Intro-(En)duro

Wetter Than an Otters Pocket.

The inuagural No Fuss Intro-(En)duro was held a few weekends back at the hallowed ground that is the Nevis Range. Hallowed however it may be, one thing the ground certainly was, was wet!

The forecast had been for heavy snow fall with a weather warning for the day preceeding the race with only rain and/or snow on the day itself. That however did little to deter over 200 riders from turning up on the day.

The race itself had a bit of a so called mash-up format to procedings. Whilst being an enduro, it was an enduro with a twist. The course was made up of three relatively short stages that all shared the same access road and finished within a stones throw of one another at the car park and a coffee. The twist was that each stage can be run as many times as you wanted with only your best times counting.

The race was pitched as being a race for those who wanted to dip a toe in the enduro waters. But judging from the vans and rigs rolling through the car park, this was not the first rodeo for the majority of those turning out to race. A pre-season race to get through those winter blues.

What the race was however, was destinctly un-racey.

The stages were hard packed and impervious (mostly) to the weather. They were fast flowing blues and red graded trail centre fair. So whilst lacking in technicality, the shortness meant that times were tight, with sub 1:45 times necessary to be at the sharp end.

What the race was however, was destinctly un-racey. With everyone able to repeat stages and socialise at the cafe created a really relaxed atmosphere. Groups could split up and run different stages but meet up again for a catch up at the bottom. Mechanicals were a non-issue, sure you lost one run, but you were back at the car to get it fixed and go again, day saved.

The weather was to put it politely, absolutely horrendous. Vearing from rain to snow to stong winds to sidways rain. But again, you could wait out 20 minutes to get warm and get back at it without penalty. Your dibber could only store 9 runs, which again, you could easily clock up in the time allowed without breaking yourself.

Enduro racing is probably at a bit of a tipping point. Racing a whole series is an expensive affair both financially and in time commitment. For a race series to continue it needs fresh blood. It needs new riders to enter the races, even if they are only trying one or two, an organiser can’t rely on repeat racers to sustain. That is why I think single weekend festival style events are so popular, its a lot easier to justify one big blow out weekend than four or five smalelr ones across a year.

And that is where events like this come in. Not sure if your up to it but want to try it? Then this is a gateway event. Something to let people get a taste for runs between the tape and hopefully, they will come along to a national race or two. The format has potential, but might be hard to roll out at some venues. But as for relaxed racing experiences, this one like the rain, was horizontal.

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.

Pannanich DH

On a recent ride I went to find a local legendary trail called Heart Break Ridge.

A long sinuous line flowing singletrack cutting over a open hillside along a wide ridge before dropping steeplly into the tree line for a rooty technical finale. Or so I was hoping for.

Setting off up a burner of a fireroad climb, the elevation grew quickly, as did the wind chill. Hoping to get some higher routes before the winter settled in, I hadn’t fully appreciated the conditions higher up.

With the climb put to bed, I found frozen trails and high cross winds. The climb was followed by an undulating plateau of frozen trail, a sugar dusting of snow covered the frozen puddles. The wind chill steadily grew, and I regretted not digging out all my winter riding gear as my feet began to really feel the chill.

Reaching the start of Heart Break Ridge the cross wind was what you could call, bracing. Remembering caution is the better part of valour, I took a different descent to get into the tree line faster and down into the ley side of the hill.

The Panannich DH was still a good trail, but having seen the ribbon of frozen single track that is Heart Break ridge extending into the distance. I just want to go back in better weather and get that trail under the belt!

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

MTB POV – A Better Way

Point of View video (POV for Short),

a cornerstone of action sports video. 

Problem is, most of them are rubbish. The video is shaky, the image blurred and you can’t quite see enough of the action. If worn in the classic chest mount there is either too much bike and hairy knee going on and not enough trail or its shaking your retinas loose just watching it. If worn in the UCI bothering helmet mount, it is smoother, but still not great. The trail is flattened out by the effect of being higher and you don’t feel as “in the bike” as you do with the chest mount.

Wearable Gimbal
Feiyu Tech WG S 3 Axis Gimbal

    .

It doesn’t matter how well your suspension is set up either, unless it is a groomed blue trail, that video is going to be shaking like the camera is going through the DTs.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, enter the wearable gimbal. This little gadget mounts between the camera (GoPro Hero Session in this example) and the chest mount.

It uses a giroscope and 3 brushless motors to compensate for body movement keeping the camera stable and the horizon level, which in theory, results in smoother footage.

Does it work? The difference is night and day when comparing the two traditional mounting options against the gimbal footage. It took me a few rides to get mounting the gimbal dialed in so it was stable enough to work effectively, but once secure it works really, really well!

Would I recommend a gimbal to a GoPro user? Yes and no, they are expensive bits of kit, effectively doubling the price of a GoPro setup. So think carefully, if you are getting serious about your video then absolutely, if you just like filming the odd ride, I’d maybe spend my money elsewhere.

I’ll be documenting some notable trails on my YouTube channel using this set up so make you you give the channel a subscribe to see the outcome.

Finella or Drumtochty

(depending on what side you approach the hill), is a hidden gem in the southern edges of Aberdeenshire.

From the steep old growth of Drumtochty Glen, to the tight dark stands on the Auchenblae side, this hill has a lot of character and range of trails on offer. For the committed downhill rider and enduronaut the Drumtochty slopes provide plenty of challenge and speed for those willing to tame the gnar. On the mellower side of things, the tight trails  of the Auchenblae side are woven over and through deep furrows cut between dense crops of pine trees, on ground that is apparently impervious to rain.

The fire road climbs snake lazily upwards and is dispatched without much fuss allowing the main business of descending to soon begin. The “trail” singletrack on the Auchenblae side of the hill provides singletrack with a character quite different to offerings elsewhere in the region. The dense growth of harvest timber has led to quite a barren understory, that is both fast draining and thick with the loam created by years of shed pine needles.

These trails are short fun blasts that reward the committed who work their body english as much as they turn the cranks. They can be linked together to create long flowing runs that build in pace the further you run, before breaking the tree line and climbing back up the fireroad for another blast on the roller coaster.

The impossibly weather proofed trails have a deep soft loam that rips into high roster tails as you bob and weave between the furrows. Yet with all that grip, sniper roots still lurk in the shadowy corners waiting to grab a wheel out from under you and set you pin balling from side to side down the trail.

stravaiging-mtb-scotland-finella-woods-1-copy

Then there are the longer newly dug steep “enduro” lines. Off camber, with steep chutes and rooty drops. The newer lines are best attempted with repeat viewings, as once on the bike blind drops always appear larger than they are in reality.

You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

The proximity of the trails to each other and the modest climbs of the hill may lead you to expect a less demanding character of singletrack. Yet a trail can be as challenging as you make it, with precision and bike handling levels increasing dramatically the faster you go. You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

Green climbs Scotland

It may not have the number and length of the trails at other local spots like Scolty, but this is one hill not to be overlooked.

finella-drumtochty-mtb-trails-scotland
You say Finella I say Drumtochty, the OS says Drumelzie.


Elsewhere

Instagram Stravaiger Strava Facebook

Comrie Croft – Helmet Cams

Everyone loves a helmet cam video, great for reliving trails and for getting an idea of the terrain and features before racing blind.

Here we find six of the nine stages from Comrie Cream O the Croft 2016 for your enjoyment, and for familiarizing yourself with the stages for next time.

All videos are my own apart from stage five which is courtesy of Bob Millar.


Elsewhere

Instagram Stravaiger Strava Facebook