Tag Archives: mtb

December blues and the Peak District

It’s December, month of Christmas parties, client entertainment, never-ending lunches and dinners and booze everywhere I look. I haven’t been on my bike for the last two weeks, it’s just not possible. I miss it and I’m looking forward to some Peak District action when I visit my folks in Derbyshire over the Christmas break.

Here’s a sneak peek at what I’m looking forward to: Jacob’s Ladder, one of my favourite Peak District descents. I don’t know the rider or the guys who filmed him, but watching it made me want to jump in the car and get myself up north post haste!

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All weather Afan

I spent last weekend in the Afan Valley, a regular haunt of mine for mountain biking weekends out of London, being as it is the closest of the really good all-mountain style trail centres in the UK.

According to mountainbikingWales, their trails are all weather. And it can’t have escaped anyone’s notice that last weekend’s weather was fairly extreme. A great chance to test out their claim!

So after arriving on Friday night in a howling gale, spending the night listening to the cabin we were staying in creak and bellow as the wind smashed up against it, and then peering through the rain-lashed window the next day wondering what we were up against, we finally got ourselves kitted out for the adventure: cycling shorts, tights, baggies, base layer, jersey, waterproof: ready to go!

Rich and Boots

Boots and Cheetham

We were woefully under-kitted. I don’t know whether there is ANY kit out there that would have kept us dry, but within half an hour the rain had penetrated every bit of clothing: we were all wet through and freezing cold. The only way to stay warm was to keep on going and hope that the heat generated by exertion would outweigh the cold. It did.

And the trails were perfectly ridable. In fact, with very few other people stupid enough to be out, the trails were very quiet – we had the mountain to ourselves. And the weather changed the complexion of trails we all know very well – broken branches, a thick layer of pine needles, heavy, gusting winds and lots of running and standing water makes for a different – if still very ridable – experience.

So – don’t avoid winter riding just because it’s cold – get out there and experience the ‘all weather’ trail!

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Metabief and the Jura part 2: The VTT

I thought I should write an addendum to my previous post that adds a little explanation and may be useful to anyone planning a mountain biking trip to France.

From the summit at the Metabief bike park

All of the off-road cycling we did in France was part of the VTT, or ‘le Vélo Tout Terrain’. The official website is in French, and I can’t find much else on the web about it in English, but as far as I can tell, the VTT are a network of waymarked offroad trails all over France. But to put that into perspective, they’re not like the purpose-built, all-weather trails in Wales, the 7 Stanes up in Scotland, or the North Face in Grizedale. These are more like the kind of trails we’d get if the UK government decided to take some of the killer loops and enduros that mountain bikers create for themselves with OS maps and trial and error, waymark them, and produce route maps for each one.

As a result, the trails are a real mixed bag – different lengths, different terrain, different amounts of climbing. They’re graded black through to green in the same way as the UK purpose-built trails, but they tend to be graded on length rather than technical difficulty. As a result, one can sometimes spend hours hacking around through fields, doing some pretty tough techy climbing, only to lose all of the hard-won altitude gained on fairly boring forest road decents. They are also most definitely not all-weather: some of the stuff we did in the Jura was the day after some heavy rain and the combination of clay and limestone made for some slippery riding. But none of this is hugely different to riding ‘natural’ trails in the UK – they’re just waymarked so you spend less time fiddling with maps and working out where you are.

Theoretically.

There is a bit of an issue in the fact that the waymarking is a little bit random. Somtimes it’s not obvious which direction a waymarker is pointing, or the waymarkers seem to dissappear at a crucial moment so it’s easy to take a wrong turn. You can get a map from a local tourist office (more on this later) which is crucial for helping you work out where you went wrong.  I wouldn’t attempt to follow one of the VTT trails without a route map. There is also seems to be a lack of signing convention – straight on could be an arrow pointing up, or one pointing right (from the left of the trail) or one pointing left (from the right hand side of the trail). The waymarkers also only appear at the exact point where you’re required to change direction, without any warning, which results in a lot of skidding to a halt as you notice a waymarker out of the corner of your eye on a descent.

My only other gripe is about the bizarre way information about the VTT is distributed. To get hold of a VTT route map, you have to find the nearest tourist info office, then ask them for the VTT map of the local area. Sometimes this is free (as in the Val de Morteau, tourist office Morteau) and sometimes there is a small charge (as at the Monts d’Arlier, tourist office Pontarlier, 3 Euros), but it seems impossible to get a VTT route map without visiting the local tourist office in person. This makes it very difficult to plan a holiday. There seems to be a screaming opportunity to create something similar to the MB Wales site which pulls all of the information together including locations, downloadable trail maps, trail grading, climbing figures, accommodation information, news and even and some social tools like a picture and video gallery for users to upload their own content to, and a blog.

Having said all of that, I think the VTT is brilliant – it’s great that there are so many miles of trails (there are 147 sites and over 52,000 kilometers of waymarked trails), and that you can pretty much find somewhere to ride anywhere in France. I just wish it was easier to get the information!

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Metabief and the Jura

Very brief post as I’m in a hotel room in the Jura using an iPhone and free wifi. Headed over to Metabief yesterday to hit the VTT flagship bikepark there. Awesome day – I can’t stress enough how much fun it was to get a ski lift to the summit rather than ride up. Some of the routes through the forest where virtually unridable though, as there had been some heavy rain and they weren’t drained effectively – they were all mud and slippery limestone. But the ‘permanent’ route down the mountain -just over 4km of fast, looping, open-air singletrack with jumps, tabletops, berms and some nice twisty technical sections through tree cover – really made up for it. Loads of people there, all armoured up and on big bouncy downhill rigs. All the fun of the fair.

Day before Metabief we rode a 30k VTT red route in the Val de Morteau, which was a bit disappointing, lots of fireroad climbs and hacking across open fields without much in the way of rewarding decents. Good workout though.

Off to ride the Monts D’Arlier today, more VTT action. Hopefully more decent decents than the Val de Morteau.

So far though, loving the Jura for a spot of holiday mountain biking.

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La France

I’m about to drive to France equipped with a map, a tent and a mountain bike. Planning to hit the GTJ in the Jura Mountains, and some stuff around La Foret du Morvan.

I’ll hopefully come back armed with a load of pictures and some reviews. Might even post while I’m out there if I find a web cafe.

Au revoir, etc.

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Get pickled

I was in the pub the other night. Get used to that as an opening sentance on this blog, it’s going to happen a lot. Anyway. So. I was in the pub the other night, and a friend asked me: ‘what’s the point of Twitter’.

Good one.

So I had a think and rather than start blathering on about social media this and buzzword that I gave her an example, and it was this:

I do a wee bit of mountain biking, and an oft-used abbreviation for mountain bikes is ‘mtb’. When I was up in Scotland a couple of weeks ago riding some of the brilliant 7 Stanes trails I started tweeting about what I was up to and adding the hash tag ‘mtb’ so that other twitterers would be able to find my posts if they were interested in mountain biking. I also did a quick search for #mtb myself and as a result started following a couple of interesting people, including @teampickle, @bikerumor and @LostSociety.  Team Pickle especially have been really useful, they’ve already introduced me to a couple of new areas to ride that I didn’t know existed – including Lee Quarry Mountain Bike Centre, which I intend to ride very soon. I’ve also discovered Team Pickle’s blog, which I’m a big fan of – check it out if you need a bit of inspiration to get out and ride.

new-bigger-team-pickle-logo

So to go back to my friend’s question, the point of Twitter, quite simply, is to share information – and that information can be as frivolous, as geeky or as useful as you want it to be. Guaranteed, there’s someone else out there tweeting about something that matches your interests, and your life could get a teeny bit better as a result of what you learn.

The information Twitter delivers is also stuff you wouldn’t necessarily get to via Google. A Google search for mtb is clogged up with lots of official resource sites and commercial organisations – I got to page 5 and Team Pickle’s blog still hadn’t appeared. And yet, from a generic search term like ‘mtb’, the information I got from Team PIckle (via Twitter) was extremely relevant to me – potentially more so than the Google stuff.

So, Twitter = information delivered in an alternative way to Google. Not a great revelation to anyone I’m sure, but it’s always nice to clarify things for myself, especially when I’m in a pub.

And I hope everyone checks out Team Pickle. Go on, they look like nice folks!

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