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.

Dunkeld Enduro

“Fancy entering the Dunkeld Enduro?”

Was roughly the conversation that led of me trailing down to Dunkeld one damp saturday morning. My brother in-law (Jonny) was looking for events to enter and Dunkeld’s trails have bit of a reputation, as does the enduro, so it was an easy sell.

The Highland Perthshire Enduro takes place in the early spring on three of the hills over-shadowing the quiet little town of Dunkeld. The trails around Dunkeld are infamous for their steep natural character, with each hill having its own distinct flavour. But as I drove into the town, those hills were shrouded in rain and low cloud. To say this was going to be a wet day was an understatement, the lint in an otter’s pocket was drier that the trails that day.

The first two stages shared a climb up Birnam hill with the popular Rake & Ruin and Pink Floyd trails setting the tone for the day. Rake & Ruin was a fairly mad cold open and left you in no doubt as to what the riding would be like for the rest of the day. I have never ridden mud like this, the mix of thick clag and slick greasiness that kicked up and hit you in the chest as you drifted both wheels was something special. It was was more like skiing than riding, with both wheels on full lock you didn’t slow down. Wild. But after somehow not crashing, I made it down.

Now cramp is a right bastard; the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding.

after making the climb the second time whilst awaiting my turn at the start of Pink Floyd, the mantra of “Ride Don’t Slide” was repeating in my head. This was by far and away my best stage of the day, after this it was all downhill.

The opening straight had ample grip and I was loving the speed on offer. Popping off of rocks and through compressions the bike was just motoring. More motivation to let the bike run came from the decreasing gap between me and the rider infront. After a brief low slide off the track as I entered the trees, I was back on the hunt letting the bike drift into corners as I learned how much traction I had to play with. The gap was narrowing.

Stage 2, the high point of the day.

I called “RIDER” which was a first for me at an enduro, (normally something I am used to hearing shouted at me!) and overtook the boy infront. Making yet more good progress I got over confident, overcooking a berm in the process. By the time I was back on track the guy I had passed was once more in front. Nope, not having that. Attacking yet again, I knew the end wasn’t far away, so putting down what power I had, I hollered “RIDER” overtaking him in the last few hundred yards.

Careening out of the mud bath and past the dibber, it wasn’t long before Jonny finished the stage. He had had an absolute mare, with so much mud hitching a lift on his drivtrain, his cranks, his rear mech, everything had jammed and refused to turn. Nightmare.

Did I mention it was muddy?

However all this was bittersweet, as the begining of the end for my day started during that climb to stage two, as the first twinges of cramp started creeping and dancing around my calves. Now cramp is a right bastard, and once I have cramp on a ride, the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding, my day is done. Not really an option during a race, so I hydrated and refueled as best I could and tried to push through it.

Stage 3 was a very different affair, Doug’s and Dan’s Trails may lack gradient but are beautifully dug and crafted flow trails. Perfect catch berms and features help you carry speed, whilst they are tricky to ride fast blind, they are bloody good fun! And once more traction evaded me, I blew through a berm and ended up running downhill, again.

This was going to be a very demanding day.

Then came the long 9km transition and climb up the fireroads of Craigvinean to stage four and five. This was the 9km that broke me. Added to this, was the cut-off time for stage 4, if you didn’t make that, you were bumped from the full enduro to the lite verison of the event.

“I’m fine keep going!”

The cramp built and built, and my energy levels fell lower and lower as I was increasingly struggling to push through it. And what was albiet a sustained fireroad climb, turned into a death march. Strava afterwards told me that this climb was no steeper in gradient and only fractionally longer than the climbs on my local loop. But when the body is needing to stop, climbs you would happily spin up extend beyond the horizon. I am not embarressed to say that it was during this climb that I decided that the full enduro was not going to happen that day. After stage 4 my day was over.

Meeting Jonny at the top, he could see it in me, even if I wasn’t on the edge of a cramp addled bonk (not as sexy as that sounds) the clock was against us.

“Theres a really good chippy in Dunkeld”

” That sounds magic”

Stage four was a series of linked trails with the odd fire road sprint mixed in for good measure. One last push, soak up the cramp for one last trail then limp back to the carpark, thats all I had to do. One. last. run.

Dibbing in after Jonny I was hoping for a clean cruisey run, not far in Jonny got taken out by a sniper rock, hidden deep in the mud. After making sure he was OK I was back in front. I tried (as always) to keep light and let the bike work, to take it easy. The quality of the trail however encouraged me to push, I should not of pushed.

As the gradient began to mellow out and the end felt within reach, the fire in my thighs tipped over what was tolerable and my legs more or less locked up. Not being able to absorb the ground or counteract the bikes movements, everything became sketchy and painful. Rolling off course I lay down and my legs curled into my chest. “I’m fine keep going!” was my pained answer to everyone coming down behind me. Crawling back onto the bike I rolled through the time gate and lay back on the ground letting the lactate acid drain slowly out of my legs. Breathe.


Now a few hard lessons were learnt that day;

  • I have lost fitness.
  • Just because its cold and wet, doesn’t mean you can’t dehydrate.

But my primary objective of beating Jonny, against all odds had been achieved, somehow.

ME25:16.11
Jonny26:13.49

But the disaster aside, I took some positive things from the day, my riding felt good and the bike worked well, with no issues or mechnicals. My goal of landing mid-pack in the results wasn’t that unrealistic either. While the Lite Enduro was a smaller field, when going through the results on Roots & Rain I was solid mid pack until the disaster of stage 4. With a 4th on stage 2 being my best stage result of the day. There is however, always more to work on and definetely one to redemn myself on next time.

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

Right to Roam?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standard Rant

New standards, everybody loves them, wait no the other one, nobody loves them. Pink bike keyboard warriors love them, nothing gets them going like a new axle width. What do I think, well, I don’t care and neither should you.

This little shed based rant/vlog I cover the ground I previously wrote about in this post.

 

Why I Don’t Trust CO2

Co2 cartridges, small, light and fast. Its like they come from the future. But I’m increasingly not a fan. Here is why I don’t trust Co2 carts as far as I can throw them, and I have a terrible throwing arm.

IMG_5446
CO2 Inflator

Death of a Trail

Land-use, a polorizing and often controversial topic of conversation.

One person can look at a hillside and see the epitome of rugged, untouched natural landscape. Another will look upon the same slope, and see a burnt, over exploited desert, perpetuated for one exclusive activity at the expense of all others. Some will just see heather.

How you view the land is coloured and predetermined by many factors. These notions of what the land “should be” rather than what it pragmatically is, tends to skew our assessments. We see the land as we wish to see it, rather than for what it is. This is frequently more convenient for us than accepting the often hard truths about our environment and the extent that we have altered it.

If we look at Scotland for example, in all of its rugged beauty and splendor. We must first accept the fact that the “country side“, in its entirety, is a man altered landscape.

Death of a trail stravaiging crushed berm

If you measure the land in convenient terms, with a short enough timescale. You will find pockets of wild ground, ground that is self determining in terms of the flora and fauna it supports. But extend that timescale backwards by a few decades and you will find human actions, of often industrial activities, shaping what the land could and does support.

These industrial activities are often so long established, that they are perceived as part of the natural order. The land MUST be managed. Farming, shooting and clearcutting are all heritage industries on a man inhabited landscape. They have an impact on the shape of that land, but they are not naturally occurring systems. A forester given the right conditions does not populate a woodland in the same way as a Crossbill or a Blaeberry bush. These industrial activities are decisions made on a societal and governmental level. No one likes the slate being scraped clean by clearfetting, but we as a society allow it to occur, we pick other battles to fight.

To a certain extent that is OK, as long as those decisions are made from an informed standpoint, rather than one based on the pitfall that afflicts much of conservation policy. That which can best be described as “when I were a lad“. The approach that holds the landscape in stasis against a measure set by one generation previous.

This antiquated methodology works against natural processes and inhibits areas where growth can be naturally sustained. It props up parts of an environmental mix which cannot be sustained at a that level without continued intervention.

Now this is a gross over simplification of the complex web of environmental factors on the ground and the people and policies trying to do good things by it. But like the spider silk heavy with morning dew, the threads holding this system up are weighed down and prone to breaking.

The Forestry” is the enemy after all. To ask permission is to be told no.

Now I thought this was a MTB blog? well it is, but we as a group have a vested interest, as well as an impact on that landscape. We are a user group with our own agenda and view point, just like all of the other groups working on and with the same landscape. We may be small and less well established than some, but that does not mean we are immune to viewing the landscape through the lens of our own biases.

This is no less true in Scotland, a place often held as an example of progressive land access law and tolerance towards those who view the landscape with less than traditional eyes. This subject can (and has) filled many books and long essays, I am by no means trying to explore the topic in depth in this post, I am just looking to discuss it and how it pertains to us as a tribe.

In Scotland we have some very permissive land access laws. Essentially it allows anyone to have universal access to all land and inland waters (with a few noted exceptions) within Scotland. These rights and responsibilities are outlined in some detail within Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Whilst it is broad in scope, it cannot cover every eventuality. But it essentially boils down to these core principles.

  • Respect the interests of other people;
  • Care for the environment;
  • Take responsibility for your own actions.

Now Scotland has a strong culture of wild trails, trails dug illicitly and without the permission of the landowner. We also have a strong network of trail centers (bike parks), albeit more centralized within the borders.

They have taken up occupancy, and the understory beneath the pines is their garden.

Now one could say that a  symptom of the trail centers not being evenly spread is the proliferation of these, now quite large and mature in some cases, wild trail networks. The requirement for riding locations is there, but not being met due to a three hour round trip for two hours riding. So, a group of stereo-typically male riders in their early twenties go scratch a line through the woods.

Death of a trail stravaiging MTB Scotland

The problem here is, they are not taking into account the presence of that Crossbill or Blaeberry bush. The local environmental factors concerning the flora and fauna that may be disturbed, the suitability of the soil or the long term plans for that area of forest are not considered. “The Forestry” is the enemy after all. To ask permission is to be told no.

The permissive nature of land access also lends itself towards taking emotional ownership over a landscape. I ride a network of trails from my house on a regular basis, I do not own the land, I have never spoken nor could I tell you the name of the person/s who own it. But they are my trails. This emotional ownership, in my view, further encourages the trail builder, they have taken up occupancy, and the understory beneath the pines is their garden.

Ownership and competition do not in my experience, lend themselves to co-operation. The Forestry Commission tend to allow these trails to exist, generally because they do not possess the resources to stop them. So when the Forresty move onto a site, resentment on both sides can take hold. For example, I know of no rider, myself included who has ever paid attention to a sign warning that tree felling is taking place. Lack of respect increases the lack of cooperation, or so it would seem.

Death of a trail stravaiging land use

Trail centers are complex and expensive beasts to establish, and they need to be good to draw riders away from the wild natural trails.

In the north east where I am based there are at least 4 trail center schemes at different scales of ambition and stages of development trying to do just that. A trail center not only centralizes the impact that riders have, giving the un-armoured surfaces of wild trails time to recover. It also gives the opportunity to formalize and quantify the impact that a user group has on both the landscape and its surrounding economy. But it needs time and money. Trail centers still affect a landscape, just like any other industry based on using the land. But it is in a managed and planned fashion, the soil and Crossbill, the longevity and the Blaeberry are taken into account.

I am not advocating a boycott on wild trails, not at all, that would be both madness and impossible to police.  Just remember the next time you are on the hill or in the woods that you are but one piece of a puzzle that we cannot understand. That you have an impact, both positive and negative. And as such, the next time you see a harvester driving through your trail be sad for that ribbon of singletrack, but don’t be angry.

Death of a trail stravaiging scotland land access

For further reading on the issues I’ve skirted around here I thoroughly recommend any or all these books.

George Monbiot – Feral

Gaia Vince – Adventures in the Anthropocene

Nan Shepard – The Living Mountain

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.

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

 

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

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.

Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride adder
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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Scolty/Goauch

Everyone has a local spot, it might need a drive to get there but it is their default place for riding.

For many people these are local woods or, if they are lucky, a trail centre. There aren’t any full sized trail centres in Aberdeenshire, but that doesn’t mean we are lacking riding spots. My local spot is Scolty, or Hill of Goauch (depending on what side you start on).

Because it is my local, I never really think to write ride or trail reports about it as a location for riding, but that is doing it a disservice. I have written posts on other topics that were inspired by riding there, but never about the hill itself.

So here is a long overdue trail review of one of Aberdeenshire’s more popular spots.

On the outskirts of Banchory, nestled between the river Dee to it’s north and farmland to it’s south. Scolty is a large woodland covering two main hills with a heath land saddle spanning the two.

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People have been riding bikes here for a very, very long time, and the wealth and breadth of the trail network is testament to that and the years of work by local builders. The trails mostly converge on two hills, Scolty and Hill of Goauch.

Scolty

Radiating out form the tower at the top, this hill has arguably the greater density of trails. Historically this is where the downhill trails were and they can be broadly characterised by being both short and steep. That is not to say that variety cannot be found here too. From trails that are flowy crafted berms through to natural thin flat cornered ribbons, you can even find big drops and hucks all on this modest sized hill.

Goauch

Goauch is a little further out and has trails that have a subtlety different feel, if I was introducing someone to the hill I would say that this side had the “enduro” trails. The trails start to get longer, tighter and more ruddered in. There is some properly technical riding to be found here.

The trails tend to have a good mix of flat out speed, awkward slow technical corners and with plenty of sneaky drops and chutes. In the wet the place can be a real warzone but in the dry the riding is superlative.

Descent times start to creep up as well, with some trails having deviations or can be tagged together to get upwards of 8 to 10 minutes of down time. That being said, the more down, the more you have to climb back up. There are also plenty of features all over the hill to scare yourself on and get the adrenaline pumping. Something that the builders have been really creative in joining up in places.


The thing that unites all these trails is their full gas nature, Scolty and Goauch are not a place for cruisy trails. This is not somewhere you ride if you want a blue or straightforward red, here you need to keep your wits about you and the best thing to do is to commit and attack.

This makes it a great venue for progression, my riding progressed faster than at any other point once I moved to within 15 minutes riding of these woods. I crashed more, broke more components, learned more about terrain and bike set-up in one year, than I had in the previous three.

Trails I have ridden regularly for 4 years still surprise me, the natural shifting and evolution that typifies natural riding keeps things exciting and unpredictable. A day without a botched run or at least a near miss is a day when your not riding fast enough. Once you can consistently and cleanly ride a trail, there is always another, more technical line just down the fire road to keep the challenge high. The satisfaction of getting a PB (sorry Strava) is so great as to keep you coming back thirsty for more and to try and finally clean that trail that has been scaring you.

Stravaiging Enduro Scolty February 10

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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.

Glenlivet trail centre red tomintoul.png

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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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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