Crankworx Les Gets

Crankworx Les Gets

Way back in the dim and distant mists of time, when a DH bike had 6″ of travel, 150mm disk brakes, a 69 degree head angle and Steve Peat was only in his mid to late 20’s, I raced downhill.

Back then nobody trained (or at least, nobody admitted it, turns out quite a few were cheating with a road bike), if you were lucky you had a couple of spare tires, but certainly not any spare wheels and, in Scotland at least, you were racing on some of the best DH tracks ever made. Raw, loose and fast.

Raw and fast. And quite muddy and a bit chilly.

Then I got the chance to race in the British national series. The tracks were shit, if you didn’t have a wheen of money to bring spare parts you didn’t have a hope, people were taking it seriously. I wasn’t having fun so sold my DH bike and just rode street and trials.
Jump forward a few years. An enduro/trail bike has 6″ or more of travel, 203mm disk brakes, 66 degree head angle and Steve Peat is still racing world cups. I guess I should race downhill again.

You wouldn't have got away with that case on a DH bike of my yoof.

I’ve ridden plenty of world cup and iXS level DH tracks over the last few years. Some I’ve thought were amazing (hello Pila) some I’ve been less impressed with (looking at you Val d’Isere) some of my favourites don’t feature on any calendars (Vallorcine, really, in it’s prime that was such a grand course) and as a rule I prefer as little building work as possible. Partly because I seem to be better at riding natural terrain, mostly because big jumps scare the crap out of me.

This is a big jump and it scared the crap out of me.

Hence, it was with just a wee amount of trepidation I signed up for the Crankworx DH in Les Gets, I mean, it’s kinda known for being a jump, berm, jump, berm, jump style bike park.

Shouldn’t have worried.

Old school track with nairey a built feature in sicht.

I’ll rephrase that. I shouldn’t have worried about it being a bike park course. Turned out there were plenty other things to worry about. The track still had a few big ol’ jumps, fortunately 6 chicken lines had been built for chickens like me. But the rest of the course was wide taped, fast, loose and raw.

Having missed track walk, I rolled in off the start ramp built over the Grand Ourse restaurant terrace with little idea what was to come, but battered off down the track with the intention of having a fun fast lap to see where the ground went.

After skipping round the initial road gap you held on and hoped for the best as you bounced over the as yet un-worn open hillside. Using the natural shape of the hill to help you gain and lose speed without the need for pedalling, the course kept rhythm until dropping, literally, into the woods.

Again, the track was barely ridden in with just some catch berms and small jumps added to keep things flowing, and some great steep inside lines though the still present and only slightly damp loam. Joining the original 2004 world champs course canyon section the speed picked up even more as you rattled through the massive berms, over a drop and then launched out into the open.

2FO 4 gas 2 flat. Wide open corners on the lower section, pick a rut and hope for the best....

From here the course returned to the football pitch wide taping higher up, but with some small stream gap jumps even I could hit blind on the first lap. What I couldn’t hit first lap was the wooden road gap/drop that ended up claiming so many elite riders race runs by Sunday or the natural cliff drop into the finish arena, but that’s what chicken lines are for.

One of the easy gaps. Until your bike gets covered in 30kg of mud.

I was feeling pretty happy about things coming into the end of the first practice session, I’d still not hit the first big jump (It was closed for most of my laps whilst the initial guinea pigs were scraped up off the landing, hopefully no one got hurt) but even with the track rapidly cutting up it was still fun riding.

The fun came to an abrupt end as I ran out of ability towards the end of the woods and landed on, as a friend once explained to an exasperated head teacher following a primary school fight, “a delicate area of the male anatomy” before seeing my bike launch over my head. Freed of it’s pilot it tried to prove that modern trail bikes are faster than their owners can ride them and shot off down the trail at a good pace. This didn’t last long and the bike then also crashed, ripping the hose out of the front brake in a spray of mineral oil.

Practice over for the day, bike and rider limp off to get fixed. It rains overnight.

Saturday wasn’t quite as wet as Friday, which initially seemed like a good thing. The slopestyle comp might actually happen and the track might dry out for seeding.

A lot of the weekend was spent here. This is what 1 lap'll do to you.

The slopestyle didn’t happen, and whilst the track did dry out for seeding, it transformed into an unrideable gloop. Turns out #enduro bikes don’t have the same tyre clearance as a DH bike. The mud was so thick the wheels hardly turned and I was pedalling hard down some fairly steep slopes just to keep moving. Once in the lower open slopes even that wasn’t happening and the wheels just refused to budge. I couldn’t even push the bike, so I tried to pick it up and run down, but it weighed too much for my feeble ski bum arms to lift, so I left the track, dug all the mud out, went for a spin up and down the road for a bit to clear the wheels, then eventually finished my inglorious lap.

A chance to escape the mud. Yay!

I wasn’t the only person suffering, anyone with poor mud clearance or just a bit scrawny was having a poor time of it on Saturday. It’s rare that there’s one “best” bike for a track, but if you owned an Orange 324, Manitou Shiver forks, 26″ wheels and a pair of the original Michelin DH Mud tyres you were sorted.

Not often you’ll hear that….

Line choice....

The mud raised the most frustrating thing about the weekend for me and many other riders. If you had the skill and balls to keep it lit for an entire lap then you were going to get a great time. Unfortunately as soon as you slowed down, the mud had a chance to build up on the bike and the tyres, making the bike heavier and slowing it down. As soon as this happened, you get more mud build up and….. You get the idea.

As a result a slip off line, a near stall, was enough to end your run. And if you crashed, then you were going to crash a few more times as a result. Once the mud was blocking up the frame and forks, it had the effect of dragging your brakes constantly, and what’s the main thing you shouldn’t do in slippy condition. Exactly.

I spent 3 days cleaning the bike, marvelling at how far into the frame the clart made it.

So, when you watch the videos of races in stupidly muddy condition or see the massive spread of times in the result sheets, don’t just assume that the riders canny ride in the mud. There were a lot of folk looking very average on a bike when if you could just have magic’d away 20kg of mud and let their wheels turn, well, they’d be much happier.

Keeping it rolling by keeping it lit. The only way for the weekend.

Crankworx is about more than the racing mind, so Saturday did also involve wandering about Les Gets, bumping into friends, drinking beer, watching the pump track challenge, questioning just why people still take chainsaws to bike races, drinking beer and generally not getting cold wet and muddy for a while.

Sam heading up for the last practice session.

Sunday morning brought us back to the cold wet and muddy game. Torrential rain overnight had removed almost all the traction there was on the course, but more importantly for me had thinned out the mud nicely from crunchy peanut butter to a good seafood chowder. I was also now riding with Sam who was definitely more up to speed than me.

I might not have been having the best of times all weekend on the course, but ragging down the upper sections of the track, holding my poor battered bike wide open as I tried to keep sight of Sam on his beast of a Orange 324 (Fox 40’s not Shivers) was ace. If terrifying. Even the lower sections were more fun again now the gloop could be blasted though without bringing you to a complete halt.

Braaaaap. etc. Moto X experience was a big help.

The race run didn’t go quite as well. The upper section was super grippy and riding as well as it had at any point of the weekend, but from there down the track had headed back to heavy gloop. Somewhere in the woods my chain fell off, I considered putting it back on, but I couldn’t find the cranks under the mud, so gave up on that and scooted off down the track, having to push and carry the bike through far too many sections to mention.

Your senior men 12th, 3rd, 16th and forgot place finishers. And mud, who was the real winner on the day.

An hour later and I was feeling fairly smug, stomping about the course in my winter boots whilst others fell about in skate shoes, and watching the top elites deal with the conditions. There’s not many sports where you can as directly compare your abilities to the best of the world, they’re coming down the same course as you, their bikes are better but not that much better. Aye, you’ll be found wanting for the skills, but far too many folks get away with thinking their mediocrity makes them special in some way so it’s good to be firmly put back in your place. It was interesting how much some were struggling, not due to a lack of ability, just due to a combination of their sponsors bike not having mud tyre clearance and an error at some point dragging them down.

Flip flops for course walking, nae thanks.

Les Gets has a 3 year contract for the Crankworx, here’s hoping we can hit the trail in the dry in 2017. And does anyone want to sell me a cheap DH bike?

Vote Leave*.

Col des Planches. Trying to make it out through the murk, if only there was some sort of analogy link wi the referendum there....

I left the EU today**. It was easy too. Me and 3 fellow EU citizens packed the bikes into the car, went to the boulangerie and drove over the border into the wildlands of Switzerland. Then after a days riding came back to the EU.

There’s still a couple of days to go until the Chamonix lifts open for the summer so lazy riding needs a bit more effort. Fortunately Switzerland’s Postbus service can provide just the help we need to get 1700m of descending for only 700m of up.


There's some stunning views of the Rhone valleys. Apparently.

The Col des Planches area is new to me but Oli and Jarno have ridden there (and quite a few other places) plenty so there was none of the route finding stress I normally associate with riding somewhere new. Perhaps there’s something to be said for riding with a guide and bike holiday organiser in the crew.

There’s also a lot to be said for riding with a photographer in the crew, however the batteries died in Tom’s camera (possibly due to the several hundred artistic shots of “roof-rack mounted bike shadow on assorted roadside surfaces” on the drive over) and for most of the downs we were moving too fast and enjoying the flow too much to be having with any of that stopping for just push-up-one-more-time malarky, so don’t expect many insta-bangers the day.


Enough of the scene setting. We’ve driven over to Martigny, taken the road up towards the Col des Planches, and parked the car at the village of Chemin Dessus (yes, that is the name of the village). A relaxed pedal up the hill later and we have to make the first choice of the day. A longer ride, with more climbing, to get two big descents or a shorter climb for a shorter descent to start, then a much bigger descent for main course. With the cloud settling in around us and the forecast for heavy rain early in the afternoon we went with the shorter day.

Looks a bit muddy, but it wasn't.

Said short climb through the mist done, we were ready to drop into Sentier des Mines. It’s called Sentier des Mines because it’s the path to the mines. The mines that you can still wander about inside (we’re not in the EU anymore Dorothy, them thar Belgian bureaucrats canny stop us getting killed in an abandoned mine now….) for quite some distance, though bringing a torch would be a good idea.

Mines. Better with more equipment than an i-phone app and a camera flash.

Fun as the dietrus of the industrial age is, the trail down was lots more interesting, and made even more interesting by the 4 up race to the end of the trail. The only thing better than trying to overtake 2 riders in one move is trying to overtake 3 with one move.

Sentier des Mines done we headed back up the same tarmac for the main line of the day, 950m descent from the junction of Route du Planard and Route du Col des Planches.

The ellusive mid crash photo. Tom en route to a sliced elbow.

Jarno and Oli were warning that there’s a couple of tricky hairpins near the start. They weren’t joking! Tight and steep is not too bad, but when you add exposed into the mix it’s all a bit more interesting. Oli got the only clean descent of the 3 of us, but Tom won most dramatic when he celebrated surviving the hairpins by clipping the side of the trail on the last narrow bit and firing him and bike off down the scree. He received a good sized slice through his elbow as a prize, and the first aid kits got raided to stick him back together again.

Stoppie turns for the win!

That was the last of the drama, and pretty much the last of the photos, as from here down the trail was just fast and swooping singletrack through a mix of alpine style trees and Mediterranean coast style brush. All grand fun if eyewateringly quick in places.

Any takers? I'll hold the camera.

Then, as there’s the unbreakable rules of physics to contend with, what went up finished coming down and we cruised back along the valley floor to the Martigny amphitheatre to watch the lions eat the Christians whilst we munched our sandwiches.

Fittingly some roadies arrived and sat down on the other side to do the same, so obviously a gladiatorial duel ensued. 6.9kg road bikes are nae match for our enduro gnar and no sooner had we bludgeoned them to death than we got the emperors thumbs up and headed off to 21st century Martigny for a coffee whilst waiting for the bus to get us back up to the car. Tae be fair, dropping the 5.60chf plus 1/2 fare for the bike would be the better way of making our way up the hill, but the bus timetable is a little limited, so bus at the end of the ride it was.

Hail bikers.

As we headed back to the shining bright lights of the EU we got stopped at the border, which reminded me, have you ever seen the length of the queue for the Non-EU citizens passport booth at border control? This referendum shouldn’t be about the economy or if you don’t want to share your island with other folks, no, just think of your holidays people.

Light at the end of the tunnel/oncoming train.

Please, please, please don’t vote leave! but if that’s the majority choice from the public, then out the EU we go. At least it will be the common will and so the UK should go forward looking to see what it can do for the world rather than what the world can do for it irrespective of the outcome. For your random non-bike lesson of the day however……consider Socrates.

The Socrates who accepted his (wrongful) execution by the state, even though he had plenty chance to escape, on the grounds that it was prescribed by democracy and therefore was right***. Even if it was wrong. That’s the Socrates who tried to prove the oracle at Delphi’s proclamation that he was the wisest of all was wrong as he considered himself to posses no wisdom. He questioned all the wisest members of Athens society and found them to think themselves wise, but there was more they didn’t know than they did. He knew he didn’t know very much which paradoxically meant he was wiser. And a bit of smart arse too, so aforementioned Athens high heidyins, who were a bit fed up now of being made to look foolish, sent him to trial. You can guess how it went from there, but if you want more, try looking on the internet.

*Not actually today, it was the 8th, but that doesn’t scan quite as well.

***Yeah, I know, the scholarly jury is still out on this interpretation but it’s fairly well accepted and fits my analogy well.

Apologies to the majority of readers who ain’t from the UK and are just looking on in bemusement at Brexit.

Useful things guides. Tom gets patched up.

Finale Ligure is waiting for you

Finale Ligure. We still like to be beside the seaside.

“Finale Ligure is waiting for you” reads the tagline on the trail map. Which does kinda imply the next sentences are “Outside the school gates 4 o’clock. Finale’s gonnay pure batter you.” showing the problem of speaking second languages and context (ever flown from Prestwick airport).

Once again the original purpose of this blog, to give mtb trail information for Chamonix, is getting ignored and we’re off on holiday to Finale Ligure where there’s plenty of sunshine, absolutely no snow and it’s not Chamonix.

Dust and limestone. We're not in Kansas/Chamonix now Toto/Spence.

We weren’t the only ones, ascension weekend holiday meant a 90mins queue to get through the mont blanc tunnel and enough familiar faces from here, there, that chamonixbikeblog maybe is a valid title still.

It also meant that our plan A of getting some uplift in was scuppered by several thousand teutonic bergfahradders (languages have never been a strong point of mine but I hide it well) getting there first. Fortunately the friendly folks at Evolve managed to squeeze us into a van up to Din, meaning we only had to do about 2500m of climbing on tarmac roads over the 3 days riding.

Quintessential Finale trails. i.e. fractionally tighter than you'd like and peppered with mech destroying rocks.

Accommodation was in short supply too, however we’d been offered space in an apartment rented by several ex Chamonix Irish lads. Accommodation is always a bit of a lucky dip down in Finale. Airbnb has all sorts of weird and wonderful choices but you never really know what you’re going to get until you walk through the close door.

What lies behind the green door? A bloody massive flat, that's what!

Andy certainly lucked out on this one. Walking though the close door, a massive green barn gate just 50m from the main square, the hallway stretched out infront and past the series of marble busts into a never ending staircase lit from the side like all the best mafia films. Efficient use of space never gets priority when you’ve briefed the architect for full ostentatious, so the theme of big rooms continued all the way through. The apartment might have been for nine in Finale, but drop that place in ChamSud and you could rent it to a couple dozen Swedish ski bums nae bother.

Home sweet home. For a few days at least.

Finding the best trails in Finale is easy. Ride up to the top of a hill, look for a trail dropping into the woods, follow it and you’ve just found the best trail.

Of course, it might not be the best trail for you, but someone out there will like it.

This was my best trail, and I really liked it. Isallo Extasy.

With only one lift up a hill available for us, we were pedalling up the tarmac a lot, and when it’s your own power getting you up the hill you generally want the trail down to be best for you. Trying some of Spence and my favourites from trips past didn’t completely work as trails like DH Donne and San Michele have a had a fair old kicking over the last couple years and now have more resemblance to a gravel quarry than the tracks they once were.

Still better than most mind.

DH Donne. When I wert lad, twas just loam and trees here. Loam and trees.

The other issue was the ever so slightly unreliable nature of my memory as once you’ve been to a few thousand trail heads they all kinda, sorta, look a bit the same. So we didn’t always hit the trail we were aiming for but it didn’t matter as frequently what we ended up on turned out to be better anyway.

To infinity....and barhump! (it's only now I realise just how clever the pixar scriptwriters are)

As good as riding trails you love again and again is, I can’t get enough of finding a new favourite trail and fleeing down it for the first time not knowing what it’s got for you next. The highlight of the trip was getting in the Evolve shuttle bus on Saturday morning with a group of German and Swiss riders, getting asked “NATO or Din?” and them saying Din. So we went to Din and worked it out.

Spence near the top Isallo Extasy. Din good riding. See what I did there?

This wasn’t as blind as it sounds, Andy had ridden up near Din before and raved about the trail Isallo Extasy, so we pedalled about for a while until we found the spot and dropped in. The trail had been destroyed by forestry work about a year ago, but one inspired local had spent 8 months refurbishing and perfecting the trail. There probably is a better way to descend 800m, but I’m struggling to think of a more complete trail.

Yet more Din descent.

The rest of the ride back to Finale didn’t drop the quality either. A 330m climb up the road from Magliolo was going to drop us into the cancelled stage 1 from the 2015 EWS, the (THE) trail of the race and almost everyone’s favourite from practice. Alas I got a bit lost at the trail head but what we ended up on, Kill Bill I think, was every bit as good. Possibly better for me as I had no idea where I was going.

A quick stop for coffee in Calice Ligure and another 300m tarmac climb got us to one of the 2014 EWS highlights, Neandertal. Fortunately Spence had ridden here before so we managed to ride the right way down a trail just as good as we remembered (though not before I clocked another trail I could get lost on…) followed by a happy cruise down the road to the coast and gelato.

Gelato. Lorne approves.

Gelato, coffee, pizza, aperitivo. would Finale be what it is without these things? The main square was almost as busy as race weekends with bikers “rehydrating”.

Spence perhaps not quite getting the right end of the stick.

The last trail of a trip is a tricky one, it’s going to be the last memory of the holiday so it better be good….do you finish on a well kent classic or take a gamble on something new? We gambled and for the last bit of pedalling headed back up to the Rocca Carpanca to try the Pino Morto trail I’d spotted the day before.

This is no where near the best bit of Pino Morto, but once going you ain't stopping just for photos.

It took about 25m to know we’d made the right choice. It’s not the best trail ever, but for simple dumb enjoyment it’s hard to beat. Fast and loose with catch berms and little kickers in all the right places to keep speeds high, you just kept dropping and rolling through rock gardens, bobsleigh sections and whoops. Whoever built it found the perfect formula to make you feel like a way better rider than you are. Three well excited kids skidded out the end of the trail into the dust, the right way to end the trip.

Lorne back on the Isallo Extasy trail. Always try to end the post on a good shot...

Turns out we only got the slightest kicking fae Finale, which is good. The bikes got rather more with some impressive creaks coming from all manner of parts by the end, but still, no crashes and only 1 puncture between us would suggest Finale would never be much good at being school bully.

Three men search for the answer, which is the best trail? I said it was a big apartment didn't I.

A load of shout outs here for the trip, to the assorted German, Swiss and Austrian riders we bumped into who seemed more happy and excited to be where they were than I thought possible and also had the organisational skills to bring GPS units to direct a bunch of Scots who were navigating by guesswork, to the folks at Evolve bike shop for sorting out a shuttle when it shouldn’t really have been happening for us but most of all to Andy and the lads for inviting us down to piggy back on their holiday and let us stay in their apartment, hope the rest of your trip was a grand as the start.

Poor sad tree, it's at the start of Pino Morto and Neandertal but it canny go a bike.

Une Tranche de Tarte Française*

Back on the lifts already, lazy wins the day.

Seen A Slice of British Pie yet?

Grand, innit. I’m not completely sure if it’s a good thing or not that the best bit of bike filming I’ve seen in years is so good because it’s emulating edits (or “videos” as we used to call them, what with them generally being actual physical things rather than just interweb) from 15+ years ago, but that’s not really important. It’s mostly grand because it’s a tour of the Uk’s regional accents with some pissing about in the mud thrown in for good measure.

Trees, damp earth, bit of gradient, motocross clothes, #enduro bike, poor photography. All the ingredients you need.

And everyone(ish, probably, maybe, I don’t know) on the internet loves it, so it will dictate MTB fashion for the next year or so at least. Hence, ever keen to get in at the start of the curve, a trip to the French alps version of a muddy British forest. La Saleve.

Mati on a shiny 2016 Banshee Legend and a less shiny Saleve trail.

The carpark was filled with folks 2016 toys. New bikes, new parts, new clothes. Some folk were even getting their new pro-model clothes with their name on it…. Lots of shiny clean stuff ready to get covered in the perma-damp clay of La Saleve, though it turned out not to be too muddy and the waterproofs of the first lap were quickly ditched.

The most useful "new" thing to have on your bike on Saturday. New rubber.

Every time I go to La Saleve I ride some trails I never new existed and Saturday was no different.Helped no end by being with folk who actually knew where they were going.

Pan-shot not friday. Ben is pretty rapid on a bike, fortunately the breeks make him easier to spot in the woods.

Whilst following someone with a rough idea of where the trail goes does help with navigation, some of them thar French riders are kinda fast on slippy, steep, technical trails so you could quickly find yourself going sideways into trouble. Just as I was thinking even Bruni would be struggling to keep pace with me I nailed a perfect 2 wheel drift into tree headbutt.

New helmet tested, no damage done.

"Case or No Case" A new gameshow coming to Saturday night telly soon.....

Alas not everyone was so lucky with crashes, Mati picked a fight with a tree stump and managed to do something fairly unpleasant to his shoulder. After missing most of last summer with a broken collarbone he was pretty gutted but strapped himself together with an innertube and got on with getting off the hill whilst Ben went to find a van and the rest of us cruised back to the carpark and sort the gear.

Crash padding on the trees. Safety first kids.

A shitty end to a great day playing about on bikes. And continuing that theme, as an anticlimactic end to the post, here’s some information. The 10 ride pass is now 46.30euro, you canny swap it between people anymore, but you can take a photo of the QR code and show the lifty your phone instead. It’s like the open university this blog. Informative AND fun.

One of those drops that photo smaller than they are. Nina makes short work of it anyways.

*Just to make everyone absolutely clear, the title in no way implies any relationship between the bike handling skillz in the film and us lot up La Saleve, it’s just a lazy link into something interesting happening now and saves me having to think too much to get the posts up and running.

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.


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’.