FIN. Finale trails, as smooth and creamy as good Gelato

Another interseason, another trip to Finale. Following the annual MTB migratory route to the Italian Riviera (except the bit where you head back to the frozen north after a few days, seems we’ve still some learning to do from them birds).

It’s good to get in on copying your favourite pro’s social media which, until recently, will have been filled with #preseason #shakedown and #testing in the sunny south. Or even your friends who will have been busy with #newbikeday and getting some dust in to try out their new whips.

OK, so Rohan's not on a new bike, or doing a whip, but Rollercoaster is a good trail none the less.

I saw the trip the other way round, a last chance to ride my bike before it goes to a new owner. I try to avoid unbridled enthusiasm, or even any enthusiasm, it’s just not what the cool kids do, but my Canyon Strive has done me well for the last 2 years and I’m pretty sad to see it go. Through races, bike parks, mud, dust, rock and root it’s just rumbled along not complaining and, except for the odd puncture or crash squinted saddle and pulled cable, never have I had a mechanical. Well, except the first shapeshifter unit, but it just got left in DH mode all the time anyways.

The strive might be a great #enduro bike, but alas it doesn't make the rider able to do great #enduro turn-downs.

But, it’s sold and gone now, so I’ll save you any anthropomorphism of an object and get back to the more interesting bit of the trails.

Last spring we rode Isallo Extasy and declared it the pure bestest trail ever in Finale, so figured it would make a grand first trail of the trip this year. Only it’d been raining solid for the previous three days and our shuttle driver asked us no to ride it. A bit of guessing later we headed down an only slightly slick roller coaster, which was good but not as good as Isallo.

Choose Finale, choose a trail, choose Rollercoaster above the Mediterranean sea.

It also turned out not to be as good as Toboggan which too goes from the Din drop off point and was mibbies all four of our favourite trail. Rohan because he didn’t have me getting in his way, Gabrielle because she didn’t crash on it and didn’t have me and Spence getting in her way, and me and Spence ‘cos we managed to have a conversation the whole way down. And didn’t crash.

We didn't get any photos on Toboggan, too much fun to stop, so here's Gabrielle getting heckled somewhere else.

Completing our three days of shuttle to Din we final(e)ly went and rode Insalo again, only to discover later on Strava that our previous favourite trail is, in fact, called Fast and Furious. The names don’t really matter anyway, I wouldn’t want to declare which is better and fortunately we’re not in some contrived tv gameshow where we have to choose, so I’d say go and ride them both, 2 great ways to start your day. Or, if you’re like our new friend Rainer who we met at the base of Toboggan, him having arrived from Isalo looking very not-covered-in-mud, ride them both in the same day with just a few thousand meters of pedalling up inbetween.

Rainer on Cacciatore, in between a mere 2500m of climbing for laps.

I find the closer I get to Finale town the less I enjoy the trails. Not the the trails closer to town are bad mind, more that the style of the trail becomes much more physical and, if I’m honest, more like it’s trying to break your bike. As my bike was no longer actually MY bike on this trip, I was more keen than usual to avoid breaking it. Breaking myself is something I can manage anywhere.

Sun, dust, scrub and rocky trails. Quintessential Finale riding.

The exception to the rule would be the trails leading back into Orco Feglino town itself from Chiesa San Rocco which, like the nearby Pino Morto trail, don’t bother with any of that pesky mid-trail uphill rubbish or require any great finesse to ride. Just lots of holding onto the bars and not the brakes fun, swing the hips about, look where you want to go and holler on through.

Rain stopped uplift on the 4th day, but the sun came out to play for the afternoon, Gabrielle in the light and on Rugetta/EWS '14 special stage 3.

Trails that are so much fun, when we went to do a few shuttle laps on the last day before heading home I got all anti social and just kept doing top to bottom laps rather than sharing the fun. It was my last play out on the Strive, let me have my moment. I’d never ridden Little Champery before this trip (no idea how, I’ve ridden past the entrance often enough) but it got the questionable honour of being the last trail I rode on the Strive, a fitting last blast.

Time for a change.

Do you even #lightbro? Spence on the fine combination of Kill Bill/Madonna.

Off to Scotland now for some mud and ALE.

You thought the racers were struggling to see in Lourdes, think how we felt. DH cat don't care tho.

Cheers Spence, Gabrielle and Rohan, and Canyon, for yet another grand trip. FIN

An object in motion remains in motion unless…

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of finding some trees.

How’s your memory on high school physics, up to Newton’s first law of motion? I’ll give you a reminder, save you the hassle of dusting off your copy of Principia Mathematica.

First Law: In an inertial reference frame, an object either remains at rest or continues to move at a constant velocity, unless acted upon by a force.

Caillet lowers, lots of us have done some work in here over the years, but there still more to be done....

Or; stuff stays where you put it unless you give it a prod. Traditionally, giving things a prod then moved you onto Newton’s 2nd law where the object in question would accelerate in the direction it was prodded. Irritatingly some pesky scientists now went and (sort of) made a material with negative mass, so when poked it moves towards you*.

Mess up a photo? Just slide the contrast and light levels about until it works as b&w. Take that Ansel Adams.

Having crowbared in a current (non political) affairs story, how does this swing round to bikes? Weeel, riders seem to react to their environment. If the local trail push in one direction, the riders tend to go with it, until something changes and then they get pushed in a new direction.

There's a bit much bedrock about to say "fresh loam", maybe "recently worn moss" will come into parlance?

Not sure what I’m on about? If you live somewhere with a chairlift and bike park, you tend to ride a big heavy bike and hit jumps a lot. Live somewhere flat with rolling trails, you probably ride a XC 29’er. Live somewhere flat with no trails at all, you’ve probably bought a shovel and started digging trails (as in the proper definition of trails, jumpy ones). Finally, live somewhere with chairlifts and cracking natural tracks, you probably don’t both much with a shovel. i.e. Live in Chamonix, why bother building trails, there’s so many good ones already.

Caillet lowers. Which do you prefer, steep line or mellow line?

Only there’s always someone who want to be counter intuitive, to go in the wrong direction when pushed. And in this case, they’re building trails. The someone is really plural, as from Le Planet to Servoz folks are heading out and tweaking, modifying, extending or just straight up creating, trails.

Spot the rider can be as hard as spot the spot.

I know who some of trails are made by, others I dunno, so it’s not for me to map out where the building is. But, if you get out a fair bit around Chamonix you should notice the more popular ones. The more hidden ones are an incentive to go and explore more, you never know where you might find the next gem.

Is it too early to start whining about the trails being too dry?

I guess it’s also an incentive to go and add to the work that’s being done. Doesn’t need to be much, trail maintenance is as useful as making a new trail. The commune does grand work keeping the marked trails well maintained but there’s plenty of wee unmarked tracks that 5 mins work a ride to move fallen trees, kick clear drainage or push back encroaching shrubberies will make a difference.

Best not forget that the "main" trails got made by someone, and maintained by someone else too. Merlet.

And, if you all can do that then I don’t have to do anything and can just leech off everyone else’s hard work.

We're having to pedal n push up still, so it's kinda like hard work.

On the subject of getting something for nothing, the Chamonix lift accessed riding season started last week. Then ended after 1 day following the last minute change of mind by Compagnie du Mont Blanc to NOT keep Flegere running but fire up Brevent instead. Flegere lifties were happy with bikes, Brevent less so. Riding plans changed from lapping the Flegere trails to riding assorted valley trails under summer skies if not always summer temps. The pictures might look like they’re from August, but they were all definitely taken this April. Hence you’re getting a blog post about all the grand trail build work folk have been doing rather than how great it is to be riding off the lifts already.

If you look hard enough in the trees, somewhere 15 mins from the centre of Chamonix, you too can find the BC porthole.

The sun’s taking a wee break for a few days so I guess I should head off into the woods with a shovel and saw too. You never know, maybe the next post will be directions to the new greatest trail you’ve never ridden.

I wouldn’t get your hopes up but.

Servoz. Beaucoup building, and not all of it from dirt as Spence demonstrates!

*Think how awesome negative mass materials could be in bikes! Tyres that roll uphill, pedals that accelerate away from your feet. It’ll be like an e-bike but without all that pesky attached stigma that you’re not a “real” cyclist just because you’ve got a motor in the downtube.

Turning over

Turning over. Merlet always features early season in Chamonix

You might not be thinking of the same movie as me, but you’ll have seen the generic scene often enough.

Two men walk into a dusty and run down barn. At the back of a barn, below a dust sheet soiled by several years of dirt, lies a car shaped object. The dust sheet is whipped off in a cloud of said dust and a disturbed chicken or two to reveal an outdated but none the less impressive sports car. The ‘hood’ is ‘popped’ (it’s always an american movie) and, after a brief tinker with the engine, the main protagonist turns the key. The engine turns over once then bursts into life, settling quickly into a purposeful V8 growl. Cue line about being back in the game.

Anyone who’s done anything similar in real life knows that nothing will happen until you give up and put a new battery in, then once the engine catches it dies pretty quickly as you discover a rodent has chewed through most of the filters. Even once you manage to get it ticking over, it takes a couple of weeks until all the problems get found, fixed, and the engine starts emitting anything close to a purr.

What goes down first goes up. Damn you physics.

Starting the bike blog up in the spring runs much closer to real life than the movies. Despite this, it’s the start of April and, like a normally aspirated 4 cylinder plant from a family car, things are running reliably enough and it looks like everything’s going to survive to the next MOT.

Might as well crack on, when do the lifts open?

Chamonix (usual CdMB caveats apply)
Bellevue: 10th June – 24th September
Brevent/Planpraz: 10th June – 17th September
Le Tour: 17th June – 24th September
Flegere: 17th June – 17th September, then 21st October to 5th November
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 17th June – 3rd September
Grand Montets: 24th June – 10th September
Prarion: 1st July – 3rd September
Vallorcine: 1st July – 3rd September

Those of you with a memory, or the wherewithal to use google, will have noticed that most of the lifts are opening a week later/closing a week earlier/both, compared to last year. Chamonix’s Marie is also looking into ways to encourage more cyclists to visit during the summer. Go figure.

Lorne and Toby playing chase somewhere below Flatiere, but above Servoz.

How about another way of looking at it. After a below par winter for snow, where are the lifts already open? As well as the usual all-year suspects (Saleve, Dorinaz, Bex…) you can right now, right there, go play uplift bikes at Verbier and Pila until the ski season ends and they shut for spring maintenance. The Chamonix train should be in there too, but it closes 2nd April until late June for (more) works and the replacement bus service doesn’t take bikes. In defense of the train, we did have the cheeriest conductor on the ride back from Servoz a couple days ago who let 2 of us away with no paying saying “you’ve forgotten your Gen du Pays, yes….”

Servoz trails are most definitely clear of snow this year!

There’s more to the alps than Chamonix, what other dates are there:

La Thuile: 24th June – 3rd September (probably, dates not up yet, check here for when they update it)
Megeve: 1st July – 17th September. When I say Megeve, I mean Jaillet. None of the other lifts, including all the lifts you need for the bike park, are open this summer.
St Gervais: Not up yet, but probably 1st July – 3rd September
Les Contamines: 1st July – 3rd September
Grand Massif: Assorted start and finish times across the area, and they’re not online yet, but basically between 1st July – 27th August
Pila: Not up yet, spotting a theme yet, but probably 24th June – 10th September (mibbies longer….)
Portes du Soleil: Also still not up yet, but likely 23rd June – 27th August with some earlier and later
Verbier: All weekends in June (but the Le Chable-Verbier leg is closed) then 3rd July – 39th October

Anyways, until the dates above, it’s mostly trips to the south and pedalling uphills. Around Chamonix anything south facing and below 1700m is fine to ride, north facing you’ll still be finding snow from 1300m but for the most part the trails are clear a fair bit higher.

Not 100% yet, but it's good to be back.

Lets go play on bikes.

What, you think the blogs happen by magic? Lorne shooting Toby shooting me shooting rucsac cam for Toby....

Moving pictures

Making bike movies in Chamonix

Three and a half months since I last mountain biked and, I’ll admit, it’s getting tricky to write anything even tenuously linked to Chamonix biking. But, adversity is the mother of invention, (or maybe it’s necessity, I’m not sure, will check the family tree later) so in the time honoured tradition of injured bikers looking for something to do, I’ve been out with the camera again.

When I say I’ve been out with the camera, what I’ve actually been is out with someone who knows what do do with several cameras at once and I pointed them in hopefully the right direction at the right time. Toby of seventwenty fame (aye, the dunkin donut advert, that yin) had an idea for a wee edit he wanted to shoot and I was keen to wander along, try and learn a bit and help steal the souls* of Lorne and Angus who had the honour of being the talent for the shoot. See, picking up the lingo already, darlings. Could well be in the movie busyness.

Set up shot: Angus and Lorne plodding up through the December frost.

This was back at the start of December (I find skiing more fun than writing just now, don’t judge), but as the weather’s been on pause for a month now, what you see then is what you get now. Dry trails, some frost and ice low down, warmer up high, and a lovely layer of pollution trapped in the valley. Prime riding conditions.

Lorne squared. Does this mean I've captured his soul twice?

I should probably take this as the public information bit to squeeze in, that as well as the usual winter uplift suspects (what, you’ve still not registered that there’s mtb accepting uplift all year round in the alps?) you can get your bike out to play in Les Gets, Pila and Verbier. And the big surprise, Flegere! Cheers to CDMB for letting that happen after the last few years of knocking bikes back.

Synchronised shredding. And some lovely frost detail...

Anyways, enough procrastination, Toby’s done the editing of the edit, have a gander:

The last post for the off season break is generally just before xmas, so on past performance this is probably it for the next few months. The weather looks likely to break in the near future bringing a return of winter, and it’s going to be a wee bit longer yet before I’m riding properly. But then again, it’s been an odd year so lets not rule out anything yet**.

Wrap up shot: Riding off into the smog-rise.

Whatever happens, merry christmas, happy new year, so long and thanks for all the fish.

Angus hoping to not land on Toby, me hoping Lorne didn't land on the static camera.

*I’ve been trying to find out if this is actually true, and I’m really not getting much evidence from google, and google’s apparently the home of fake news as well as real news so you’d think there would be some evidence at least.

There’s some vague references to native American Indians refusing to have their photo taken lest it “steals their soul”, but then there’s plenty of photos of same indigenous peeps taken seemingly with consent and there’s no indication of links between physical image and the soul that I can find in their culture, so I’m not sure about that.

The Mayans apparently believed that mirrors were portals into the otherworld letting Gods and dead folk wander between the 2 worlds. They also believe that when praying the soul leaves the body, so if you pray in front of a mirror your soul could bugger off to the otherworld. Hence, as cameras used to (well, some still do I guess) use mirrors, taking a photo whilst folks are praying in church would result in grand larceny, and so is banned. But that’s the mirror, not the camera.

Not often you get an foot note long enough to stick a picture in. Toby looks like he's impersonating a 'weege junkie here, but really he's filming.

Following on from that, turns out quite a few spiritualists and niche religious branches have a suspicion of mirrors, and that looking back at yourself somehow liberates the soul. The earliest form of photography, the daguerreotype, involved creating the image on a silver plated copper sheet polished to a mirror finish. Yeah, mirror finish, you ahead of me already aye? So mibbies some of the idea comes from that, but I’m not convinced your average undiscovered tribe had awareness of the history or printing techniques of photography.

Again, I’ve spent more time on a distraction than writing the article, at least I’ve not wandered off into the concepts of photography and personal identity in the 21st century…I’ll leave the last word with the well known and much referenced Australian cultural masterpiece, Crocodile Dundee:

Aboriginal: “You can’t take my picture…”
Journalist: “Why? Are you afraid I’m going to steal your soul?”
Aboriginal: “No, because you still have the lens cap on.”

Pretty mountains, could do with a bit more snow but.

** Big hello and welcome to all my new Russian readers who’ve joined me since my last post. Amazingly your views of that blog were numerous enough to have displaced the UK and France from the top of the “top ten countries what read this blog” list over the last 30 days. Perhaps if I wrote the names “Drumpf” and “Putain” correctly on all my blogs I’d end up with even better reading stats….

Best finish up on a good shot. And I think this is a good shot.

Post truth biking

Chamonix. In autumn. Has a lot of mountains, lot of mountains folks.

If US president elect went to Chamonix, rode one of its best trails, then talked about it….

Wow, autumn. I am so glad to be back in autumn. The season that has a very, very special place in my heart. I love autumn and together we are going to win the best trails in November.

And the best autumn trails, where are they? They’re here in Chamonix people, right here in Chamonix.

2300m altitude in Chamonix, you canny get a bad backdrop up here.

But I have to tell you. I have to tell you people, there’s a problem. The system is corrupt. The officials, the lift company. They have a conspiracy against us. The out of touch media elite won’t tell you about it. Nobody talks about it.

They won’t let us on the trails. July and August, they won’t let us on the trails. Won’t let us on the trails folks. And the Aiguille du Midi lift. Won’t let us on the lift, won’t let us on the lift. It’s terrible, very bad.

So if we can’t ride the trails and we can’t ride the lift, what are we going to do about it?

How convenient, an existing trail right here and right now.

Number one, are you ready? Are you ready?

We will build a great trail in Chamonix.

And the lift company will pay for the trail.

One hundred percent. They don’t know it yet, but they’re going to pay for it. And they’re great people and great leaders but they’re going to pay for the trail. On day one, we will begin working on intangible, physical, tall, powerful, beautiful trail.

I will build a great trail – and nobody builds trails better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great trail, and I will make the lift company pay for that trail. Mark my words.

This trail was built by someone. Wasn't trump though.

But before then. Before the trail is built. Before then, when crooked Compagnie du Mont Blanc closes the lift for November, We can ride then. All we gotta do is walk up. Walk all the way up to the top.

Long way. Very long way. Took us two hours.

Before we went down, we went up. Ascent by Plan de Rocher is best. Or least bad.

Now, just so you understand, the existing trails, who we all respect — say hello to the existing trails. Boy, they don’t get the credit they deserve. I can tell you. They’re great trails.

And bikes. Bikes too. My bikes are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body. Let’s here it for enduro bikes too.

And the existing trails that are already there. Already there. And they’re great. The best. By far. So let’s ride those trails.

Back to the down. It really is an amazing down.

We start at 2400m near the Aiguille du Midi lift station. The trail is broken, but we’re going to make the trail great again. Just as soon as we find it. It’s rocky and technical to start, I call it extreme trails right? Extreme trails. I want extreme. It’s going to be so tough, and if somebody comes in to ride that’s fine but they’re going to be good. It’s extreme.

Built tough for Trump.

Then things change, we get change. By les Grands Bois the trail gets more flowy. The trail is so beautiful. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful… I just start skidding on them. It’s like a magnet. I just blow the trail up. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the roots and rip out features you can’t do. You can do anything. I moved on it very heavily in fact I took it out furniture shopping.

But nobody has more respect for the trails than I do.

Autumn golden hour light plus sweet trail. Canny fail.

We descended. 1340m, 1350m, 1360m. Maybe more, I don’t know. The government doesn’t know, they say it’s less, but let me tell you folks, it’s more. We descended so much. And all on dry trails. No need to drain the swamp. The gradient and trees do a great job. Let’s hear it for the topography and flora, lets hear it for the environment folks. No wait…

Come back sun! We still need to see where we're going...

Yet still the media claim the trail ended. Why should we accept the trails ending? The trail can keep going. Why do riders deny what is going on? So naive. I need to tell you, it’s not pretty, but everyone’s too politically correct to say it. Gravity is rigged. It’s a con. The Chinese and immigrants, you don’t see them stopping descending just because the trail no longer goes downhill. Lets have the courage to stand up to these stupid people, and make trails great again.

About a quarter of the way down, and still a long way above Chamonix.

Les Grandes Bois descent, straight above Chamonix. A very special trail … I never had a bad second with it, it’s an unbelievable trail …. But would the trail be so good if we took the tram to the top? Is it better because we had to work to ride the trail. And, by the way, I worked very hard, perhaps the hardest. I look very much forward to being here again to ride this trail in autumns to come. Hopefully at the end of two years, three years, four years, or maybe even eight years, you will say that so many of you worked so hard to ride this trail… something that you were very proud to do.

Autumn. The end of something special. Savour it before the dark and cold times to come.

Autumn, it’s a great season.

Broken trees, still striking. Am I labouring the imagery too much yet?

Most of the words are plagiarised straight out of Trump’s 31/08/16 Arizona immigration speech (hey, don’t knock plagiarism. If it’s good enough for the first lady…) the rest from his victory speech and assorted proclamations during the last 18 months. All photos from 1st November when Lorne rode Les Grandes Bois and I ran about taking photos. Yes, injury has made me this bored.

101 things that could have gone better

Penguins. Because I want to. And they're a flightless bird.

It’s not exactly news that the internet makes us feel like we’re missing out (or maybe it is, I don’t know how much attention you pay to the news). Social media and constantly refreshing websites conspire to give the impression that everything is awesome. For everyone else at least.

This blog’s no different, but what do you expect? I’m not going to put up crap instagram pictures of bad weather, bad trails, broken bikes and miserable riders. It’s not that I’m part of a grand conspiracy to make you feel bad about yourself, it’s just no one’s interested in humdrum crap. Or maybe they are, it’d explain the proliferation of starbucks and maccy d’s.

Sandy grimacing his way through a crap climb in crap weather for a crap photo. It was a good ride at least.

Anyway, this post is here to try and redress the balance and embrace the negative side of riding.

It’s not the first time I’ve tried this, this and that and the other posts are all describing pretty poor rides or races but even then I managed to find a silver lining of positivity.

But today I’m looking for the cloud. The big fuck off raincloud inside every silver lining, ready to piss down and wash away your hopes and dreams. That cloud.

This face is my Blue Steel. One day Magnum will be ready, but not yet.

Injuries suck, there’s no way round it. They hurt, they stop you living life the way you want to, keep you off the bike and any other sports you do, frequently stop you earning money, going on holiday or helping friends and family. They can cause friction as those friends and family can’t understand why you want to do this thing that’s left you in the state you’re in. But, if you want to improve and challenge yourself, you need to go to your limits and if you go there you’re going to get hurt at some point. What does Thomas Wayne tell us? “Bruce, why do we fall?…So that we can learn to pick ourselves up again.” Though presumably he’s never snapped his tib ‘n’ fib in the same crash.

The elusive mid-crash photo, just 30m from the finish line.

Fortunately mountain biking is fairly low consequence for injuries. I know it doesn’t feel like that when the doctor flicks on the light behind the x-ray to show your collarbone is now in three or more pieces, but we’re not going wingsuit flying here.

There I go again, finding the silver lining, I just can’t help my positivity. I’m a traitor to my west coast of Scotland upbringing.

Ally Fulton showing next level skills, mid-crash and still able to smile AND look at the camera.

Let’s try once more. There’s a period whilst you’re healing when you know that, probably, everything will fix up nicely and you’ll get back on the trails before too long with a 95% good body, which is more than enough to get back to 100% of how you rode before. But you’ve been googling and found no end of horror stories about non union of bones, rejection of grafts and compartment syndrome. So for now you have two futures existing beside each other. One where you ride as before, but with yet another scar story to not impress girls with….and another where you grow to be a bitter old man haunted by the memories of when you could go a bike and not impressing girls with the story. Kinda like Schrodinger’s cat, but with two wheels.

Why is it always the elbow?

Early in September, after a cracking day lapping the Jaillet lift in Megeve with Antoine, jumping the local interpretation of north shore features and generally getting loose, we headed to the Combloux pump track. Having a spin on a wee hardtail, not really paying attention and not going very quickly, I flip over the bars and land arms outstretched. By the time I sit up it is obvious I’ve damaged myself. I have surgery that night and again 2 days later to put the bones in my left wrist back into something like the correct order and shape, turns out the wrist is quite a complicated jigsaw.

Ain't modern medicine awesome. Cheers doctors everywhere.

In about 2 seconds of distraction I have lost the best month of the year for Chamonix riding, the last 2 rounds of the EWS, a trip to Whistler, the ability to move flat, most of the help I was going to be to my other half in her big race of the year and signed off from earning money until winter, by when the world will probably have ended anyway. Quite a costly 2 seconds.

Love hospital food me.

Except it’s not. The worst case is I lose most of the movement in my wrist and need 18 months off bikes. Have you watched the Paralympics? They’d piss themselves laughing at having just a sore and stiff wrist.

Have you read the concussion article over on descent-world and Lorraine Truong’s response? If not, I recommend closing this article and reading hers instead.

I also read the news. The random nature of violence we inflict on each other, from the accidental distress of car accidents to the miserable world of war, where you and/or your closest can be wiped off this mortal coil forever on a whim, error or wrongly pushed button.

Spence has some of the best technique of anyone I ride with, which makes this crash photo about as rare as rocking horse poo.

A sore wrist is looking less and less of an issue. Which means I get more and more pissed-off with myself for being so precious and pissed-off at just a bad wrist. And that in turn feeds the initial pissed-offedness. A perpetual motion machine of ire. If you could hook me up to the national grid we’d be cooking.

In an effort to keep instagram ticking over I’ve been going been going through the last couple of years of bike photos. Hundreds of days of riding, each day with its memories not just from the moment in the image, but the sitting about fixing punctures, the chairlift conversations, the quiet at the top of a climb, the hiding from sleet and wind. All this must be worth occasional trip to A&E? For now, for me, it is.

A bad day in the office for Jared Grave. Dislocated ankle but still finishes the stage.

Perhaps what I’m guddling towards here isn’t the complete non-revelation that injuries happen, are shit when they do, but in the grand scheme of things it’s not that bad. Nor that bikes are pure awesumz and act as a conduit for #goodtimes with friends out in nature. I think I’m aiming for the idea that life is analogue, and things aren’t intrinsically good or bad, instead everything sits on a scale with the feeling you get as the snow starts going over your head mid turn on a powder day with friends in the Courmayeur trees at one end, and living in Aleppo at the other. All events fit somewhere in there and influence each other, without the bits you don’t like there’s nothing to give the good moments context. So by extension, without ever getting injured, you can’t truly value a great day on the bike.

I’m not sitting on the sofa being grumpy. I’m getting ready for my best year of riding in a decade.

See, not all bails end in tears :-)

Shite. I still ended up being positive.

It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine): Lift (not) closings

Funny how you never know when's the last time you'll ride a trail for a while.

Already another summer winds down. Chairlifts are turning for the last time until the snow arrives and we’re faced with the very real prospect of having to actually pedal ourselves to the top of the hill.

So, just like on a night out when last orders are called and, despite all evidence to the contrary, part of the group insists that more drink is needed, an increasingly desperate search for somewhere open commences.

Brevent's most photogenic corner.

First port of call, Chamonix:

Bellevue: 25th September
Le Tour: 25th September
Grand Montets: 25th September
Flegere: 18th September but re-opens 20th October to 27th November
Brevent/Planpraz: 18th September
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 18th September
Prarion: 11th September

A slight issue this autumn is the Chamonix trains which have closed until 30th November and the replacement bus doesn’t take bikes.

Lorne and his yellow Bronson. It needs more yellow, I need a bigger flashgun.

Outside of the valley the options continue, but tend to get a bit pricier:

Zermatt the mountain railway just keeps running. If you can afford it….
St Luc bike park is open until 2nd November
Verbier bike park goes on until 30th October
Saleve is presumably open all winter as usual, though the website is only going as far as 13th November for the now
Crans Montana’s bike park, and perhaps more usefully, non bike park trails too, are available up to 16th October 
The Dorenaz telecabin and SwissPost buses all count as public transport and keep running through the year, use your imagination. Or google.

Cheers for a great summer bike.

All this is a bit irrelevant for me however, having dislocated my wrist. For once I’m listening to my inner adult and am going to stay off the bike for the recommended recovery time, which has scuppered the best time of the year for biking, but them’s the breaks etc. Boredom will no doubt mean I keep writing things.

Gone surfing: La Clusaz

Skiing or biking? La Clusaz

Everyone’s favourite non-surfing surf band (no, not Weezer, the Beach Boys) said through the medium of song to tell the teacher they’d gone surfing for the summer. Well, schools back in and summer seems to be over as most bikepark lifts (except in Chamonix, obvz) closed at the weekend.

As the last chance to ride somewhere new I dodged several hundred roadies tracing the Tour du France routes over the cols from Chamonix to La Clusaz to meet Spence and shred some gnar. Or some dust.

Spence is pretty hand on bikes AND skis, so nowt for him to worry about in La Clusaz.
It’d not rained for a bit in Haute Savoie and though the La Clusaz website claims 180 odd km of trails, the actual DH trails are concentrated near the lifts and seem to get a fair bit of use. As a result, you were surfing about in a couple inches of loose dust.

This is pretty good fun and both Spence and I had (mostly through laziness) both got damp conditions tyres on (shortys and magic marys for the rubber fetishist out there) which work well in dust, the main issue was not being able to see where you were going if you were riding second.

Fairly natural trails with the odd bit of manual labour to help it along. Grand.
The enjoyment you get out of flicking up trails of dust at every corner or braking point more than makes up for this minor inconvenience. Not sure if the failure of our lungs in a couple years from dust inhalation will be viewed the same way, but hey, who thinks of the future these days. #yolo #etc.

How were the trails then? Not bad. It’s not La Thuile or Pila (despite the dust) but the riding was still pretty fun on natural feeling trails with some nicely built up catch berms mixed in with more standard “bikeparky” blue trails. Pretty much every feature could be hit blind on every trail we rode, which means if you like jumps you’re going to be a bit disappointed, but for most folk it’s fine.

Have I mentioned it was dusty at any point?
Lift pass is 17.50 for the 3 lifts, so it’s not going to break the bank either. Small French bike park oddity of the day went to the lift pass mounting where everyone was insistent that the pass had to be stuck to your handlebars. A first for me but somehow it stayed there all day, a good crash could see some problems though….

3 lifts for 17.50euro. Just watch you dinnay loose the lift pass.
The best riding? We preferred the stuff off the Cret du Merle & Cret du Loup chairs, the black Encarnes piste got the most laps but there were plenty of variations between the official blue, red and black lines what with walking paths and unofficial add ons.

This was the favourite game of the day, how much dust can you flick up on random trailside objects...
Over on the Beauregard gondola side of the hill the La Feriaz trail was a bit more “freeride”, but that was mostly because it had some northshore. Spence has a similarly dislike of riding on wood to me, also believing it to have a pathological desire to kill bikers, so one lap was enough. I reckon there’s some sweet trails in the woods on this side but without a tame local to show us, we just headed back over the the other side to laps the easy to find stuff. It’s been a long summer and it’s not over yet, we can get to be lazy if we want.

The best part of boardwalk. Getting off it.
Time for a bit more riding at home then. Chamonix lifts start to close on the 18th September and the last to go is Bellevue on the 25th. And in case you missed it, Flegere and Brevent are taking bikes again. If you’ve been missing blogs about riding in Chamonix, I have written a bit, but it went on Pinkbike instead because shameless self promotion. It’s here anyway.

Enduro des Belleville

Enduro des Belleville

I’ve been wondering what the point of going racing is recently. It’s great pushing yourself to be faster/higher/stronger/whatever (I think there’s some other big global sporty thing on at the moment) and all, but there’s not that much excitement in the battle for 58th place, I doubt anyone else cares any either. This is probably why I’ve not bothered writing owt about races much this season (I took my start number 256 or last-man-to-start to 58th last week in Samoens, but as mentioned already, it’s just not that interesting)

Fortunately, as in all the best bits of story telling, along comes something to save the day and provide me with a bit of content I want to write about.

Flo and Nina throwing dust and horns on the Saturday. Obviously everyone was waay more serious on the Sunday.

Last weekend was the Enduro des Belleville. A wee (weel, 150 odd riders, no that wee) enduro race near Les Menuires over in the Savoie, run in the most relaxed manner possible and with 4 close to perfect stages. Throw in a Saturday night downhill street race, local friends to put you up in (unfinished) luxury chalets, beer at the feed stations and blue skies from start to finish: you’ve got a winner.

Even breaking the car on Saturday morning and making Nina detour a couple hours worth of driving to pick me up didn’t kill off my enthusiasm.

Entering stage 3, if it wasn't for the full face lid you could see my smile.

Saturday passed in a series of mishaps that for most races would have me far grumpier than even my standard background level of mild irritation at the world. From my car putting us a couple hours late getting to Les Menuires, then finding we actually wanted to go to Saint Martin des Belleville (I’ll read the full text of where sign-in is next time….), to heading up the hill to meet Sam for practice…..and going the wrong way so we ended up in Les Menuires. Again (though this did allow for a no-pedal drag race and a flashing “trop vite” warning sign on the road back).

I'd add 'effondrement' and 'halètement' to that, but that's my fault for not being in shape

Fortunately Flo Arthus was about to show us stage 4 (and how to get to stage 4, probably our bigger issue) which was good, as stage 4 was pretty sweet and getting to follow a shit hot local like Flo down it is even betterer.

Nina chasing Flo on stage 4 Saturday.

It looked like we were going to be too late for the 2nd chair up to stage 3 (how could that be possible, everything had run so well till now) but a couple minutes late is the new just in time, so we got to play on that too, another great trail, maybe my favourite of the weekend.

Nina on stage 3, bit of singletrack, bit of bike park, bit of open hill, bit good.

Some more general faff later it was time for the street race. One lap to have a look-see then one lap with the clock running down through St Martin des Belleville, where it seemed like every inhabitant had turned out to heckle. The general Saturday theme continued with arriving at the start line to find I’d brought 2x left gloves and Nina’d forgotten her go-pro. With no UCI officials in sight I rode gloveless and Nina had to rally back to the chalet in the couple of minutes between runs.

Not the street DH, but the sentiment's the same!

After surviving a little over 70 seconds of concrete edges I was a bit surprised to hear “second place” at the finish. And more surprised as no one seemed to go any faster…..until newly met English rider Rob Newman arrived 0.23sec faster than me, followed by Julien Roissad 0.12 sec faster than that.

I’m not bitter at all about missing my first podium in a couple year and definitely don’t think world cup podiums of 5 should be introduced. Here’s Antonin Gourgin’s head cam showing what 0.26sec slower than me and last step on that WC podium looks like. Congratulations to Emmanuel Allaz for taking the win, and Nina for adding to her champagne collection with the win for the ladies.

Nina and Emmanuel discuss the finer points of vintage podium champagne.

And then there was food and beer. You never got that in my DH days. Well, not included in the entry fee anyways.

Sunday morning rising over the course

The race: Thanks to Sam, I’d been given a start number of 16, and even better I had Sam infront of me so, combined with the 30 sec intervals between riders, I would have to be motoring 1 minute quicker than a quick rider to have to worry about passing anyone. Just as well given the dust.

How many riders does it take to fix a chain....

The first two stages were completely blind for me and anyone not local. It’s been a whiles since I got to ride walking trails (these stages are normally interdite fae the VTT, yet another cheers to the organisers for getting them for the race) blind and flat out. It’s one of the most entertaining things in my life to ride just on wits and intuition that there will be a landing behind that rock, or that the corner is going to open up instead of cliff out. Perhaps that should be most terrifying now I think about it.

Is Flo guessing correct at what he's airing into? Probably.

Even better the taping was deliberately vague in places. I know #endurolines are a sore topic but sometimes it’s just cool as to take a guess on what’s about to happen and batter across some open ground to giggles or screams, depending on how it all works out.

This was as hard as the liasions got. There were some views to distract you and all.

The final 2 stages kept the same theme, albeit with a little more idea what was coming up. Even a return to yesterday’s levels of competence where I broke my shifter on the first real corner of stage 3 didn’t really ruin the fun. If anything not changing gear was one less thing to worry about.

It's good to get a reminder of just how great playing on bikes is every so often.

Racing over, the A4 print out put me 10th senior men, with my 30 second target Sam (watching him stand and sprint up climbs into the distance was just a bit demoralizing on the final stage) in 6th. So neither of us would have made it on a WC podium. Here’s some proper race reporting and the event video to give you a better idea.

Cigarettes and alcohol. Not sure the Gallagher bros are riders, but they'd fit in on this race.

Racing to get into the top ten is much more fun than the top 100, but better still is when you get handed beer at the finish line by the race organisers, the restaurant next to the finish line is providing food, you’ve gone through the day knowing that arriving late to the start isn’t really a great issue, when the craic sitting about in the sun at the start of each stage for is one of the best parts of the day.

Done and dusty. Time for post race rehydration...

So it seems that’s what the point of racing is for me at the moment. Getting to go somewhere I probably wouldn’t have gone, see new mountains, ride new trails, meet new people and enjoy it all with friends. Maybe I’ll get competitive again next month.

Nina on stage 3. Have I mentioned it was a really good stage?

Huge thanks for everyone involved in organising the weekend, Flo for showing us the trails and putting up with Scottish, Nina for saving me from a very long cycle to the race and usual high standards of conversation and Sam for putting us up and doing plenty to make a good weekend even better. And everyone else I met too.

Some views take a long time to get old, cheers mountains.


Yeah, but what’s the best descent in Chamonix……

best chamonix bike descents

Dinnay fret, I’ve not gone full buzzfeed, just written too many replies to emails* asking “what’re the best bike descents in Chamonix” and figured if I write it here then a link will do the job.

That and I’ve been riding a lot of these trails recently but taking no photos and kinda wanted to share how good the trails are with folks.

Chamonix at its finest. i.e. in September.

Hence, in no particular order, here’s nine of the best descents in and around Chamonix plus a sandbag just to keep y’all on your toes. Obviously I’ve missed out my favourite line and a couple that are seeing enough traffic already.

It also turns out that I’ve not actually written about all these lines, so the links might just cover half the trail. Get a copy of the Chamonix Bike Book and/or the IGN map though, you’ll work it out. What’s the worst that could happen, etc….

Aiguillette des Houches, about halfway down, or halfway to go depending on your outlook.

Aguillete des Houches to Merlet
Bit of a double whammy this one, not only is there the descent of the Aig des Houches, but you also then get the Merlet (or Animal Park as it’s sometimes kent) trail too, and without the effort of pedalling up the Merlet road. Winner winner chicken dinner.

Surprisingly hard to get a good photo on the Vallorcine track, partly as no one wants to ride it with me. Sandy, come back to Chamonix!!!!!

Vallorcine DH track
Totally unmaintained, unloved, unknown and awesome. One of the best DH race tracks I’ve ridden. The bigger features have fallen into disrepair a bit of late but the lower half is raw as, and all the better for it. Unmaintained is not quite true either as there’s been some good work done on it this year. And I love it so that kinda knocks the rest of the opening line too.

How's that for a backdrop? Or just a drop.

Nid d’Agile to Champel via Col du Tricot
Some of these descents come easy, others a bit less so. This one (two really) is in the less so category. Still, only 900m of climbing for 2200m of descent. The first descent is in fairly full on mountain biking territory, you’re passing folk resplendent in mountaineering gear ready for a jaunt up Mont Blanc, and there some huge exposure and the odd ladder to down climb. Well mint descent though. The second down is still out in big scenery, but this time much more flowy with 2+km of sinuous singletrack contouring along the hillside.

Trient is a lot of singletrack below here.

Col du Balme to Trient
Total Chamonix classic, despite being totally in Switzerland. Big open alpine views singletrack at the top then tighter and rockier when you get into the the trees lower down. Probably the easiest of the ten lines here.

Don't be fooled, it's not all like this. There's lots of forest trail too....

Col de Balme to Chatelard
Better than the descent to Trient? Almost exactly the same amount of pedalling back up to Vallorcine (it’s only 15mins at an easy spin, no, you don’t need to take the train) as the descent to Trient but it feels much closer. Less flow and more tech than the Trient line lower down, but the upper singletrack through the alpages is what photographers’ dreams are made of (if they can be bothered getting far enough away from the trail for the shot). And yeah, I know the link isn’t actually for all of this descent, but it covers about half of it and I’d not realised I’d not written anything about it before. No one’s perfect.

This is pretty much the worst bit of the Loriaz trail, but it does do a good back drop.

The best evening ride in the world? Take the train over to Buet, pedal your way up to the Loriaz chalets, sit and watch the view for a while, there’s no rush, then enjoy one of the best “easier” natural trails in the alps. From Vallorcine you can either sit in the station cafe for a bit then get the train over the col to enjoy the ride back into Chamonix, or just pedal up. It was one of my first rides when I moved to Chamonix (cheers Spence) and through it I’ve met some amazing friends and had some amazing times.

High in the Brevent Couloir, a lot of trails start from here, and a few rides end.

Bellachat trails via Sentier Des Guards and the Brevent couloir
The hillside below the Brevent and Flegere lifts is covered in steep singletrack. It’s also covered in families out walking and off limits in July and August. The riding’s great, but you need to be early or late to really enjoy it without constantly stopping to let folk pass or chat. Sentier Des Guards is a bit further out the way and much less travelled, so it gets the pick here. Obviously you need to start from the high entrance about 100m above the Plan Praz station rather than the 4×4 track, anything else is cheating…..

The Plan and a plan.

Plan de l’Aguille
Normally the best areas for skiing are the worst for bikes, and vice versa. Below the Telepherique Aig di Midi is the exception to this rule. Of course, the skiing is easier as you can use the lift. If you want to ride the trail it’s 1300m of climbing, most of it carrying or pushing the bike. Good descent mind. Climbing up by the Pre de rocher side and descending via le Grande Foret is the more interesting loop.

Just cos a trail isn't photogenic doesn't mean it ain't good.

Chalets du Souey
Early and late season ride usually this one, either waiting for the snow to melt high enough or hoping it’s not settled too low. It’s also a good trail for when I’m pining a bit for Scotland, the easy but long pedal up on tarmac and forestry road followed by tight trees, rain runneled gullies, root mazes and the odd well built bit of walking trail is a lot of what I miss. That and I’m usually riding there in the rain.

No photos of the Prarion descent, so here's a bonus shot from the Col de Tricot.

Le Prarion Summit to Les Bouchards
It doesn’t matter how good you are, there’s always something too hard for you, something that you know you need to get better for. This is mine. I might never be able to ride the full trail, but the challenge is always there and I’m pretty sure it’s possible. If there’s a more tech trail in the valley (that doesn’t have ladders or a glacier in the way) please let me know.

Picture this: Another one of Chamonix's top trails, it just didn't make the cut though...

*I hardly ever check the emails, so if you’ve got a question and want an answer in the same month, ask it on an instagram picture and I’ll get back to you quick-sharp. Or in a week at least.