A jaded hack rides again

Guess the uplift, and spot the new Gwin Onza pro-model tyre....

***Edited on 30th May with the updated opening and closing dates for summer 2016. Two weekends to go y’all…**

I did some reading over the winter on how to betterer use english good for right stuff.

“Start with an analogy or an image” is one common recommendation for getting over the awkward hurdle of sullying the blank sheet of white paper (pixels) infront of you.

Rising, like a phoenix from the ashes, the bike emerges from its winter slumber. Sounds a bit too heroic a comparison for me digging the bike out the back of the cave, shaking the dust off it (or the worst of it at least), pumping up the tyres and heading out for a wee pootle about the grand trails low in the Chamonix valley.

Servoz. The usual first ride of the season, and the usual watering stop on the way up.

In fact, it’s all so mundane that I’ll skip the riding bit and move straight to that rarest of things; a useful blog post.

The where-can-I-cheat-gravity-and-get-myself-carried-to-the-top-of-the-hill-and-when-does-it-start list, complete with a new 2016 innovation, when does it finish. Elon Musk ain’t got shit on me.

Chamonix (usual CdMB caveats apply)

Bellevue: 11th June – 25th September
Le Tour: 11th June – 25th September
Flegere: 11th June – 18th September
Brevent/Planpraz: 11th June – 18th September
Tramway du Mont Blanc: 11th June – 18th September
Prarion: 18th June – 11th September
Grand Montets: 25th June – 25th September
Vallorcine: 2nd July – 4th September

And some other handy places

La Thuile: 25th June – 4th September
Portes du Mont-Blanc: 24th June – 4th September (and part of the MBU pass now too mind)
Grand Massif: Assorted start and finish times across the area, but basically between 2nd July – 28th August
Pila: Weekend 18th/19th June for the Gondola then full opening 25th June – 11th September
Portes du Soleil: Full area opening 24th June – 4th September with limited openings from 11th June and Les Gets weekends only 28/29 May & 4/5 June
Verbier: All weekends in June then 27th June – 30th October

Spence has been dreaming about bikes all winter, seems to have kept his technique sharp.

The paradigm shifting change that is including closing dates into my early season lift opening dates post isn’t the end of the innovation here at Chamonix bike blog, oh no.

Sometime in May(ish) an instagram link thingy will appear over there to your right in the side bar where more regular updates on trail conditions will appear and also you can ask questions that might get answered in the same month as they’re asked because, to be honest, I really don’t check the email or facebook inboxes that often and when I do I tend to just delete 1/2 the messages anyway.

Normal Caillet trail still needs a bit longer to melt out, but the descent down to Les Bois is dry.

It’s not just me that’s been changing stuff either. CdMB has extended the summer pass to include the whole Portes du Mont Blanc area, so you can now ride from pretty much Switzerland at Vallorcine all the way through the Chamonix valley and over to St Gervais, Les Contamines, Megeve and Combleux with barely an uphill pedal stroke along the way. And back again. Maybe. We’ll test this one out in a couple months.

An interlude.

Not sure if the implication is persevere with the riding, or persevere in the hope winter will arrive.....

It’s December. The day of the longest night to be exact. Eleven days before the end of the year, and we’re riding our bikes.

As a lefty-liberal-pinko-socialist who will talk at you for hours on why capitalism will fail as it doesn’t obey the 1st or 2nd laws of thermodynamics, it’d be expected of me to launch into a rant about global warming and how it’s all our fault here.

Guess the month? Spence not feeling like it's the second shortest day of the year.

But it’s christmas, you’re saved, I’ll be nice and no bother. Anyways, December is often a poor month for snow, often warm, often dry. Mibbies not so often good for biking, I guess this years that’s the silver lining on the cloud. Not that there’s been many clouds.

The biggest patch of snow we found on the Brevent side of the hill. Bit worrying really.

Still, I’d rather be skiing.

Tree skiing deep fresh snow in the cold of mid-winter is where it’s at for me and right now it’s not looking like a great winter for it. Instead of complaining though, we should be celebrating. This is the 2nd “bad” Christmas in a row. Another couple of these and the ski holiday trade will be scuppered, leaving a handful of operating lifts and hardly anyone able to make a living in the alps. The snow will truly be be ours for the taking, once them pesky locals who’ve grown up here and need us monchus, seasonaires and ski bums to work in their businesses and live in their apartments have had to leave town.

Not quite sure what we’ll do to keep food on the table, but we can cross that bridge when we come to it.

Still been going skiing mind, just it's a bit more work to find something interesting to ski that's all.

In the absence of good skiing, we’ve been going for some good biking.

Trail side-hit fun. More hassle when your dropper post has died, imagine having to use a fixed seatpost!

On the sunny side of the valley it’s autumn. Hell, on the north facing side it’s pretty much autumn! Either way, as long as you’re not in the shade and below 1600m then you’re safe from ice and snow. By the time you get to Servoz the conditions are perfect.

Dry empty trails, not too warm for the pedal up but not too cold for the ride down. The only complaint would be that the bronze carpet of fallen leaves might look picturesque, but it’s a bugger for knowing where the trail’s going or what might be underneath said foot-deep carpet. It’s about as close as we’re getting to riding pow for the now though.

Servoz magic carpet ride.

If that’s not enough for you, Les Gets is putting the bike hooks back on the Mont Cherie lift for this Saturday.

When switchback rolling-endos go wrong..... (sorry Spence)

Still not enough? Verbier are giving free guided #enduro rides on the lower section of the Le Chable-Verbier gondola this week.

Up above the (cold in the shade) streets and houses.

STILL not enough? Pila are already letting bikes onto the lower gondola. Get your days right and you can ride 3 countries in 3 days…..

Get your tech on. Not somewhere you want to find ice on a boulder.

Looking into the crystal balls of ECM, GFS & assorted websites I’m going to forecast that there’ll be more riding of bikes had in the next few weeks, but 2016’s a whole new year so let’s see if the predicted wetter & warmer than average plays out.

Pissing about in the woods on bikes. More of this in 2016 I hope.

So, there might be some more posts here this winter, or there might not. I’ll hazard a guess at the next post being 12th March 2016, but don’t hold me to it. Either ways, happy non-denominational winter capitalist fest (hey, I had to get my left wing killjoyism out somewhere) and check out Lorne’s ski blog if you want to see much of the same but on 2 planks not 2 wheels.

Ok so there might not be much snow, there is a fair bit of ice. What maxxis tyre for 10cm thick ice then interweb?

Cunning as a fox drunk on cunning juice

Always nice to see the valley floor that far below you.

Ahh, the clear mountain air, the efficient clean travel on a bike, the pristine alpine environment.

Shame we drove here.

Fresh Swiss alpine air.

Worse, the ride’s plan involved knocking the vertical climbed down from 1500m to 450m by driving over in 2 cars, leaving 1 at the bottom then heading back to the top. More wasted miles, more wasted time, more wasted CO2.

But, in the future, it will be different…….

Crux of the ride, negotiating the re-re-re-re-frozen snow....

Electric cars are getting closer and closer (it’s a long read, but way more worth while more than the rest of this) and renewables are forming more and more of the grid capacity (Scotland managed 50% of power generation through renewables in 2014) so there’ll be less to feel guilty about there, but it’s still irritatingly inefficient to drive 2 cars.

Which is why I predict the next big thing in mountainbiking will be the google self drive car.

Yup, think about it. Sit there and let it drive you to the top of the hill, get the bike out, then plug in the GPS of the bottom of the hill and ghost the car off. Shred the gnar to the power of X-TRM then get back in to the motor and repeat.

15m into a 1500m descent. Life's hard sometimes.

Unfortunately, that’s the future and this is the now, so I needed a cunning plan to avoid the inefficiencies, a plan cunning as a fox drunk on cunning juice. I needed…..

An ultra runner.

Everyone needs a tame ultrarunner in their biking crew.

As luck would have it, Colin had got into town the day before and wanted to run up some hills, the game was on.

Lorne, the trail, the trail further away, Grand Combin. In that order.

It doesn’t take much of a glance at a map to notice the trail traversing from Col du Forclaz below the Pont Rond before dropping down the ridgeline towards Borgeaud near Martigny, with the perma-autumn showing no sign of letting up today seemed a good day to try it out.

The traverse round goes easily enough, a mix of pedalling, pushing and dancing as we discovered several tricky patches of well frozen snow below the coating of pine needles…

Easy doesn't need to mean boring, just go faster.

From Portalo (no, really) the trail pops out of the trees and into view, along with the Grand Combin comes a thin line of a trail heading off into the distance.

Looks like an out of season bike park, but this is how Switzerland does walking trails.

I’ll be honest, for the first 300m or so of vertical the descent it was only ok. Fast and open track ranging from about one to four or so foot wide. Never particularly technical except for the challenge of keeping the bike straight on the loose surface at the speeds you could reach. So far, a really good choice for less confident riders still looking for a big alpine descent.

Fortunately, as well as driving the car to the base of the hill for us, Colin had been scouting the track and gave us the heads up for a easy to miss trail ducking left off the main trail about 1/2 height.

North facing slopes. Great for keeping cool, less good for getting well lit photos.

Just as well he told us, it’s pretty easy to miss but well worth taking. Could do with a wee bit more traffic to clear some of the twigs and crap off the trail, but otherwise, smashing bit of riding. Obviously there are no photos of this bit due to the combined issues of the trail being too much fun to want to stop (common issue this) and it’s dark in the woods, we’re no riding with a flash set up.

It's not rained for about 25 days, might be mid November but the trails are bone dry.

As ever, even with the balance of down to up being tipped far in our favour, the descent ended quicker that the climb (mibbies there’s something to be said for trail running there) and some eyewateringly fast 4×4 trail topped by some fun but loose singletrack spat us out in Borgeaud and the conveniently parked car.

What's under the leaves? The trail hopefully.

Conclusion? Great idea, good trail, hopefully to be repeated.

In the future we'll have self driving cars. Until then we'll just have to use ultrarunners. Doesn't seem so keen for a second lap though.

Course, we could always just get e-mountainbikes and solve the problem that way. Or maybe not, just stick to convincing folk to drive the car down for us. Cheers Colin

Techy treat

Chamonix, autumn 2015.Not bad really.

You into religion much?

I’m not sure why I put in the question mark, I don’t care in the slightest and it’s not relevant.

1st November, Spence & Lorne, Chamonix: Why would we want to be anywhere else?

What does matter is that the French like a bit of Catholicism and just can’t get enough of their saints. Hence, all saints day is ‘something’ here, and we get a holiday.

Angus, praising 150mm of travel. Brevent main colouir.

Presumably we should be celebrating all those lucky souls who’ve made it to heaven, and all those the next day who’re stuck in purgatory. Instead we put on fancy dress* (c’mon, tell me bikers aren’t going to look back at what we’re wearing in 20 years and say ‘hmm, those colours don’t really work do they’) and go ride.

2nd November, high entrance main Brevent couloir. Lorne ignoring the view, you get used to it after a while.

Compagnie du Mont Blanc get in on the act too and re-open the Brevent lifts for a couple weeks, so whilst the rest of the Alps moan about pedalling up hills, we sit in a gondola for 950m vertical, or 1450m if the snow level’s high enough.

4th November, traverse to Aig des Houches. Perhaps winter is coming. It's not here yet though.

Moving away from folks personal beliefs that guide their lifestyle choices and back to something important. Brevent trails. I’ve written about them all here before and about 2 years ago decided to stop putting up posts on ground I’ve covered already but that’s made regular posts increasingly tricky, I’ll re-hash some old ground.

Some old ground below the Brevent top station. Lorne's been here before.

Actually, I can hit some new ground. Just when you think you kent all the trails off a lift, I rode a new trail earlier this year and bookmarked it for return come the autumn. The Bellachat trail. You can get into it two ways, either from the top of the hill, head for the Aiguillet des Houches but before the climb drop down past the refuge and prepare for switch back after switch back of steep tech and rock.

For Bellachat, turn left. Aig des Houches, turn right. Simples.

Alternatively enjoy (or don’t) the trails down the Brevent couloir, take the climb for Sentier des Guards then at the next junction, take the right, traverse for a while then you’re into more fast and flowing trails.

4th November, somewhere below the Chalets de Chailloux. Wouldn't call this bit 'flowy' mind.

Ach, who am I kidding. This post is here because aye, we’re riding trails that have been getting ridden for years, but the weather is spectacular, the autumn colours are spectacular and the trails are spectacular. And we took lots of photos and want to show them off.

4th November. Aig des Houches. Autumn colour, which in Chamonix adds white and blue to the usual russet tones.

All these photos are from the first four days of November. Four days, thousands of meters of descent and way too much fun.

Wheelies = fun.

It’s not trail park blue run riding, but the riding from Brevent is some of the best anywhere. I don’t care where you’ve ridden, if you don’t find a trail up there you rate, you’re not good enough on a bike.

How could you not like a trail like this?

Elitist and proud.

Any fool can take a good shot when it's sunny, I can take a bad shot when it's cloudy. Did we mention some of the Brevent trails are a bit rocky?

Depending on how much up and traversing you fancy, you can start at Brevent and finish anywhere between Servoz and Tre le Champ. We stuck between the Chalets de Chailloux and Les Tines, plenty of time for pedalling come next week.

Not pedalling, possibly making 'braaaap' noises in my head.

Or at least, you can do the above if you’re quick. The lifts close on Friday 6th (why Friday? Good question, welcome to the weird and wonderful world of CdMB) so get it whilst it’s hot.

4th November Aig des Houches: Banger of a shot courtesy of Lorne and much wheelie practice.

*Shakespeare called this day ‘hallowmas’. Why, why, why did that not take off? And it’s guising, not trick or treat.

Four have fun in Finale

Finale, the not particularly calm before the storm.

It’s de rigueur to make some sort of “season finale” style pun in reports on the Finale EWS round, what with it being the season final in Finale and all. Instead I thought I’d go with a nod to insufferable English kids books of the ’50s.

A reference that it seems will be lost on many of you as Google analytics tells me more than 50% of readers are “not UK” so you probably didn’t suffer Enid Blyton at school. I also wonder why quite so many folk are interested in this crap, you can’t all be robots (01001000 01100001 01101001 01101100 00100000 01110010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100 00100000 01101111 01110110 01100101 01110010 01101100 01101111 01110010 01100100. Yeah, I still rock that engineering degree. A prize of the only joke about binary if you work it out, thus also ticking my box of “try to engage with your readers” and “encourage feedback” which apparently all good bloggers should do).

Ahh Finale. Sunshine, sea and prosecco in the square. On the Wednesday at least...

Obviously, we were down to race, which is a serious business and not fun at all, but before that there was some riding, and some pizza, and some swimming in the sea, and some coffee, quite a bit of coffee actually, and practice.

Pre-practice play. Spence enjoying the dust down from Nato, cheers for the shuttle Nina.

Only practice didn’t quite go to plan as no one remembered to order good weather for the full week, and with promises of 120kph winds and biblical rains on Friday the EWS instead chose to let everyone practice all 6 stages on Thursday only and close the trails on Friday, so all you had to do was ride the full 106km and 4300m of climbing of the course, and session the technical trails, and remember it all.

The view on Wednesday night before practice.

This obviously wasn’t going to happen until Spencer gave up his chance to ride for the day and instead racked up some 140km of driving the other 3 of us about the tiny coastal roads, all the while battling the other 400 or so riders trying to do the same.

Yay for enduro’s environmental credentials.

Sole shot from practice, Nina nearing the start of S3. Cheers again for the shuttles Spence.

We did get pretty slick at putting 3 bikes onto the back and roof of the car though.

Sandy before practice. Not many race riding shots in this one I'll concede.

The trails were a mixed bag and the general chat about town was that they could have been better. S1 was the rider favourite. S2 was the fit rider favourite. S3 and S4 were fun, but scaring the pro’s ‘cos they have to actually go fast on them. S5 the looong one, but pretty good trails and S6 was just a bit dull. Nobody said they liked it, a shame to end the season on it really.

After a day of twiddling thumb’s watching the wind, drinking coffee, watching the SRAM crew get more and more pissed off with the entire field trying to get their bikes fixed for free, and checking out the head cam footage, we could go for the race briefing.

You know you're in Finale when.... This was a lot of Friday.

Due to the bad weather forecast for Saturday, racers favourite S1 would be cancelled. This got a boo from the crowd, much to Enrico’s disappointment. After the events of Colorado and Spain then it’s only fair the organisers were playing it safe, and the tragic events just a short distance up the coast in Nice showed how serious Saturday could have been. It was still a blow to spirits but.

Bof, same for everyone, on to Saturday.

Ready for the morning

Go liaise. Then race. Then get the excuses ready.

S1 Ok, then lost chain, S2 Good, then crash, S3 Didn’t really commit, S4 Really good, then started to get tired, then make mistakes, then bigger mistakes, then crashed. S5 Err, actually can’t find an excuse for this one, I’m just not fit enough.

Still, it all went better for me than for Sandy who made it about 200m into S1 before the slick ground took him down breaking his bike and forcing him to retire.

After the race briefing. You miss the sea in Chamonix.

Nina was fast when the trails pointed down, but they didn’t always point down this year. She still finished higher in category than the rest of us despite having avoided pedalling uphill for the entire summer.

So why race if that all sounds so meh? Because every race I still get at least one stage where everything starts to click, nothing else exists and the world is solely about you going as fast as you can. If you’ve never felt it, it’s as free as you can get from the worries around you, addictive and beautiful and pointless.

The opposite of racing. Pissing about on bikes with nice vibrant colours.

Sometimes there’s a calm measured voice in the back of you your head softly saying “brake early, exit fast”, “rotate the hips”, “look through the corner”, “drop the heels”. gently guiding you down the trail in a fast efficient manner.

That was the first 6 minutes or so of S4 on Sunday morning.

Sometimes I get the technique thing not bad. Wednesday on H trail.

Then, drowning out that voice is “CORNERARRRGE-BRAAAAAAKE-PEDALLLLLLLLLLLFULLLLLLLLGAZZZZZZZZ-CANT BREATHARGROCCCK-WHATTHEFFUANOTHER CORNERRRRDRROOOOOOPPPCORNERNAILEDIT-EEK”

This voice is not efficient or fast, but it’s shit loads more fun to deal with. That was the next 5 minutes of S4.

More shots of Spencer on the really quite grand Nato base trails.

Then, inevitably, there’s “Oh god my arms, I can’t feel my arms. Am I pulling the brakes? The fingers don’t seem to be working either. Wait, is that tape ahead, there’s spectator cheers, should I be turning left or right? Is it me or is the ground getting a lot closer? Bugger. Ow. Should my leg be through the bike like that?”

That was the final 2mins 41seconds of S4.

Nico Voullioz arrived at the finish 2mins 1second earlier, thus saving these issues for the liaison where it doesn’t seem to matter so much, the cunningness of a champion.

Is this not what every day in Finale is like?

Anyway. My arse was kicked and I coasted home tail between legs in 121st and 16% off the pace but still hungry to get better. And eat. And drink beer with the the folk you meet on the liaisons and were so good at getting out my way on the stage (28 passes in the weekend I think) And go for a swim in the sea (more successful for some folk that others…..)

Ciao* Finale.

Obligatory affogato whilst Fabien Barel retires on the stage.

*That’s also de rigure b.t.w., to finish the report with ‘ciao’ instead of something in english.

The joy of Sixt

Chamonix to Sixt. First descent of three.

This week it has mostly been autumn.

Autumn is not a bad thing per se, the trees go a pretty colour for example. Holiday season is over so the hills are quiet. Everyone’s jobs dry up along with the tourists so we have more time to ride. These are all good things (except when rent/chainreactioncycles still needs paid)

No, the problem is it gets cold and the lifts are closing. You want to make the most of each lift before it shuts, but there are only so many good weather days to do it on. You want to make the most of each lift before it shuts, but lots of the bestest rides take most of the day so you don’t get much use out of the lift.

Best start wi a good image. Grey and dreich can still look impressive.

Autumn also means better light for photos, even when overcast and snowing, so it’s a picture heavy post y’all. Which is good news, as all you ever do is read the opening paragraph then look at the images. Skimming over the words too quickly to notice the spulling mistakes and insults.

Sandy on the moonscape start of the Brevent descent.

Anyway, preamble done, I need to cunningly tie in the title with some words that both describe the ride and make it seem like I thought about this, all in the hope some editor will read it and offer obscene amounts of money and free bikes in exchange for a few thousand words a month.

The joy of sex. A ’70’s book telling people how to have sex. With beards. The full stop proving the importance of punctuation. You’d think the continued existence of humans would suggest that we’d managed it already (then again, if the ruling classes canny work out what species to interact with, maybe more education is needed), and that if you’re curious enough to buy a book with that title, you’re probably curious enough to work out how to have good sex. The book went on to sell big.

Sandy again, Brevent descent again. This time with added vegetation.

The joy of Sixt. A hastily thought up title for a blog post about riding from Chamonix to Sixt along a couple of trails which we’d been told were really really good. A blog title that initially sounded good but the further I get into trying to write something around it, the more I’m regretting being a smart arse.

A picture of my arse, smart or otherwise.

I could try something along the lines of…..”In mountain biking the whole technique improvement thing is getting big. There’s plenty of coaches out there keen to help you improve your riding technique, or sell you a video or app. Or you could just watch it for free on the internet…”

But frankly it’s too much like hard work to draw parallels between a bike ride and a 40 year old sex manual, here’s the usual dull we-rode-here-then-there-then-finished-and-it-was-good overly wordy copy, with this many pictures I need lots of words to fill the gaps.

Could be back in the highlands here, grey skies and derelict croftings.

On a forecast of 55% sunshine and no precipitation, we head up the lift from Chamonix to Plan Praz in the drizzle. Today was going to be minimal lift, maximum distance riding.

We’d all heard stories of an epic descent from Col d’Anterne to Sixt and figured the only way to verify its quality is to actually go and do it.

First down done, 2nd up beginning.

The Col du Brevent doesn’t arrive easily, but it arrives more easily going up from Plan Praz than it does heading down from the top station of Brevent. Or at least, it seems less disappointing to push and carry uphill than it does to push and carry downhill.

Nearing the Col d'Anterne, Col du Brevent and its descent far behind us, somewhere above Sandy's head.

From the col the trail is initially moonscape, then a bit rubbish for a few hundred meters (we pushed about as much as we rode) then it’s fairly good for ages. It would be even better in the dry, but it wasn’t dry so we had the added fun of rock slab skating rinks.

And leaving the Col d'Anterne. Down is better than up.

First down done, we go up to the Refuge Moede Anterne. A sentence that’s pretty easy to write. The push was less so, but not that bad. A water tap and picnic tables in the gloom served for lunch. You could probably go inside and order some food, but see second paragraph above.

Refuge Moede Anterne to Col d’Anterne. Looks bad, but the signpost claims 45mins so you should be quicker. Sure enough we took half that.

This image is actually made up of 3 random photos stuck together, that's how good I am at photoshop.

Things look a lot better from the top. If you look left then they look like the Dolomites with towering limestone cliffs. If you look right then they look Scottish, with lochans nestled between rolling green hills. Even the weather got in on the split personality act with blue skies and a biting cold wind.

I mentioned it was autumn didn’t I?

Text and image finally coinciding. If it was summer we'd swim, it's autumn so we look.

It’s a pretty good descent from here. Not top 10 perhaps, but still pretty good. Big open sections with multiple lines then narrow technical singletrack through boulders and a nice wee flat bit alongside the lake to break it up. Only one short section directly above the Refuge Alfred Wills beat all three of us from riding cleanly.

I thought he was going to manual the stream, instead he went for an air off the banking. #photogfail

After the refuge there’s a wee bit more fun on rolling singletrack across the empty open expanses. This open stuff is a bit of a change for us Chamonix valley dwellers, you really don’t get anything flat for several hundred meters without a house being built on it.

Halfway down from the Col to the Refuge Alfred Wills. You get a lot of down for your effort here.

Another short climb and it’s on to the third descent of the day. It starts innocuously enough with a cow trodden path tapering muddily into a rocky gully, but picks up quickly into more steepish, rocky singletrack. Again not top ten, but fun enough. Eventually the trail opens up a bit and the speeds creep up, well, jump up considerably.

Then it ends in a carpark.

Lorne heading down to the Refuge Alfred Wills, still plenty interest to go.

We thought we’d be clever here and take a wee path marked “Cascade Rouget” left off the carpark.

Don’t. I’m not saying that in a “Don’t, but really I mean do, it’s amazing” way. I mean just don’t. It’s partly unrideable but not in a challenging way,just in a climbing down roots above a river way, and partly a bit dull. And partly not very clear where to go.

Deeper and colder than it looks. Then he had to come back the same way.

After Lorne drew the short straw and not only guinea pigged the knee deep river crossing right from the end of the trail, but also the unridable hunters trail climb to the left, he turned round and went back to the road. Sandy & I persevered with the uninspiring looking track in front and eventually landed back on the road after some interesting down climbing.

Turns out if you just stick to the road then there’s a series of cut throughs that keep you on the dirt and moving just a bit faster than we’d been.

I kinda feel Sandy and me should be on horses at this point.

From the Cascade Rouget (which is a fine cascade, but a bit outclassed by some of the others kicking about the valley) there’s more road/cut though/road/cut through riding but nothing that inspiring and boom, you’re on the valley floor rolling along the tarmac into Sixt.

The last of the descent to the carpark. It got faster about here.

Do I sound a bit disappointed? I was. It wasn’t a bad ride, far from it, and looking back through the photos I realise just how much good riding and scenery there was. I think we’d got too many high expectations of it, built it up too much and suffered from the last sections being nothing like the quality of the trails higher up. And I guess our local standard is pretty high.

Cruising into town.

If you’ve got a Grand Massif lift pass, a better day out would be up the Samoens lift, down to Flaine, up to the top there, then a huge descent down past the Chalets du Plate, across to Plaine Joux, then a wee bit of a climb to join our route and back to Sixt then Samoens in time for tea and medals. But we don’t have said pass, and even if we did the lifts are closed, and if the lifts were open we’d probably just piss about under the GMC lift in Samoens. So meh.

Start with a strong shot, end with a strong shot, Lorne descending from Col d'Anterne.

Thank assorted Hindu deities there’s nowhere near that rhymes with ‘Sutra’.

Road

Col des Aravis descent. Better than it looks.

A change is as good as a rest. Apparently. Road biking is definitely a change from mountain bikes, but I’m not sure it’s a rest.

A game of word association is unlikely to link Chamonix and road biking. Or me and road biking for that matter, but I tried a 29er once (twice now I think about it) and it didn’t seem that bad so might as well give this road biking lark a go. That and I had friends in town who wanted to go road biking.

When mtbers go road biking.....

Hence a quick bit of internet research later a very much not lycra clad crew of riders and borrowed bikes rolled out of Chamonix from a relaxed 10am start. Progress was initially slow as said combination of riders and borrowed bikes resulted in frequent stops to raise saddles, angle saddles, re-align saddles.

It's aa smiles as we cruise through Les Houches. The saddle hasn't attacked yet.

By Vaudagne we’d all began to bond with our bikes and, having negotiated the roadworks…road bike tyres not being as forgiving as mtb tyres when faced with potholes… started making progress past Servoz and along the back roads towards Sallanches.

With the cliffs of the Fiz range towering above us on the right and the Arve valley spread out below us on the left there was plenty to distract, but those slick tyres descend at a fair lick and the handling isn’t quite what I’m used to, so generally best just to ignore the sights. Easier to ignore was the Chaine des Aravis in front of us, which we were planning on riding behind.

Vaudagne. I think Heidi trains cow herding here

Past Sallanches and still we were able to crack on at a fair lick. So far so easy this road bike game. A convenient back road takes you parallel with the autoroute along the Arve valley, but far enough away not to be disturbed by the sound of the road. Even when the back road ended, the 10km along past Magland to Cluses passed quickly, probably because we were heading for the first food break of the day.

From our brief research into the world of road biking we’d learnt that cafe stops are key, we were more than happy to comply with this rule. Espresso and panini prepped us for the main event of the day, the climb to the Col de la Colombière .

Coffee. Apparently caffeine is a drug, so another road rule ticked.

Another part of our research had revealed David Millar’s words on the Col de la Colombière from his 2010 Tour du France. “From the lowest slopes of the Colombière, I was adrift, unable to stop my rapid slide out of the back of the bunch…..There were just under 180 km remaining in the stage and four mountains to climb. I was unequivocally, irredeemably, fuc..” well, you get the idea.

The climb starts pleasantly enough. You cruise out of Cluses and past the first marker post, declaring 17km to go to the col, and currently you’re climbing a 2% gradient. As each marker post past, kilometre after kilometre, that gradient would rise and rise. Still for now, in the first 10km as the road winds through the trees, the climb is deceptively easy. But then, as you leave the trees into the full glare of the sun, and the gradient passes 8%, David Millar’s words start to ring in your ears.

With 3km to go, the col is in clear sight, and is getting closer with every turn of the pedals. Unfortunately, it doesn’t get any lower. Instead the road just seems to rear up steeper and steeper in front of you. As if that wasn’t demoralising enough, by now my backside was beginning to really feel the difference between my 160mm travel, fat tyred, fat saddled mtb and the skinny tyred, razor saddled rocket I’d borrowed. Sure it was fast, but did it have to be so painful to achieve it?

Some random cyclist heading for the Col de la Colombiere. Who obviously I chased down and beat to the col.

The col eventually fell below the wheels, with the view of the Borand valley opening in front and, perhaps more relevantly, the cafe appearing to our right, a healthy number of patrons already installed and recovering from their efforts.

We were half way round, and no matter what we did, it was downhill for a while again. Somewhere between the Col and the next village of Grand Borand we were skipping along at about 50mph, making up time from our slightly slower ascent. The descents always pass quicker than the climbs though and soon enough we were dropping down the gears and climbing towards La Clusaz.

Trying to apply mtb technique to a road bike. Tricky to get your hips out to the side with a high saddle likes.

There’s an open boulangerie in La Clusaz which we rode past as there was nowhere to sit. surely there’d be an open cafe further into town. After much searching we discovered there wasn’t, but the next climb, the Col des Aravis, was only 400m. We’d last until the cafe at the top.

Col des Aravis. Malcolm starting to feel more at home as the weather takes a turn for the Scottish.

After the length and gradient of the Colombiere the Col des Aravis is a walk in the park, barely breaching 8% and soon we were at the top looking through the options for food. Unfortunately these options mostly seemed to be closed until 1830 and with the way the clouds were gathering we were keen to be somewhere else by that time. Anyway, it’s downhill from the col, we could stop for food in Giettaz.

Whit a downhill it was too. Descending on a road bike isn’t the same as the frenetic melee of mountain biking, but has it’s own rewards. Less action movie, more like the opening scenes of the Italian Job, working a classic car through the corners. Drop gear, drop gear, brake, turn into the apex, straighten up, pedal, up a gear, up a gear, coast and repeat. The descent from the Col des Aravais wound beautifully down the hill into the very quiet village of Giettaz and its open boulangerie.

Somewhere near Sallanches. Totally out of place in the photo order, but it breaks the words up nicely, and none of you are paying any attention anyway.

The open boulangerie which had run out of sandwiches, and pretty much everything else. Onwards to Flumet.

Flumet also turned a blank. On to Praz sur Arly.

There was no repeating of our La Clusaz error, at the first open boulangerie we stopped and bought the last 3 items in the cabinet. Ham and cheese croissants. The owner even got some deck chairs out for us to sit in whilst we savoured our savory snacks.

Suitably refreshed we got back in the saddle for the last push. They might be uncomfortable, but road bikes cover the ground a lot faster than a mountain bike, in no time at all we’d given up on more food in Megeve and were starting the long descent down to Le Fayet. A descent that was spurred on by the view of Sallanches slowly getting enveloped by a rain storm slowly rolling up the valley.

The Arve valley getting eaten by the rain beast.

From the Le Fayet train station it’s just 500 meters of climbing back up to Chamonix, but then, there’s several station bars keen to serve you a cold pint of lager, and that rain storm was getting a lot closer, and it was starting to get a bit dark. To cut a long list of excuses short….we caught the train home.

One hour climbing in the rain or a pint. What would you choose?
.

Pila. Pinning/pining.

Pila. Sunshine and dust.

A long time ago in a galaxy (small highland town) far,
far away….

The first copy of “Dirt the downhill mountain bike magazine” arrived, some time later than it did in the rest of the UK as that’s generally what happens when you live in the north of the UK. For a bunch of kids who were doing a mix of BMX and motocross on bikes totally unsuited to the job at hand, and definitely not wearing lycra, it was a revelation that there were actually other people like us. All over the place.

Start with a banger. Pila summed up in 1 shot, dust hanging in the air, a fun berm, and as a tribute to Dirt mag, backlit rider with reflective goggles on.

Obviously we all started buying Dirt.

Several issues in (canny mind how far in, it’s not important anyway) there was an article about a bunch of riders deciding that the southern English DH races were shite (and they were back then) so piled in a van and drove to Pila to race a round of the Italian series.

Talking of racing, Sandy enduro's up on the IXS DH track. Mmmm, chunky.

That seems pretty reasonable now, but back then it was unheard of. If you were the best of the best at DH then obviously you spent much of the summer driving about the alps to race the Grundigs (and get drunk and smash stuff like a true Brit abroad), but the idea that as a normal rider you could just head off and ride this amazing terrain straight off a lift (this was before the Nevis Range DH was accessed by the lift, you still had to push up) was a revelation.

Braaap. Or maybe Yeeeow. Someone go ask a cool kid what I should write here.

But there was more to it than that. There was the idea that bikes, DH bikes, weren’t just something you did at the weekend or as a kid, but a lifestyle like skiing or climbing. I’d always known that getting out the country and heading to the mountains for the winter was a perfectly sensible thing to do, now I’d had the epiphany that you could do that for the summer too.

Wouldn't you want to do this all summer?

A lot has changed since then. My #enduro bike is years ahead of any DH bike of that time, Dirt has just ceased publication. I now spend most of my summer riding some of the best trails in the world as and when I want to.

And now I’ve finally gone to Pila.

Me, finally in Pila.

It was a long time coming, year after year I would be planning to go only to get injured, break the bike or, most frequently, the Mont Blanc tunnel be too busy. The blog’s even made it there before I did. But finally, I’ve made the 40 kilometre drive from Chamonix and caught the closing day of the 2015 Pila summer.

For 7 short hours Lorne, Sandy and I lapped and lapped and lapped the bike park, both the shorter (500m descent) upper chairlift accessed main park and the lower (1150m descent) home runs. We even failed to stop for coffee during the day which, for a trip to ride in Italy, is probably a first (and the only low point of the day).

Lorne, aiming to land before the corner.

I’m not going to describe the trails, it’s boring to write and worse to read, and Lorne did a good enough job after his first visit. Also we never really knew what trail we were on they all cross so much. But…I will make mention of the IXS DH track as it’s without doubt the hardest ‘official’ bike trail I’ve ridden if you stick to the quick lines, and probably even if you don’t.

IXS DH track. Better than Vallorcine, that's how good!

I’ve new found respect for the strength of DH rims and tyres, absolutely nae idea how you can land in some of the rock gardens at any speed without writing off the wheels. Pretty much anywhere else something that hard would be closed most of the time, but if it’s not hard how can you progress? Talking of which, was pretty cool to see so many weans out on the trail and riding fast. Though what do you aspire to when this is your local hill?

Can I stay here please?

Anyway, thanks Dirt for opening my eyes to another life all those years ago, I’m off to price DH bikes.

ESI Silicone grip review

Never mind the grips, THAT'Swhat i call a winter playground.

Ever heard a mountain biker whine about a bikes contact points? Grips, saddle and pedals all seem surprisingly divisive for lumps of plastic and metal. Riders sound like Goldilocks as they flit between grips. Too hard, too soft, too thin, too thick. Over the years my preferences for set up have varied (obviously never following fashion and whatever the worlds fastest have been doing) from steep brake lever angles to almost horizontal. Narrow bars to wide bars (well, narrow was all you could get back in’t day) short bikes to long (again, for years you bought the smallest frame size you could find just to get the standover height) but my 1 constant has been:

I hate fat grips.

I also hate grips that spin about on your bars as soon as there’s a hint of moisture in the air.

No moisture to worry about, but the grips weren't spinning anyway. Lorne Cameron photo.

I used to glue or wire onto the bars whatever was the skinniest grip I could find from Oban Cycles (internet shopping for bike parts wasney a thing when I was a wean, or inventive shop names for that matter) and hope that I didn’t need to take any of my controls off the bars. Then along came lock-on grips which cured the ‘spinning on the bars but still able to take them off’ issue, the only problem is that they need to be that wee bit thicker to take account for the plastic collar and the outside lock is pretty uncomfy under the hand, so we’re back to seeing racers glueing and wiring their grips to the bar. At least we can take the controls off a bit easier these days.

So along comes silicone (that’s silicone, not silicon) grips which promise good grip, light weight and skinny diameter. And no worthwhile reviews on the internet.

One pair of brand new silicone grips.

I bought them, put them on the bike and rode them for 4 months, 6 Coupe du France enduro races and an EWS.

They’re still on the bike, they’re doing ok. The grip is much easier to damage than a lock on (the end caps lasted all of one ride as I have a habit of clipping trees) but a bit of electric tape around the last 1cm of the grip seems to stop the damage getting worse and if I’d thought of it before I sent me and the bike cartwheeling through the undergrowth it would probably have stopped the grip ripping. Or I could have not cartwheeled through the undergrowth.

There is plenty of grip in the dry, though I needed to wear gloves in the wet or if my hands got sweaty otherwise it all felt a bit insecure.

More, without the hard plastic layer the grip really does take a bit of buzz out of the trail. Not so much that I’d buy them for that reason, just let a bit of air out your tyres, but it is a help on long rides.

And the same grips 4 months, 7 races and unknown crashes later

Will I buy them again? Undecided. If it was for long rides back in Scotland on a shorter travel bike them maybe. For riding fast down hills in the alps with 160mm of travel and 2.4 front tyre, I think I might go back to a skinny hard grip that feels a bit more solid under the hand.

Was that any help?

I don't really care if that helped, I'm going riding.

Tignes Coupe du France 2015 #6

CdF 6 Tignes. Stage 1 starts here, and reaches it's halfway point down there.

“Chamonix Bike Blog” does imply a blog about biking in Chamonix, so I’ll concede there’s been some mission drift with the amount of race write ups from places that are not Chamonix of late. Dinnay fret, this one’s the Coupe du France season finale so we’ll be back to proper riding for the next month.

And it’s my blog so I’ll do what I want regardless.

Friday freeride. And actually free too.

Tignes then. A mere 2hr away and the lifts are free, so Sandy and I headed over on Friday early enough to sample the trails. If your main experience of lift companies is in Chamonix it’s a bit of a shock to wander into the lift office, be smiled at, then given a lift pass for nothing more than your email address. And a wee leaflet explaining that pretty much everything else going on in the summer is free too.

Talking of free, this is part of the Saturday evening free feed. And free beer too. Again.

No idea where the money’s come from, but they’ve spent a wheen on it digging and building trails. There’s mile after mile of berm-to-jump-to-berm-to-wooden-feature-to-berm standing out sand yellow against the pretty much featureless grass of the alpine landscape. Forgot to mention that bit, Tignes is at 2000m altitude, the riding is above that, you’re going to get short of breath. Or at least I did.

Didn't.

So after ragging about on both sides of the hill giggling off drops and chickening out of assorted gaps (I had a race the next day, it was being sensible not cowardly. And the gap’s bigger than it looks) we got down to the town to find an airbag for bikes.

Free. obvz.

I did want to try a backflip, and considered nicking a BMX off a 10 year old that was hitting the airbag too. But then he looked fairly tough and he might have had a big brother of like 12 or something who’d beat me up. So I tried a whip. Pretty easy really.

Old dogs learning new tricks.

Back to the apartment and part 2 of the team arrives, with Nina, Anna and much missed non-racing Spence who’d for some reason had decided that last summers sitting about in rainy carparks waiting to change a tyre, then clean bikes, then cook food wasn’t the best way to spend his weekend and went riding instead.

Sandy sorts his bike, I drink tea. Pre-race stress as usual.

For the final round we went back to the rallye format of obligatory practice on Saturday then race day on Sunday, but with the wee innovation of a cheeky timed race run on the Saturday, giving 5 timed stages in total. Even better, the liaisons which helped the course wander between Tignes, Val d’Isere and Les Brevieres were downhill. Hell, one liaison was 800m vert of descent through bike park, it would’ve been a stage in most places. Instead it was the dangerous combination of relaxed cruising and long trains of racers trying to show off whilst pretending not to try. I don’t think anyone got too hurt, but there were a few unforced mechanicals….

I like this format, getting a stress free day to cruise about the trails chatting to folk and not having to pedal too hard. What’s more, I can run half bald tyres and try and save the good ones for race days. Hence I wasn’t quite so happy about the 1 race run in the middle of the day, but that’s what it was.

Sam n Sandy pre reccy on special 1.

The specials were a welcome change from Valloire 2 weeks ago. Still quite physical in places, particularly S4, but with much more fun in between bouts of pedalling. If you want a better idea of how they looked, then there were pure hunnerts of photographers out there documenting. Try Velovert, Pinkbike and the event video.

A group looking at s1. And the sun. Probably the view too.

Everyone seems to find their own wee groups at these races, generally with folk about the same pace as you. It should be cut throat competition, but mostly you end up cheering on and helping the very people you’re trying to beat. Sport psychologists probably have fun with that one.

Finally, a shot of a rider with a number on their bike! Nina was cursed by mechanicals, but still made an impact on the weekend.

With such gladiatorial combat in mind it was good to be finishing so close to Anthony Martin and Sam Gerret. Like really close. Within .1 of a second at times. Even better, we all managed to get some stage times that we’d hoped we could do but to date hadnae. Sam killing Sunday’s 2nd stage to go 28th (after sharing his headcam footage with me on the lift up, ta Sam!). Anthony grabbed 26th on the 3rd stage, only just beaten by me in 25th, less than 7% slower than some Jerome Clementz lad who’s turned up to take the win for the weekend.

Anyway, a grand weekend of racing over and the series totals tallied, I ended up ranked 45th in scratch for the season. None of the top pilots rode the full series due to EWS clashes, but given the level of enduro riding in France I’m pretty happy with top 50, what with a full time job, no sponsor and all that. Better, when I start playing the “niche” game, I can jump to 39th if you get them pesky fast juniors, dames and masters out the rankings to leave only men aged 19-40. Then there are only 2 riders above me with nothing in the team column on the results table. I can even score 1st in the UK licence category…

Enough self aggrandisation, turns you blind or something. Was a great season, plenty of type 1 fun, some type 2 and no type 3.

Type 1 fun.

As ever, big thanks to eveyone that organised the series. We might grump about various niggles over the weekend but it’s a pretty amazing effort that’s made to create these events and I don’t think anyone’s getting rich out of it somehow. Particular thanks go to the commentator who manages to pick my most exhausted and panting moments to try and get a finish line interview out of me. Also, Sandy, Sam, Nina and Spence for all your help, advice, lent bike parts, shared car journeys,random cooking and quality chat.

Next year?