Kendal Mountain Festival

Really looking forward to this night that I’m hosting. I’ll be introducing and chatting to legendary mountain bike film maker Clay Porter. I’l also have some freebies to give out. See you there.

Click here to see the programme for Bike Night at Kendal Mountain Festival.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greek Rock 2

I’m really looking forward to going back to Greece in November to run more mountain bike skills courses. The riding over there is really good and has a great variety. In fact it’s a bit of a hidden gem and I think we’ll be seeing it as a more popular biking destination in the not too distant future. There is a lot more to Greece than we have been seeing on TV lately. The people are so friendly and welcoming and as you probably know the food there is second to none.

Here’s a video made by Blues Boy Chris from my last visit.

Great Rock Gift Vouchers

You can now buy a gift of a Great Rock skills day for your loved one or best pal. Vouchers are printed in postcard form so that you have something to hand over for the special occasion. £70 will get a place on one of the open group days or you can go mental and give a gift of a one to one skills day for £210 (weekdays). Vouchers don’t have to be redeemed straight away. The happy recipient can take their time to choose the date and course that is just right for them.

If you’re a tight wad just get one for a tenner and the lucky recipient can make up the rest. Maybe you have a mate who spends most of the ride falling off? Do the right thing and give them a £35 voucher and tell them not to come back until they’re skilled up.

You do love them and want them to be happy right?

Email Great Rock for details of how to buy a voucher.

 

 

My Take on the Trans Provence

Alpine Dawn

“I’m off to work for 7 days in France on the Trans Provence stage race,” I told my wife. “So you’re going on a biking holiday?” was the reply. I tried to explain that I had been running skills days for some of the competitors and that the trip was a fact finding mission, to help me plan further collaboration with the race organisers for 2012. She was having none of this though. It’s hard to present the concept of riding a bike for 7 days, over 300km of amazing wild singletrack trails, with 15,000 metres of vertical descending, which ends on the beach in Monaco, as anything but a bloody good time.

Lifestyle Shot

The Trans Provence is a mobile village. 58 competitors, supported by a team of drivers, cooks, fixers, tent pitchers and guides. There is a camp team, not in the Lionel Blair sense, but rather a group of people who every day, put up and take down all the tents in an event village. There is a kitchen team who produce and serve delicious food morning, noon and night. And there are organisers, organising stuff, all the time.

Come to Me

I was working alongside Jenn, Dom and Rich as a member of the ‘mountain team’. We got up bloody early every morning. Our reward, and it was one of the best parts of the event for me, was to see the sun rising most days, as we set off on our bikes in the mountains. Every day we would ride out an hour or two ahead of the racers to pre-ride the day’s route. We would check the signage, adding any extra signs as needed, and then each of us would be responsible for managing the start and finish of a special race stage for the day. When all the racers had come through a stage, we would then sweep, adding encouragement to the weary, bodging up mechanicals and stuffing the broken with sweets. The job involved riding most of the route, but without having to redline the stages like the competitors. Instead we could ride the trails, and have plenty of time to stop and high five and perform knuckle taps, whilst catching our breath before scooting off down the next bit of awesomeness. Trans Provence are also running the route as a guided trip rather than a race and I can vouch that this will be a great.

Mountain team setting a start balise

We usually encountered moments of drama each day and often from the same characters. Joost Van Mechelen was always the first guy through our stages. Man did he like to blast up the fire roads and linking stages, almost as if he was wanting to catch us up before we’d set the timing. At least he kept us pedalling hard. We were constantly aware that somewhere out there, we were being hunted down by the Joost. His arrival was always happy and he would whoop and grab his dick to show that he was having a nice time.

You can always rely on the journos to be ‘high drama’ and Dirt Magazine’s Steve Jones and Vital MTB’s Sven Martin didn’t disappoint. You could usually hear Steve swearing before catching sight of him. He’d come pinning it down the trail with full commitment, hurling abuse about the signage and swearing like a Welsh Father Jack. As soon as he was checking in at the finish line, he’d be thanking me for doing my job and saying sorry for the language! A genuinely good guy and very good value.

Representing for Yorkshire

We each carried a timing ‘balise’ and were responsible for getting the racers to press their ‘chip’ onto this phone sized device to record their times at the finish of each special stage. Essentially this meant that you would be standing in a fixed position as the highly charged, adrenaline and testosterone high competitors came sprinting at you to clock in. Some of them were very cool and would show amazing braking control and inner composure as they stopped with precision and grace  to clock in with efficiency. Not Sven Martin though! He’s a big lad who can ride a bike really well. He rode fast and was hard on himself for any mistakes he made on the stages. Sven would explode onto the finish line, grappling wildly trying to get his chip onto the balise. This would usually lose him a whole hundreth of a second and he once even lost maybe half a second as he accidentally knocked the balise out of my hard. Then he would complain about the lack of signs on the trail and explain how he had got lost and had to spend five minutes with the map out, only for us to sometimes find out later that he had won the stage. He did chill out eventually and even gave me a manly cuddle in the spirit of reconciliation. I have to say my day was made much more entertaining with all the fuss. Nice one Sven.

At the other end of the scale, Iain Matthews (one of the ‘not famous’ people) would come into the finish in a very good time, dressed in Lycra shorts, with his seat post at full height, with no knee pads or peak on his helmet. At the end of the hardest of all the stages, which I’d actually describe as ‘death tech’, he rolled in and calmly uttered with Bond like understatement, “that was a touch technical”. He then clipped back in and sprinted off up an unrideable climb. Pro racer, Mark Weir’s priceless words at the end of this most demanding stage were, “that was above my pay grade dude!”

'Grey Earth' Special Stage

You’ve probably seen the excellent videos from Matt Letch and his team from the event and heard some of the hype. It’s all true. This really is an epic event and I don’t use that word lightly. The trails were sick, rad, gnarly, awesome or really fucking good, depending on your country of origin. Plenty of flow, with turn after sensual turn. In fact some it was just greedy. I mean, after 10 minutes of the best trail ever, you think ,”this must end” but instead it just keeps on going for another 10 minutes of  bike heaven. The trails are all natural and all set against an amazing back drop of mountain views. Sometimes in fact the view was over a vertiginous edge and it was best not to look. Making a wrong move here would as Rowan Sorrel described it, “put you in a coffin.” It’s beyond imagination that this race could happen in the UK, and definitely the US, with all the fear and red tape that comes with fun stuff. Rather than just “All Mountain”, Chris Porter, the boss of Fox importers Mojo, and a competitor in the race, described the riding as, “All or Nothing Mountain”. I’d have to agree.

If you like switchbacks then it was heaven. If you weren’t very good at riding them, by the end, you had had so much practice that you couldn’t help but improve. Watching the French Pros like Nico Vouilloz, Fabien Barel and race winner Jerome Clementz was a real treat. This is their terrain and I’ll try and explain how they went round the switchbacks. Feet up, clipped in and drifting was one technique they have dialled. The other way, and it was beautiful to behold, was when they would come in fast, unweight the rear and roll the first part of the turn on the front wheel. Then with no break in rhythm or pace, they would come off the brakes, transfer the weight to the rear of the bike and fire out of the turn. It was switchback porn and I loved watching it.

An event like this brings out the resourcefulness in one’s character. After a spirited ride down the spectacular and technical Col des Champs, I battered my rear mech to pieces. Bodging and the help of my mountain team comrades kept me riding, but at the end of the day, my bike was in reality a bit broken. On the same day Ben Cruz, who was up there at the very front of the race, crashed and bust up his ankle. As we were all having beers in a bar I got to chatting to Ben, as he waited for the emergency services to take him off to hospital. I had spotted that he was running 10 speed Shimano XT on his bike. “You won’t be needing that mech on your bike now will you mate?” I asked brazenly, to which he replied, “take it dude, it’s yours.” What a gentleman he is and what a shining example of the spirit of the event. I suppose you could say I’m a bloody chancer, but hey, I had a job to do and I was born cheeky and born in Yorkshire. That night I stripped the mech and chain off his lovely Cannondale Jeckyl and was rolling again for the morning.

Another bloody sunrise in the mountains

Riding bikes and sleeping in the mountains for a week was a real treat. This was brought home to us when we arrived in Monaco, which is all fake boobs and poodles. Quite a contrast to the wild beauty which had been our world. Jumping in the warm, clear water of the Mediterranean was a treat though, especially after a giddy ride down a cheeky trail with massive steps, into the heart of the tax haven. This last ride was a bit like being back home in Hebden Bridge, except that it was warm, the trails were dry and the water is warmer than the Calder and Hebble Canal.

In your best French accent, shout out the following sentence with great exuberance, “This is what fucking ‘montain’ biking is all about!” I think this is probably the best one line description of the Trans Provence and often we would hear it coming from Fabien Barel, as he’d cross the finish line. He was loving it, and I can’t help but keep using his line now that I’m back home, every time that there is a great moment on a ride.

Monaco is a bit like Rochdale

 

 

Alpkit Big Shakeout

I’ve just spent the weekend working and enjoying myself at the 1st Alpkit Big Shakeout. It was an ‘outdoor people’ festival, with camping, fire, films, guest speakers, music and beer as well as there being lots of activities to try out during the daytime. I was guiding mountain bike rides out in the White Peak as well as adding in some bike skills advice along the way. The riding was a good mix of single track, fast descents, steady climbs and all with some great views as backdrop including the magnificence of Chatsworth House. We even managed to get a cafe stop in at the Chatsworth Farm Shop, which really is foodie heaven. I enjoyed the timing of the festival as it came after a very busy summer period for me. It’s great to have a celebration like this in the autumn and it was grand to meet up with friends as well as meeting new folk who enjoy different outdoor activities. I hope to be back there again next year.

Gravity Dropper

Up

The adjustable or ‘upy downy’ seat post is a must have component for the mountain bike. You might not think this is true if you don’t have one, but once tried you will not want to go back to the dark ages of manual seat height adjustment. Like a knight closing his visor before going into battle, the contemporary mountain biker flicks the switch, drops the post and gets the shred on….

I’ve tried and broken quite a few upy downy posts. The Gravity Dropper is the best one I’ve used so far and after nearly a year of use it has not broken. Its beauty is in its simplicity. There is no air or oil, and therefore no seals to leak. The Gravity Dropper is mechanical. A magnet controlled by a cable, pushes in and retracts a pin to fix the seat in the up or down position and a spring allows the post to extend. It really is that simple. You soon get the hang of clicking the switch and using a bit of bum pressure on the seat to activate the mechanism for up or down.

Some people think that this same simplicity makes the Dropper ugly. It makes a loud clicking noise when the magnet moves the pin which some think sounds clunky. I find it a rather reassuring sound and along with my Hope hubs it helps announce my arrival. Similarly the rubber gaitor and externally mounted magnet housing do look a little quirky, but I think they add a sort of vintage custom motorcycle chic.

Down

Maintenance wise, all I’ve done is clean and re-grease the post a couple of times when the action has become slower and gritty sounding. It’s a simple job which needs no special tools. I also had to clean out the bar mounted lever as grit lodged in there was preventing the cable from activating the magnet. There is a little lateral play in the post, as with all the adjustable posts on the market, but it’s not noticeable whist riding. While over in the alps recently working on the Trans Provence stage race, I met a crazy French goat of a man called Fred, the sweeper for the race, who does big alpine mileages. He’s been running a Gravity Dropper for 6 years with nothing more than occasional maintenance and he gave the post a big thumbs up along with various other positive gallic gestures.

Switch

The Gravity Dropper tested retails for £229.99. It’s the Gravity Dropper Classic Standard, with 4 inches of drop, which means the seat is either all the way up or all the way down. There is a Multi version which can be set at two different heights. There are also 3 inch and 5 inch drop versions. Mine is the 4 inch drop. I wouldn’t want any less than than, but also couldn’t fit the 5 inch drop version with my frame and stumpy little legs. All in all then lots of useful options.

Gravity Droppers come in 27.2mm and 30.9mm sizes and can be adapted to any seat tube size by the use of shims. The post I have been testing is 27.2mm shimmed out to 31.6mm.

You can check out all the options and see the comprehensive range of spare parts that are available to keep you dropping here on the Hotlines (UK distributor) website.

Ed Oxley