Medical Stoppage

(To the tune of The Bluebells Young at Heart.)

HEEEEEERNIA, HER HER HER HERN-NI-AAAAA!!!

So towards the end of last summer, I had a little road bump that stopped me from riding for a while. We all have them from time to time. Some accrued on the bike as injuries and some (usually more seriously) come about all by themselves in everyday life. Mine was an annoyingly small umbilical hernia.

This is pretty much, eactly like a hernia in real life.

I say annoying, because it was small, yet caused such a surprisingly big break in my riding. Time off the bike always feels longer than it is in reality, and it was no different in my case. The recovery whilst smooth, and shorter than some others with the same condition seemed to drag and drain more than I had hoped for.

I have been back riding for a while now, and whilst I probably could be riding proper trails again, I have taken my time. Easing back in with lots of XC orientated miles. Building the fitness back up and not pushing the healed surgery more than I know it can handle.

I have been giving the big bike some TLC and spent some time building myself back up as well. But that break in period I feel is over, its time to go ride bikes in the woods again.

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?

Moray Monster Trails

Nestled far enough of the normal drag Moray Monster trails doesn’t get the rep it deserves.

Outside Fochabers and set over two hills with a road running between them, the trails are a superb mix of flowing jump and berm filled blue, red and technical blacks. Whilst having a tight natural character, the loops themselves aren’t too long. So a few laps of the red or a mix of all three trails is perfectly achievable in a few hours riding.

Screen Shot 2017-11-17 at 12.26.40 PM

The trails are in a really good state of repair, probably partially to do with the lack of traffic compared to other remote centres like Wolftraxs.

The Lord of the Rings themed red has a few big features like some drops and beefy sized kickers, but they are so well made and with clear landings that they are very easy to send. Alongside the red is a sadly short, steep, northshore infested orange “freeride” trail. The flipside is that the short nature of the trail means pushing back up is pleasingly quick.

The other hill has a a blue figure of eight loop and the infamous Gully Monster trail. The Gully Monster is a very different beastie to the other trails on offer and I cant really think of any other trail like it. Whilst being a fairly fast and undulating red, the thing that sets this trail apart is its exposure.

Tightly hugging the side a decidedly steep gully, the trail is flanked by thick ferns and blae berries hiding both the precipitous drop and the trail ahead. The trail may be mostly flowing narrow singletrack, but there are a few steep chutes and rooty sections with little room for error which keeps you on your toes.

So in short, its a rad little trail centre. It has a very distinct flavour and is well worth the trip over other bigger names if your looking for something a little bit different from your trail centre this winter.

Single Speedz

3×8, 2×8, 1×8, 1×1, 1×9, 1×1

The evolution of Sven the Spesh continues, this time returning to a single speed setup.


The how is a fairly straight forward process, converting your MTB (or any geared bike) into a single speed wunder-hack bike requires a conversion kit and a selection of basic tools.

  • Allen Keys
  • Cable Cutters
  • Chain Whip
  • Cassette Removal Tool
  • Adjustable Wrench
  • Chain Breaker

The how is only part of the story, more interestingly is the why?

Running a single speed is like riding in the wrong gear, almost all of the time. You spin out on the flats, hurt more than you want on the climbs and once up to a certain speed, pedaling is essentially a futile gesture.

But it is for these reasons that it is such a useful exercise in helping your overall riding, or so the theory goes.

The idea is, riding single speed will make you a smoother rider, let me explain.

There are a few situations where riding single speed in a sloppy style will make for a  slower ride. To maintain speed with single speed you have to ride smoothly and aim to keep a more consistent average speed.

For example when coming into a corner, if you come in too fast and end up braking hard round the corner you will lose speed and risk stalling. With a fully geared setup, you can drop through the gears and pedal hard to build your speed back up. This results in a fast-slow-fast-slow clunky riding style.

With a single speed rig, if you ride like this, as you exit a corner having lost all your speed, your gearing will generally be too high to easily build your speed back up by pedaling. To keep speed on a SS setup, you are forced to focus on your form and ride smoothly. Braking hard before the entrance of the corner, being slow in and building speed back up as you exit the corner.

On descents and flatter undulating sections of trail, on a fully geared setup its all too easy to just mash the pedals. With SS once up to pace (something around 15mph), there is little pace to be gained by burning the legs and mashing the pedals. Working the bike and pumping the trail will build pace. Keeping the bike light and hopping over rougher sections and making better line choices by joining up contact patches.

Flowing down the trail, smooth is fast.

Climbing is probably the biggest hurdle stopping those who have not a ridden single speed from trying it. I’m not saying it isn’t harder, but on the climbs you are forced to keep a consistent cadence and keep good even pedal technique. Constant, smooth circles.

And aside of all this but not to be other looked is the simplicity of the experience and the mental energy it frees up. Riding fast down hill is a very complex task, lots of technical actions are carried out instantaneously and unconsciously by a rider. Shifting gears to match an approaching trail feature or your pace requires a level of concentration. That concentration can be applied elsewhere when there are no gears to move between. The experience is simplified, I wouldn’t say it is better, it is different and worthwhile.

There is certainly a learning curve, I found myself shifting fresh air for a few KM’s but once familiarized, it can be a refreshingly simple way to ride. At the very least every rider should try single speeding at least once and winter is the perfect time of year to try.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2017

No one is speaking anymore.

We have all staggered out, finding our rhythm as we pick our way across the peat bog. We have climbed past the point of making banter and conversation with our fellow riders, now we all just want is to pass the cairn and make it down to the bothy. The mornings rain is easing, but the effects on the course are fully felt underfoot. On passing the cairn everything is greased with a slick mud that makes the usually predictable granite an uneasy exercise in slipping the rear wheel round large loose rocks.

The staccato nature of what is rideable takes its toll, with the constant mounting and dismount burning through my thighs. My right leg is making a damn fine attempt in trying to cramp. Experience has taught me that once it has, it will become a constant feature for the remainder of the day.

No one likes the goat track, when people tell others about this race, the hike-a-bike is what they talk about, but I don’t remember it being like this.


6 hours earlier,

I was here for the 2016 edition, but when the weather was looking to be especially mental, I thought caution was the better part of valor and pulled out. Back for redemption in 2017 I was eager to run the race differently than I had before, going with a long travel full suss and pack-less over my previous attempts on a XC hardtail. This time I would be going full enduro (note, never go full enduro).

20171007_171453

Assembled on Fort William High Street, the customary rain fell lazily on 230 riders of all stripes. It is a self seeding event, so everyone is casually looking for riders that look a bit like themselves, in both bike and attire. Milling around with an air of sodden tension, we all await the start.

 

After a brief pre-race speech from on of the organisers atop a bin, we are informed that the river crossing is open, this is good news as the full course will be raced unlike the previous year. The pack tightens up as the trials bikes position themselves to escort us to the road in a rolling start.

I keep to the right of the peloton to avoid be snagged up by parked cars as we break off up the first climb of the day. The course starts on single track roads which quickly build in elevation as we make our way towards the West Highland Way. The pack starts to thin out but it is not until we move off road that the race really staggers out.

 

My strategy for this year was to go easier on the whole course and make up time and points on three of the special stages. The Kinlochleven decent, the climb to Eilde Mor and the final special stage on the Nevis Range single track. I knew that this would be a very different race with the bike I’d chosen (a Banshee Spitfire). I felt it was a strategy that could work well, if I was able to kept my average speed up where I knew I could maintain it.

Tour De Ben NEvis No Fuss Events Stravaiging 12

This started well with the mix of climbing and descending resulting in me hitting my target average speed of 12.9 KM/H perfectly. I may have reached the start of the first special stage later than in previous attempts, but the queue was shorter.

 

Feeling fresh and ready to go I dibbed in and cranked hard out the start gate. The bike felt great, floating over the loose rocks and tracking perfectly, hopping the water bars that have claimed so many riders in their time. I had forgotten how steep the trail was, keeping the bike light I built in speed and confidence. I was just passing my third rider as I approached, the corner. If you know this trail you will know the corner I am talking about.

He panic braked with all the anchors he could muster

It is a tight left-hander with a drop onto shale covered slab with a few water bars just before the treeline. It is usually typified by two or three riders standing to one side fixing punctures.

As I made the turn, in front of me was a rider who may well of been an experienced rider, he may have been a novice, regardless, was not expecting the trail to be like this. He panic braked with all the anchors he could muster, stuffing his front wheel into a water bar. This threw him out the front door and down the slope, his bike flying through the air and into the centre of the trail. With no where to go without running into him and crashing myself, I hauled hard on the brakes. With all my effort going into not crashing I hit the water bar that had swallowed his front wheel, I managed to lift my front wheel but this just meant my rear tyre took all of the force. Pffftt, sealant sprayed everywhere as it ripped a centre knob on my tyre, well thats my race strategy scuppered.

An inner tube it is then.

In what felt like deja vu from the first time I ran this race, I was shouldering the bike and running down the trail, as there was no point trying to fix it mid stage. The clock after all, was still ticking. Finally dibbing out the stage probably couldn’t have gone much worse for myself. Thankfully the guy that had crashed was unhurt, but he had snapped his front brake lever.

Vainly hoping that there was enough sealant left that some CO2 cartridges could re-inflate my tyre and let tubeless work its magic, I pushed my inflator onto the valve stem. With the rain coming on heavy frost instantly built up around the cartridge, the tyre was halfway there and another blast of CO2 would surely be enough. Engaging the inflator a second time resulted in the rainwater that had worked its way in whilst changing the cartridge freezing instantly and the inflator exploding under the pressure. An inner tube it is then.

With the help of one of the frankly amazing roving marshals, we fitted a tube and got my bike moving again.

One stage was done, but there was still opportunity to make up time and my place in the field, I would just have to push a little harder. Replenishing myself at the bountifully stocked feed station at Mamore Lodge, I made my way to the start of the second stage and the climb up to Loch Eilde Mor.

Taking a deep draft of magic potion, (High5 gels decanted into a small flask) I locked my shock and pushed in as high a gear and cadence as I dared. Knowing how long the climb is and therefore, how hard to push is a big advantage on this stage. My constant steady pace led to me working past 9 riders before the sweet little descent at the end of the stage.

The next job was to get to the river crossing and make the ascent on stage three, the infamous hike-a-bike. The trail followed the shoreline of Loch Eilde Mor, the standing water on the track was frankly insane and felt more like multiple river crossings. Climbing slightly higher lifted me out of the wet and I looked forward to the rowdy little descent down to the river. Not far into descent, I remember that I washed out my front wheel here in a previous race, as if the thought had been a curse, I felt the unmistakable feeling of a rear puncture.

Laughing at the predictability of it I thankfully wasn’t sitting for long before the same marshal that had helped me before rocked up. Within minutes the tyre was back up and at a ridiculous pressure to ensure it wouldn’t happen a third time. I was also informed that there were roughly 25 riders behind me, how on earth did that happen!

Descending like Bambi on ice, I make my way to the river counting riders as I pass them, each pass is a small psychological boost after the rain and setbacks so far. The river is flowing strong and deep, but it is a quick crossing. once at the start of stage three I pause to eat and get let my legs have 5 minutes of rest before what is the most physically demanding part of the course.

The stage kicks straight up at a ridiculous gradient, before mellowing out to a leisurely average between 10% and 20% incline. None of this is rideable, the sodden boggy hill side broken with burns turning into peat hags, making the hike feel like half an hour of attrition.

No one is speaking anymore, we have all staggered out, finding our rhythm as we pick our way across the peat bog. We have climbed past the point of making banter and conversation with our fellow riders, now we all just want is to pass the cairn and make it down to the bothy. The mornings rain is easing, but the effects on the course are fully felt underfoot. On passing the cairn everything is greased with a slick mud that makes the usually predictable granite an uneasy exercise in slipping the rear wheel round large loose rocks.

The staccato nature of what is rideable takes its tole, with the constant mounting and dismount burning through my thighs. My right leg is making a damn fine attempt in trying to cramp. Experience has taught me that once it has, it will become a constant feature for the remainder of the day.

No one likes the goat track, when people tell others about this race, the hike-a-bike is what they talk about, but I don’t remember it being like this.

Crossing the final stream before the dibbing out, the usual collection of partially broken bikes and riders are huddled around the bothy. The final feed station has run out of barbeque but still has plenty of other provisions. A quick feed and a refill of my bottles  was all I need before cranking hard into a headwind for the riotous descent down the Lairig Leacach. This is a fast 7km section of LRT, it is perfect for making up some time and to get drifty on some wide loose corners. Its all over too quickly though, even with the headwind, before entering the trees of the Leanachan Forest for the final stretch of the tour.

 

11.5 km of good fire roads with a modest overall incline were all that were left before the final special stage. I just have to keep the pedals turning to get there. I had made the mistake in previous attempts of not eating enough during this leg of the race. Having burnt all the reserves on the hike, the tank is running pretty low. The possibility of bonking on this stretch is very real, but thankfully my frame bag still held enough flapjacks and jelly babies to get me comfortably to the next dibber.

 

The final special stage consists of some classic sections of single track, Blue Crane and Cackle (those who know, know). I have ridden and raced these trails before, but there is always the question of how much is left in the legs after 60km? Thankfully, knowing the stage, helps with managing what effort I have left to give.

The clock was ticking loudly between my ears and I was keen the press on

The first section starts steep and rocky, with awkward rooty corners and tight lines between the trees before opening and speeding up. There are a few steep technical sections to keep you on your toes and it was on one of these that I found two riders off their bikes. Standing in the centre of the trail and not really going anywhere, my first thought was that a bad off had occurred just around the next corner. Waiting at the top long enough to ascertain the trail was clear after them, I politely called (to their mutual surprise) “Rider“.

With them stepping aside I dropped in, the clock was ticking loudly between my ears and I was keen the press on. The middle of this stage is a flat pedal heavy sprint, this is where to go full gas and max your heart rate one, last, time. Passing another rider during the sprint was another wee boost just as I made the start of Cackle. This trail is a lot of fast flowing fun, it has some board walk sections as well, but grip is in abundance. I was flying into the finish, having caught two more riders just at the end, we all dibbed out and let our heart rates come back down.

The final few KM are a smooth return to Fort William via the North Face car park and Torlundy. Most this is on quite roads or pathed cycle paths, that doesn’t mean that this is a gentle cool down. Most riders (myself included) find the temptation to sprint what is left in you, out of you, for those final few minutes too much to resist.

 

With the final dibber dibbed, it was time to stretch off, rinse the bike down and see how badly the whole affair had gone. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t looking forward to dissecting my times, I knew I had been slower than I thought I would be. The punctures had slowed me down and caused me to lose some descending confidence in the middle of the course. But I they where not going to explain away a lack of preparation compared to previous attempts.

Much to my surprise, I had improved my placings on all the stages apart from the Kinlochleven descent! I had also jumped 200 or so in my total points. The biggest surprise was that the 32lb enduro bike was only 29 seconds slower on stage 2, who says big bikes cant climb!


Ultimately this is what the Tour is about for me.

I’m not going to bother the fast boys, I’m never going to break the top 10. It is a personal challenge to race against myself, to push hard on a demanding and challenging course that tests all aspects of my riding. It is a measure of where I currently stand as a rider, both within the MTB community, but most importantly against myself.

Will I race it again? If I do I will take what this years race has taught me and remember the lessons of past races and come back better prepared. Because however well you do, you can always better yourself at the next race.

Tour De Ben NEvis No Fuss Events Stravaiging 7

 

Why I Didn’t Choose a Carbon Fibre Frame

A recent article on Pink Bike has gotten a lot of attention lately.

The piece was essentially a press release by Pole Bicycles about why they wont be making a carbon fibre bike anytime soon. They had various reasons, but one of them struck a cord with me as it was the same reason why when choosing my new trail bike, I went with alloy and not fibre.

metal is infinitely recyclable,
carbon fibre is not

I would be naive to think, that in some point in the future, that my current wunderbike will not be essentially worn out beyond use. It may suffer from metal fatigue and be no longer safe to ride, it may simple outlive me and have no use once my need to ride has past.

Sobering thoughts, but lets not be blinkered about this. All consumer goods (bikes included) have a life span and when that time is up we need to consider how we safely dispose of and reuse the materials they are made of.

Whilst carbon fibre to a certain degree can be recycled, due to the very nature of the material once recylced it is weaker and not fit for load bearing applications. The current recycling processes also require the material to be either burnt or melted in chemical baths to release the carbon fibres themselves from the polymer resin then are incased in. Both fairly damaging processes, either through the chemical waste created or the toxins released into the atmosphere.

In short, carbon fibre cannot be, safely recycled into a meaningful raw material for remanufacture. Whilst metal is infinitely recyclable, carbon fibre is not. This is not a new problem and cycling is not the largest producer of carbon or resin waste. But that does not mean we should, or rather, that I wanted to perpetuate it.

I do not judge other people for choice in carbon components, now in full disclosure, I have carbon bars on two bikes, both are second hand bars. I feel that if I were not using them they would most likely be sitting in a shed getting damp. I also grant that carbon has some benefits both in performance and aesthetics, but new carbon fibre is not for me.

The thing that first made me ask the question myself was a picture from behind a factory for high end carbon fibre road bikes. The pictured showed a pile of quality control fails dumped behind the factory that would dwarf a bus. This pile will not bio-degrade, they cannot be melted down and they will still be here in centuries to come. I considered that this was one product line of one factory. That it would likely be a similar story at many carbon bike frame and component factories. Each having a similar pile of factory fails, all waiting to be crushed by bulldozers at a landfill site.

With the large scale use of carbon fibre in the likes of aviation, renewables and the increasing growth of its use in the automotive industry, all meaning that there is a vast and growing amount of carbon that will need recycled. This creates an opportunity for a process of meaningful disposal or recycling to arise, as there is a business there and money to be made.

But I could not comfortably buy a carbon frame with that end disposal question being solved by some future what if?

We need to learn the lessons from history when it comes to materials like carbon fibre. They mostly seem to have been ignored or belittled by the mockery suffered by some of the more iconic uses of similar materials. For example, there is Duraplast and the little East German car, the Trabant.

The Trabant 601  was a car manufactured in the DDR from 1963-1990, it featured a metal monocoque body with body panels made of a material called DuraplastDuraplast is not dissimilar to carbon fibre or fibreglass, it used cotton or wool as the fibres and held them in a resin based plastic similar to bakelite.

the-junkyard.jpg

Now the problem with Trabi’s beyond their soviet obsolesce, is that once the car has died, once the chassis has rotted beyond saving, the panels will live on. East German scrap yards and country lanes have at one time or another been filled with dead and abandoned Trabant’s whos body panels will not rot and cannot be recycled.

They will outlive history and carbon fibre has the potential to do the same.

Fungle to Keen

One of the wonders of living in Scotland is the landscape in which we live.

 

 

Sometimes, you need to step out and journey into those hills. Riding with a former student I taught, (Callum Grant) we took in a 45km route that sampled flowing natural singletrack, warp speed loose fire roads and a hike a bike up a Munro.

This route was an attempt to tie together some classic trails and descents whilst racking up some respectable distance and climbing. It would be the longest day on the Banshee and a good bedding in for the new fork. It would also be a good indicator to see if the TDB would be fun (or even achievable for me) on the longer travel bike.

Starting in Aboyne we climbed to the start of the iconic Fungle singletrack via New Mill. After this perfect ribbon of Aberdeenshire trail, we climbed up onto the slopes of Baudy Meg. From here it was a rip roaring descent on a loose and ever so slightly fast fire road down into Glentanar.

Then it is a long grind past the tree line to the foot of Mount Keen (the most easterly munro in Scotland), then comes the hike-a-bike. You can try and ride the first part of the climb, but I always decide to try and conserve energy at a fairly early stage and push. Hiking up the rutted, washed out and rock strewn climb lets you fully take in the tech this descent has on offer.

More than once during the hike-a-bike I reminded myself that I’d only ever done this descent on a 100mm HT.  The additional squish that my Spitfire offered, would open up a lot more possibilities and line choices, hopefully preventing the need for too much vitamin I by the time I was back down!

The descent was a wild ride, starting from above the Grouse buttes the trail is fast, sandy and with enough rocks to keep you focussed on line choice. Once you get to the buttes though line choice becomes a whole other story. The trail morphs into a delta of washed out ruts, the peat and sand cleaned from the hill side revealing a mine field of loose rock and boulders.

With drops and wheel grabbing holes littering the trail speed may not exactly be your friend, but the front brake certainly was your enemy. Focussing hard on the trail ahead , I was feathering brakes and shifting weight, all whilst trying to not get drawn into a rut that would result in a dead end or a wheel killing drop. Venturing onto the open heather whilst initially appearing smoother, still had some surprises as all it did was disguise the rocks and holes on the hill side.

After a few close calls we rattled over the cattle grid and back on to a wide and rough as you’d like it land rover track. this was a short and simple strip of orange rubble with enough snipper rocks to keep you guessing, a strong tubeless game is a must for this descent.

With the heat of over exerted muscles building in my thighs we were back to the river at the base of the hill. With adrenaline and stoke high, the long drag in became a fast pedal smash back, with both of us surprised at home much elevation we had gained on the approach to Keen.

After reaching the tarmac of the south Deeside road, its a short spin back to Aboyne. The weather had played fair, The trails were fantastic and the Spitfire had done itself proud, another great day playing bikes in proper hills.

Fungle to Keen via Baudy Meg

Now this has complicated matters as now I have to decide on 160/140mm or 100mm XC HT for TDB, #MTBproblems

In Search of Epic?

Mountain biking is a tribe with a vocabulary all of its own.

Gnar, loam, brap, berm, lip, kicker, stoked, flow, table, gap, double, roost to name a few.

Some of those words, like the vernacular of any facet of life, have a tendency to be overused, none more so than the word epic. Epic is a strange one as it is so overused in everyday language, but it is more defined in MTB.

It is both a description of a feeling and of the physical geography a trail winds over. A ride or a trail can be epic because the adrenaline and speed mixed with the accomplishment of cleaning a trail, creates a feeling that can easily (and inarticulately) be described as “epic”.

Start of Stage 2 Tour De Ben Nevis 2014

A trail can also be epic due to scale of the landscape it traverses, the speed, technicality or sheer quality of ride that it offers. The scale and raw beauty of a landscape can be great enough to imbue even a modest trail with that ephemeral epic quality.

We mountain bikers as a tribe seek it out, we actively try and capture that epic quality and feeling. It may be like trying to catch and hold sand, but the experience of it running through your fingers can be enough to sustain you through many a work place meeting.

But one persons epic is an others local loop.

We swap stories of trails and routes, descriptions of the qualities of trails and enthuse over where is riding best. In hope that acts of positive karma will help us find that feeling for ourselves. But one persons epic is an others riders local loop, it is all a matter of location, experience and perspective.

Mount Battock desert Mountain Bike Scotland Stravaiging

if you eat cake everyday it will just become bread

The local trails you ride, as epic by someone else’s scale they may be, will become just another local loop by your personal measure. If you ride alpine singletrack every week, whilst the landscape will still be awe inspiring at times, you will, in time become accustomed to it and will expect that level of trail for your weekly riding. Likewise if you never ride groomed fast trail centres with man made drops and jumps, when you do it will feel pretty epic.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Callum Kellie race Stravaiging

But ultimately, if you eat cake everyday it will just become bread. So how do we recapture that sense of “epicness“?

Leave your local, venture out of the routine loop and push beyond your comfort zone. The trail may be no more technical than your normal trails, but the unfamiliarity and blind nature of the riding has a habit of heightening the experience.

Does every ride need to be epic? No, but some of them should try to be.

 

Listening to your body

I’ve been a bit quiet of late, and theres some good reasons for that.

Firstly I went on holiday with my Wife and Wee man, I had simply the best most relaxing time. It was the perfect break from the normal routine to spend some quality time with both of them and to leave feeling refreshed and recharged.

Secondly I’ve not ridden as much as the last few weeks I have been a little under the weather, nothing serious but another lesson learnt.

In March I had a fairly bad throat infection that had developed into not quite a full blown quinsy, but still had quinsy like symptoms. This had happened as I had tonsillitis and was a little run down, I had not listened to my body and had not let it rest enough. I had continued my lunch gym sessions and routine as I had the SES round at Pitfichie coming up, a race that I later pulled out of for other reasons.

By the time I went to the doctor I was suffering with headaches, sore throats, difficulty swallowing and even laughing was a little painful. All as I didn’t take the time to get over a simple sore throat.

But had I let myself recover properly in the first instance and taken the time off the gym and the bike then it wouldn’t of progressed to the extent that it had. Lesson learnt. Riding bikes and working in the gym makes you fitter and healthier, but if the engine has a problem when you start, running it wont make it better.

Thats not to say that I didn’t ride my bike, but there were a few rides when I really should of resisted the temptation.

I now feel back to full strength and ready to get back to the gym and riding properly again. Which is just as well as the clocks have changed and the evenings are lighter later. The local trails are also in absolute prime condition, a dry winter and warm April have dried them up a treat (even with the late snows attempts to dampen them down again).

A preview of one of those video projects.

The time off the bike has meant I’ve had less to write about but has also given me time to think of some new projects and posts for the coming months. I’m also going to make some video projects which I hope people will enjoy. But as always, it is something fun to make that I would probably do anyway.

Well heres to a great summer season and see you on the trails.


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LBS – Bike Remedy

Once upon a time, every market town would have its own local bike shop, a staple of the high street.

With the decline of the traditional high street and the emergence of the internet and a big blue warehouse in Ireland. The bricks and mortar bike shop has not gone without their challenges in the last few years. Bike Remedy is one of those stores.

Nestled just off of a market square in the small coastal town of Stonehaven, it has a local reputation for good service and encyclopedic knowledge of all things bike. I recently spoke with Christian Franklin, the shops owner, to discuss the modern bike shop, the pressures they face and services they can offer.


So how did you end up in the bike industry?

I started as an after school and Saturday boy from the age of 13. Continued at that, then left school and finished college, spent a bit of time traveling, finished traveling and automatically came back and continued my job at the bike shop. Went full time and just continued at that.

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The bikes shops I worked in at the time, the shop was growing or the owners were changing. So it was quite a good time to be in the bike shop. Never got round to do anything else, never really stepped out and had a change of career.

I enjoy it, and I’ve done it for a long time and I’ve got quite a lot of good knowledge and depth of knowledge of product and historical product. Which comes in handy with servicing a lot of the time. So stuck with it, its what I know, its what I’ve always done.

In 2006 I moved from Essex up to Aberdeenshire, I was working in a bike shop at that time anyway. Running a bike shop as I always had. So I got the opportunity, got offered a job in a bike shop straight away. So it was a no brainer, it was an income straight away. Stuck with that. As time progressed, the opportunity to own my own business presented itself, so here we are

How does owning and running your own shop differ from running someone elses?

I’ve worked in different shops and I’ve worked in businesses that are a similar size to this, which have had maybe a few stores or a single store. As a manager of a single store its maybe not that different, but you are probably a little bit more aware of costs. What’s going out what’s coming in. When I’ve worked in similar sized stores, I didn’t have to pay the suppliers, so I wasn’t so aware of what was going out, I just had to worry that the money kept coming in. So a little bit more aware of that and a little bit more cautious, just as the industry changes.

Lots of people will use bikes shops as well as the internet. That’s something you have to accept.

Who comes to bike shops these days?

Enthusiasts, new cyclists, pretty die hard cyclists, all sorts really. An important part of our business is servicing and repairs, so that is the foundation. That’s something you have to go to a bike shop for, and that its where we start from.

Lots of people will use bikes shops as well as the internet. That’s something you have to accept, which is fine. In the same way people will choose to use any shop they want. I suppose with the internet they have the ability to reach into peoples office space, through their computer screen at work, dropping emails with promotions. That’s how they do business, and that’s fine, it’s just something we have to work with and not get too upset.

Online can’t service your bike, and as great a price they can offer, they can’t provide that maintenance support. So is that where the future of bricks and mortar shops is going, becoming service centres with a show room?

That’s how they have to survive, that’s how that has to work.

So with brands such as Trek and Giant to a certain extent, dealing online but you cant have the bike delivered to your home, it has to be collected through a dealer. Is that car show room model going to become more common across the industry with more brands adopting it as apposed to the direct sales model.

I think a lot of brands have tried to protect themselves and protect their image in that way. I suppose the reality is with the success of direct sales model, those brands could then start to adopt a direct sales model themselves, and then their IBD would lose that exclusivity.

A big part of cycling for a lot of enthusiasts is servicing and maintaining their own bikes. With the complexity of modern bikes, not just MTB but also E Bikes, are they becoming  less and less of a user serviceable product? And something that is going to become more reliant on shops for servicing?

Some products like E Bikes, but for the most part, if someone is competent and likes servicing, then fine, they are going to go ahead and do it. We offer servicing to people, one, because possibly they don’t know how to do it, they don’t have the knowledge. Two, maybe they don’t have the tools and it’s not worth them buying the tools to do it. Three, they might not have the time, or maybe they just can’t be bothered.

Those are the kinds of people we service bikes for, we appreciate that some people can service the bike themselves but actually they are quite happy to pay someone else to fix it. There’s no real stereotypical servicing customer that we get, we get all sorts. Some people wouldn’t know where to start and some people would do a good job themselves but don’t have the time or are happy to pay someone else to do it.

Where do you see the modern bikes shops place within the wider cycling community, does it have a place a hub and driver for that community?

There are shops that certainly provide that and there have been shops for a long time that have been a good hub. Whether it is combined with a café or just a good centre for the community.

And there are some businesses that are just places to purchase equipment and to get servicing done. You have to be quite organic about it, it is very hard to set your stall out and say “right, this is what I am”. You really just have to see what people want and go with it from there. If something works and it sticks then great, do more of it, if it doesn’t work and its quite stagnant then stop and do something different that does work.

It can make it challenging for the retailer, and its getting the local customers trust that you can offer value and service.

Have you seen a growth in the number of cyclists in the past few years with the recent success of British cycling on the road and in MTB?

I find that quite a hard question to answer as I’ve worked in bike shops for over 25 years, so I’ve always been around cyclists. I’ve ridden past or driven past a cyclist and I want to know what bike their riding on the road or in the woods.

Maybe less enthusiastic cyclists or general people looking to get into biking that come into the shop, their perception of cycling might be that it is growing and growing quite quickly.

It’s in good health, there are a lot of new cyclists keen to take it up.

There seems to be the common assumption that shops are struggling, but you see some stores that are doing really well. What is creating that idea amongst cyclists and do some locations lend themselves to cycling more than others.

It is true some shops have struggled, some shops have shut down, even in the area we’re in. Historically you would have had a bike shop in almost every town and that’s not the case now. So whether it is shops that just want to be retail spaces and sell, then you are directly competing with the internet. Or shops that support their local customer base with servicing and after sales service.

The internet is obviously very strong and it has great pricing to offer. I think 20 years ago if you picked up MBUK or Cycling Weekly and you saw the advert for something, maybe a bit cheaper. There was a certain amount of distrust, you had to send your cheque in the post, wait a few days and hope your kit arrived. Whereas now its not the case, these guys are pretty good, they can get stuff to you next day. You trust them, which is the big thing.

It can make it challenging for the retailer, and its getting the local customers trust that you can offer value and service.

As someone who has been in the industry for a number of decades now, what gets you excited in terms of new product or new directions for cycling.

I’m always excited by new product, I cant always see whats coming or whats coming next. There are so many facets or branches of cycling so theres always something going on. Theres nothing earth shatteringly new coming along, just products continue to get better and evolve.

The current 6 inch travel mountain bikes, even how they have progressed in the last five or six years. They are much better, they are lighter, more reliable, pivot bearings are better and the bikes don’t sort of crunch along as they are being pedalled.

Road bikes, more integration, just looking cleaner, slicker, lighter.

E bikes, that’s something that is finally seems to be taking hold in the UK, probably in a way and certainly for us not in a way that I expected with mountain bikes.

With that sort of product I can see the application with a hybrid type user, but people want to use them for more adventurous types of riding. But it does open the road or mountain up to a lot of other people.


As we were winding up the interview a past customer, a female cyclist on a road bike came in, she had suffered a puncture on a bike she had recently purchased from the shop. Almost as the perfect example to illustrate everything Christian had said about offering service and support.Christian and his staff had set about fixing the flat and getting her up and running again so she could finish her ride.

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All this was with the same level of service and attention as if she was there to buy a top price bike. It is that personal connection and dedication to each customer that comes into any shop that builds that trust and loyalty Christian had spoken about. That loyalty is hard work to build and maintain, but for those shops that have it and can evolve to meet the customers needs, the internet will never truly be the threat to the Highstreet that some fear it is.

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Gotta Learn to Lean

The winter mud is refusing to freeze, so another wet and mild winter to grind through.

With the winter season being the time for base miles and building the foundations for the coming years riding, the skills side of things can be easily left behind. Base miles, as important as they are for fitness, can be a bit dull, so time to find some turns.

Some self filming (easy tiger) is also a great way to see your form so you can dial in technique. Got to learn to lean properly in the turns.

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G&T

Rental bikes, love or hate them, we all need the convenience of them at sometime in our riding lives.

Rental bikes can be a lot of fun, they are like rental cars. Which as we all know, are the fastest cars around as the wear and tear of ragging them silly is not going to come back to bite you. But like all things there are good and bad examples of the breed.

Last year I rode a brilliant rental from Bothy Bikes in Aviemore. It was a well maintained, fast and well thought out bike with a good solid build and a sensible cockpit. Occasionally a rental is an opportunity to ride something different, a new bike (to you) on unfamiliar trails or a chance to try a 29er or a fat bike for example.

At the start of the year whilst visiting family in south Lanarkshire and close to Glentress I found myself with some time free, but without a bike. Alpine bikes do a rental service at GT, so it seemed a good opportunity to sample their rental fleet and get a new year spin in the legs. I thought another run on a 29er HT would be fun as the red and blue trails would suit a bike like the one I rode from Bothy bikes. Unfortunately, this was not like the bike from Bothy Bikes.

Collecting the bike at the Peel centre shop was an fast and easy process, however they had lost my pre-booking so I was charged £5 more for my hire. The bike was a Trek X-Caliber 7, the entry level model, with a build that did nothing to hide its price point.

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Featured a 3 x 9 speed Acera drive train and Shimano M355 disc brakes, with 80mm of travel up front handled by a Rockshox XC30. The finishing kit was all Trek’s in house brand Bontrager and to be fair, was fairly solid. All this weighed in at a mighty 30/31 lbs so it was fair to say this was no feather weight cross country whippet.

Sadly, even though this was a large sized frame and the 2016 model, the cockpit was both long and narrow, with a 90mm stem and sub 700mm bars.

It became quickly apparent that things where not entirely well, this was not a healthy bike and it had had a very hard rental life. If you put down any power the chain would jump the rear cassette when in the middle of the block. Convenient.  When the bike was lent to the right would drop gears and shift down and in a left turn it would shift up. And to top it off, the front brake was as useful as one of those plastic display puddings you get at a chain restaurant. Fully pulled to the bar, I could still pedal uphill.

It was a lazy diesel engine, and a heavy one at that

But I didn’t come here for the climb. Finally topping out at the familiar benches at the start of Spooky Wood, probably the most famous trail in Scotland after the Fort William WC track.

It was my turn to drop in, time to see if this 29er came to life when gravity was assisting. Handling like all the things you expect a middling 29er to be, slow to accelerate and was at its best when it was allowed to carry its momentum. Turns needing initiating earlier, but it was the heavy feel at the crank and the lack of any acceleration that was the most notable. It was a lazy diesel engine, and a heavy one at that.

However this was soon to be over shadowed by a far more uncomfortable sensation.

The tyres, I discovered, had at the very least 60psi in them, presumably to ensure they didn’t puncture. This meant every small stone was communicated to the fork with the tyres lacking composure on even the most groomed sections of trail. The most basic of basic forks, predictably, lacked any small bump sensitivity. So by half way down Super Gee I could feel my knuckles rattling apart. This bone shaker ride quality only got worse the fast you went and eventually I had to slow to walking pace as it was getting acutely painful.

With the ride comfort simulating acute arthritis, I opted to let as much air out the tyres that I dared and head back on blue trails, in hope of saving my hands from becoming useless claws for the rest of the day. While this took the edge of I was reminded of the tyres in every berm and gee out as the squired under the now lack of pressure.

Arriving back at the Peel centre I handed over my rental donkey to the shop mech, who asked how it was. “Rough” was about all I could muster in summery, along with “You might want to look at the front brake”.

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Nimbo Cumulos

Loamy moss and pine needles rooster tailing off your back wheel, endless grip and at the end of another great ride, a clean bike to go back into the shed.

Then as the nights draw in and the lights come out, the trees shed their foliage and stop drawing water from the ground. The heavens open more often, the mercury is a little lower on the scale and the ground starts to hold a little bit more water than it had a few weeks before.

It happens every year and every year it catches you out, there is always at least one ride where you ride like a total squid as you have forgotten how to surf the slop. Winter riding, (or Autumn, Winter and Spring riding in Scotland) is a particular type of wet, and the wetter the better once the ground starts to get slick.

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A change of rubber is usually when things start to click again, the spikes come back out and the wheels start digging for grip. Once confidence in your grip starts to return (slowly) you remember braking works differently in the slop. In that, you brake less and have to look harder for safe braking points. The soft mud is scrubbing speed off your wheels for you anyway.

there is a special kind of panic reserved for when both wheels try and drift in different directions

Your body movements have a different effect as well and you work harder to keep momentum. Or more accurately, you let the bike move around more and your body has to instinctively react to counter the bikes sudden wiggles in the mud.

Then there are the unexpected drifts, moments when the back end just lets go and makes a pretty good attempt to overtake the front wheel. The front end likes to wander as well, cutting loose and sliding downhill on both wheels is hilarious fun. That said, there is a special kind of panic reserved for when both wheels try and drift in different directions.

The important thing is to stay loose, the moment you panic and get tense is the moment your over the bars and you get muddier than you already where.

The winter is when I usually remember how to properly control a bike and when I usually notice some improvement in my skills. The pace may be slower but I love this kind of riding, I find myself hollering and laughing out loud to myself as I drift into a deeply ruddered corner hoping to hook into it.

I love hardtails for this kind of riding, a simpler bike for slower, more comical pleasures, less linkage to clean out as well.

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Hardtails

Feedback, that sense of feeling the trail, the bike instantly responding to your every input.

Every half turn of the cranks propelling you forwards, the tyres telling you what they find through your hands and feet. The wheels turn and the tyres buzz, the frames silence only broken by the occasional chink of chain on stay.

Glen Dye Mount Battock sheep shed

I love hardtails, I have two of them, their characters may be totally different but the solid connection between rider, the trail and the sensation of riding that they provide are the same.

Convention says you should ride a hardtail first. Learn your bike handling skills before getting a full suss or risk having your lack of abilities hidden by a more capable bike. Whilst I agree with this to a point, riding a hardtail will teach you bike handling, and how to ride a hardtail whilst riding a full suss will teach you bike handling and how to ride with suspension.

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Hardtails teach you to be smooth, to refine your line choice and control your speed. Riding smooth can be fast, but the smoothest line is not always the fastest line.

Full suss teaches you the fastest line, how to not brake and to trust the suspension. Trusting the bike to do its job is not always a short coming of skill. It takes confidence and bike handling to hit a section of roots and drops knowing the bike will work, and will work better if you don’t grab a fist full of brake.

Hardtails teach you about pedaling, climbing and body position, riding a full suss teaches you the same.

There is a place for both kinds of bikes, I am faster on certain types of trail on one and slower on others, it depends. Almost all my PB’s at trail centres are on hardtails and almost all my natural descents are on full sussers.

I wouldn’t pick one over the other but if I could only ride one bike for the rest of my life, it probably wouldn’t have a rear shock.

Sven the bike 2


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