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.

Magicshine ALLTY 1000

Looking for a backup light for spring & summer evening rides?

I was sent the ALLTY 1000 by Magicshine, and after enjoying the transformative powers that their Monteer 6500 brought to my night riding, I had high hopes for it. This light delivers 1000 lumens, it has an internal battery that is USB re-chargeable, is waterproof and like the Monteer, uses a standard Garmin base mount.

1000 lumens is not going to replace your main night riding light, but it could be a really good secondary light. With a brighter lamp on your bars this could be an solid option for a helmet mounted light. I however, have been using it as my “get you home” light for my evening rides. During the spring it is all too easy to lose the light and get caught out. Whether heavy cloud or tree cover, riding longer than expected or simply misjudging it, we all sometimes need an emergency light to get us home safely.

The ALLTY weighs only 132 grams, and is small enough to fit in your pocket whilst riding without noticing. The 1000 lumens is delivered as a very usable spot of light rather than a broader flood. This works well as a second light with a flood on the bars, but it is broad enough to give you ample light to ride at pace in darkened tree cover. It is not enough light to ride at full pace on trails I don’t know (but you probably shouldn’t be riding new terrain blind at full speed in the dark anyway).

The running time matches the quoted numbers on the box, but if running in sub zero temperatures, I would expect the running time to drop. My only concern about the build quality, is that the Garmin base mount is not as solid a connection as that on other lights or accessories that use this mounting system. There is a small amount of play, only a few milimetres, but this isn’t noticable whilst riding.

All in all, if you’re looking for a small, self-contained light as second, backup or commuter light, then you wouldn’t have many complaints about this one.

Brand X Dropper – 1000km Review

Surely it Can’t Last For That Money?

Short answer: yes. Longer answer: yes, but.

This post, which is of the badged up TranzX in disguise variety, is available from a few places. But most famously, from Chain Reactions where it is frequently on sale south of £100. Not only is it a post with 120mm of drop for less than a £100 (that 82p per mm of drop!), it also comes with a warranty. Which surely I will be needing if it is that price?

It comes with a under the bar shifter paddle style lever as well as all the gear cables and outers needed to install the post. So with the lever kit being in the range of £25 on its own, the value is frankly astounding.

Once installed, I have to say, the post looks the part. The only obvious weak link is the lever, which has a ferocious amount of slop and what looks like a barrel adjuster nut that will snap as soon as you look at it. But after 1000km of use, the lever is immaculate and not withstanding a crash, I can see the lever going the distance.

The post however, has a niggle or two. The post no longer returns to full height under its own steam, 10/15mm short of full return. A strip and service might bring it back to full life but if not, the mechanism is built around a sealed replaceable cartridge which will certainly do the job.

But if you had a Reverb that had that as its only issue after one year, then your more than lucky.

So this isn’t necessarily a good post for the money, its just a great dropper and a solid contender.

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.

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

Standards, huh, What are They Good For?

Absolutely nothing!? maybe? I don’t know, lets talk it out.

So there is this perennial myth in mountain biking, that “big MTB” is creating new standards to devalue our existing bikes and force us into buying new product.

142X12, Boost, Super Boost, Plus tires, 29er Plus, BB30, PF30, 1.5 straight Steerer, Tapered Steerer, 20mm, 15mm, 12mm, 10mm and good old QR axles to name but a few. It can become pretty easy to look at all of these new “developments” and start believing that the Illuminati has been confirmed.

I just don’t care, I really don’t

Now I am no “industry insider“, I don’t own a shop, I’m not a frame or component manufacturer, I am at the consumer end of all of this. Frequently however, it is the consumer end of the chain that has been the most vocal against new standards. You do not need to wade far past the “looks like a session” comments on Pinkbike to find the hate for any fresh standard.

So here is my opinion on the proliferation of new standards. I just don’t care, I really don’t. Whilst that sinks in, let me illustrate why this is with a story.

I had a Honda HRV, I loved the car, he was called Henry. Henry Snapped a drive shaft pulling out of my drive one day.

Was my reaction;

“Thank goodness for industry standards! I’ll pull the RH drive shaft from my wife’s Citreon and go and get a replacement from my local autoparts shop.”

No, of course not, that would be ridiculous. I as the consumer, sourced and ordered the correct part, based on the manufacturer, model and the year of my car. It arrived, and I repaired my car.

Henry Honda 10 under the ben.jpg
What a machine.

In almost all of our consumer goods, we accept that component parts are not interchangeable. The heating element for my Kmix coffee maker is not interchangeable with any other drip coffee maker for example. So why as a consumer, do I expect that of my bicycle?

Arbitrary standards based on what was historically available or what is used on road bikes makes no sense. The width or length of an axle should be based on what a bicycle requires to be a better bicycle.

But we have a problem, a bicycle manufacturer does not make bicycles, they manufacture frames. Even with the big box brands that have their own branded components on their build kits, rarely do they actually own the factories making those parts.  Component manufacturers produce the parts that engineers at Trek, Spesh et al have to conform their designs too.

DT Swiss make the hub, the engineer and product managers at Trek see what is available from the catalogue. They then make a choice as to what is most appropriate for the frame design and target price point.

Sometimes, an engineer at for example, Trek, has a hunch. Increasing the axle width will lead to a more evenly dished wheel, a straighter chainline and a stiffer rear end. Trek speaks to DT Swiss, they explore the possibility of making a hub that will fit this new standard. Trek wont tell Specialized whats happening, but DT Swiss will, after all they now have this new hub width to sell. Before you know it, Boost is a thing.

There have even been occasions when a bike brand has co-invested with the component manufacturer, lessening the initial outlay in bringing a new product to market. Trek payed for the molds for the Reba 29er lowers to be produced for Rock Shox’s. That is a 100K investment. Arguably, without the Reba the 29er wheel size concept could not have been proven. It kick started the development and growth of the wheel size, and introduced another new standard to the world. Another debate for another time perhaps.

There are also times when brands have genuinely made their own components, with varying degrees of success. Specialized Future shocks anyone? Trek however do not make suspension or cranksets. They may own Bontrager, but they don’t make everything a bike needs. So product managers still have to rely on other component manufacturers to complete their bikes.

This is one of the major differences between the bicycle and automotive industries. Whilst some car makers do use OEM parts made for or by other manufacturers, they still manufacture and sell the entire car. Bike companies frequently only make one part of the puzzle.

Component manufacturers also want (and need) to sell to as broad an after market as possible. This goes without mentioning that more experienced riders are just as likely to buy a new frame instead of a complete bike from their LBS. These riders are typically the most vocal when it comes to the adoption of new standards. They bemoan having to buy new hubsets and cranks when upgrading their existing frame. Or how they can not simply transfer all of their existing components to the new frame of their choice.

Is the expectation that you can transfer any mid to high end wheel/crankset/brakeset to a new frame unrealistic? Yes. Does it suck if you dropped £600 on a new wheelset, only for them to not be compatible with a new frame a year later? Yes. But please acknowledge that the rider who spends that level of cash on parts and who also changes their frame on a regular basis is the minority within the market. Stop your whining.


So who in the bicycle food chain do new standards really harm?
The consumer!

I don’t buy that argument. If I am upgrading or building a bike, I just order the correctly specified part for that bike or frame. Just like when I repaired my Honda. When 650B came on the scene, did my 26 inch wheeled bike explode in a puff of small rimmed obselance? No. The bike still worked as a bike. “The industry” did not force you to upgrade, you chose too.

The LBS!

Yes and no. Now I don’t work in a bike shop, so my views here are from the outside so may be inaccurate, please correct me in the comments. but I don’t see many expensive top tier big ticket items sitting in glass cabinets anymore. Sure they have some more common standard wheelsets in stock. for example, 135mm QR rear hub wheels. But I have seen a set of those wheels sit unsold in one shop for several years.

If I wanted a custom wheelset made up, I would speak with my shop wrench and we would work out the best mix of hub/spoke/rim for my needs. I would tell them what I frame had and they would order the parts they required.

In the same way I do not expect my independent garage to have the driveshaft for my Honda in stock “just in case” why would I expect my LBS to carry every conceivable spare or upgrade? That, I feel, is unrealistic and unreasonable of me as the consumer. My LBS is a service centre and knowledge base, not amazon prime. That is not to say that the proliferation of standards is not a right pain in the ass for the LBS. I am sure there where more than a few eyes rolled and groans at the news of “Super Boost”.

Distributors!

Here you go, this is who I think is really harmed by shifting standards, importers and distributors. Distributors bring product into a country and distribute it amongst their dealers (LBS and online retailers), they are typically a B2B business.

Now when I go to my LBS and we look at the big Saddleback pornographic catalogue of components whilst discussing that dream wheelset build. They will order the CK hub from the aforementioned distributor. It is then the distributor who has to make that initial investment in inventory. It is the distributor who has to hold an ever diversifying inventory when new standards emerge. It is also the distributor who is left with dead stock taking up space and tying up cash-flow when the world forgets 142×12 hubs.

The Consumer Again!

Sort of, I have no way of knowing other than what I would do in that business. But if I was a distributor with a damaged balance sheet due to redundant stock. I might try and increase prices elsewhere in the product range to try and mitigate that loss.


Imagine,

Now what if we thought about this whole question differently. What if we as the consumer re-wired our expectations and what if the component manufacturers became consolidated with the frame builders into one holistic business.

The engineers could build the best bike they could build, not being restricted by the need to conform to a limited series of standards. Being able to base decisions such as hub width on the engineering, not what products were currently available. knowing that the suspension division could build the right fork for the application, the correct drivetrain for the suspension kinematics. No more off the shelf forks or shocks with a “modified tune” fitted to every bike at the same price point.

A bike where each element was designed as part of a whole. You know, like the automotive industry. Imagine what that bike would look like.

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.

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.

 

ERC – (Every Ride Carry)

Short ride long ride, you always need to take some gear with you.

Depending on how long I’m riding and where, I will tend to pack differently, usually risking a smaller carry for shorter rides. However, my hydration pack always has a set amount of gear in it. This has been refined and honed down over the years to what I deem to be “the bare essentials“.

This gear is always there so that I can just grab the pack and ride, knowing that everything I need to get back home in the case of a mechanical or emergency, is there. That being said, sometimes, even with the more comprehensive pack you can still get caught out (more on that later).

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Recently more and more people (myself included) are trying to ride packless, not just because of #fullenduro but because it feels better. Your body feels less restricted, your cooler without the pack against you and you generally feel, freer.

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But I still want to take gear with me when I ride packless, I try to make as few compromises as possible in terms of leaving gear at home. So I use a Race Face Rip Strip as a “hip belt” style carry, its basically a bumbag for the millennial generation of riders but it works and goes neatly under my riding jersey


Big Carry


Little Carry


Breakdown

I can only go packless if I take a water bottle, my hydration pack usually has about 2L of water in it. A bottle can’t carry that, but it is pretty easy to refill a bottle on longer rides. Riding snacks are easy to carry in a pack, when I’m using the Rip Strip I can usually jam a few gels in there and some bars and jelly babies in my pockets.

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Why spend more?

As for unexpected weather, I can fit a packa jac (a tiny packable rain jacket) into the bottom of my pack. Plenty of big names make them but the one I ride with most at the moment came from Aldi, the discount supermarket. When riding packless, I literally stuff this in my shorts pocket, it is so small that it disappears.

The spares I carry in both bags are a small selection that includes;

  • Spare master link
  • Spare Shimano joining pin
  • Short length of chain
  • Jockey wheel
  • Mech Hanger
  • Gear Cable
  • 5M Bolt and Chain Ring bolt

Between these and the cable ties I’ve managed to get home from a lot of mechanicals, every spare in that bag is because of a past mechanical that I struggled to fix.

Why both the pump and the CO2 Inflator in my big carry and not the smaller lighter CO2 inflator in my small carry? I love CO2 carts, they are great when you are in a time sensitive situation, like a race. But they are wasteful and I don’t trust them. Once when riding down Clachnaben I got a rear puncture, no worries I have a tube and CO2, the cart was a dud. that was a long walk home, I have never trusted them as my only option since.

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First Aid Kit

Not enough riders carry one of these with them, in mine I usually have;

  • Fabric Plasters
  • Scissors
  • Fabric Tape
  • Gauze Squares
  • Disinfectant Wipes
  • Ibuprofen

Nothing major, just enough to stop some pedal strike and cut knees from bleeding too badly along with some vitamin I.

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I have also taped and strapped additional spares like more tubes and CO2 carts to my saddle and frame. I find this fine for short term stowage and the odd ride, but that tubes don’t weather well when left taped to frames indefinitely with the riding conditions enjoyed here in Scotland. I have taken tubes left taped to saddles only to discover that they have developed small holes and need patching before I can fit them.


So here we have my big and little carries, what I bring, and how I carry those essentials that I just cannot ride without. I’m sure I have missed something and will no doubt find out soon enough.

Fungle Road

Heading south from the Fungle singletrack is the Fungle Road itself.

The old drovers road connects Deeside in the north with Tarfside in the south and is usually part of a larger loop. I have a favourite section, from Birse Castle up to the edge of the estate. It is a real leg burner of a climb but one fast descent coming back down.

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I normally take the Fungle on my XC whip as the climb can be a little, intimidating, it is the sort of constant grind that benefits from a lithe XC machine.

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Its a stiff old climb.

But I thought I’d take the big bike for a change, not being on the gas for the climb was a good plan. The weather God’s looked on me kindly and the temperature was around 17-19 degrees. Pretty toasty for early April.

The start of the climb is literally at the end of the road, the tarmac ends and the dirt begins. You quickly cross the sheep pastures then the landscape begins to change in character to a more rugged austerity as the hillside grow in front of you.

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The sparse heather covered hillsides hide burns that cross the trail, they grow and recede with the rains, thankfully they are never more than a quick rinse for the bike.

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Bike wash.

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Genuine snakes in Scotland.

Once that climb has been defeated its time to make your way back down. From the top you can climb further and explore other back country options that take you into Glen Tanar or down the shooting estate fire road into Tarfside.

Or, do like I did, turn around and burn straight back down the way you came.

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Being a historic walkers path your not going to find berms and lips to send off, but if your out here your not looking for that kind of riding experience. What you will find though is a very, very fast  trail, with plenty of ruts and drainage ditches to get playful on.

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The 5km+ of descent quickly fly by, and all to quickly, the heather fades away with the grassy pastures on the boundary of farm and heath coming back into view.

All in all a great wee section of trail to build into a larger loop, or, if your short of time but want a taste of some wilder riding riding, enough to scratch that itch.

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Glenlivet

“How big is Big Red?”

“Big Red’s pretty big…”

This was the paraphrasing of a conversation between myself and one of my riding buddies. Joe was selling the virtues of Bike Glenlivet and how it was worth the round trip, well aware that travel time eats into ride time. This would be the first proper ride on the new Banshee Spitfire, a pretty special present from my wife for my 30th birthday and I was itching to give it a proper test ride.

“Its different to everywhere else, and it will be dry”

Stop, you had me at dry.

Bike Glenlivet is one of Scotland’s most recent trail centres, nestled in the Glenlivet estate’s hills and woodlands near Tomintoul, it is somewhat a unique beast. featuring all elements we have come expect of a fully fledged trail centre, you will find a cafe in the Coffee Still, pump track, 24 hour toilet and car parking for those early starts and late nights and two graded loops.

The feel of the trails and the exceptionally long nature of the red’s descent are the things that set this place apart. Unlike centres like Glentress or Laggan, where you climb to the top and then a series of descents linked by fire roads take you back to the carpark. Here most of the reds descending has been condensed in one, long, trail.

Blue Trail

Everything starts on the blue, the trail consists of a 9km loop of fast seamless flow interspersed with some single track and fire road climbs.

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Everything you want from a blue is here, but it is also a sneaky trail. You very quickly build up some proper speed, which you only realise when you over cook a turn. Tune out for a second and before you know it your hauling 10km faster than your comfortable with into a surprisingly flat turn. People talk about the fireroad climbs but they are a very small part of what can be a very fast trail, a hot lap being between 30 – 35 minutes.

Big red

Big red is an interesting red, being honest, the trail is not that technically demanding. It is essentially a slightly narrower (in places) blue trail with well sign posted red and black features. It could be argued that the red grading comes from the length and physicality of the trail, not the technicality of it.

You start on the blue trail, tackling the first climb and flowing down the other side before diverting onto the red. Your on the blue just long enough to get warmed up before the real climbing begins.

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A mixture of singletrack and smooth fireroad brings up up to the top of the red, its a persistent 5km+ climb with a nasty kick right at the end.

The usual banter and abuse were dished out on the climb to pass the time. A stand out moment was when Charlie tried to shift me into a harder gear. With perfect timing, I reached out and gave his rear brake a little nudge. Almost in slow motion, Charlie arched backward and landed in a mossy ditch. Thankfully he was unhurt and requiring a lift home I was free of reprisals, although the thought of revenge helped power me up the climb.

Upon reaching the summit the wind had really picked up, none of us wanted to hang around for too long, plus 6km+ of singletrack descent awaited us.

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“That climb though”

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Starting out on open hillside, you build momentum into the first of many drops, it is so smooth that you instantly gain confidence and want to see how fast you can push it. once you enter the trees the speed keeps on coming, with rollers and jumps to keep your momentum on.

The trail soon reveals that it is a tale of three chapters with the middle third having a far more pedally character after the fast flowing opening verses. The final third kicks back into the fast flow, with whoops, rollers and tight little compressions to throw yourself into. This culminates in a final set of drops that are the biggest on the trail and spit you out at rocket ship speeds into the final few corners and rock gardens.

A full 15/16 minutes of singletrack joy comes as a slight shock to the system when we (and our legs) here in scotland are used to far shorter descents before finding the fireroad again. After recovering and getting some gels and snacks down you the temptation to go back up to do it all again is pretty strong. If you do, just remember about the other climb back to the carpark and make sure you’ve got enough Scoobie snacks to make it back without bonking!

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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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