Intro-(En)duro

Wetter Than an Otters Pocket.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Riding Glenlivet Trail Centre

Glenlivet has had a few changes this year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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

Durris

Chosen by NETCO as the proposed site of their ambitious trail and adventure sports centre.

Durris has a compact, yet challenging network of trails. Infamous among local riders for being perpetually slow at drying after any wet weather, yet I only ever seem to make it during the autumn and winter months.

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 3

So with this all in the background and with the recent fast rolling freeze giving way to the thaw, it was time to revisit Durris and take stock of the trails.

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 7

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.

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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.

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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Fungle Road Infection

A evenings ride towards the end of summer, some final days of late northern light to play in, but be sure to be home before the street lights are on.

With the wee man settled and the chores done there was still enough light for a stolen hours or so of riding, yearning for some wilder terrain than the local woods (the local woods has some fairly wild trails mind you) I loaded up the wagon for a raid on the infamous Fungle Road single track.

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The Fungle Road is an old drovers road that links Aboyne and northern Deeside with Tarfside and Glen Esk, it is a classic stretch of natural trail mixing rough LRT with single track, fast descents and steep, persistent climbs. but when people refer to the Fungle singletrack, they mean a ribbon of perfect natural trail that nestles between Ballochan and Aboyne. It is the kind of rare naturally occurring single track that perfectly blends flow, speed and light tech with some drops to keep you sharp. It is the kind of trail that when you have a clean run, it instantly becomes your new favourite trail.

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Parking up at the Forest of Birse Kirk I set off with Sven for a hardtail mission, this ride was about attacking the climbs and getting some pace on a prolonged natural trail, it certainly wasn’t going to be volume training but it would be a fun jaunt. The sky was showing the first signs of dusk as the hillsides darkened with slithers of golden light streaking illuminated ribbons across the heather. It wont be long until the get you home lights will be mandatory kit once more.

The south climb from Birse castle is very much the lesser of the two options, it may only be a cat4 climb, but on a very sandy track which only adds to the effort. Thinking ahead to the climb out from Mamore lodge in a few weeks time, I concentrated on keeping my weight balanced and the power even, ground it out and focused on the work. Once your elevation is earned its a quickly sprint to the trailhead, the sky’s where still light but the ground was quickly darkening as the late evening light was starting to pale out.

Dropping into the trail I rode within myself to begin with, having not been here in over a year, a lot might have changed in that time, would it still be passable or even worth riding? I soon forgot these question and let the bike run as the trail was exactly as I remembered it. Speed was easily gained with a narrow heather dodging rut giving way to rocky stream bed followed soon after by a root strewn, drop filled wooded trail. The bike was flying, a full sus would of been faster but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable.

that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.

The sensation of every once of power, every hip shift, wrist flick all having a direct and instantaneous output on the bike as you feel the trail through your hands and feet. Looking ahead and working as one with the bike to make the trail as smooth and fast as possible. A full sus may of been faster, but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable and whilst a well set up full susser can feel like this, those who know, know.

But like all those who “know” know, that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.  Tubeless fails can happen to the best of us.

Sorting the puncture took more air than I would like and far more time to seal than I had. CO2 carts’ and mini pumps combined as I resorted to walking out of the trail hoping that by shouldering the bike and leaving the pierced section of tyre at the bottom of the wheel would bath it in enough sealant to stem the leak, I hoped. Reaching the landrover track the hills where dark and the sky threatening, the hiss from the rear wheel had ceased but the tyre was almost flat, pumping it back up to road bike pressures and cursing my misfortune I was ready to try pedalling. The air seemed to be holding and some how my phone had signal, I sent a message to my wife asking her to still love me when I got home much later than I had promised and tentatively saddled up and slowly built my speed to make sure things where as they should be.

Soon I was careening down what I had just climbed, skipping over water bars and dancing round rocks, trying to stop myself having to much fun incase the sealant failed and the rear gave way again. Cautions aside I was soon passing Birse Castle and scaring the livestock as I made it back to the carpark. What was meant as a short training ride had escalated into more of a  training exercise than anything else, however practising remote servicing in anger is never a bad skill to keep sharp.

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That said I got a unexpected personal best on the climb landing a 20 out of 196, and whilst I wasn’t going to be PB’ing the singletrack on the hard tail, I was feeling fast and the bike was running smooth, silver linings and all that.


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Strava, its Complicated

Strava I love you but your bringing me down.

At first you understood, you were new and you were exciting but the longer you’ve been there the more complicated it has become. You made rides exciting and were a reason to explore and to try and better myself on the bike. You made it easy to equate that feeling of speed into actual performance gains, you encouraged a joined up type of riding, of keeping momentum and of going full gas when ever possible. You made me faster.

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But as time has past, things became routine and the excitement ebbed, and you made me ride differently than I would have ridden if you weren’t there. You changed how I rode for good and for bad, you changed how others (myself included) acted and behaved, you never said I couldn’t ride like before but it was always implied.

A trail becomes a race on the internet, against people you don’t know.

I know the foundation and the driving force of our sports progress going right back to Repack has and always will be racing, but racing is an event with real people. Fighting for a KOM with a stranger on the internet started to feel more and more like trolling.

You took away the exploration, the hard work of the trail builder became exposed by the “social” aspect, of segments and heatmaps. No trail is secret, no trail knowledge is local. If you have ridden it someone has named a segment on it and if the ride isn’t on strava for all to see, then it just didn’t happen.

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You changed how I and others rode a trail, parts of a social ride that have been there since the beginning, that in fact made you a better rider were forgotten as the invisible clock in your head was always ticking. Forget the view, forget sublime moments of clarity, forget stopping to shoot the breeze with friends. Forget finding a great set of turns or drops and pushing back up mid trail to ride them again, the clock is always ticking.

Sessioning is not strava.

But you did help make me a faster, fitter rider, you helped me track rides and build on weaknesses, you let me see when I did better or when feeling fast was just cruising.

All of this said I, like Heath Ledger, wish I knew how to quit you, Happy valentines day strava, I’ll see you next time I go ride my bike.


My strava account is still active but a fairly serious affair with Veloviewer has been going on for a while. Strava doesn’t mind as it knows I will always come home to it.