Whilst the suggestion after the first run was that with the easier breakaway more air pressure was required, however after successive runs it settled back to the green. So, my prediction was partially right, the compression was affected, but it was in the high-speed over my predicted low. So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension, now the question was, how much of an impact does it actually make?

Well the initial suggestion, with the mech activated was that the high-speed was far too firm, listed fully in the red. So by the apps measure, it needed adjusted by three or more clicks softer. Now the Cane Creek Inline, has an adjustment range of four full turns on HSC. So if we take one half turn to equate to one click of adjustment, three or more clicks is a significant tweak that the app is looking to make.

However with the clutch turned off the app was only looking to make an adjustment of one to two clicks, so maybe a single half turn. That is more or less in the right ball park in my view.

Something that I did find interesting, is the lack of a braking shudder feedback that I experienced with the clutch turn off. With the clutch on, when I was at full chatt through a rock garden I had significant shudder from my rear brake. My reckoning was that this was my shock and clutch fighting it out due to brake jack. With the clutch no longer fighting the HSC the shudder didn’t occur. Shock was able to do its job and the bike just monster trucked along.

Conclussion:

Did it make a difference to what I experienced as a rider? In some circumstances.

Was the bike louder? Well, yes.

Did I drop a chain? No, I have a chain guide and narrow wide front chain ring for that.

Did the the app measure an improvement with it turned off? Yes, the tuning score improved by 5%.

Will I run the mech with it switched off form now on? In some circumstances, yes I will.

Will this be a definitive answer to this question on STW? HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAA, sorry was that a serious question?

Are You Tall Enough For a 29er?

Everybody knows 29ers are faster-rolling race winning wunder machines. But should you be riding one? Should we start to think about wheel size in the same way we think about frame size? ie, the taller you are the bigger the wheel size you ride?

In this Vlog I thrash the question out to start bit of a discussion

Right to Roam?

I have been musing about land access and the “right to roam” enjoyed by outdoor users here in Scotland.

This can be a thorny issue for all users and commercial operators in the countryside. However, this is only made worse by the common misconception that we have the right to roam when what we have is “the right to responsible access“.

A right that has been challenged recently by Scottish National Heritage on a few fronts. With the recent embargo on camping at Loch Lomond and this winters fracas between the Scottish ski touring fraternity and the ski resort management. They also named mountain bikers as one of the user groups infringing on the wrong side of the access code. Whilst the instant response is “what have we done!” when you consider wild trails dug without permission, they have a point that is hard to argue against. Especially when they use arguments framed around preventing injury to riders and damage to sites of archaeological interest.

How do we progress without running the risk of losing the support from the public to access our wild spaces freely? That is a question without and easy answer, but we aren’t going to find it without a free and open discourse on the matter.

Further information and reading on our access rights can be found on these sites; https://www.nature.scot/enjoying-outd…

https://www.scotways.com/faq/law-on-s…

https://www.outdooraccess-scotland.scot/

Everything You Didn’t Want to Know About Handlebars

This article was originally written and published on Singletracks.com

Handlebars are perhaps the single most important point of contact on a bike. However, it can be easy to overlook this crucial element and its impact on bike fit, steering accuracy, and comfort on the bike.

The first thing to realize is that mountain bike handlebar size and shape can be a personal choice. What might work for one person might not work for another. And as a part of the bike fit equation, what makes for a good comfortable fit on one frame might not work as well on a different bike since the geometry and sizing will be different. The main thing to understand is that it might take a bit of experimentation with your setup to find the ideal sweet spot.

Mountain bike handlebar geometry

No, this has nothing to do with your favorite watering hole, though geometry can get complicated after a visit to your local hostelry. When it comes to handlebar geometry, there are two main numbers to consider: rise and sweep.

Handlebar Rise

Rise is essentially the height differential between the center of the bar, where it attaches to the stem, and the center of the 22.2mm diameter just after the taper and transitional bend. Mountain bike handlebars are typically configured with zero rise (flat bars) all the way up to 100mm (roughly 4 inches). Bars with 100mm rise aren’t very common anymore, so these days, “high-rise” bars are usually in the 40-50mm range (about 1.5-2 inches).

Choosing the right amount of rise usually comes down to rider position on the bike. If the cockpit feels too low (for a taller rider, for example), a riser bar can get grips up into a more comfortable position. A riser bar will naturally have a bit more flex than a straight bar, assuming both bars are made of the same material and have identical diameters and widths.

Flat bars tend to be found on XC-oriented bikes while riser bars are used on more gravity-oriented setups. Since gravity bikes are optimized for riding downhill, a riser bar keeps the rider’s head and torso slightly higher on the bike for better control on the descents. Finally, some riders just prefer the look of one style over the other, so again personal preference plays a big part.

Sweep

After the rise, the next thing we need to think about is bar sweep. There are two measures of sweep: upsweep and backsweep.

Upsweep

Upsweep is the vertical angle of the bars at the grip. Upsweep does affect the overall rise of the bars, and is a separate measurement that affects rider comfort more than anything else. Most bars, if they list an upsweep measurement at all, will fall between 4° and 6°. This tends to provide a good, neutral wrist angle for riders.

Backsweep

Backsweep refers to the angle at which the bars swoop toward the back of the bike. This angle can range from 0° for a completely straight bar to 45° for a specialty bar like the Jones H-Bar. Again, sweep comes down to rider comfort and preference ahead of any other considerations like performance.

Bar Diameter

Thankfully, mountain bike bars come in just one width at the grip: 22.2mm. This means grips are interchangeable with any bar on the market. When it comes to the stem clamp, that is a different story. The most common diameter is still 31.8mm, but older bars can be 25.4mm.

More recently an oversize 35mm standard was introduced by Easton that promises even greater strength and stiffness. With a larger clamp area, the bars tend to be stronger and stiffer. Larger clamp diameters also provide increased surface area for the stem connection, resulting in lower clamping pressure requirements, which is a good thing for carbon bars.

However some riders prefer the flex and lower weight that is associated with 31.8mm bars. The comparative increased strength and lack of flex of the 35mm clamp diameter bars can sometimes lead to a harsher ride feel than the narrower diameter bars.

Bottom line: if you’re upgrading your bars but keeping your stem, make sure the new bars will fit your stem clamp diameter. If buying both, ensure they will play nicely together.

Bar Width

For the past several years mountain bike handlebars have been trending wider. The wider, the better.

Now this is actually true for most modern riders, as wider bars slow down steering input for added control, especially when paired with a short stem. The longer a lever, the easier it is to move a weight, and since handlebars are a lever, the same rules apply.

Wider handlebars can even make breathing easier on the climbs. (Think about taking a deep breath with arms wide vs. arms crossed in front of your chest.) Now the crucial thing is to have a bar that is wide but not too wide. A handlebar that is too wide will stretch a rider out on the bike, ultimately limiting the range of potential motion on the bike. A bar that is too narrow has the opposite effect; while it increases the rider’s range of movement, it does make steering heavier and less stable feeling.

Beyond control considerations, wider bars can make navigating dense forest trails more difficult. But also keep comfort in mind. If you have short arms, you may not want the widest bars available, even if you are a super aggressive gravity rider.

These days, mountain bike bars are available in widths ranging from less than 600mm all the way up to 840mm or more. When shopping for mountain bike handlebars, it is important to note the width of the bars but keep in mind that you can always cut the bars down. Unfortunately you can’t safely add width to a set that are too narrow to begin with.

Cross-country riders will usually prefer narrower bars compared to trail and downhill riders.

Handlebar Material

Now bar material is conventionally thought of as a binary question: you either run aluminum alloy, because you’re not rich or you don’t trust carbon; or, you run carbon, knowing those fears of a bar failing are unfounded and you like a bit of black glossy bling. But these are not the only options available on the market. Titanium and steel bars are also on offer for the discerning and offbeat rider.

Aluminum bars are generally the least expensive but are heavy. Titanium bars can be more expensive than carbon, and are generally heavier than carbon as well.

Titanium offers the least “harsh” ride feel in terms of impact and vibration, with carbon bars providing some forgiveness as well, and aluminum bars being the stiffest and harshest. Steel has some natural spring to it and offers a feel that some riders prefer.

Each of these four materials offer various and differing amounts of these key characteristics:

  • Strength
  • Flex
  • Weight
  • Vibration damping

In addition to these characteristics, there is also fatigue considerations, a specification seldom listed for a bar. But the number of hours of expected use is something to consider.

Some aggressive riders shy away from carbon bars, thinking they’re not as strong as aluminum. The fact is, carbon bars are often as strong, if not stronger than their aluminum counterparts. But aluminum fails in a much more predictable manner (bending or yielding), which is significantly less dramatic than a carbon bar snapping in combat.

The crucial factor for all bars is to ensure they are correctly installed with the proper torque, which will help prevent a catastrophic failure. It is also vital to inspect and perhaps replace any bar that has taken a mighty pounding in a bad crash. If in any doubt, see you local bike shop mechanic and get them to inspect or fit any new bars for you.

Shape

Most mountain bikes utilize a standard straight bar, but these days, mountain bikers are experimenting with other shapes like the Jones H-Bar and road-style drop bars. Many of these choices are based on extreme use cases like bikepacking and ultra-endurance riding where riders want to utilize multiple hand positions throughout the ride to avoid fatigue. In general, these types of bars trade comfort over trail handling

So there you have it, the 101 intro to mountain bike handlebars. Let us know which bars and widths you’re running in the comments.