Interview: Frank Stacy, Bontrager’s Rubber Wizard

Frank Stacy’s life is an exercise in traction. A tyre engineer and designer, Frank has spent years defining that perfect balance we take for granted when we roll our treads out onto the dirt. During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Frank took some time out from field-testing to explain to us the challenges, processes and black arts of tyre design and construction. Here’s what he had to say.

 

The evolution of a tyre designer

I grew up in the motorcycle industry. My family owned a motorcycle dealership near Buffalo, New York and we all practised and raced together. Dad had an amazing work ethic and he was a top local racer. He taught me so much about the business, about motorcycle mechanics and how the smallest of changes to the bike, such as tyre pressure, tread pattern or suspension can add up to big gains on the race track. I’ve never forgotten this and I continue to emphasise this to the young riders I work with today: Pay attention to the little things. Small differences, they add up in the end.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview2
Frank Stacy and Emily Batty. Beauty and the Rubber Beast. No second guesses who’s who…

I raced motorcycles as a professional from age 18 to 28 when, in 1981, Dunlop Tire Corp hired me as their lead test rider. They sent me around the world to work with incredible groups of tyre engineers and test riders to learn the art of tread design, casing structure, rubber compounding, tyre manufacturing and tyre testing.

In early 1995 my wife Carol and I started our own company, Stacy Testing and Tire Specialist Inc. Later that year Specialized Bicycle Components approached me about designing and developing its complete tyre line for the US and the world. I worked with Specialized until June 2010 – after 15 years, I was eager to grow and focus on the latest technology and innovation in the bicycle tyre industry. I received a call from the tyre management team at Trek Bontrager. I met with them and after one meeting they had convinced me they were eager to improve, and that they would provide the backing needed to build the Bontrager tyre line to be a leading brand. So in July 2010 I signed on to be Bontrager’s director of Tire and Rubber Technology.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview3
Seeing Aaron Gwin on top of the downhill world riding Bontrager rubber must’ve been one hell of a feeling for Frank and Carol Stacy.

My hands-on experience in motorcycles has given me an advantage in what I bring to the bicycle tyre industry. I’ve always felt that off-road motorcycle tyres have a lot of cross-over to mountain bike tyres. For example, the tread pattern ‘land-to-sea’ ratio, the casing structure and the rubber compound are all key points. Where there is a big difference is weight and rolling resistance. These two areas are low priority on a motorcycle tyre because a motorbike has power to spare, but with bicycles it’s very different. Also, pinch flats on motorcycle tyres are almost non-existent, but they’re a huge factor for mountain bike tyres.

On working with Bontrager

Working with Bontrager now on its tyre program has been a very positive experience and I feel like we’ve made some great changes. The thing that surprised me the most when I came to Bontrager was that some of its factory mountain bike race teams were racing on other brands of tyres. This blew me away. First on my list was to prove to those teams that with their help and the right people behind the tyre program, we can make winning tyres. After one year of designing treads, casing structures and compounds, and tons of work, we now have all the factory mountain bike teams, and several support teams all using Bontrager tyres. We enjoyed huge success over the past two years in cross country, enduro and downhill. Seeing Aaron Gwin on the podium at the Downhill World Cups, arguably the best proving ground for mountain bike tyres, was definitely a good feeling.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview9

Proving the product at the highest levels is our top priority at Trek Bontrager. I’ve always been a believer in field-testing, and to me, results at the top tier of racing are a true indicator of tyre performance.

Having said that, there’s a huge development process that leads to a tyre being raced on that kind of stage, a mixture of both lab testing and rider feedback. I’ve always believed you have to understand the tyre’s intended application before you even begin. For example, for cross country, fast rolling and lightweight are a priority, traction a close second, with handling and wear in third. For downhill tyres, traction is way out front in priority, handling is second, weight is third and wear is a distant fourth. Once you have your priorities, you can begin to decide what the tread should look like and what materials are used for casing and compound spec.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview11

Designing rubber compounding is an art. There are four main properties in rubber compounds: polymer (rubber can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both), carbon black (which affects the tyre’s durability, hardness and traction level, and makes the rubber black), oils (which alters traction and hardness) and fillers (basically to protect against cracking, ozone and those types of things). I’m not a chemist but I have many years of designing the basic formula for rubber compounds to learn which part of the formula affects what. I determine the basic formula by analysing competitors’ compounds through field-testing and laboratory research. Across the Bontrager tyre range we use around eight different compounds, some of which are proprietary to Trek Bontrager.

The best proving grounds

In terms of the actual testing, we focus on four main elements in the lab: rolling resistance, puncture and cut resistance, compound analysis and wet/dry traction. For some of our lab testing we engage a third party, based in Finland, too. The testing in the field is where my passion lies – I’m very hands-on with my testing programs. I monitor everything from the fitting of the tyres to tyre pressures, and I watch the tyres with my own eyes, on various areas of the course, and I collect data from the riders firsthand.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview15

The first thing I tell the test riders is, go out and learn your lines and set the bike up how you want it. Once you’ve done this, the only change we’ll make is to the tyres under you. Be consistent with each set of tyres: hit the same lines and do your best to carry the same amount of speed everywhere. If you mess up, throw that lap away and start over. I don’t need lap records, it’s most important to be consistent and pay attention to the small differences.

I’ve worked with several of the best riders in the world, motorcycle and bicycle. I’ve learned that just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they will be a good test rider. It takes a certain feel to be a good test rider, and only a small percentage of racers have it. Over time it’s rewarding to see their education in tyre-testing develop and grow, and to ultimately choose the right tyre for the right conditions to race and win.

My wife Carol comes along to the tyre tests and takes photos. That gives us the ability to review the terrain and the surfaces after the test, and to compare with other tests we’ve completed. Additionally, Carol’s photos go with my test reports so the Trek staff can get a better visual of our test without being there.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview14

It’s undeniable that tyres have come a long way in the past 15 or so years. Just take a look at tubeless-ready technology for an example. Tubeless didn’t start out so good because too many companies rushed it to market before they understand the application. Now, however, even the weekend rider can set his or her tyres up tubeless and enjoy the benefits. Having said that, tubeless technology for downhill is one area where there’s room for considerable improvement. There are a few top brands testing downhill tubeless and this drives technology, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for cross country, trail or even road tubeless. Motocross tyres are still tube type – I worked on a motocross tubeless project for Dunlop Tires back in the mid 80s. Even though we won races with it, it had too many teething problems so it never went to production. But I’m pretty confident that, with Trek Bontrager design, technology and resources, we’re going to get it right, so stay tuned.

I’ve always said if you’re in it to be the best, you never down tools with design, development or testing – we’ve just scratched the surface of where tyres can go. I’m constantly searching for the next generation rubber compound, casing material and tread design… There’s always lots more to do!

 

Interview: Frank Stacy, Bontrager's Rubber Wizard

Frank Stacy’s life is an exercise in traction. A tyre engineer and designer, Frank has spent years defining that perfect balance we take for granted when we roll our treads out onto the dirt. During his recent visit to the Antipodes, Frank took some time out from field-testing to explain to us the challenges, processes and black arts of tyre design and construction. Here’s what he had to say.

 

The evolution of a tyre designer

I grew up in the motorcycle industry. My family owned a motorcycle dealership near Buffalo, New York and we all practised and raced together. Dad had an amazing work ethic and he was a top local racer. He taught me so much about the business, about motorcycle mechanics and how the smallest of changes to the bike, such as tyre pressure, tread pattern or suspension can add up to big gains on the race track. I’ve never forgotten this and I continue to emphasise this to the young riders I work with today: Pay attention to the little things. Small differences, they add up in the end.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview2
Frank Stacy and Emily Batty. Beauty and the Rubber Beast. No second guesses who’s who…

I raced motorcycles as a professional from age 18 to 28 when, in 1981, Dunlop Tire Corp hired me as their lead test rider. They sent me around the world to work with incredible groups of tyre engineers and test riders to learn the art of tread design, casing structure, rubber compounding, tyre manufacturing and tyre testing.

In early 1995 my wife Carol and I started our own company, Stacy Testing and Tire Specialist Inc. Later that year Specialized Bicycle Components approached me about designing and developing its complete tyre line for the US and the world. I worked with Specialized until June 2010 – after 15 years, I was eager to grow and focus on the latest technology and innovation in the bicycle tyre industry. I received a call from the tyre management team at Trek Bontrager. I met with them and after one meeting they had convinced me they were eager to improve, and that they would provide the backing needed to build the Bontrager tyre line to be a leading brand. So in July 2010 I signed on to be Bontrager’s director of Tire and Rubber Technology.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview3
Seeing Aaron Gwin on top of the downhill world riding Bontrager rubber must’ve been one hell of a feeling for Frank and Carol Stacy.

My hands-on experience in motorcycles has given me an advantage in what I bring to the bicycle tyre industry. I’ve always felt that off-road motorcycle tyres have a lot of cross-over to mountain bike tyres. For example, the tread pattern ‘land-to-sea’ ratio, the casing structure and the rubber compound are all key points. Where there is a big difference is weight and rolling resistance. These two areas are low priority on a motorcycle tyre because a motorbike has power to spare, but with bicycles it’s very different. Also, pinch flats on motorcycle tyres are almost non-existent, but they’re a huge factor for mountain bike tyres.

On working with Bontrager

Working with Bontrager now on its tyre program has been a very positive experience and I feel like we’ve made some great changes. The thing that surprised me the most when I came to Bontrager was that some of its factory mountain bike race teams were racing on other brands of tyres. This blew me away. First on my list was to prove to those teams that with their help and the right people behind the tyre program, we can make winning tyres. After one year of designing treads, casing structures and compounds, and tons of work, we now have all the factory mountain bike teams, and several support teams all using Bontrager tyres. We enjoyed huge success over the past two years in cross country, enduro and downhill. Seeing Aaron Gwin on the podium at the Downhill World Cups, arguably the best proving ground for mountain bike tyres, was definitely a good feeling.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview9

Proving the product at the highest levels is our top priority at Trek Bontrager. I’ve always been a believer in field-testing, and to me, results at the top tier of racing are a true indicator of tyre performance.

Having said that, there’s a huge development process that leads to a tyre being raced on that kind of stage, a mixture of both lab testing and rider feedback. I’ve always believed you have to understand the tyre’s intended application before you even begin. For example, for cross country, fast rolling and lightweight are a priority, traction a close second, with handling and wear in third. For downhill tyres, traction is way out front in priority, handling is second, weight is third and wear is a distant fourth. Once you have your priorities, you can begin to decide what the tread should look like and what materials are used for casing and compound spec.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview11

Designing rubber compounding is an art. There are four main properties in rubber compounds: polymer (rubber can be natural, synthetic or a mixture of both), carbon black (which affects the tyre’s durability, hardness and traction level, and makes the rubber black), oils (which alters traction and hardness) and fillers (basically to protect against cracking, ozone and those types of things). I’m not a chemist but I have many years of designing the basic formula for rubber compounds to learn which part of the formula affects what. I determine the basic formula by analysing competitors’ compounds through field-testing and laboratory research. Across the Bontrager tyre range we use around eight different compounds, some of which are proprietary to Trek Bontrager.

The best proving grounds

In terms of the actual testing, we focus on four main elements in the lab: rolling resistance, puncture and cut resistance, compound analysis and wet/dry traction. For some of our lab testing we engage a third party, based in Finland, too. The testing in the field is where my passion lies – I’m very hands-on with my testing programs. I monitor everything from the fitting of the tyres to tyre pressures, and I watch the tyres with my own eyes, on various areas of the course, and I collect data from the riders firsthand.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview15

The first thing I tell the test riders is, go out and learn your lines and set the bike up how you want it. Once you’ve done this, the only change we’ll make is to the tyres under you. Be consistent with each set of tyres: hit the same lines and do your best to carry the same amount of speed everywhere. If you mess up, throw that lap away and start over. I don’t need lap records, it’s most important to be consistent and pay attention to the small differences.

I’ve worked with several of the best riders in the world, motorcycle and bicycle. I’ve learned that just because someone can go fast doesn’t mean they will be a good test rider. It takes a certain feel to be a good test rider, and only a small percentage of racers have it. Over time it’s rewarding to see their education in tyre-testing develop and grow, and to ultimately choose the right tyre for the right conditions to race and win.

My wife Carol comes along to the tyre tests and takes photos. That gives us the ability to review the terrain and the surfaces after the test, and to compare with other tests we’ve completed. Additionally, Carol’s photos go with my test reports so the Trek staff can get a better visual of our test without being there.

Frank Stacy Bontrager Interview14

It’s undeniable that tyres have come a long way in the past 15 or so years. Just take a look at tubeless-ready technology for an example. Tubeless didn’t start out so good because too many companies rushed it to market before they understand the application. Now, however, even the weekend rider can set his or her tyres up tubeless and enjoy the benefits. Having said that, tubeless technology for downhill is one area where there’s room for considerable improvement. There are a few top brands testing downhill tubeless and this drives technology, but it’s not going to be nearly as easy as it was for cross country, trail or even road tubeless. Motocross tyres are still tube type – I worked on a motocross tubeless project for Dunlop Tires back in the mid 80s. Even though we won races with it, it had too many teething problems so it never went to production. But I’m pretty confident that, with Trek Bontrager design, technology and resources, we’re going to get it right, so stay tuned.

I’ve always said if you’re in it to be the best, you never down tools with design, development or testing – we’ve just scratched the surface of where tyres can go. I’m constantly searching for the next generation rubber compound, casing material and tread design… There’s always lots more to do!

 

Pro Rider Diary: Jared Graves – Enduro World Series #5

Monday

Typical travel day. We flew out from Denver and arrived in Whistler just before dark and with just enough time to go for a mellow cruise with my favorite WAMP (Weird Ass Mountain Person) Joey Schusler on the Lost Lake trails. I really love the trails there, if you’re after some fun turns and some bits that are still technical, Lost Lake are probably the easiest trails Whistler has to offer.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.47.19 AM Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.46.58 AM

Tuesday

Just a fun day in the Park, again out with Joey, he’s one of the most fun guys to go riding with, always laughing and with a smile on his dial. He’s pretty much equal with Richie Rude as far as getting rowdy on the bike goes. On this particular day I couldn’t wait to get up to the Top of the World trail, a track that features all the kinds of riding I love the most. Hands down, Top of the World has the best views of Whistler I’ve ever seen and it’s a fun flowy trail with some altitude to get the lungs going and a good amount of rocks to keep you on your toes. After Top of the World, we rode some other stuff in the park, probably a little too much, but were only in Whistler for six days, so the feeling was that we should make the most of it.

Wednesday

The first day of official training and we were able to ride Stage 5. With it being the longest stage and almost half the total time of the race, I knew it would be where the race was won or lost. I was able to get in two full runs and, despite feeling tired after yesterday, I had encouraging runs. The track was a similar one of the stages last year, so I more or less remembered it. The run was around 23 minutes and featured literally a thousand turns, so learning the whole thing was never going to happen. My goal was just to find my rhythm and remember the few bits that might catch me out.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.46.52 AM

Thursday

Really just nothing to report today as it was exactly the same as yesterday. Perfect weather and two runs of Stage 5, Might have been the same as the day before, but riding in Whistler is always good times.

Friday

Practice for Stages 1 through 4.

Definitely not what I was expecting, but the course covered some awesome trails! Most were definitely not my strong suit with all the super tight and fiddly bits, followed by steep and rough terrain. Overall this event was shaping up to be a real all over physical test. With all the riders on the mountain, the tracks were also getting blown out fast!

I rode all four stages to get an idea of what it would be like on race day. Stages 1 and 2 went from the Top of the World trail as part of the liaison and the timed section for Stage 1 started on the Khyber Pass trail. I’ve heard a lot about this trail and it lived up to its reputation, it’s soooo good! Stage 2 was a weird trail, like nothing id ever ridden before, not quite sure how to explain it. It was very tight and, so, it was easy to run completely off the track into the bushes. In the middle of all this, two extremely short and steep climbs, the sort of ones that send you straight into the red zone. No question, it was going to be tough to have a clean run on Stage 2.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.46.42 AM

After Stage 2 was a long, steep climb up to the beginning of Stage 3. To be honest, I wasn’t very into this stage. Mostly because I know I struggle a little on this type of super tight and fiddly stuff. Some bits were almost like downhill trials and many were definitely a challenge to maintain flow through.

Next it was over an hour of climbing up to the beginning of Stage 4. The uphill was brutally steep and had a few sections that required walking to avoid completely blowing my legs up on. The stage itself was one my favorite trails that I’ve ever ridden, steep and rocky, with constant flowing turns. Riding it fast gave me just such a rewarding feeling. A trail that good almost makes up for an hour of climbing.

Saturday

The day before the race and I was feeling pretty tired. I knew I needed to take it easy or, at least, easier than Friday. The bottom of Stage 4 was very close to our house for the week, so it was an easy pedal over. Riding Stage 4 for a second time made it clear that the trails were badly blown out from all the riders that had been on them. Luckily we got a good idea of what to expect for Sunday’s timed runs. The rapid rate of deterioration of the trails became even more clear in the afternoon when we went up and did Stages 1 and 2 again. The change was complete and they both a completely different trail compared to 30 hours before. After our practice runs it was time for a nice cruise along the road back to the village and then it was feet up and time to relax.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.47.35 AM

Sunday

Race day and my plan was pretty simple: After racing the enduro in Whistler last year and being beyond tired for the final stage (which descends 5500 feet down the mountain over 23 minutes), I knew it would be extremely important save some energy for the final stage, Begin that stage tired and there would only be one result: Massive bleeding of time! I planned to not go too hard in any stage. Sure, I knew I might lose some time, but I would probably be the freshest guy left on the hill for the final stage. With that in mind, I launched into Stage 1.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.47.50 AM

Stage 1

MAN! I need to get better at finding my flow and not riding tight on the first stage of the day. At pretty much every race this year I’ve given up time to Jerome Clementz on Stage 1. Not sure what it is, but I just can’t get into a rhythm early, but as soon as that first stage is out of the way I find my flow. I was still second fastest for the stage, but I was a full nine seconds behind Jerome. I guess that not too much over nine minutes but that guy is just too good at every sort of trail to gift him a nine second head start.

With Stage 1 out of the way I did achieve my main goal for the stage which was to grunt up the SUPER steep climb about two thirds of the way down the hill. I wasn’t able to make it up in practice, I did it when it counted. It was an all out sprint to make it up the grinder and I was already starting to fatigue coming into it, but I just punched it as hard as I could. After the stage, I looked at my Garmin and it showed that I put out 1960 maximum watts while getting up the climb! So much for trying to save energy for later!

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.47.42 AM

Stage 2

I had a pretty good run, and I was happy with it. At the very least, I didn’t throw myself into any trees on the tight bits! A very hard trail to find good flow and pace, especially when it was only the third time I’d ever ridden it. My time was fastest by a comfortable margin at the time I crossed the line, but right behind me Jerome went 1.3 seconds faster. Second for the stage again was a bummer, but I did manage to save a good amount of energy for later in the race.

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.47.05 AM

Stage 3

I was kind of dreading this stage because I didn’t get along with it in practice. I’d only ridden it once, so I decided to put my brain in neutral and just go with it. It actually worked really well, I was a bit slow in a couple parts, but I hit some other sections faster than I should have and managed to get away with it. Unfortunately toward the bottom I decided to see if I could knock over a tree with my shoulder. Needless to say, I lost and went straight onto the ground….Ooops! Fabien Barel went fastest on this stage and put a good chunk of time into everyone. I was mainly concerned with Jerome’s time and, again, was disappointed to see he pulled another six seconds in front of me. I had to find a way to stop the time bleeding to him. Also Rene Wildhaber was having his best race of the year and was close behind, so I was watching his times closely as well.

Stage 4

I knew things might swing more in my favor for the final two stages. I had setup my bike to suit these stages more and I just don’t like to change tires and chainrings and all that stuff that other guys do throughout the race. I like to have the feel of all my parts 100% for each stage and not be trying to find the limits of a different tire, or gearing of a different chainring. I like to keep it simple!

I had a lot of fun on Stage 4 and was fairly happy with it. I just lost a little focus here and there and forgot a few key things, but all-in-all it was a solid stage.

Once again though, Jerome went four seconds faster than me. I was starting to get pretty frustrated as he was always just one step ahead of me all day. I was OK with being 16 seconds back after Stage 3, but wanted to pull back some time in stage 4 and that just didn’t happen. It ended up that I was second for the stage again, and was 21 seconds back going into the final battle.

Stage 5

This was the big one! All week I knew the race would come down to the final stage. My body was feeling strong and I was really fresh and ready for a big finale. My plan was to have a good smooth run, and make sure I secured second spot for the day. I was also thinking that maybe I could challenge Jerome with a really good run, but taking back 21 seconds on a guy like that is a pretty tall order in any race, even one that is 23 minutes long!

As my run started I could just feel that it was going to be a good one, I had found my rhythm and flow, and found myself hitting everything just like I’d imagined. I knew I was on a good run, but it’s impossible know how the other guys are going. After about the halfway point, I decided I would take some risks on the parts that weren’t too rocky or dangerous.

I overcooked one turn in “Angry Pirate” which resulted in me slapping my man bits on the seat pretty hard and made for an uncomfortable couple of minutes. On the last few sections of the trail I was giving it all. So much so that my legs were starting to buckle, but, amazingly, I had no arm pump.

I crossed the line and was in the lead by a long way. Jerome started one minute after me and I had my clock going on my Garmin so I could gauge his time. I just sat and stared at it, watching the seconds ticking over, knowing the exact time he had to hit if he was going to beat me for the overall. The 1:21 that I needed to take the overall seemed to take forever, but the time came and went before he came into the finish area. I knew I had it but I waited until he crossed the line and got the official time before celebrating!

I couldn’t believe it! All day he had been too good, but I knew Stage 5 played to all my strengths and I did all I could to make the most of it. Having my wife there at the finish to share the win with was so amazing! Then I was reminded of the $10,000 first place prize! I hadn’t thought of that all day because I was focused on just winning.

So that was that. My First EWS win and it happened at the biggest race of the year. I just couldn’t be happier!

A big thanks to my mechanic for the weekend Nate Espinosa. With my usual mechanic, the Polar Bear, doing DH wrench duties at the MSA, Nate did a top-notch job as his stand-in. Cheers Friend!

Screen Shot 2013-08-14 at 6.47.57 AM

Bike Specs

Frame – Yeti sb66c Medium
Fork – Fox 34 R.A.D
Rear Suspension – Fox Float X
Seatpost – Thomson Elite Dropper
Wheels – DT Swiss 240 hubs, 500 rims, Aerolite spokes, alloy nipples
Tires – Maxxis Minion 2.5 EXO (ghetto/split tube tubeless) @ 27psi F/30psi R
Brakes – Shimano XTR race lever, Saint calipers, 180mm Ice-Tech Rotors
Derailleur – Shimano XTR Shadow Plus
Cranks – Shimano XTR 170-millimeter with Stages Power Meter
Chainring – Shimano Saint 38-tooth
Casette – Shimano XTR 11-36
Pedals – Shimano XTR trail
Chainguide – E13 LG1
Bars and Stem – Renthal Fatbar Lite (740mm width and 20mm rise); Duo Stem (50mm)
Headset – Chris King
Grips – ODI Ruffian MX

 

Interview: Chris Cocalis of Pivot Cycles Part 1

Chris Cocalis is the brains behind one of the most successful young brands in mountain biking, Pivot Cycles. But successful bike companies don’t sprung up like mushrooms in your fridge veggie cooler – to ride the road to the top takes decades of dedication and experience.

In our two-part interview, we chat with Chris Cocalis about his history, the birth of Pivot, mistakes, patents, the future of bikes and what he hates and loves about the industry. Read on for part 1.


Hello Chris, I assume you’re chatting to us from Pivot HQ in Phoenix, Arizona. For those of us who’ve never been, what’s it like there?

It’s a desert, highly technical terrain, rocky. This time of year we’re in monsoon, so it’s not quite as hot, but by most people’s standards still melting. It can run to 45, 46 degrees.  We get three months of semi-miserable weather but we can still ride every day, and the rest of the year it’s paradise, the perfect place to put bikes to the test.

Pivot as a brand is comparatively young, but you’ve been in the industry for a very long time. Tell us about it.

I grew up in the Chicago area and I was a total bike kid from when I was about nine years old, just hanging out in the bike store. They couldn’t get rid of me until I turned 14 and was old enough to start getting a pay cheque there.

I started racing BMX when I was 12. I grew up in the Chicago area and left in 1987 to go to university here in Arizona. In the early days of BMX we were breaking everything and as I got bigger there weren’t any pro level, pro length BMX frames, so I designed one and had a company make it for me. I added like 50mm to the top tube length which is like three frame sizes! It was a horrendous mess; you couldn’t wheelie it out of the gate. There was one behemoth on the team who loved it! But that was my first introduction to how small changes can make big differences. That was when I was in high school – so that was kind of the start of bike design for me.

All the stuff happening in mountain bikes – cranks breaking, forks folding, axles snapping – it was like 1983 in BMX all over again!

I really was a hard core BMX guy, I didn’t know much about mountain bikes at all – I came out to Arizona, got my pro license and that was my whole impetus for moving here, there were enough race tracks that I could race seven nights a week if I wanted to.

When I started working in a bike store, everybody there was a mountain biker and I immediately got into mountain biking. It was interesting; all the stuff happening in mountain bikes – cranks breaking, forks folding, axles snapping – it was like 1983 in BMX all over again! So one of the first things I did was design a bottom bracket out of titanium; used double row bearings, and moved the cups outside so there was as little spindle sticking out as possible. Anything to get it stiffer and stronger. I was converting BMX hubs to make them mountain bike hubs, because the bearings were bigger and would hold up better.

P1000074

Finding some flow in the desert. Phoenix Arizona is home to classic western USA terrain – lots of red rock, technical ascents and descents that will punish a stray wheel. Perfect for testing out new bikes.

Then in 1988 a guy stopped into a bike shop I was managing with a frame he had brazed. It was a horrible excuse for a mountain bike frame. The angles were all bad. But he knew how to braze and I got pretty interested in that and I told him I would teach him about frame geometry if he taught me how to braze.

We formed a very informal partnership, which basically meant I’d go over to his house in the evening and build bikes with him. They were an elevated chain stay bike, called the Sun Eagle Bicycle Works Talon. I still have my original one, and Dirt Rag in the US did a piece recently and found one in some bicycle museum back east – we only built like 10 of these things. But one of the ones we built we took over to Mountain Bike Action in 1988 and it ended up in a piece called Bikes of the Future; I still have a copy of it at my house. It was pretty cool, because we were in some elite company. Mantis had a couple of bikes in there and the Nishiki Alien was launched at that time too. It was neat to be in college and have an article in Mountain Bike Action.

 But one of the ones we built we took over to Mountain Bike Action in 1988 and it ended up in a piece called Bikes of the Future; I still have a copy of it at my house.

But we couldn’t get the steel elevated chainstay bike stiff enough for my liking. I wanted to change things, my friend/partner didn’t want to, so I stopped going over to his house. That was the extent of that!

In 1989 I met a guy who was a titanium welder. His wife was shopping at the grocery store next door and he stopped into thee bike store. He knew nothing about bikes but said he could make anything our of titanium; I thought he was crazy. Merlin had just launched their first titanium bikes in 1987 and my friend had one. It was cool looking bike, but it was a horrible riding, super flexy and had alignment problems – his was like frame number 12. But the idea was cool and the bike was light. So I took this guy up on his claim and we started getting together and TIG welding some stuff; titanium bar ends and titanium bar/stem combos, and eventually a titanium frame. And that was how Titus was born.

Not long after I met a guy called John Raider at a bike race; he was the guy who invented the Aheadset. He was a big deal in the industry. He had some ideas for a suspension bike design and he asked if I’d be willing to help him. I was, and so we started building some prototypes and he showed them to Univega and GT. Univega ended up buying the design and they wanted this high-end bike. So they came to me with an order for 175 titanium shock blocks! At this time we were building bikes in a garage and I was in my senior year at school and interviewing with accounting firms.

So suddenly there’s a fork in the road!

Yes. But my thesis director at school, he was a cyclist and my thesis project was a business plan for a bike company. And he basically encouraged me to follow my dreams, and on top of that he wanted to invest too. So he gave me $30,000. My welder friend, Mark’s, boss invested $15,000 and we rented a building up the street and before I was even out of school we were building bikes.
I wanted to build a bike that rode as well as my Fat Chance Yo Eddy. I loved the way that bike rode. It was interesting; when I’d look at all the bikes of the time, whether it be a Ritchey or a Bontrager or a Yeti, they had radically different geometry. But when you looked at the wheelbases in a medium frame, they were all hovering around 41.5 inches. That seemed to be this magic number. Our first titanium bikes, I copied the exact geometry of my Yo Eddy, but shortened the chain stays by a quarter inch and lengthened the top tube by a quarter inch. And I think it really took that bike to the next level.

I wanted to build a bike that rode as well as my Fat Chance Yo Eddy. I loved the way that bike rode.

For the first five to seven years we did a lot of OEM work for other brands. I made the downhill team bikes for Diamond Back, we did Univega bikes, Slingshot… plus we did a lot of materials work and research for out of industry manufacturers. It took about five or seven years before we started to see Santa Cruz and Intense begin out-pacing our brand, because we really did no marketing for Titus itself. Eventually we got sick of doing things for other brands for half price and not getting paid on time, so we started to focus on Titus and things really took off.

I got involved, through my connections at Univega, in the development of four-bar and Horst Link full suspension designs which carried through all my years at Titus. I started discussing some things with Horst Leitner and we ended buying some rear ends from him and then licensing that design.

And how did it all end up with Titus?

Things were starting to really develop in terms of carbon fibre, we knew it wouldn’t be long till there were full carbon frames. So we merged Titus with Vio Tec, a composites company.… That partnership was interesting. I still say to this day that it was the most expensive composites education that anyone could get. It pretty much cost me my company. Things were not going well, but they didn’t want to be bought out, so they chose to buy me out. So I left the company and took a year off – that was in 2006 – and I immediately began working on the launch of Pivot, which I did in 2007. We launched the Mach 4 and the Mach 5 simultaneously in 2007.

We wouldn’t be where we are today without Richard Cunningham. Richard was the owner of Mantis Bikes – he invented the elevated chainstay, and the idea of bolting a chromoly rear end to an aluminium front end. He really set the path for dual suspension bike design.

Moving on from the history of the brand, in terms of designers – inside or out of the bike industry – who do you look up to?

That’s a good question. There are so many, I probably don’t know most of their names. There are some people in the bike industry who when they design something that think that everybody else’s stuff sucks – but I’m not that way, I’m a true bike geek. There’s a lot of great things going and I can appreciate them.

But if we go back to the get-go, I can say we wouldn’t be where we are today without Richard Cunningham. Richard was the owner of Mantis Bikes – he invented the elevated chainstay, and the idea of bolting a chromoly rear end to an aluminium front end. He really set the path for dual suspension bike design. Obviously, Horst Leitner – his whole concept of eliminating braking forces on the suspension, it has affected the bike industry till today. And then obviously Dave Weagle too, he’s got a lot going on.

In terms of Dave Weagle, his DW Link has been part of every Pivot dual suspension bike. Did you begin working with Dave from the very outset?

No, I was working on several different suspensions designs. I love the feel of four-bar bikes, Horst Link bikes, but the stiffeness was always a problem. We’d try bigger and bigger swing arms and bearings, but it’s very hard to match the stiffness of a one-piece rear triangle. And that was one thing I was hell bent on – it had to have a stiffer back end.

And another thing with a Horst Link bike is the way it kind of rotates forward into its travel – it doesn’t have pedal kick back like a single pivot bike, but basically the suspension does rotate forward into the bump, so you can have a loss of forward momentum. One bike I’d ridden – even though I hated a lot of other things about the bike – was the Maverick. And one thing that stuck with me was the incredible square-edged bump performance. That was its shining attribute. I wanted to have that.

Of course everything in suspension is a patent minefield nowadays. So I had this design I’d settled in on that ticked all the boxes. But it looked like I could be walking through Dave Weagle’s patent backyard…

So I was working on designs that had fully active braking, gave the square-edged bump performance and stiffness that I wanted. The dual link design also had the advantage of allowing a variable wheel path. If you think of an old high pivot bike, like the old Foes Mono or an Orange – they had a great rearward wheel path, which was one of the things that made them such a great World Cup downhill bike. But you couldn’t pedal them through the bumps and if you pedalled them through a g-out you could rip the whole rear derailleur off them, just from the chain growth.

So if you could achieve that kind of wheel path, but not have it continue the whole way through the travel, then you’d be onto something. And with a dual link, you can do that.

Of course everything in suspension is a patent minefield nowadays. So I had this design I’d settled in on that ticked all the boxes. But it looked like I could be walking through Dave Weagle’s patent backyard… Dave has a couple of patents – one is an anti-squat patent, and the other is an instant centre patent. With the instant centre patent, if the instant centre of your suspension design falls within a certain box then you risk being in violation of Dave’s patent. And there are a few lawsuits going on about that at the moment. Dave’s argument would be ‘you touch my box, you violate my patent’.

I believe if someone comes up with a good idea, you don’t walk on them. So we worked together. Anyhow, Dave was adamant about anti-squat as being the most important element, and when you applied his anti-squat calculations to the pivot locations I had mapped out to achieve the suspension characteristics I wanted, they had to move quite a bit.

It was a real tug and pull – I had my heels firmly dug in one corner, he in the other – I was yelling ‘fully active braking’ and he was yelling ‘anti-squat’ and we couldn’t work out the solution. Anyhow, one day he calls me up and says, ‘I have it! But there’s one problem… there’s no place for a front derailleur’.

But I thought we could make it work. You see, I’d been involved in the development of the 2008 Shimano XTR groupset, including the press-fit 92 bottom bracket. Along with the e-type front derailleur, this gave us the ability to free up the front derailleur area; we mounted the derailleur directly to the frame and put the pivots inboard. Back in 2007, this technology, along with some of our forging techniques, this was stuff that hadn’t been done before. Combine that with the DW Link and you had a really nice product to launch with.

You’ve talked a lot about frame stiffness. Why is that so important to you?

You can take a really great design, but if things aren’t stiff enough, it’ll never succeed. Take the AMP Research – it was a phenomenal bike. But it was so flexy that it was horrible! And if companies like Titus and Intense hadn’t started making the Horst Link design stiff and burly, that great suspension concept would’ve died on the vine. If the AMP Research had been the only bike with that design, it would never have continued.

You can take a really great design, but if things aren’t stiff enough, it’ll never succeed. Take the AMP Research – it was a phenomenal bike. But it was so flexy that it was horrible!

It goes beyond just stiffness though, it becomes about ride tuning too. A bike needs to ride correctly, and not just be an ass pounder. It needs balance. A good example; There was a time back in the Titus days when all the high-end wheels were radially spoked on the non-drive side and then two-cross on the drive side. And on one of our Racer X frames I’d beefed up the linkage so much, that it was fine if you were on a right hand turn, but if you were on a left hand turn and leaning on those radial spokes, if you hit a rock it would just pick the whole bike up and wallop it! We ended up spending a lot of time tuning that link to get the right ride balance. There is definitely a point of too stiff, but there’s a balance to find.

Of all the bikes you’ve released so far, what do you think has been the most important for the development of the brand?

When we first launched, the bulk of my development time went into the Mach 4, because at Titus, the Racer X had out sold everything else three-to-one. But the world was changing, the trail bike was taking over, and so we’ve sold far more Mach 5s than Mach 4s.

Everything builds on everything, and there are a lot of elements of the Firebird that really marked it as being the start of a second generation of design for Pivot. From a commercial success standpoint, it’s those ideas and how they fed into the Mach 5.7 that really took us to the next level. With the 5.7 I think the brand became something special; it wasn’t just one bike in the line up that was unique, but the whole package.

 

Read part 2 of our interview with Chris Cocalis here.

The Soapbox: The Top 5 Products I Keep Coming Back To

In theory, riding should be as simple as grabbing a helmet, hopping on any old bike, and going for a pedal. But quality equipment often takes the simple experience of riding and makes it even better. While manufacturers are continually coming out with new improvements in these areas, every rider has a few favourite items they return to time and again.

These are mine: Products I keep purchasing again and again. For interest’s sake, I’ve included some completely problematic and somewhat arbitrary estimations of what each item costs per ride.

 

1. Hikenbiker Merino

 

I reviewed Hikenbiker Merino thermal wear for a magazine about five years ago, and have purchased several more of these Australian made woollen goods since. They’re flattering enough to wear off the bike, keep you warm through the mid and cool seasons. They go well as pyjamas too. Best not to do all three things in one day.

I tend to buy two new thermals every year or two, rate their versatility, and love that when they finally get too worn out for off bike use, they still go well under a winter jersey. The company’s ‘Snippit’ beanies add extra warmth on the colder days, fit under your helmet without having to adjust any straps and stop you snap-freezing at mid-ride coffee stops. Found online and at weekend markets in the Sydney area, they cost less than many competitors’ products too.

Cost per item: ‘Carrie’ long sleeve women’s base layer: $80 / ‘Snippit’ beanie: $25
Cost per ride: 1 long sleeve / 3 rides a week x 26 weeks a year x 4 years: 26 cents 1 Snippit beanie / 4 rides a week x 13 weeks a year x 8 indestructible years: 6 cents.

 

2. Local Bike Shop Kit

 

A good local bike shop supports the experiences we want from our riding in more ways than I can count. They can help you troubleshoot equipment choices and they keep your bike working smoothly when your backyard mechanic skills cannot. They’ve got your back for warranty claims and they make your neighbourhood a better place.

Supporting them back by buying some shop kit is a no brainer. It also makes you feel like part of something and like you’re doing a very small thing to help them back. With custom kits runs being a lot more affordable than they used to be, designs are looking fresher than ever and are often available in a women’s cut now, too.

Cost per item: Custom printed Tineli women’s short sleeve jersey: $110
Cost per ride: 1 jersey / 2 wears a week x 45 weeks a year x 2 years before the design gets updated again = 61 cents. This is surely offset by discounts on parts.

 

3. Trendy Maxxis Rubber

 

I should preface this one by saying I predominantly ride XC trails in South East Australia, in dry conditions. While most tyre manufacturers offer one or two (often excellent) treads for dusty, loose-over-hardpack surface, Maxxis offer several. And there’s always one that’s the most trendy. The Larson TT was the first to really capture my attention, soon followed by the faithful Crossmark, and far more recently, the wide bag Ikon. There’s often something more aggressive to match the latest fast rubber for the front of your bike too.

I like that this is a brand stocked by almost any shop I walk into. And Maxxis ride qualities will always be a point of comparison when chatting with someone about trying something new. Like any rider I enjoy the different ride experiences offered by different brands of tyres, but the reliability and ease of purchase of the latest trend from Maxxis inevitably keeps me coming back for the next new thing.

Cost per item: Maxxis Ikon 3C EXO 29×2.20: $110 / Maxxis Ikon Exception 29×2.2: $39
Cost per ride: 2 tyres / 2 MTB rides a week x 24 weeks = $4.60 / $1.60 (if you don’t bust a sidewall)

 

4. Stans NoTubes Sealant

 

This one points to my laziness as much as it does to my resistance to try something new when I’m happy using something that works. Stans NoTubes sealant isn’t the cheapest way to tubeless your tyres, but it sure is reliable. And when you need it, you need it right away. Time spent faffing around trying new concoctions is precious when you’re ready to hit the trails. I like that you can buy Stans in large bottles too.

We go through a fair bit of this stuff at Flow, especially considering that test bikes seem to always come with tubes. These are even more time consuming to deal with than trying new sealant and I think everyone agrees that the ride quality is just not the same.

Cost per item: Stans No Tubes Sealant, 16Oz: $25
Cost per ride: 2Oz x 2 tyres / 2 MTB rides a week x 16 weeks = 20 cents.
 

 

5. The Humble Glad SnapLock Bag

 

Running alongside the invention of new mobile phone options, is series of contraptions for carrying them while you ride. Personally, I can’t go past the humble zip lock bag. It’s relatively waterproof, see-through, replaceable, and still allows me to use the touchscreen and earphones with an iPhone 5. What’s more, when I lose it, I can just rip another out of the box of sixty in the pantry.

Cost per item: Glad Bags Resealable Snap Lock Mini Value Pack 60: $3.42
Cost per ride: one bag / 4 rides: 1 cent. That’s a very cheap insurance policy for your electronic goods.

 

Articles like this one reveal more about personal preference than any definitive checklist of must have items. But we’d be curious to hear what items you keep returning to as well. A brand of knicks? A saddle that you run on every bike? Races that give you beer or a keepsake bottle opener key ring once you cross the line? What biking ‘musts’ do you keep returning to again and again?

 

 

The Soapbox: Cheating at the Enduro World Series?

Unfortunately I wasn’t surprised when I woke this morning to see that VitalMTB had posted news containing allegations of cheating in the Whistler round of the Enduro World Series. Heck, I have had several off-the-record conversations with Enduro World Series competitors and it’s apparently rife.

What does surprise me though is the seemingly lack of will from the Enduro World Series, the media that closely follows the racing, and the athletes who compete, to either say or do anything appropriate about it.

Of course I cannot confirm any allegations, and I am not pointing a finger at any single rider, but the sheer potential of cheating is so disappointing and worthy of public debate.

The series thus far has been riddled with underground murmurs and rumours about cheating since the first event in Italy. Hiding food (to allow for a lighter backpack), bike swapping, riding liaison stages without helmets, cutting the courses, illegal practise, outside assistance… the allegations go on. It was only a few weeks ago I watched Cedric Gracia, livid at the time, expressing his anger at all the cheating at Enduro racing. My hat goes off to him – at least he speaks out.

Of course there will always be the argument of “bending the rules” but even that can be enforced by establishing the right culture of good sportsmanship. Culture, and the power of its combined peer pressure, sometimes has more power than any policing or enforcement can ever have.

To me it all represents a potential failure for the inaugural season of what is supposed to be the future of our sport. Enduro is a battle of rider vs terrain and gets back to the roots of our sport, with a sense of fun thrown in. I love the concept of Enduro racing and the thought of people cheating is beyond belief.

A cheat is a cheat. We all throw our hands in the air in disgust and anger when someone gets busted for drugs. Why not apply the same enthusiasm to punish and shame the “non-drug” cheats.  After all, a cheat is a cheat not matter what. The seconds gained from a pre-race shot of EPO is no different from the seconds and minutes gained from cutting the course.

I personally feel that if the organisers don’t get serious about both policing and enforcing the rules, and the true spirit of the sport, then we, the fans, will lose interest very quickly and the end of Enduro will happen well before we had had enough time to enjoy it.

My challenge to the organisers of the Enduro World Series, the media, and the athletes is to make a bigger effort to catch the cheats, test the allegations and their actions using the appropriate mechanisms, and if found guilty, apply the same penalties as you would a drug cheat. Stop any potential for cheating to rot the core of the sport.

A cheat is a cheat and if you let to happen at the top echelons of the sport what hope is there for Enduro racing at the grass roots level?

I love Enduro, at least when I know it’s honest.

 

The Soapbox: The Tyranny of Numbers

A computer made me feel sad recently. I was out on the road bike (yes, I dabble) heading up one of Sydney’s well-known climbs at Bobbin Head. It was only the second time I’d used a GPS and heart rate monitor, and the chest strap still felt a little weird to me – like I was shackled by the torso.

My riding buddy, Will, was a gadget bandit from way back. He knew all about heart rate zones, lactic and eating more than jelly snakes during a ride. As we climbed, a beep made me look down. Apparently my heart rate had crept over 190, and the computer was now warning me that I was in danger of meltdown.

‘Will, what’s your heart rate?’ I asked. ‘168,’ he came back, worryingly. He wasn’t going any faster than me, and his face showed just as much effort, but clearly his body was operating efficiently on all six cylinders, while my carburettor was gummed up from too many training pies.

I’d always thought of myself as relatively fit, but apparently I was not so much. The numbers don’t lie any more than Shakira’s hips. Will was 20 more fitnesses fitter than I. When I got home I looked at the data – I’d maxed out at 202 bpm and spent far more time than I would’ve ever imagined up above 180.

I didn’t quite know how to react! On one hand it was a shock, on the other it made me feel quietly chuffed that I’ve obviously been riding completely red-lined a lot more often than I realised. (No wonder I often felt like a vomit.)

Since that first rude awakening, I’ve been torn. I want to get fitter, but I can’t decide if knowing how close I tread to implosion is helping or hindering me. There’s part of me that likes the discipline; I can see on a little screen in front of my blurry eyes just how the previous night’s five beers or the week prior’s kilometres hinder or improve me. It’s addictive too, uploading your data, seeing it all mapped out.

But at the same time, when I leave the chest strap and GPS at home and just ride, I feel like I make real gains too. I’ve been riding for long enough that I know a pace that I can sustain – I find the point where my face gets suddenly tingly and then back it off a quarter turn. And if I don’t feel like hurting that day, then I can call it a ‘rest day’ and go get a donut.

I haven’t yet taken the heart rate monitor to the dirt (though the GPS gets used there) and I don’t know if I ever will either. For me, my time on a mountain bike has never and will never be about getting fitter. I ride a road bike to make my mountain biking more fun, and when it comes to the dirt I’m not quite ready to completely succumb to the strangely alluring tyranny of a number fetish…yet.

Interview: Giant’s Kevin Dana – Wheel Wars and the 27.5″

At the global launch of the 2014 range of performance bikes by Giant, Flow had the opportunity for a brief chat with Giant’s Global Off-Road Category Manager, Kevin Dana.

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These media events are always guarded with marketing buzzwords and well-scripted and trained responses to media questions it’s sometimes hard to get through all that and down to the real meat. Even after many drinks at the bar it’s still hard to get through the defences (we tried pretty hard… there were many beers).

You will see in Kevin’s words that Giant essentially want to be a global leader hence why Giant have more than dipped their toes into the 27.5” waters. We also got the sense that the wheel wars of the past few years may have been a distraction, or diversion, from other developments (also true for other manufacturers) and if you read between the lines Giant is definitely looking forward to developing other great things.

The big question, why 27.5”?

Giant began extensive lab testing of 26”, 27.5” and 29” in early 2011.  We also began ride testing of prototypes at the same time and we determined that 27.5” delivered many of the benefits of both without a lot of drawbacks. The bikes (27.5”) were a lot of fun to ride, they performed at a really high level, and so we made a commitment to go in that direction.

That commitment, you’re going after 27.5” full steam ahead?

It’s a huge commitment. Giant made this decision after the extensive lab and field-testing and Giant couldn’t make an impact on the market with just one or two models of bikes. It’s quite easy to re-hash some tube shape or re-hash some geometry and make one or two bikes, however Giant committed to an entire range of products – from Sport, all the way up to Performance – in both aluminium and Advance composite.

We are completely committed to an all-or-nothing approach because we believe in 27.5” so much.

Is it a gamble?

We didn’t view it as a gamble at all, rather the next generation of off-road cycling and we at Giant are committed to leading the charge. As you are already seeing there is a lot of other brands entering the 27.5” market and we’re confident that consumers are going to see many more 27.5” bikes enter the market.

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Do you think this will end the wheel wars?

We believe this will end the wheel war for Giant.

So, if there are no more wheel sizes being developed, what’s next?

Giant is always working 2-3 years ahead at any given time. I think you will find Giant focusing a little more on improving performance. Innovation can be looked at in a number of different ways. It can be an entirely brand new product that changes the game or it can be an improvement to existing technologies and constantly making them better. We’re really looking at a little bit of both in the next 3 years – it’s definitely an exciting time to be a mountain biker.

Bike Check: Dan Atherton’s GT Force

At the GT 2014 launch a month ago Flow sat down with Dan Atherton to talk about the new GT Force, his input into the development of it, and what custom mods he makes to his production bike.

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Dan Atherton is an amazing rider and seeing him ride in the flesh was a shock at how much we sucked at riding.

Dan is one of the top Enduro racers in the world and his knowledge about energy efficiency, bike feel and geometry are all key to his successes. Sometimes it’s not the fastest bike down a hill that can win a race.

What are we looking at here?

It’s the new GT Force.

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Dan had only recently got his own hands on a production bike.

How long have you had it for?

I have had it about 2 months now and even I found it pretty hard to get a hold of a production one.

It’s been a long time coming. We started working on the project about 2-3 years ago. Since then I have had 2 or 3 test mules and I have never had a bike that’s had so much testing put in by the engineers.

Have you raced this one?

My first World Series Enduro race this year was on a prototype that’s a little different from these ones. It’s based on the same suspension platform as the new Fury DH bike but there’s no plans to release that yet.

This is the bike I have been riding a lot at home and doing long training rides with 6-7 enduro stages, which is 5 or 6 hours in the saddle. It’s a bike that saves a lot of energy and that’s key. There may be bikes that descend better than this one but they take a lot of energy to ride and that’s something you have to remember when your looking at a bike. It pedals so well and you can flick it around so easily and it just helps to conserve your energy.

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The Atherton’s have been instrumental in the development of the new range of GT bikes.

Did GT get a lot of feedback from you in the development?

Yeah, they were pretty good. When we (the Atherton’s) came to join GT they were already quite far along in the process of developing the new bike. GT have guys like Eric Carter who had worked on it and it was already a pretty dialled bike. However, there were definitely things that I wanted to change.

From that first test bike, what things did you not like or want changed?

The first thing we noticed was how well the bike pedalled when sitting down. You could feel that drive going into the rear wheel, however when you stood up it had a little “folding” feel to it.  They worked on some pivots and swapped some other things around and it was amazing the difference that it made.

What would you put your name against as your major input into the new bike?

I definitely worked a lot on the geometry with GT. This bike already carries its weight really low anyway but dropping the bottom bracket just a little more added to the cornering characteristics. It corners amazingly. Definitely some improvements on the head angle too. Another big difference is the long front end. Me and Gee have always been about having a long front end on a bike.

That’s an interesting point. More recently, GT have been known for being a little on the short side?

Yeah, that’s something we struggled with when we first came to GT. The bikes were quite short and the bottom brackets quite high, and head angle steep.  I guess that was the way with riding and bikes of the past 6-7 years however with this new generation of GT’s coming out now all have dialled modern geometry.

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Having all the weight down low definitely helps with cornering.

What changes have you made to this production bike?

I am sponsored by Shimano so it’s XTR all around. This bike is definitely aimed at people who will ride up the hills but I am fine with a just a single ring up front (34t) and had a custom chain device added. The new Float-X rear shock is the life and soul of the bike. In fact, the whole FOX RAD program with 34mm air fork, and new Float-X shock balances it out so well. The bike is amazing with a standard shock but put a Float-X on and it’s unbelievable. I also have a FOX seatpost – it’s killer and can’t do without it. I tend to drop it a lot in racing. Sometimes I also run a quick release as well to give me extra adjustment during a race.

I have a 180mm rotor on the front and 160mm on the rear. Something that Steve Peat taught me way back was not to drag the brakes, just be on/off them only when needed. It’s also bit heavier than a standard production bike and is about 31 lbs (14 kg) but I am fine with that.

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It’s only the best that get RAD.
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Shimano XTR for Dan. It works, is light and is proven.
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The Force doesn’t come with ISCG tabs but can be converted for a chain device.
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Must be pretty cool to have your own name on products.
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Interesting that Dan sometimes requires even bigger drops on his seatpost. It speaks volumes for how gnarly the Enduro races must be in Europe.

 

Bike Check: Dan Atherton's GT Force

At the GT 2014 launch a month ago Flow sat down with Dan Atherton to talk about the new GT Force, his input into the development of it, and what custom mods he makes to his production bike.

Web_Feature_Bike_Check_Atherton-19
Dan Atherton is an amazing rider and seeing him ride in the flesh was a shock at how much we sucked at riding.

Dan is one of the top Enduro racers in the world and his knowledge about energy efficiency, bike feel and geometry are all key to his successes. Sometimes it’s not the fastest bike down a hill that can win a race.

What are we looking at here?

It’s the new GT Force.

Web_Feature_Bike_Check_Atherton-2
Dan had only recently got his own hands on a production bike.

How long have you had it for?

I have had it about 2 months now and even I found it pretty hard to get a hold of a production one.

It’s been a long time coming. We started working on the project about 2-3 years ago. Since then I have had 2 or 3 test mules and I have never had a bike that’s had so much testing put in by the engineers.

Have you raced this one?

My first World Series Enduro race this year was on a prototype that’s a little different from these ones. It’s based on the same suspension platform as the new Fury DH bike but there’s no plans to release that yet.

This is the bike I have been riding a lot at home and doing long training rides with 6-7 enduro stages, which is 5 or 6 hours in the saddle. It’s a bike that saves a lot of energy and that’s key. There may be bikes that descend better than this one but they take a lot of energy to ride and that’s something you have to remember when your looking at a bike. It pedals so well and you can flick it around so easily and it just helps to conserve your energy.

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The Atherton’s have been instrumental in the development of the new range of GT bikes.

Did GT get a lot of feedback from you in the development?

Yeah, they were pretty good. When we (the Atherton’s) came to join GT they were already quite far along in the process of developing the new bike. GT have guys like Eric Carter who had worked on it and it was already a pretty dialled bike. However, there were definitely things that I wanted to change.

From that first test bike, what things did you not like or want changed?

The first thing we noticed was how well the bike pedalled when sitting down. You could feel that drive going into the rear wheel, however when you stood up it had a little “folding” feel to it.  They worked on some pivots and swapped some other things around and it was amazing the difference that it made.

What would you put your name against as your major input into the new bike?

I definitely worked a lot on the geometry with GT. This bike already carries its weight really low anyway but dropping the bottom bracket just a little more added to the cornering characteristics. It corners amazingly. Definitely some improvements on the head angle too. Another big difference is the long front end. Me and Gee have always been about having a long front end on a bike.

That’s an interesting point. More recently, GT have been known for being a little on the short side?

Yeah, that’s something we struggled with when we first came to GT. The bikes were quite short and the bottom brackets quite high, and head angle steep.  I guess that was the way with riding and bikes of the past 6-7 years however with this new generation of GT’s coming out now all have dialled modern geometry.

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Having all the weight down low definitely helps with cornering.

What changes have you made to this production bike?

I am sponsored by Shimano so it’s XTR all around. This bike is definitely aimed at people who will ride up the hills but I am fine with a just a single ring up front (34t) and had a custom chain device added. The new Float-X rear shock is the life and soul of the bike. In fact, the whole FOX RAD program with 34mm air fork, and new Float-X shock balances it out so well. The bike is amazing with a standard shock but put a Float-X on and it’s unbelievable. I also have a FOX seatpost – it’s killer and can’t do without it. I tend to drop it a lot in racing. Sometimes I also run a quick release as well to give me extra adjustment during a race.

I have a 180mm rotor on the front and 160mm on the rear. Something that Steve Peat taught me way back was not to drag the brakes, just be on/off them only when needed. It’s also bit heavier than a standard production bike and is about 31 lbs (14 kg) but I am fine with that.

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It’s only the best that get RAD.
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Shimano XTR for Dan. It works, is light and is proven.
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The Force doesn’t come with ISCG tabs but can be converted for a chain device.
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Must be pretty cool to have your own name on products.
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Interesting that Dan sometimes requires even bigger drops on his seatpost. It speaks volumes for how gnarly the Enduro races must be in Europe.

 

Specialized Skill Up Women in Retail

Specialized Australia recently ran a women’s tech training session for female shop staff. It was a world first for Specialized, and is a great show of leadership in this area, Hopefully it’s something we see more of from other organisations as well.

 

As a woman working in a bike store, you’re definitely an anomaly. Last time I worked at a bike shop, every now and then, a customer would ask to speak to one of the ‘guys’. ‘Ask me your question, and if I can’t answer it I’ll go and get some help,’ I’d say.

Things usually went pretty well from there. If help was needed, I’d call on our female mechanic, just to make a point.

In a sport that still attracts a lot more men than women, it follows that female staff in the bike retail sector aren’t as common either. This can sometimes lead to the unfortunate assumption that women aren’t as skilled as their male counterparts, or can’t provide the same level of customer service and advice.

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Megan Scott from Berry Mountain Cycles near Nowra.

This unspoken condescension, coupled with the traditional ‘blokeyness’ of bike shops (particularly the workshop) is an ongoing barrier to more women taking up work in bike retail. And it’s to the detriment of our sport.

Less ego, more attention to detail

Specialized Australia’s training expert, (formally titled, a Specialized Bicycle Components University (SBCU) Professor), Adam Nicholson, came up with the idea for the women’s tech course after a shopping experience for his motorbike.

Impressed with the way that, ‘Women are typically able to articulate technical information with less ego and more attention to detail,’ he saw a massive need to help empower female store owners, managers and sales staff in the bike industry and developed three day technical training course for likeminded ladies.

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We all wished every bike workshop was like this.

‘I wanted to develop a platform where Specialized employees are able to use resources we have, digest the technical aspects of our products and deliver second to none customer service for every cyclist. The course allowed us to do it as a group rather than one on one.’

Empowering experiences

The course is one of a series of workshops Specialized run under their Specialized Bicycle Components University arm. We joined the girls on the final day at Specialized’s HQ in Melbourne where an incredibly impressive training facility has been built. There’s a room full of identically equipped workstations, each suitable for the most involved of workshop task. The group spent the morning bleeding brakes and pulling apart front suspension – the kind of workshop skills that women are rarely taught.

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Each participant had their own workstation (L-R Margot Rupe, Bella Reynolds, Carolyn Lyon).

Next, a test fleet of Specialized’s new women’s trail bike, the Rumor Expert, were loaded into a van and we drove from Melbourne to the You Yangs for an afternoon ride. This was the perfect environment for the attendees to play with the dropper posts they’d pulled apart the day before, and put into practice the suspension setup knowledge they’d learnt to give customers the ride feel they’re after.

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Specialized know how to make a woman feel special. A fleet of Rumor Experts were lined up ready to ride.

Key to the success of the course is hands on technical training, actual riding experiences and ongoing discussion. It enables participants to build skills, digest theoretical information and actually feel what different product innovations mean for experiences had while riding.

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The hands-on was very important. Some of us gain this experience on our own bike while looking at a old manual and to get it in such a professional and formal manner was priceless.
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Margot Rupe from Mikes Bikes on the Gold Coast gets stuck into a nice set of forks.

For Carolyn Lyon, who manages Red Bike in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, the course motivated her to help customers get more out of the products they own. ‘I have a confidence I never had before in promoting bike maintenance,’ she said afterward.

For someone like Carolyn, who doesn’t have much contact with other female shop staff, meeting likeminded ladies was another critical element of the trip. ‘The women I met on the course are, to me, an extension of our store. They are an important point of contact when making decisions about issues relating to women who ride. We contact each other to solve all sorts of issues and also to share great ideas that work well within our own cycling communities.’

You can’t buy everything online

The women’s tech training was a first for Specialized, but hopefully the first of many courses like it. In fact, Adam, who developed the curriculum in Australia, is now looking to expand this to a global level through the Specialized headquarters in the United States.

The broader context of the initiative is important too. Globally, bike shops have to find new ways to maintain their edge as online retail grows, integrating additional services and points of difference to the once-familiar sales and repairs model. These might include cafes, indoor turbo studios, weekly social rides, exclusive training and racing activities, support at community-based events; things you can’t buy with the click of a mouse or swipe of a touch screen.

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Theory and discussion time were also important aspects of the course. The customer experience is even more important come the online shopping age and any training to re-gain that advantage is critical.

Building the confidence, skills and professional networks of female staff is part and parcel of this; in this day in age, you cannot afford to have staff members who are unable to provide a high level of service across the board. It’s widely recognised that walking into a bike shop can be an intimidating experience too, particularly for women – it’s one of the reasons some people turn to the anonymity of online shopping. Having well-educated female staff who, as mentioned by Adam previously, generally approach sales with less ego helps make bike shops a more welcoming environment.

As the bike industry continues to reinvent itself we look forward to seeing what additional opportunities become available next. Especially if it means better experiences for customers and staff, and helping riders of all types get even more out of their time on the trails.

Meanwhile, the next time you receive help from a staff member of either gender, take a moment to consider the passion for products, servicing and ongoing learning they bring to the shop floor. Working in a bike shop is a lifestyle as much as a job.

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Thanks to companies like Specialized there’s a growing group of women more involved in all aspects of our sport.

 

The Soapbox: Ball of Confusion

‘What do you think about 27.5?’ – It’s a question I find myself being asked half a dozen times a week. Either that or the close variant, ‘which wheel size should I get on my next bike?’ And to tell you the truth, I don’t even know any more…

It used to be so easy – you picked a bike with the right amount of travel for your trails and riding style, fitted your favourite 26″ tyres to your 26″ wheels and got down to business. Then came 29ers, but it really was still pretty easy to understand: If you wanted to ride cross country and keep your wheels on the ground, you got a 29er. Like to get your wheels off the ground or fond of a little radness? Your 26″ bike sir/madam.

It started to get murky as 29ers began moving into ‘trail’ territory – suddenly you had to make the choice between a long-travel 26er, or a long-ish travel 29er for your all-mountain-ish riding.

And then came 650B. And now it is just doing my head in.

I’m not anti-650B, not at all. I understand that products evolve, things change. There are sound engineering rationales for the middle size wheel. And even if it does seem like a mighty lot of work to increase the diameter of mountain bike wheels (or one variant thereof) by a centimetre and a bit, well, that’s ok. The bikes DO ride better. But all I can say is thank god I’m not working on a bike shop floor on a Saturday trying to explain to a second-bike-buyer what wheel size does what. Because frankly, I don’t know anymore. And neither does the bike industry. There is simply no logical narrative around wheel size any longer.

Let’s look at three of the biggest brands in the world by way of example: Trek, Giant and Specialized.

Trek have taken the approach to 650B that I envisaged would be most widely adopted. Their bikes with 120mm of travel or less have 29″ wheels, while their more aggressive bikes (the Remedy and Slash) now have 650B wheels. This makes sense in many regards as fitting a bigger (29″) wheel into a long travel package is hard to do without stuffing the handling or ending up with a massive boat of a bike. Trek maintain that 29″ wheels are ideal for cross country and some trail riding, but not so much when it comes to getting really rowdy on the trails… Well, at least that was the case until they unveiled the 29er Remedy, which kind of stuffs up the simplicity of Trek’s overall approach. Oh well… onto Giant.

Giant had taken the more common path when it came to 26/29″ wheels. Sure they had the Trance 29er, but most of their 29ers were cross country machines, and anything vaguely gravity oriented was a 26er. Simple. But then came 650B/27.5″ and Giant  grabbed it like a pit-bull, adopting the wheel size in a wholesale fashion for 2014. Not only have they all but eliminated 26″, but it would seem that they’ve begun the machinations to kill off 29″ bikes from their lineup too. In Giant’s opinion, 27.5″ is THE wheel size for mountain biking. Imagine, a single wheel size for all styles of mountain biking – crazy! Oh wait, that was 2007….  So let’s have a look at Specialized’s approach.

What do you know – another story once again, and this time not a 650B bike in sight. As far as the crew at the big red S are concerned, if it ain’t got 29″ wheels,  it ain’t right. Ok, ok, there are a couple of exceptions, but Specialized are overwhelmingly massive believers in massive wheels. From their cross-country racing hardtails, all the way up to the their 155mm-travel Enduro, it’s 29″.

Then of course there are other versions too, being espoused by all kinds of manufactures. For instance, the idea that smaller riders need 650B as 29 won’t ‘work’ for them, while taller riders need a 29er. Or the notion that cross country racers are better served by a 27.5″ for quicker acceleration, while marathon racers need a 29er…thanks Nino. And for every argument put forward, there’s an engineer or marketing person telling you the exact opposite somewhere in the industry.

I understand change, I’m not resistant, I like development. We don’t always know what’s best – sometimes it takes engineers to show us. We can have 650B, 29 and even ‘old-school’ 26″ bikes, that’s all fine, I like them all and think they’ve all got a legitimate place.  But unless, at the very least, we can start agreeing on what wheel size is right for what style of riding…well, the confusion is just going to end up turning people off the sport, and that is the last thing I want.

 

South Africa: Just Go!

From high up in the Drakensberg mountains, to Cape Town, to Franschhoek: We explore three visually stunning South African riding destinations.

 

There are a lot of ways in which mountain biking in South Africa isn’t that different to mountain biking in Australia. Sharing latitude lines in the Southern Hemisphere means the seasons are similar for starters – and so is the terrain.

But one thing that makes the riding in South Africa quite different is the number of well-signed trails that travel through wide open spaces. It’s more like Europe or New Zealand in this way.

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The other thing that is very different from Australia is the amazing wildlife. It’s only when you see these animals in their natural habitat do I feel you can truly appreciated them.

This is in part due to South Africa’s reputation for hosting enormous, well-run events that give back in big ways to local communities. Some excellent relationships between trail builders and landowners have put mountain biking on the map in a very positive way.

We cherry-picked some great riding locations that fit within the popular tourist circuit as well.

Montusi Mountain Air

The Montusi Mountain Lodge is located in the Mont-Aux-Sources area of the Drakensberg Mountains. Water from the high point of these mountains runs in two directions: to the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Here as part of a tour group of 14, we all went in one direction: Following the signs of well-marked, purposed built trails.

Our ride guide for the day was Anthony Carte, 65, who grew up 10km away at Montusi’s sister resort, The Cavern. His mobile phone was jammed into the elastic at the waist of his knicks, and a plastic bag of cookies hung from the handlebars of his Trek Superfly 100.

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Anthony Carte, our guide,  explains what he calls the two Drakensbergs: ‘The Little Drakensberg is a sandstone based mountain range which is about 2000m above sea level. It goes for hundreds of kilometres but it is probably more dramatic in this area than further north. Then you’ve got the igneous basalt rocks of the higher mountains they go to 3200 and something metres at the high points – those are the snow capped mountains now.’

Anthony looked comfortably at home having spent countless hours in these mountains running, hiking and horse riding before picking up the bike. We, on the other hand, looked like a pack of excited school children. We met up with Anthony’s older brother, Peter, further along the trail.

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Anthony Carte: ‘We’ve got the most incredible hiking. We have got unlimited space. We do hiking in the Little Berg, which has got lots of features like caves, forests, little waterfalls and little peaks that are manageable.’

There are up to 85km of trails in this area. They are predominantly long, flowing straights that cut through the grassy, golden mountain landscape. The Carte brothers alongside Anthony’s son-in-law Chris Mecklenborg, who runs the All Out Adventure Centre down the road, are the people to thank for putting it all in place.

We pass over bridges, river crossings, challenging climbs and laugh into the breeze on quick, fast descents. The varied terrain keeps you on your A-Game, but it’s the scenery that makes this ride one I’ll always reflect back on.

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To have the trails all to yourself does come at a small price.

‘I’m riding through Africa,’ I keep thinking, pretending that I’m on a journey that will take me several months rather than a couple of short hours. ‘What an incredible place.’

Talking with Anthony in the evening I learned that our trip is not dissimilar to the typical tourist route, it just includes more bikes. Start in Jo’burg, rent a vehicle and head up to Kwa-Zulu Natal to see the big animals in game reserves. Then head down to Durban for the ocean.

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The natural beauty of South Africa never seems to end.

Next, people usually fly to Port Elizabeth and drive to Cape Town via the Garden Route.  We skipped the Garden Route and went straight to the shining lights of Cape Town.

Cape Town Capers

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Cape Town is one of me most beautiful cities in the world.

‘Sleep with the curtains open,’ I was told, after arriving at Cape Town’s palatial Table Bay Hotel late at night. The next morning I saw why – the harbour which glittering with lights at night, sat directly in front of the magnificent Table Mountain. Seals swam in the water as we built bikes on the balcony above.

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Our stay in Cape Town was very much about sampling as many experiences as possible rather than going hard on one flavour alone: A cable car ride to the top of Table Mountain on a crystal clear day. Helicopter rides along the coastline. Cocktails overlooking the water…

Enthusiastic Tweeting from some of the riders in our tour group put us in touch with local rider, Nico Boshoff, who we met up with at a carpark half way up Table Mountain.  Having seen the vast fire road network from the top earlier in the morning, it was exciting to the point of small chills to find ourselves smashing along these popular fitness trails later in the day.

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We actually rode trials just below this amazing view.

The gravelly surface was loose enough to challenge your control at speed, but the width of the roads offered enough space to drift wide around corners and keep your eyes more on the views than the trails.

The green and orange of the mountain, met by the built environment of the city, surrounded by the shine ocean, meant this was a ride that was very much about the views – and the altitude that allowed us to experience them.

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The proximity to the city makes for a unique backdrop. Day or night the views are amazing.

With trail networks including the Tokai Forest, Jonkershoek, Wellington, Franschhoek and Stellenbosch all within an hour’s drive of Cape Town, we could quite happily lose two weeks in this region.

Before we left, we hit up the multi-story African Trading Post for souvenirs. It was here that I met a man from Rwanda who told me about things he’s seen that no one should see. ‘You’re Australian,’ he said quietly. ‘Don’t waste it.’ It brought me to the ground faster than any bike crash.

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We definitely didn’t have enough time on the trails in Cape Town. So many options and so much fun.

So Frenchy So Franschhoek

With two days left before flashing our passports and boarding the plane back home, we met up with Franschhoek Cycles’ owner, Geddan Ruddock, for our final excursion.

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Geddan Ruddock, owner of Franschhoek Cycles:’I think we’ve got obviously very similar weather to Australia and we’re both in the Southern Hemisphere so riding conditions are similar too. And people are friendly here. And we just love our outdoors, which is another common denominator. When we started the Franschhoek Cycling Club, one of our main focuses was also to get a development team going. We’ve had that since the outset of the club, which is about six years ago now. It’s important just to put something back into the community.’

Geddan rode for South Africa in ‘about five’ Cross-Country World Championships, starting with the infamous 1996 edition in Cairns. He’s watched mountain biking come of age in South Africa and is passionate about trail access and finding funding to make the sport more accessible for all.

We set out on the Matoppie Route, a local favourite. ‘What’s nice is you climb to a point,’ says Geddan, ‘Then you contour all the way around. And you have a number of challenges – it’s sandy, rocky, there’s the climbing.’

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Geddan Ruddock: ‘We do have plans to build some singletrack. There’s a local organisation called AMA Rider [the African Mountain Bike Association] that are campaigning for trail access in Africa. It was started by a guy called Meurant Botha who is based in Stellenbosch. In South Africa he is THE trail guy. He’s actually already done a trail proposal for Franschhoek about 5 or 6 years ago, which includes a trail that would go around the dam. It’s just a matter of getting the funding and then he will do it.’

Riding the raw feeling trails without anyone else in sight instantly showed us why this French influenced, wine-growing region is another piece of South African bike riding paradise. The dry, rocky surface reminded me a lot of Alice Springs. Or at least, what riding in Alice would be like if the trails were steeper and skirted around an almighty, glistening dam. In the winter the sand compacts and streams run across the route as well.

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If you come out to Franschhoek you pretty much guarantee that you’ve got space and it’s not going to be too many people out.

Our ride finished early, as we had a booking for a three course meal at the nearby Rickety Bridge Winery to uphold – a strange sentence to write, but one that points toward how much each region offers travellers to pack in. And how much I was itching to see the other 60 or so kilometres of trails on offer here as well.

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After working up a healthy appetite on the trails, we headed straight for Rickety Bridge winery. A three course lunch, where each dish makes you groan in amazement before you’ve even tasted it, cost about $AU 30 per person.

Wine tasting followed our long lunch, before the group split to take in the Franschhoek Motor Museum, or spend time shopping for things like art, leather goods and chocolate in the boutiquey looking stores in town.

Luxurious living is unsettlingly cheap for Australians travelling through South Africa. At the same time, just experiencing it made me savour every sight, flavour, pedal and smell.

*

When returning from a holiday, people inevitably ask you, ‘How was it?’ If you’ve gone to Asia or Europe, the two continents where Australians are most likely to travel, the answer usually involves a series of ‘must dos’ – places you have to see, foods you need to try, activities not to be missed. These conversations often work on the assumption that the person you’re talking to will most likely visit this place one day too. Or maybe they already have.

Upon returning from South Africa, I found my answer to the ‘How was it’ question was ‘Just go.’ Just go, because I fear you might not. Just go for the bright colours, the people, the landscapes, the wildlife, the tastes, things that are familiar, things that are strange.

And go for the riding. Mountain biking in this country of contrasts is a lot more accessible than most people think.


South Africa Tourism:

The Australian branch of South Africa Tourism ran a Bucket List Campaign from November 2012 to March 2013. This campaign tapped into the idea you could tick off most of your own Bucket List in South Africa. With help from Time Out magazine and the Australian public a list was created of 25 more specific activities to try after arriving in this colourful country. The completed, visually stunning ‘Time Out Insider’s Guide to South Africa’ includes a lot of helpful travel information as well. Head to www.southafrica.net to find out more.

 

Safety:

One of the questions we’ve been asked most often since returning is, ‘Did you feel safe?’ The answer is yes, very, but picking where you go is important in this regard. Travelling as part of a large group meant we had our destinations and accommodation picked for us and we travelled between them, or to airports, on a bus with a local driver. South Africa is very easy to travel around with a hire car as well.

To paraphrase a friend from Cape Town, just be a bit smart about how you act and what you flash around. Don’t take your camera out and leave your bag wide open with your wallet hanging there for all to see. And once you take a photo, put your camera away again.  We’d suggest similar for any tourist destination.

 

 

Interview: Chris Pomering, Engineering Manager, Trek Bikes

Chris Pomering, Engineering Manager with Trek Bicycles chats candidly about the good, bad and ugly of mountain bike wheel size developments.

 

The arrival of 650B feels like a push from the industry, rather than a consumer demand driven change. Do you agree?

I agree. There’s a great visual that really illustrates this for me that talks about the Formula One evolution, and how the cars have changed from the 1950s to today. It shows how wheel size, and cockpit size and air-foil dimensions have all evolved and adapted, and bikes are the same. As technology evolves, things change. Wheel size is one of those things.

How do you feel about certain brands pushing 650B as the answer for cross country use when 29 has been promoted as the fastest, best size for this style of riding for the past few years and has become so established in this arena?

My feeling towards that? That’s a good question. All our research, all our pro riders, all our experience tells us that 29 is truly the right wheel size for that style of riding if you’re truly looking for the fastest wheel size. I don’t know, everybody has their own arguments, but everything we have seen points to 29 for that application.

And do you think that holds true for all rider sizes? In particular, really short riders.

I think in the extremes, you may have to consider smaller wheels for smaller riders, but that’s definitely the exception to the rule. I don’t generally think it’s a fit story, so much as a rider preference story – how do you want the bike to ride, to handle underneath you. Generally you can overcome all of those issues and get smaller people into the right position for their preferred riding style on a 29er.

When it comes to the difference between 26” and 650B, it is really hard to discern the difference on the trail. If you blindfolded me, I’d struggle to tell them apart. Would you say the differences are as much theoretical as anything else?

From the engineer in me, I’d agree. I mean, it is very close to a 26 in measurement terms. And for 95% of the people out there it is such a fine tuning change that they won’t pick it up.

I guess that then begs the question, is it necessary? The benefit of a slightly bigger wheel is there, but it’s such a small difference, is it worth the overhaul of so many parts of the industry? 

Personally, I think there are a lot of other technology advancements people could be working on instead of trying to run down this wheel size thing. I mean electronics, suspension technology… there are lots of areas in my mind that I think would better serve mountain biking than all the noise around wheel size.

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Given that, if you had unlimited resources, what would you spend your time and money on developing?

I guess it depends on your philosophy on innovation. Are you taking a more incremental approach, or are you swinging for the fences, more of a blue ocean approach. For me, I’d look at everything; materials, electronics, new materials – I’d go in every direction if I could.

When you design a bike, what weight is durability given in the mix?

We’re in a really tough spot when it comes to developing new frames, because our durability requirements continue to grow. Compared to five years ago, we’re testing twice as many aspects and often for twice the duration than in the past. And at the same time, we’re of course making them lighter every year, so it’s not an easy job – but that’s why we don’t have monkeys doing it I guess. Durability is definitely a huge factor.

It’s an interesting move with the Remedy to have the same bike, with the same travel, available in two different wheel sizes. I understand the argument for rider preference, but for many consumers it could be be quite confusing. 

Yes, it could be. I mean there’s the engineering answer and there’s the reality. Everybody can research on the internet and find their own perception of what they think suits them, and there’s a lot to be said for giving people a chance to decide what they thinks suits them. Different people preference different things; take a look at the road world – some people think aero is most important, others weight, other stiffness. There’s a lot to be said for catering to the preferences of those riding the bikes.

We’re starting to finally see the arrival of bikes designed specifically around 1×11 drivetrains. Talk to us about 1×11 and the potential here to free up frame design.

There is a lot of potential here. That interaction between the front derailler, the tyre, the frame… there’s a lot going on there at the point and we constantly beat our head against a wall trying to get around that and optimise it, so there is room for huge improvements here. I just converted my kid’s bike to a 1x drivetrain, and I’m just waiting for the parts to do mine too.

Is there an aspect of Trek that you feel the company should be most proud of?

On some ways I love how diverse we are, and it’s often only when I come to events like this that even I can appreciate some of the cool stuff going on that I mightn’t get to deal with in my role. There are so many areas we cover as a brand, we can have the saddle engineer in a room with a wheel engineer, or a mountain bike engineer. So there’s a lot of opportunity for great collaboration – you can really pool expertise. On the mountain bike side of things, I’m really excited about the race shop products, things like the Ticket and Ticket S. I think they’ll be great for the brand, we’ve always had more of a conservative image as a brand and I think these will be bikes that people will really aspire to ride.

Australian Single Speed Nationals 2013

I found myself at the most famous start line so far in my mountain biking career, ‘Where’s Wally’ on my left, and B1 on my right. The air-horn went off and 50 or so people dressed in hilariously random outfits ran down a hill, picked up their bikes, run back up the hill, jumped on their bikes and span like crazy.

What was this spectacle I found myself in, why the Single Speed Australian Championships of course!!

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At last year’s SS Champs, the Cairns MTB Club had kindly volunteered (possibly after one too many beers at the after-party) to host the event in 2013. Great news for us Victorians, an excellent reason to escape the cold winter! Wil and Jay had set up a ripping good course consisting of 3 significant climbs, flowing single track through the rain forest, over bridges, through a skills course, and down a cracker of a decent with epic berms. Bad news for us Victorians, the humidity was killer. People were stopped track side removing mullet wigs, bright pink leg warmers and banana skins due to severe over-heating.

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The race consisted of three laps, with a refreshment break in between each over at the Uni Bar. The first lap was approximately 8km in length and we all come back pretty cooked and very much in need of an ale to soothe our parched mouths. Discussions, solely on how much fun the course was. were had for the next 10 minutes until we were back on the start line once gain for a le mans start up and down a hill. This time one of the big climbs was left out much to the disgust of the race leaders- Where’s Wally and the Fluro Ballerina who were keen to try to increase their lead.

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Temperatures had dropped and the second lap was much more enjoyable, albeit no amazing decent that the now absent big climb had taken us to. Back to the Uni Bar for another refreshment and sigh of relief that the big climb would be taken out again for the third and final lap. Some people got too cosy in the bar and decided to remain put, whilst punk rocker chick and her sidekick snuck off before the race start giving themselves a handy advantage. Racing was tight in the mens race with only 4 seconds separating 1st and 2nd place.

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After the main race has concluded, we ventured to the car park for the “Huffy Toss” where crash test dummy launched the Huffy into orbit taking the win, much to the dismay of the crowd who feared for their lives when his technique leant itself to the possibility of launching it into them. Check out the vid! The Skid Comp was hotly contested, as was the track stand with records certainly being broken and thankfully no bones! The entourage of movie, television stars and cross dressers headed inside for dinner and continued chatting about gear ratios for the next 3 hours. And the winners; I think singlespeeding was the winner here!

Big thanks to Cairns Mountain Bike Club for putting on an awesome event and thanks to the crazy single speeders for being such cool dudes! So, where’s the road trip to next year????

I’ve already got my costume planned, do you?

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Into the Woods – Kowen Singletrack Goes to New Heights

Flow was recently invited into the dark pine forests of Kowen Forest for a tour around the new singletrack being purpose built for the Kowalski Classic on September 22, 2013.

This next section of trails will push the total network of trails in the Kowen area to around 50kms. The plan for the Classic is that the 50kms entrants will be able to stay just in the Kowen compartment to complete their race.  Of course, Kowen’s sister Sparrow will be used, and that’s for the 100km folks.

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Sitting in a back corner of the forest is Kowen’s highest peak at around 915m. Previously the domain of illegal dirt bikes this mountain peak has be brought into the mix with an extension to the current singletrack trails. There was an original plan to have that fire road (the one in the middle of the peak) as a climb but lucky for us all they re-thought that and have instead inserted some sweet, easier climbing.
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For those who have never been to Kowen you may not have noticed all the stuffed animals nailed to the trees on the side of the access road. These toys sprung up years ago before the road was diverted. Who know’s why they are there?
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Alan Vogt is proud of the work of the Kowalski Brothers trail crew and this section of the new climb, named Escalator, is another example of how the native land is used to showcase the area. The hill is pretty steep but a network of more switchbacks than Alpe d’Huez makes it a pretty easy journey. Much, much better than the original plan of the fireroad.
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It really feels like you are in the middle of nowhere but in reality the new extension is only a few kms from the old trails.
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Connecting to the Escalator, and the last 3kms of the new climb, is the Effing track. The Effing track is effing fun, effing flowing, and effing sweet. It’s also a very traditional Kowen trail and if the sun’s not out it’s pretty dark and moody.
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Building new trails takes planning and preparation and the Kowalski crew walk every inch of their new trails. Long before the rakes and shovels hit the dirt little pink ribbons show the way ahead.
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You can guarantee that time is taken to make sure the trails ride well and hold up to traffic and weather.
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“I am George”. Look out for George.
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The pine plantation of Kowen is a managed money making venture for the ACT government and over time it will probably be all logged. We’re just lucky they let us use the space in the meantime.
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At the very top of the mountain, and at the edge of Kowen Forest, grand views out toward Wamboin, Bungendore and beyond can be had. It’s also rumoured that there may be a refreshment station and coffee machine for the Classic, just so you can relax and take in the views mid-race.
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The tall trees of Kowen are the perfect partner for trails. They are the home to a host of animals and not far off the trails there’s always someone (or something) watching you.
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The yet-to-be-named (and finished) trail that descends from the mountain peak is a well deserved reward for the climb. Not that the climb is hard but you must always have adequate reward for even the smallest of effort.

Beyond Biking

The passion people share through bike riding extends far beyond the trails. We followed 12 riders to South Africa who had a desire to make a positive difference in communities very different to our own.

 

If you follow Flow’s Facebook, you will have already heard a bit about our recent trip to South Africa with the Sani2c Oz Tour. 12 riders from Sydney and two journalists – myself and Fiona Harper – spent two weeks in mid-May riding bikes, spotting animals on safari and experiencing the enormity of Nedbank Sani2c; a mountain bike stage race we’ve run a feature on in Issue 4.

What united and motivated these riders went far beyond biking. It follows, then, that the South African itinerary they planned wasn’t just about riding bikes either. One of the other main goals of the trip was to give something back to communities in this country who could use a helping hand.

‘Hearts of Hope’ is an organisation that was set up, in part, by Sani2c Oz Tour group organiser Paul Reid, a man who obviously loves a challenge. ‘The whole idea of the organisation is about trying to encourage or enhance the lives of vulnerable children – which could be any child whose lives are adversely affected by either parental abuse, abandonment or neglect. It is also about helping children who are affected or infected by HIV/AIDS and trying to give them a start, and an opportunity.’

Paul Reid takes a moment to reflect on the work done by Hearts of Hope and the quality of life the organisation is providing for young children in Johannesburg.
Paul Reid takes a moment to reflect on the work done by Hearts of Hope and the quality of life the organisation is providing for young children in Johannesburg.

One of the first projects Hearts of Hope instigated was to buy a house where a number of children could grow up in a stable home environment. Paul elaborates: ‘In 2003 we started with the idea of a cluster home. “Thabang” was the first house, in Johannesburg. Then we got a foster mum and six children. Later we bought another house and carried on from there.’

The first stop on the Sani2c Oz Tour was “I’Themba,” a second home in Jo’burg where renovations are currently underway to expand its reach. The completed project will offer bedrooms to 28 children, ranging in age from newborn babies to 21.

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Work continues in a part of the world where life is very different and razor wire is just part of any normal fence.

I’Themba has a warm, homely feel, which Paul attributes to Deborah van Dongen who manages Hearts of Hope on a day-to-day basis. The Oz Tour raised $43,000 to help with Hearts of Hope’s efforts in South Africa. To meet Deb and see one of these homes was a grounding experience for all.

Deborah van Dongen is instrumental to creating the homely feel at I'Themba.
Deborah van Dongen is instrumental to creating the homely feel at I’Themba.

We learnt that, there are 2.1 million children in South Africa who have HIV. Currently 60% of the children at I’Themba are HIV positive. Anti-retroviral medication is freely available in South Africa but the real issue is children developing a resistance to these treatments when they are not delivered at regular intervals. The house provides a stable environment, which allows for administering this care.

I ask Paul about the amount of time kids will spend in homes like I’Themba. ‘The whole aim is not to have kids stay with us too long and the primary objective is to get children back to their parents. The second objective is, if we can’t get them back to their parents, to see these children adopted, or in long term foster care.

‘Through the whole project,’ which also includes supporting families and the provision of food parcels, ‘There are over 1000 kids who we’ve touched in some way.’

In this community, and many others like it, a little goes a long way.
In this community, and many others like it, a little goes a long way.

After about four years developing the cluster home set up, Hearts of Hope began looking at other models they could use to help children in rural communities. ‘That’s why we got involved in a project in the Drakensberg mountains, building schools. We started looking at children in their immediate vicinity where they live, and actually looking at the root source of the issue rather than in the cities.

‘The issue you have in rural schools is a lot of the carers are elderly grandparents.’ One of the challenges here is teaching people who often come from a low education environment to value the pathways education could provide the younger generation.

Funds raised by the Sani2c Oz Tour built this preschool in the Emseni community.
Funds raised by the Sani2c Oz Tour built this preschool in the Emseni community.

The South African government has a good system for funding education at the primary and high school level, but Hearts of Hope are concerned that kids from underprivileged communities are hitting primary school on the back foot. ‘These kids are starting grade one, or year one, with zero base. So the whole idea about building preschools and a crèche is to provide them with that base before they get there,’ explains Paul.

Hearts of Hope identified seven communities they could help address this gap. The fundraising for the Oz Tour built a second school in the Emseni community (where one had been built previously). Emseni is in the high mountains of the Drakensberg area where the Sani2c stage race began.

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It was an eye opener to travel to this remote community and see first hand what an impact such charities can have.

Of the $AU43,000 they raised (which is close to half a million South African Rand) $30,000 went toward infrastructure and equipment. The rest will be used for education of both students and teachers. A small amount went to funding a mountain bike development rider in another community as well (a project run by Geddan Ruddock at Franschhoek Cycles an hour or so from Cape Town).

Before getting stuck into the mountain biking part of their trip, the Oz Tour riders spent two days at the Emseni school painting the interior walls. This wasn’t just about the painting, it was more about seeing community life and the exchange of thanks between teachers and tour riders.

Josie Leutton soon got busy outside the school painting a boxing Kangaroo.
Josie Leutton soon got busy outside the school painting a boxing Kangaroo.
Fashion accessory or splash guard? Paul Hardwick uses the high contrast of his Rudy Projects for precision painting.
Fashion accessory or splash guard? Paul Hardwick uses the high contrast of his Rudy Projects for precision painting.
Stuart Holman made sure edges were nice and neat.
Stuart Holman made sure edges were nice and neat.
Dave Youl teamed up with Flow’s Kath Bicknell for the Nedbank Sani2c.  We couldn’t have asked for a kinder, more supportive teammate.
Dave Youl teamed up with Flow’s Kath Bicknell for the Nedbank Sani2c. We couldn’t have asked for a kinder, more supportive teammate.
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Helping build a school highlighted that there’s more complex things in life than biking.

‘I think fundraising money is the easy part,’ Paul says matter-of-factly. ‘The hard part is the realisation when you actually see what happens on the ground. In first world terms $43,000 probably is not a huge amount of money. But if you see what it provides in a very rural community in South Africa, it’s a lot.

‘For us as individuals it was a bit of an eye opener too. They don’t have much, but they are happy people. They thoroughly loved having us there, and that probably impacted people the most. They were very happy to have us there and chat and laugh and joke.’

Leaving the Emseni community was very hard. From the windows of our bus I saw goats and cows resting in gardens or walking down the road, wire fencing that I still don’t understand and so many people quite happily going about their day.

It was an honour to meet some of the women who teach at the Emseni school.
It was an honour to meet some of the women who teach at the Emseni school.

I watched as people walked with large containers to collect water. I wondered what it would take to get clean water into so many South African homes in a way I rarely think twice about back home.

I began to understand Paul’s passion for the work of the organisation in way that was different to when the fundraising back in Sydney began. ‘Ten years ago we highlighted nine different areas where we would build schools. Seven of those are now done. There are two more schools to build and I think we could probably do a very similar thing again. In Johannesburg, the vision is buy additional properties around I’Themba to setup additional homes and to develop the cluster home concept.’

What’s interesting to us is the way Paul sees an ability to use mountain biking as a driver for these projects, ‘The idea behind this trip was to go mountain biking but also to use the passion from riding to raise some money for something within South Africa. And to see the whole range of living conditions in South Africa.’ And that it did. It also stopped other South African riders we met from heckling us about the football. Work like this obviously transcends other sporting boundaries as well.

To read more about Hearts of Hope head to the website at: www.heartsofhope.org.za

 

Photo Feature: Meet The Moots

Do you remember when you were a child and would walk into your best friends house – the one with the perfect family? Everyone would greet you with open arms, happy faces were everywhere, there was always a dog on the couch, everyone would take the time to ask how you were and what you day was like, and Mum (the traditional model of Mum), would be baking something that smelt like heaven.

That’s how it felt when Flow recently visited the Moots factory in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. No, there wasn’t anything baking in the oven (but there was a box of lovely donuts on offer), but the aroma of titanium being cut and welded wafted through this home. Within minutes we were made to feel like one of the family.

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Moots manufactures titanium mountain, road, and cross bikes with options galore to customise a bike to your needs. The factory isn’t just a manufacturing facility though, It’s a local hangout, retail shop (not for bikes) and drop-in centre for customers and fans, with a constant flood of visitors coming in and out each day.
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Moots has grown from a tiny custom frame company in 1981 to one of the largest small/custom bike manufactures in the USA. Each pin on this map shows dealerships which sell Moots and distribution is spreading right across the USA (and into Australia). Moots are kind of in a middle area between a small and big bike company. When Moots are at the huge Interbike trade show they’re a very small fish in a large bowl however when they’re at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show they’re a big fish in a small bowl.
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This is there the magic happens, the Moots workshop floor. In 2001 Moots moved from a much smaller facility near downtown Steamboat Springs into a new large and specially designed state-of-the-art factory just outside of town.
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Moots bikes are handmade and they’re very proud of it. Moots is a titanium only manufacturer and uses US-made seamless cold-worked stressed relieved 3/2.5 titanium tubing. Working with titanium is a speciality and requires skill, experience, and some pretty cool equipment (if you’re the engineering type). As titanium of the Moots quality is in high demand by much larger (and far, far richer) industries Moots has to be very careful with their ordering and planning as shifts in outside industries can have huge impacts to their supplies. It’s one of the pitfalls of keeping their product 100% US made but it’s one of their strengths as well.
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All that titanium adds up to a lot of waste? Not for Moots. Moots captures and recycles most of the excess titanium material through local channels rather than being sent to landfill.
These are all the welding stations. Flow learnt some pretty cool things about welding and also how hard it is to make the process as clean and strong as possible. As most bike frame failures happen at the welds this is also one of the more important parts of the bike manufacture process and Moots is very proud of a low warranty return rate.
This is the primary welding area. Flow learnt some pretty cool things about welding and also how hard it is to make the process as clean and strong as possible. As most bike frame failures happen at the welds this is one of the more important parts of the bike manufacture process. Moots seems to do a great job and is very proud and stated a low warranty return rate.
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This is one of the welding stations with a frame in the jig. Note the caps and tubes coming from the frame. Fabricating with titanium requires an Argon gas welding system, which needs an oxygen-free environment to protect the ultimate integrity of the weld. Moots also uses a double-pass welding process to ensure maximum strength.
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But all that equipment isn’t why Moots makes a great bike, it’s the people. Each and every employee is passionate about building and riding and time on the workshop floor has to be balance with time on the trails “testing” their products. In all seriousness though it’s not very often you find a bike manufacture so close to epic trails that can be used for instant product testing and feedback.
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In fact, the day Flow was in town the workshop was a little emptier than usual. People were out enjoying a ride or other adventure and the relaxed nature of the Moots factory really showed. Definitely not a sweat shop and more like a corner store.
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Headtube badges are unfortunately a dying accessory on many modern bikes. For those who still maintain this bit of nostalgia, each badge design has roots in their story. Mr. Moots (the alligator in the logo) goes all the way back to the founderʼs primary school years. His favorite pencil-top eraser was a loveable, smiling alligator character that accompanied him throughout his school days. Thirty two years ago, when it came time to put a name to the first custom bikes he built, the first choice in names was obvious….Moots, the eraser.
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If you’re ever in the Steamboat Springs area make sure you drop into the factory. They offer tours to the public and you’ll get to see for yourself what it’s all about.
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Every Moots frame carries with it the details of all the hands who have touched it – from the beginning to the end of the process. Each tube miter and each weld, in every single frame build, is done by hand. Checked by hand. Finished by hand. Polished by hand.
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The end of the line and all boxed and ready to go. Moots has been 100% titanium since 1981 and people still ask, “Why Ti”. I will let Moots answer that: “Because no other material allows us the ability to finely tune every single frame to achieve the perfect ride quality in every single bike we make. We custom spec a proprietary blend of tube diameters and wall thicknesses for every single frame style and individual size in our line. This ensures that every single frame that leaves the factory delivers the same distinct ride characteristics, whether in the smallest or largest size in the fleet. Each and every tube is cold-worked, stress relieved seamless tubing that meets exacting specs for durability, stiffness, weight, and ultimately, ride experience. When you consider the lifetime you get out of each frame, it adds up to the perfect, magical frame material. The simple fact is: no other frame material can withstand the day-to-day rigors of the ride quite like ti. A Moots titanium frame will not deaden, loosen, crack, or otherwise degrade in its performance or comfort over time like virtually every other bike material on the planet. And it will outlast several generations of carbon fiber or aluminum frames, and always perform like the day you first rolled it out of your local shop. Down the road, we can even refinish your well-ridden Moots frame to look like new without compromising any of the materials properties though our Refurb Program.”
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And here’s a finished product being displayed by Jon Cariveau, Moots Marketing Manager. And yes, Moots also make their bikes in 27.5″.  As a matter of fact it’s the smaller manufactures like Moots who are able to adapt to changes quicker and easier than the big players. So much so that Jon was able to tell some inside secrets about OEM testing on their products. Secrets are safe with Flow.
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And this is what make Moots, Moots. Family. Moots is proud of being handmade in the Rockies (Colorado), proud of sticking to its roots, proud of being local, and proud of making the bikes they do. They also have some very cool dogs that hangout with the team.
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We thought this was a really cool footnote. The Moots Trail Maintenance Bike. How damn cool is that!!!! All you need for trail building and even refreshments.

If that’s not enough and you’re even more interested in the factory and their manufacturing process, then check out this video.

Photo Feature: What Happens on Press Camp….

Flow recently returned from the launch of the new range of GT bikes in Deer Valley, Utah.

What happens on press camp normally stays on press camp however we wanted to share the journey and show a few things from behind the scenes you may not normally see. The presentations, the bikes, the locations, and the people. And yes, despite all the hard work, it is fun too.

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The launch of the 2014 Sensor and Force was held in Deer Valley, Utah. Deer Valley is in the Park City area and just a short drive from Salt Lake City. For those who are not familiar with Utah, it is a US state with deep roots in the Mormon religion. The religiousness of the state isn’t too obvious unless you like beer and other fine sinful refreshments.
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But in all seriousness, Deer Valley, and Utah, is an amazing and beautiful place. From the deserts and moonscapes to the highest peaks, Utah has it all.
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GT had the hotel decked out for our arrival. They pretty much had the whole resort booked for a month solid as the press camp was just a small part of other activities preparing for the 2014 launch of the entire range under the Cycling Sports Group banner. Despite our best efforts we couldn’t find the “secret room” that housed this smorgasbord of fresh product.
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Day one started off with the Sensor and Force bike introductions and presentations. This is the first time we got to see the bikes in the flesh after months of internet leaks and rumours. GT did a good job of keeping the final look of the bike under wraps though and we were all surprised when they wheeled the bikes from behind the black curtain.
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This was also the first time the legendary Hans Rey was introduced to us. Hans has been riding with GT some 26 years and his achievements and journeys have shaped the mountain bike world. Look out for a special interview by Flow in the coming months.
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The 2nd part of day one was what we were all waiting for – riding the bikes. We weren’t left to our own devices though as there was a huge team on hand to make sure our bikes fit and felt perfect. As the media contingent was huge we were split into two groups: Flow was assigned to the Sensor group for day one, and we would be on the Force on day two.
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Riding at altitude is hard. If you have never experienced it, just imagine getting fit and suddenly not. We got to spend a solid 5 or so hours on the Sensor and it was enough time to get used to the bike and feel its strengths and weaknesses. Beer (and food) followed shortly after and we only indulged in the amber fluid as we were told it helps with altitude adjustment.
Getting out on the trails to ride with Hans Rey was definitely a highlight. An equal highlight was getting to chat to him over the course of the weekend. He's passionate about riding, traveling, and helping those less fortunate through his charity Wheels4Life.
Getting out on the trails to ride with Hans Rey was definitely a highlight on day one. An equal highlight was getting to chat to him over the weekend. He’s passionate about riding, traveling, and helping those less fortunate through his charity Wheels4Life.
Day two started off with a unique introduction to the new Fury downhill bike, a morning watching the Fort William World Cup live. GT couldn't have asked for a better result because in the presence of the worlds media Gee took the win on the new bike. The preceding presentation was short on words as little were needed to market the abilities of the bike.
Day two started off with a unique introduction to the new Fury downhill bike, a morning watching the Fort William World Cup live. The GT marketing machine couldn’t have scripted it better. In the presence of the world media Gee Atherton took the win on the new bike.
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And amongst us watching the action live was Gee’s brother Dan Atherton. No one was more intensely immersed in the acton and happier with the result than Dan. It was great to witness. Even after all the years of racing with brothers and sisters it still stays the same and they still get nervous and excited for each other.
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Speaking of Dan….. Dan is an amazing rider and being on the trails with him was an eye opener. We’ve all seen him on the internet and movies but it’s only in the flesh do you get to really understand how good he is. He can turn any little bump into something fun and excited us about getting back into manualing on the trails. So smooth, and thanks for letting us ride in front of you and feel like we were fast. Look out for a bike check with Dan soon on Flow.
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There was little else to be said about the Fury – the result from Gee which we just saw said it all. The day two presentation was very brief and that gave us more time on the trails. Can’t complain.
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We were now on the 150mm Force and getting out on the faster trails. The views and trails were epic and the bike kept feeling better and better. It’s a hard balance between wanting to ride fast and wanted to stop and check out the amazing views.
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The backdrop of Deer Valley was perfect and the Aspen trees added that little bit of extra. Again, another long day on the trails was a perfect way to get to know the bike.
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Day two was done and the whole event was coming to a close, but not before some last minute hospitality and fun. A bit of food and beer in the evening warmth, and a pump track challenge to end the event. All the international media and GT staff were invited to enter with prizes galore handed out. Flow was lucky enough to get the prize the for furthest travelled to the event. That’s kind of like the “encouragement” award for the slowest.
But this image sums up the weekend.  Fast Euro's doing crazy things.
This image sums up the weekend and was a great memory. Fast Euros doing crazy things. The GT launch was not only a great introduction to the product, but also an introduction to their culture. GT has a proud history in cycling and the people behind the brand stay true to this and ensure fun is at the top of the list.

 

 

 

 

Two Men, Three Bikes and a Subaru Outback – The Melrose Fat Tyre Festival 2013

Cram two men and three bikes into a Subaru outback, turn left and trek from Adelaide to the 2013 rendition of the froth fest that is the Melrose Fat Tyre Festival – the FTF. A quick look at the program and we had flowing singletrack, epic riding, rides with gravity legend Darren Berrecloth, and super D challenges ahead of us. Basically we were about to have a ridiculously good time.

Big beautiful vistas on the Bartagunyah estate trails.
Big beautiful vistas on the Bartagunyah estate trails.

The journey across the South Australian outback to Melrose is something of postcards. Old abandoned homesteads that look older than the hills litter the field and thoughts of Grand Designs can’t be ignored. Three hours later we arrive at Mt Remarkable, home of Melrose and the FTF, my heart murmurs as I think about the sweet single track I’ve heard so many stories about.

We loved the vintage feel of Melrose. The Fat Tyre Festival sets up shop in the main drag, closing the road letting riders safely noon around on the street.
We loved the vintage feel of Melrose. The Fat Tyre Festival sets up shop in the main drag, closing the road letting riders safely noon around on the street.

Held over the June long weekend the FTF brings a relaxed feel to a mountain bike event. You want to ride? (Eurovision Trail, thumbs up) Check out the shop? (it’s bling everywhere) Coffee? (of course) Learn about your bike? (Bike maintenance class) See a dude back flip a car on a BMX? (Crazy Kids). It’s all possible at the FTF and it’s up to you what you choose.

The super D challenge on Saturday was a highlight for the racer types (and no, I didn’t win). But the race was just the prelude to a great night which saw us having a BBQ and maybe just a few beers in the surrounds of an old shearing shed. The smell of a shearing shed might be the same the world over but this was a perfect backdrop to a uniquely Australian event. Great fun, a few drinks and good company, all talking bikes. Perfect.

The beginning of the "relaxed" super D on top of the Eurovision trail at Bartagunyah estate. The trail was fast and fun. If you couldn't pump and jump before the trail you could by the bottom.
The beginning of the “relaxed” super D on top of the Eurovision trail at Bartagunyah estate. The trail was fast and fun. If you couldn’t pump and jump before the trail you could by the bottom.

The FTF is a relaxed ride with your mates. It’s a bacon and egg roll before a ride (not recommended). It’s a mountain bike froth fest with riders of all abilities and styles all speaking the international language of mountain biking.

Bacon and egg rolls flowed in the morning before the ridding commenced. Coffee came from inside Over the Edge shop.
Bacon and egg rolls flowed in the morning before the ridding commenced. Coffee came from inside Over the Edge shop.

Anyways, there really isn’t any better way than to tell the story of the festival through what I saw. A collective of images that captured the event, from the people with the smiles, with the love of bikes and trails sandwiched in between.

Go and check out next year’s Melrose Fat Tyre Festival, it’s a peach.

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It’s Tour Time: Get Ready To Reset Your Body Clock

The Tour de France has begun. Yep, it’s not mountain biking but it’s an important three weeks for cycling in Australia. It seems to be one of the few times when we all bond together and forget our separate genres of cycling. And sometimes, just sometimes, it brings the non-cycling people into the same space to celebrate the world of riding a bike.

Over the next three weeks Le Tour will flood the cycling media. Mainstream media will jump on board too, especially if the Aussies are standing on podiums, or someone else ‘goes posso’ for drugs. Sprinters will deliver nail biting, high powered finishes, climbers will dance their way to high altitude finishes, jerseys will be decided.

Who will win yellow?
Who will win yellow?

We’ll hear tales of heroic feats, blow-by-blow accounts of each stage as it unfolds and experts will weigh in on doping again and again. We’ll marvel at the technology we see riders use and the cutting edge research that helps them to use it.

I enjoy this side of the Tour as much as most cyclists. But what I enjoy even more is watching the ways the Tour touches my world at a local level.

Following this spectacular race from Australia, in GMT+10 time, brings a magic all of its own. Over the next three weeks cyclists and non-cyclists will slowly reset their body clocks to Tour Time.

With stage finishes in the very early hours of the morning, and SBS’s TV coverage – which has grown from 6pm highlights to live broadcasting for the entire event – beds are swapped for couches and early morning routines include a series of cycling news sites, podcasts or Tour specific Apps.

Bleary-eyed cyclists in the work place become an expert, someone that others can ask questions of as they start to weigh in on the racing as well. It builds relationships between that person who some others ‘don’t get’ and colleagues who begin to share their enjoyment for adventures on two wheels.

People are initially drawn in by the beautiful French scenery but soon start to wonder how it all operates – how do the teams work, who will win the yellow jersey, look at all those legs.

Roads are lined with people of all ages, speaking many languages, cheering for riders from home.
Roads are lined with people of all ages, speaking many languages, cheering for riders from home.

Meanwhile, groups of avid riders flock together to fight fatigue and will each other through the night. Mountain bikers, roadies, super-commuters…the regular distinctions lose their significance in July.

Friends gather around the heater, cycling clubs hold fundraisers, bike shops keep their doors open late one night or encourage customers to join them for an Alpine or Pyrenean finish from a cosy location down the road.

Those hill climbs aren’t quick. People sit and chat. They get to know each other so much better off the bike around a few beers and a meal.

As the final mountain stages hit, or a decisive time trial unfolds, conversations reach another level. Sitting at a trendy inner-city café in 2011, when Cadel Evans was on his way to his big win, people at every table were talking about this massive event. Mountain bikers everywhere were quick to point out that he came to the road after an impressive early career on the dirt.

The shear size and scale of the celebration for Cadel’s yellow jersey victory reached another level still. Why we didn’t get as excited about his previous 2nd place victories is beyond me. The only rational response I have to this is that with these other excellent results the profile of the race grew bigger still, adding to the appreciation of what it takes to stand one step higher in Paris.

My immediate family were so excited that year my brother set up an exercise bike in front of the TV and ‘rode’ the time trail with Cadel. He has a road bike now and is fast running out of mountains to climb of his own.

Seeing a mountain top finish is a team effort.
Seeing a mountain top finish is a team effort.

We swap text messages about things like tyres and helmets, and I throw him second-hand (somewhat skanky) pieces of gear. I laugh as he tells me about long rides, epic hunger flats and sitting on the side of the road just out of Canberra as none other than Michael Rogers rode past and asked him if he was OK.

Flicking through social media adds another dimension to what it means to follow the Tour. For the last few weeks my Facebook newsfeed is full in the mornings with images from friends who’ve headed to Europe for summer. Cycling, touring, media, work trips…

Most of these people are not there specifically for the ‘Grand Boucle’, but it’s certainly shaped their itinerary. It’s planted ideas about mountains to climb, towns to visit, and pubs to hang out in watching a broadcast in the same time zone as the race.

I was this person last year. I enjoyed every minute of experiencing the Tour from France, but something was missing.

Seeing a mountain stage in real life is on many a riders bucket list.
Seeing a mountain stage in real life is on many a riders bucket list.

The personal journey through the race is not the same when you aren’t madly trying to stay awake for each finish, pushing through thresholds of your own. And the experience different when you’re not going through it in the same timezone as several mates, scattered around the country, snuggled by the heater, quite happily doing the same.

Most of all I missed watching the impact this bike race has each year on my local community. As a cyclist in Australia, throughout the month of July, the positive impacts of the Tour make me feel more visible – on the road, in the work place, as I head to the trails. I feel a little lighter, more accepted, part of a lifestyle that others want to know more about.

Helicopters bring race footage to the world.
Helicopters bring race footage to the world.

#busgate was trending on social media, after the Orica-Greenedge team bus got stuck in the finish arch of stage one. And a new ‘Orica Bus Driver’ Twitter account is fast amassing new fans. The 100th Tour has just begun and Aussies are already stamping their own brand of enjoyment all over this absolutely massive event.

 

My Local

This the photo from Andrew Hall that stirred my emotions. I miss my local.
This is the photo from Andrew Hall that stirred my emotions. I miss my local.

Sitting at yet another airport, in yet another city far away from my hometown, I log onto Facebook and see a photo from my local trails. It reminded me how much I miss them.

I am lucky enough to get to travel to ride and shoot photos of some of the best and most exotic locations in the world. Trails that go forever, climbs that make my lungs bleed, downhill trails that smash my body, majestic views that distract me, and animals that are beautifully different from what I normally see (and scary sometimes too).

But, as much as I love to travel and ride in amazing places, every time I do away I begin to miss my local (trails).

Some people would consider my local as nothing special when compared to my travelled locations. It’s not a huge mountain, it’s not far away from people, it doesn’t have raging rivers to cross, it doesn’t have endless kms of trails, the uphills are relatively easy, and the downhills not so brutal.

However, my local is dear to me. I have gown up with it, I have seen it go through good and bad, I have seen it destroyed and rebuilt, I know its every mood, I know the local animals, I know each and every line, I know when the soil is going to be at its best, and I can almost ride down each trail with my eyes shut.

So why do I miss my local so much?  It’s a place that relaxes me, it is soothing, I know it without need for maps or GPS, and most importantly, it’s where my friends are. My local is where I go to unwind and enjoy life just that little more.

My local is Stromlo Forest Park.

Where is your local and what does it mean to you?

 

Feature: This is Going to Hurt

This is part of a feature that first appeared in issue #1 of Flow. Make sure you’re signed up to get future issues of Flow otherwise you’ll miss out on the whole story.  With issue #4 right around the corner you better act quick.

It takes a special kind of mountain biker to front up to race – not ride – for 750 kilometres across some of australia’s roughest trails, completely self-supported.

The Hunter Valley Race Trail (or ‘HuRT,’ and it sure does) is an exercise in pure grit, determination, perhaps sadism, and it’s one of the greatest adventures you can have on a mountain bike. What began as a quest to link up two mates’ all-time favourite trails soon grew into 324-kilometre race loop through the Hunter Valley in NSW. When that wasn’t enough, they went and found more trail.

On 1 September, 2012, six true individuals rolled out to take on 750 kilometres of unsupported mountain bike racing from Woy Woy, on the NSW Central Coast, to Lithgow, way over the over side of the Blue Mountains, with nothing but a lot of soul-searching in between. This was always going to really, really hurt.

We caught up with Ross Cairns, one of the original HuRT conspirators, and did a postmortem of this year’s Big HuRT race.

Jason Dregg’s bike loaded up and ready for the slog. Riders chose all kinds of machines for the Big HuRT, from carbon dual suspension 29ers through to fully rigid single speeds with cable brakes.

Can you tell us about the origins of HuRT?

Brad Mertens and I spent lots of time bike- packing locally – we called the rides ‘pie eaters’ due to our fondness for bakeries. We basically linked every bit of singletrack that we loved in the Hunter Valley, the more challenging the better. It didn’t matter if we had to get off and push every now and again, just so long as it took us somewhere amazing.

The idea of a self-supported epic, like the Tour Divide, was really appealing but there was just nothing like it locally. So we decided to make our own in late 2011. Brad and I were honestly expecting to be the only two at the start line and we were really surprised when we had four riders turn up.

We always had plans to go bigger than the original 324 kilometres but we needed time
to piece it all together. This year, the interest has been off the charts for an unknown and unconventional event. The beauty of the smaller, original HuRT is that it can help people gain confidence to go bigger. The average punter can ride it in a weekend if they push themselves and have two big days.

The view while rounding the headland near Pearl Beach gave the riders nice memories to think about during hike-a-bike hell.

What was it like planning that first course?

Fun. We didn’t have to compromise on anything, which was really important to us as we are both tired of exciting trails being dumbed down to suit the masses. If we liked the trail, it went in the loop. It gave us lots of excuses to go riding and we took advantage of that.

What is the philosophy behind the event?

Ride from the start to finish as fast as you can, totally self-supported. You’re on your own, so if you finish, the accomplishment is all yours. A GPS file is provided and some advice, and the riders navigate their way from start to finish. There are no course markings; GPS is king. There’s a gentlemen’s agreement to abide by the rules, and the whole thing is meant to be a grand adventure. In many ways, it more closely resembles a cycling adventure than a mountain bike race.

What kind of people does HuRT attract? Are they masochists?

We’ve had all sorts of people out there riding. I’ve raced it as hard as possible in an individual time trial while Gaz toured it over four or five days. It’s whatever you want to make of it. There are lots of people just riding sections of the trail at a time and having a blast. The Big HuRT is a different kettle of fish. To race it is a big call.

What are the rules of HuRT?

1. It’s self-supported. You do the whole thing without outside assistance. You can resupply from services available to everyone else (such as shops and servos), but there are no support crews and no caching of supplies or equipment and no sharing of gear with other riders on the route. You carry your own stuff.

2. You must carry a Spot GPS device. You can ride without one, but you won’t be eligible to go on the leaderboard. It’s a safety thing – you’re going to be in the middle of nowhere with no phone reception, so it just makes sense.

3. You can set off during the Grand Depart or you can ride an individual time trial when it suits you. Either is equally valid for overall results. Even those out on course at the Grand Depart probably won’t see much of the other riders so riding it as an ITT doesn’t really change the feel of the event.

4. Riders ride at their own risk.

What happened during the first year?

Everyone rode singlespeed, stopped at the pub to refuel and escape from the heat, got some sleep and had a great time. I was the first goose to try it without sleep and it worked well. I threw down a gauntlet fairly early on by saying it couldn’t be done in under 24 hours – if a punter like me can do it in 26:45, the quick enduro riders could certainly do it faster provided they can handle the odd hike-a-bike and navigation. This year, at 750 kilometres, it definitely won’t be done quickly.

Tell us about the terrain that HuRT takes in?

The HuRT is all about riding singletrack. It’s probably 60% singletrack, 35% fire road and 5% road. We ran out of options in setting up the Big HuRT and had to add more fire road and asphalt than we would have liked, but you can only ride what is there. It isn’t all polished, flowing bike paths either; it’s proper lumpy, rugged mountain bike riding that requires equal parts skill and fitness. There is plenty of hike-a-bike too. Sometimes it’s the only way to join things up, so if you hate pushing your bike, you’re not going to enjoy this one. If you’re cool with the odd push, you’re going to have fun. Leave the aerobars at home though. They aren’t going to be much use!

For the most part, the original HuRT is relatively flat. There are some bike pushes and rolling fire trails but the climbing isn’t what hurts the most. I can’t really explain it, but it just really works you over. The Big HuRT has some bigger climbs since it goes over the Blue Mountains. Towards the end, it climbs for nearly 60 kilometres – thankfully it is only 1000 vertical metres, so it is fairly gradual but it doesn’t let up.

How do you see these ultra-endurance style events going here in Australia? Will events like this ever become mainstream?

I think you could safely say Tour Divide in the USA is bordering on mainstream. Will it happen here in Australia? Perhaps. There are lots of people talking about heading to the US to ride the well-known events so interest is growing.

What is the next step for HuRT?

We will keep exploring. We have some plans to go bigger in 2013. Fifteen-hundred kilometres is a real possibility, though I’d suspect the percentage of singletrack would drop considerably. The sky is the limit.

Breakfast on day two consisted of bacon and egg rolls, sausage rolls, and as many calories as the body could take.

Interview: Shaun Palmer and the Specialized FSR DH

‘Palm brought the moto pants and jersey style to downhill, and a whole different attitude towards mountain bike racing,’ says napalm’s long-time mechanic, Joe Buckley.

‘It’s funny, Palm never actually won that many races, but he was so over the top with the cars, the partying, the bus, that people paid more attention to that than to how many races Nico Voullioz was winning!’

‘Yeah Palm was a riot. He was always “runnin’ it” as we used to say,’ remembers Kirt Voreis, who was Palmer’s team mate from 1997 to 1999.

‘He was constantly talking shit on how bad he was going to beat everyone – and make them look bad in the process – because he had more style. It was crazy to witness. Only Palmer could get away with it because usually it happened, and it came straight from his heart.’

Like man, so too the machine. The Specialized FSR DH bikes that Palmer rode from 1997 to 1999 have attained truly legendary status. So much so that many people still refer to this era of bikes as the ‘Palmer DH’: ‘I think Palmer bikes would have taken off back then just from the fan base, no matter what the bike was,’ says Voreis. ‘Mostly people remember the bike because of Palm being such an icon of that era.’

The era Voreis is talking about is unique in mountain bike history. Joe Buckley recalls: ‘Specialized had a lot of sponsors at the time – Mountain Dew, Speed Stick, Pringles. It was crazy that big companies like that were into mountain bike racing back in the day,’ Joe elaborates. ‘Many teams worked out of huge trailers, and team personnel drove around in cars provided by sponsors. NORBA races got weekly coverage on ESPN, and World Cup races got live coverage on Eurosport! Not only was life good as far as working for the team went, but each event was like a big party. World Cups were even crazier than the US scene since the crowds were absolutely huge! I was tripping out on European girls hiking around the hillside in high heels to watch mountain bike racing. Man, those were some fun times! Having Palmer on Specialized was great for the brand during this time. He was changing the downhill scene and there were plenty of people around to take notice.’

1996 was a pivotal year for Palmer, Buckley says. ‘Jeff (Streber) from Intense was helping Palmer out with bikes, and then he placed second to Nico at the World Champs in Cairns by a fraction of second, and people at Specialized really began to take notice,’ recalls Buckley. What followed was a bit of a battle between the two giants of the mountain bike world at the time, Specialized and Schwinn, to secure Palmer. It seems hard to imagine now, but the ‘Palmer DH’ could have been a Schwinn Straight 8! ‘Palm ended up signing with Specialized that winter, and started the season with them at the inaugural winter X Games at Big Bear with the goofy snow bike racing event they had.’

With Palmer and his powerful raw talent on board, Specialized had a pilot who could truly put the FSR DH to the test. But it turns out Palmer wasn’t always impressed. ‘Specialized was way different back in those days,’ says Buckley, ‘and none of the engineering team that developed that bike are around anymore. There was plenty of work we did to get things changed, like adjusting head tube angles and trying to fix the problem of the bushings binding up in the pivots by replacing them with cartridge bearings. There were some pretty heated discussions between Palm and the engineers at Specialized about needing to get cartridge bearings in there. In the end they came up with a kit that allowed us to get some bearings in there, but it was a bandaid fix. In 1999 Specialized had a new design that used a cartridge-bearing design, and this worked much better.’

Click to make me bigger (so you can read me).

 

Voreis is quick to emphasise the unprecedented amount of influence Palmer had over product development. ‘The worst part about the bikes back then were the tyres. When Palm signed with Specialized in 1997 he had to run their tyres, which were basically cross-country tyres,’ Voreis explains. ‘The previous year he had run Michelins, which were leagues above everything else. During practice at the World Cup in Nevegal, Italy I remember being on the lift and seeing Anne-Caroline Chausson pass Palmer on the infamous marble rock path in the wet like he was standing still. She had Michies and he had sketchies. He was so pissed, he had to run those tyres!’ Voreis laughs. ‘He ended up getting some Michelins on the down-low from Monk Dog, the Yeti mechanic. Specialized was not happy, but it ended up developing tyres Shaun liked. It basically started the trend in tyre development you see today. Problems that Palm had with equipment were always tackled vigorously by the companies involved.

Only people like Shaun could make the whole industry change because he said so.’

In spite of these shortcomings, the bikes were progressive for the time and much tougher than most of their contemporaries. ‘The MAX Backbone frames Palmer rode for the first two seasons were pretty bomber,’ Joe says, ‘darn stiff through the front end, and we never had problems with them cracking.’ Joe laughs as he recalls ‘hacking holes into the seat pod to accommodate the reservoirs on the rear shocks’.

In 1999 the bikes were improved. The new frames gained the characteristic ‘hole’ that ‘looked like a second bottom-bracket shell in the centre of the front triangle,’ and finally got the cartridge-bearing rear end Palmer wanted. It’s interesting to juxtapose the geometry of this bike, regarded as aggressive at the time, with the geometry of the team bikes Specialized makes today. The numbers reveal much longer chain stays, but shorter and taller front ends, although the actual suspension travel was only slightly less, at seven inches.

‘Really, you can’t even compare the FSR DH and the Demos from today aside from the fact they’re both using iterations of the FSR suspension design,’ says Buckley. The drastic improvements that have come about since are due in large part to one man, Brandon Sloan, who has been the product manager for FSR bikes since 2000. ‘Unlike the product managers and engineers that worked on prior projects, he actually raced downhill and cross country, and had a great understanding of how to improve the bikes,’ says Buckley.

Given the rock star image that Palmer cultivated, it’s surprising to learn that his approach to his bike setup was fairly pedantic. Though not ‘super-duper technical,’ Palmer ‘certainly liked his bikes a certain way,’ says Joe. ‘He was always tinkering around with his positions – bar angle, brake or shifter angles, seat height… and he was always wanted his bike super-clean. He was very into the way his Hall of fame 2011 Palmer posted three of his most elaboratley painted race bikes from the ‘96, ‘98 and ‘99 Worlds on eBay. Before the bidding ended, Specialized contacted Palm and snapped two of them up. They now hang in the offices at Morgan Hill in California. bike looked.’

Riding alongside Palmer, Kirt Voreis got a close look at how he approached his equipment too. ‘As far as bike set up goes, Palm was always changing things, and he was very resourceful.

Back in 1996, parts didn’t always fit, and most of the downhill parts were handmade.

Palm had many friends in the moto and auto industries, so he was always using their talents to customise his rigs to further his chances of winning.’

Tyres were another area that came up for special attention, something that became a bane of Joe’s mechanical life. ‘Man, I cut so many tyres back in those days,’ Joe chuckles, ‘snipping some treads, leaving others, cutting grooves or splitting knobs just so. But it was the drivetrain which caused the most contention,’ Joe says with a laugh. ‘The team was sponsored by SRAM, so we had to use Grip Shift, but Palm hated the grip-style shifter, and SRAM had no alternative at the time. He used to always bring me Shimano shifters to put on, pissing the guys at SRAM off. Thankfully SRAM has come a long way since then with their drivetrain products!’

True to the flamboyant persona, Palmer ‘had a tendency to throw things when things didn’t go his way,’ says Buckley. ‘So I had to replace grips, seats and other bent or scratched parts as needed if Palm wasn’t having a good day. I got plenty of wheel- building practice too, as he went through a lot wheels. And chain guides.’

But if there’s one aspects of the ‘Palmer DH’ era that stands out, it’s the amazing custom paint-jobs. Each bike was a Troy Lee work of art – the man himself painted Palmer’s World Championships bike each year.

Most of those bikes now hang proudly in Specialized headquarters. These bikes and Specialized’s groundbreaking pilot truly changed the sport in a way that hasn’t since been repeated. Can someone like Troy Brosnan attain the same kind of presence and leave a mark like Palmer? ‘Not unless Troy starts drinking, partying, wearing gold suits, and becoming a lot more brash!’ quips Buckley. ‘I mean, Sam, Troy, Palmer: they’re all pretty damn hungry to win races, they all have something to prove. But they have very different styles.’

When Palmer left the mountain bike scene, the sport lost a personality with a level of influence that has not been seen since. There’s no doubt Palmer was at the top of the pile, so why did he leave?

‘I think mountain bike companies and sanctioning bodies came up short promoting Palmer,’ says Vories. ‘Back then it felt like he was promoting them and I think he felt a bit betrayed by that. His influence was overflowing, with riders covering their lycra with moto pants and changing from clips to flats. Even riser bars are a Palm fad. Palm wasn’t the first to make these changes, he just did it better. Palm definitely changed the face of racing but the industry was slow to change so Palmer left to pursue bigger things. I was bummed he left.’

It was only three years ago that Palmer ruffled the feathers of the industry with a much-hyped reappearance on the World Cup scene. After ten years off the bike, Napalm was back, and thousands fantasised about the old dog returning and making his mark once again through the sheer force of natural talent and ragged determination. The fairytale didn’t pan out. Palmer did qualify at Mont-Sainte-Anne, but only just, and he hasn’t been seen at a World Cup race since.

‘You know, I don’t think he even tried to contact Specialized to ask for bikes,’ says Joe, surprised. ‘He just showed up at the races, trying to compete.’ But that’s the Palmer appeal, that’s what made him and his bikes part of mountain bike folklore. ‘That’s just his style… the guy is so spun out. He just gets onto something that he wants and goes for it. That’s probably what made him a success at so many different sports.’ And that’s certainly what made him an idol, a hero for thousands of mountain bikers then and since.

Feature: States of Rapture

 

I’m scratching my way up a trail, about 3000 metres above sea level. Down on the beach the air is richly stuffed with oxygen. Up here the molecules have a lot of room to rattle around in. The climb has rockgardens and roots, and steep pitches of varying length and intensity. The steady uphill gradient is not too bad, but at this elevation any extra effort results in a heartbeat I can hear in my head. The payoff is a short sit-down at the top of the mountain, something nice to eat, and a singletrack descent that is immediately on my five best rides of all time list. No argument. No dithering. Lock it in.

That was the third day in on my trip to Colorado and Utah with mates, to sample some of the trails lacing the mountains and high desert. We were on a fully supported tour, a new experience for most of us, and even this early in the adventure we were already sold on the concept.

Travel is defined by the unknown – all that figuring-out you have to do in a new environment is part of the journey. First, you research the things you want to do, then you organise all the details required to make it happen and then you cross your fingers and take that plunge into the unknown. But this trip was about riding our bikes, and the luxury of having somebody else sort out the details seemed worth the investment.

All of us are long-term mountain bikers and we all live in Rotorua – for the riding as much as anything else. We are lucky to have a great trail network on our doorstep, but the flipside of that is the risk of the local patch coming to define mountain biking for us. Some friends had taken the Singletrack Colorado Tour in 2011 and we had seen the pictures. It looked like a good way to ride something very different and a plan was hatched.

Eight of us found ourselves heading to America in late July. There should have been 10 but Leonie took a bad fall only a week before we were due to depart, and the damage to her ribs was too great to allow travel. That counted her husband Mike out as well.

Jamming in Boulder, Colorado

The trip to Denver was uneventful until we tried to board the shuttle van to Boulder. The van was big, but it had no trailer. There were eight of us plus the driver, eight bike boxes, eight large bags and assorted small bags. There was no way it was all going to fit. But the driver, who did not believe that a vehicle’s holding capacity is finite, started loading anyway. So we helped. The bikes went in, the bags went in, and then strategic loading dictated that people had to be inserted into some people- shaped spaces that would become difficult to access with the addition of more bikes. When the van was full, there were still three bike boxes, three or four bags and four people still on the sidewalk. We all thought it was a hopeless situation, that another van or at least another trip would be required. But that is not how drivers like ours do things. So bike boxes were moved, bags were rotated, people were inserted into ever tighter gaps, and with Eugene in the front nursing a large bag on his lap, and Mike, Neil and Fiona supporting a bike box on their heads, our driver was able to close all the doors at the same time.

Luckily, the drive to Boulder was only an hour. A quick kip in the van got us jet-lagged Kiwis back on an even keel. The excitement of knowing we were going to be riding some in new places in a couple of days was only tempered by the fact that we have to wait a couple of days to hit the trails.

In the land of bigger and better

When we got to Boulder, Carl and Brian collected us in an enormous van with a box trailer that swallowed all our stuff with no bother at all. Then we connected up with Nick, another guide who is also one of the Rotorua gang, and went out for the ‘getting started’ dinner. That was the first occasion we were exposed to the largesse of the American kitchen – it didn’t matter what was ordered, there was a huge pile of it on the plate. After I’d inhaled a Special Burrito I felt a bit like a boa constrictor with a freshly-swallowed rabbit on board – probably not ideal preparation for my first go at pedalling uphill in rarefied air.

After our first day on the bikes I rashly slotted the experience into my top three rides of all time. The guides looked amused. After the second day Brian asked me how I felt about my top three now we had ridden the Peaks Trail. I told him I would have to think about it. As I have already said, the third day was stellar, but by then I had expanded the list to five. A day later the whole idea of a list of top rides was looking pretty stupid.

The fourth day had three rides in one, and they could all qualify for prime billing on that list I’d just discarded. From the carpark, at 3400 metres, we climbed up to Monarch Crest in brilliant sunshine and took in views of most of North America. Narrow singletrack made long traverses high above tree line, vantage points showed forest covered mountains and bald peaks to a distant horizon. The trail would drop though rock-strewn sections into the trees then clamber out on to the ridgeline again, for mile after mile. After several hours we were caught in a violent thunderstorm. So we ate lunch in various hideouts along the trail, with hail bouncing off our helmets. The lightning was so close that Jason reckoned he could smell it.

The long descent was done in pouring rain with water running down a trail of loose rocks. After half an hour of slithering downhill, bouncing off wet stone and cannoning through standing water, we hit the Rainbow Trail. Dry and dusty, the Rainbow Trail was such a contrast it was hard to believe. This last part of the day’s journey was smooth dirt, flowing along a valley wall through aspen and pine. Every day we looked at the clear sky and rising temperatures and then hefted our substantial backpacks, jammed full of the stuff our guides had said we must bring. The warmers and base layers and jackets seemed like overkill until that day, when the mountain weather showed its teeth.

Carl has been riding these parts for more than two decades, first as a racer in the early 90s, then as a guide, and now with his own company. The schedule, the trails, the travel and the accommodation are all worked out carefully, drawing on those years of experience. The rides early on were great, but they were fairly easy by comparison with later days on the trail. The way we moved from town to town was choreographed so that the longer drives were done when we were well cooked after a big day out. The two days that had no riding planned looked positively lame when we were sitting at home looking forward to it all, but nobody was trying sneak in an extra ride when the rest days rolled around.

When mountain biking started in California, another place was giving birth to a similar activity, modified by the terrain and the type of people involved. The place was Crested Butte. Back then it was an old mining town that wanted to become a ski town. Trails that had been used for mining, and some that are probably even older, became testing grounds for the new sport, as a hard core of cross country skiers worked the kinks out of bikes to handle the dirt. We got to ride a couple of the best of those trails.

One day was taken up by a series of trails that are shared with motorised back country adventurers. Yup, dirt bikes are allowed to take in the same trails we were riding, and that is actually a good thing. The moto riders prefer going uphill, and in two huge descents the trail we followed had been sculpted through the gravelly dirt by big, soft moto tyres – smoothly rounded whoops and natural berms railed every corner. The only downside is the two-stroke fumes, which don’t go anywhere near making up for the lack of oxygen at these elevations.

Reno Trail leads to Flag, and that leads to Bear. They meet at junctions with other trails heading off into the distance, in huge country that seems to get bigger the further you venture in it. The trails are reshaped by their users, but they follow lines laid down by traditional socio- geological forces: people travelling, animals moving with the day, mining gear going in or the spoils of the work coming out. It feels like we could turn that way instead of this way, and just keep going. Deadman’s Gulch follows on. It is a mad series of hairpins, too many to count. Too many to count if you are descending on a pushbike, anyway. There must have been over 30, nobody seemed sure.

The 401 is a mountain biking standard, a legendary trail I could have sworn I rode when I made the pilgrimage to Crested Butte in 1989. I genuinely believed I did, but it must have been some other trail because we went in a different direction to get to it, and the ride was not something I could forget. Starting with a big high-altitude climb to Schofield Pass, about 600 metres above the carpark, the steep and twisty trail climbed to a huge meadow with views in all directions. I looked back down the valley, where the trail must go. It looked a long way down – and it was.

A very fast dirt trail slipped away down the side of the valley through the summer foliage. The trail finished with another stiff climb, then another long fast descent. Brian was following me and he reckoned I almost ran over a snake. I didn’t even see it.

Silverton is a little mining town in the Rockies. The town we rolled in to is more or less as it was in the 1800s. If not for the steam train that comes in from Durango every day, Silverton might be a ghost town, like so many of the places nearby, but the tourists have kept Silverton alive. Jeep tours and motorcyclists call in for refreshments, and our tour was based there for the ride down Hermosa Creek. The hotel we stayed in was straight out of a western movie, completely furnished in a style befitting its origins as a gold rush bordello.

The day out of Silverton on Hermosa Creek was mountain biking perfection: a generally downhill trail with heaps of variety, a couple of stiff climbs, plenty of opportunities for serious injury. Mike, Gregg and Eugene all tested the firmness of the dirt (by falling on it), and found it satisfactory. Coming back into the main street after a day in the saddle and staggering up the red-carpeted stairs to the creaking floorboards and polished woodwork of the upstairs parlours was about as close to the real Wild West as any of us Antipodeans is likely to get.

Slickrock friction in Moab, Utah

A drive through the long views and hard country on the way to Moab, Utah gave us a car-window snapshot of middle America. The country has incredible economic power; every second vehicle on the busy interstate freeways was a truck full of stuff going somewhere. But life looks pretty rugged for some people – little clusters of mobile homes with the evidence of years of occupation gathered around them were a common sight on the two-lane highway we took to Moab.

A green oasis in a sea of fossilised sandstone, Moab is another mining town that now digs for gold in the pockets of adventurers. Moab got its start as a mountain biking destination because of a trail nearby called Slickrock. Marked out in the 1940s by the army as a trials course for motorbikes, it loops around a plateau of rounded rock formations and covers about 12 miles – that’s just under 20 kilometres. If that doesn’t sound far, you haven’t tried riding up a slope that is steeper than a flight of stairs. Repeatedly. Following a dotted line painted straight on to the rock, riders get otherworldly views of the surrounding country while experiencing the best traction they will ever find. The stiction available made us feel like flies with wheels. Climbing or traversing is hard to believe – it seems like anything is possible as long as you have enough power and nerve. On some of the climbs, going over backwards is a possibility, and that would be bad. This is rock, really hard rock.

Case in point was Porcupine Rim, it would hard to find a better example of a place you might not come back from. A long way from help, huge exposure, very technical riding and no way to have a harmless little tumble. The last half hour to the bottom of Jackass Canyon was following natural rock ledges with dozens of places where a poor line choice could be the last one you make. Which, in the end, was what made it so good.

Full-circle

We finished the tour where we had started, with another big climb in the high country of Colorado, and another descent that seemed endless, but sadly was not.

After two weeks of incredible variety there was general agreement that our bikes had been up for a lot more punishment than they would usually get back home. Everybody agreed that a well-guided tour is as good as it gets. Tired to the bone and fizzing at the bung, we headed back to the New Zealand winter with eyes opened to new possibilities – the whole bike riding thing was refreshed after complete immersion in new terrain.

The crew: Mike: seriously talented rider, owner of local bike shop, coming back for a second go at the tour Gregg: president of local club, owner of local pub, connoisseur of fine grub Neil: barefoot waterskier, race kart driver, plans to build his own lake Eugene: sculptor, art teacher, downhiller, recently discovered his inner-roadie Alice: rides bikes, motos, sailboards, kiteboards, snowboards, works as a GP in her spare time Fiona: travels to go snowboarding, runs as often as she rides Jason: has been riding forever, BMX, downhill, then trail riding – he’s fast up and down Carl, Brian and Nick: guides, drivers, a photographer Gaz: your reporter.

The Soapbox: Practise Makes Good Enough

 

Through my formative teenage years, every Friday night after dinner my dad would disappear into the lounge room. There he’d stand, feet shoulder-width apart, hands clasped in front of him. Then, slowly, solemnly, he’d begin to swing his arms back and forth. He wasn’t, as we’d assumed, finally having some kind of breakdown or seizure; in fact he was ‘practising’ his golf swing in preparation for Saturday morning’s 8am tee off.

Golf is one of the most frustratingly addictive sports going. And while whacking a little bitof rubber and plastic around miles and miles of paddock mightn’t share many obvious similarities with mountain biking, us mountain bikers could really learn a lot from the world of golf. And I’m not talking about how to wear three-quarter knickerbockers with panache or how to jump your bike over bunkers (though both are a lot of fun).

If there’s one thing that golfers know how to do, it’s practise. Hours of refining their swing at the driving range, patiently drilling putt after putt after putt on practice greens under the judging gaze of their cohorts in the clubhouse. Countless superannuation funds have been sunk into private tuition, Zen meditation tapes and secret strategies to fortify the mind against the sledges of playing partners. And for all this effort, golf remains a sport where it can all unravel faster than you can say ‘Gee, your backswing’s looking a little tense.’ When it does unravel, what do golfers do? Practise more, hit more balls, concentrate harder, buy new clubs, drink more red wine and swing their arms in the lounge room with greater fervour.

Mountain bikers don’t do this.

When was the last time, honestly, that you donned the lycra, packed a sandwich and headed out with the express aim of practising a skill, a section of trail, a new technique?
For most of us, the answer is never. We learnt mountain biking through just ‘doing’, and that has taken us to a point that we consider good enough. It’s like handwriting – every one of us, at some stage, was given a gold star for it by some well-meaning teacher, and from that moment on there was no need to improve, which is why most of us produce a scrawl that looks like it was scratched onto the page by a wound-up chicken.

As super coach Mark Fenner says, ‘Do what you’ve always done and you’ll get what you’ve always got.’ We ride our local loop, we roll around the same obstacles, we walk down the same sections, we get off to lift our bikes over logs that, with a little practise, we could hop over. Meanwhile, we look on with admiration as someone else flies through that rockgarden, drops off that ledge or hops over that gully. Yes, some riders are just more naturally gifted, and I’m sure you’re still having a bloody good time. But with some practise, perhaps some tuition to break old habits, who knows how much more fun you could be having?

‘I can’t bunny hop,’ I’ve heard riders say. What, you’ve got special gravity? Of courseyou can bunny hop. It just takes practise, and thankfully practising mountain biking isn’t exactly an arduous task – hey, you’re riding! Practise may not ever make you a perfect rider, but when you reap the rewards of your practise sessions out on the trail, well, there are few more perfect feelings.

Feature: The Bucket List Part 4 – Final Preparations

Mike Kennedy is an ordinary guy doing something extraordinary – he is going to race the BC Bike Race in Canada in just a few short weeks. Mike has been documenting his adventures for Flow and you can catch up with the first 3 parts of his journey here: 1, 2, 3.

Now, with only weeks left until the big day, Mike contemplates what is ahead and if he has done enough to prepare.


Where am I at now?

Over the weekend I was doing what has become my regular training ride. A mashup of a few local trails connected by short sections on the road which, all combined, add up to about 55 km and 1100 metres of climbing. I felt great. It’s not a very technical loop but after the last couple of months where I have gone from one gumby stack to the next. The one thing I’m happy to do is sit back, pedal and keep the rubber side down.

Anyway 55 kms and feeling good. I even felt I could do more, which I guess is handy because this will be my average day during the BC Bike Race. Repeated 7 times…Yikes! To get a feeling for what’s ahead of me here’s a video from the 2012 race and some stats about the 2013 journey.

Day 1- Cumberland
Distance 53.4km
Elev Gain 1200m

Day 2 – Campbell River
Distance 50.7km
Elev Gain 1005m

Day 3- Powell River
Distance 48km
Elev Gain 1070m

Day 4- Earls Cove to Sechelt
Distance 65km
Elev Gain 2110m…This one’s gonna leave a mark!

Day 5 – Sechelt to Langdale
Distance 40km
Elev Gain 1420m

Day 6 – Squamish
Distance 48km
Elev Gain 1660m

Day 7 – Whistler
Distance 26km
Elev Gain 860m

The weekend also marked 4 weeks to go till the start of the race and my riding has become more fitness training than just out and out razzing around with the boys. I still do that too, but I would definitely say that I’m way more conservative as I get closer to the big day.

Time on the bike is all it’s about now. Sometimes fun, sometimes lonely, and sometimes boring.

Avoiding injuries is one thing, but managing them is another thing altogether! Lets just say I have kept my physio gainfully employed. A few silly crashes and the niggly little injuries quickly stack up. We’ve all done it. You are just riding along, somewhere you’ve ridden a million times and splat, ”what the hell just happened?” This has been a recurring theme for me lately. Weekly physio, stretching, and a good supply of anti-inflammatory drugs has helped. I think I’m pretty much back on track.

At the moment I average 5 rides and 150 km per week but still feel I need to do more. Now I know I said I wanted to do all of my training “off road”, which in hindsight was a very idealistic concept. I have mostly stuck to the plan, but with a few injuries, some crappy weather and less and less time, I have come to the realization that time spinning the cranks is better than not training at all.

Enter the stationary trainer. An evil invention clearly designed during the dark ages to dole out punishment and boredom in equal quantities. Sadly we are set to become very well acquainted over the final few weeks. The only upside is that there is zero chance of injuring yourself, unless you count the strange desire to self harm induced by sessions on trainers.

And it’s not only me who needs to get that final bit of preparation done, so too does my bike. Today I took my bike down to my local bike store, Manly Cycles, who along with Specialized Australia have really stepped up to support me and my team mate Mark Wrightson. They’ve all be super in helping me thorough out my race prep & service on the trusty Stumpjumper before I leave for Canada late next week.

With only a few weeks to go you guys know where I’ll be in the meantime. I may be punching out endless kilometres on the evil trainer but my mind will be elsewhere – deep in the lush forests of BC.

There’s still time to have fun with the camera though.

 

 

The Nedbank Sani2c – An Experience More Than A Race

The Nedbank Sani2c stage race is overwhelmingly big for an Aussie. It’s big for a South African too, with some local riders reporting a five year wait to get a entry into the event.

The feed zones are a source of great pride for the communities that host them.

In fact, the largest mountain bike stage race in the world is so big that it is divided into three separate instalments: The Trail, the Adventure and the Race. Flow was at the Trail event – the one that’s about enjoying the journey over chewing the stem.

In each sub-event, up to 750 pairs of riders follow the same 260-odd kilometres of trails, but start a day apart. A total of almost 4500 entrants enjoy breath-taking landscapes, sleeping in sprawling tent villages, huge food halls, and three very different race atmospheres. Every rider receives a 100L tub for transporting their gear between each stage and will be seen wandering around the race village in one of the three warm jackets they received just for entering.

Riders camped between macadamia trees on night two.

Key to the Sani2c’s success is that it’s about giving each and every participant an exceptional experience. In addition to the large scale of the event several other elements add to the spectacle too.

A floating bridge on day one has become something of an icon, although this was upstaged in 2013 by an even larger floating bridge – just before the finish line. The final 800m pedal wound over a lagoon, hit the sand, then moved with the surf. Riders who came in later in the day got the larger tides upping the challenge further still.

The floating bridge on day one had more than a few riders a little nervous.

We joined a crew of 12 passionate riders from Sydney who have come to South Africa to experience the Sani, enjoy some of the other riding the country has to offer and tie in the mountain biking with some much appreciated charity work as well. Keep your eyes on the Flow website and issue #4 of Flow for more in depth stories from this exceptional stage race and the journey that has surrounded it.

Not all riders kept it high and dry accross the lagoon on the way to the final finish line.
Another floating bridge took riders to the final finish line on day three.

Entries for the tenth anniversary of the Sani2c, in 2014, open in August this year. Some extra slots are set aside for international riders and a few special solo slots are available too. Keep an eye on the event website and Facebook page for up to date infomation and start planning an experience of your own!

Event Director, Farmer Glen, took the time to meet almost every competitor as they finished the event.

Interview: Josh Carlson on the first ever World Enduro Series race

Fresh off the plane from Italy,  Giant Factory Racing’s Josh Carlson took the time to chat with Flow about his experiences at the inaugural round of the World Enduro Series in Punta Ala.

 

Click below to hear what Josh had to say:

Josh nabbed himself a fantastic tenth place (despite having only minimal practice after his plane went AWOL at an Italian airport!). The event was huge success, attracting the some of the biggest names in mountain biking, across all kinds of disciplines. Just take a look at the podium; Barel, Clements and Graves – a DH World Champion, an Enduro specialist and a 4X/BMX legend – it doesn’t get a whole lot more diverse than that.

Slipping and sliding in the Punta Ala woods.

Josh was pretty cagey about the new bike he’s been riding, a carbon 650B-equipped Reign, but Sven Martin was kind enough to nab a few shots of the steed.

Josh’s weapon of froth: 27.5″ wheels, shite-loads of carbon, Stealth dropper post, new Schwalbe prototype rubber.
Internal cabling and a seriously stealthy finish.
Josh is on the Schwalbe First Ride prototype program. Schwalbe are really going hard with 27.5″ rubber.

Must-Ride: Tathra, NSW

Tathra, oh Tathra… Tucked away on the far south coast of NSW, Tathra is a cruisy seaside town harbouring a sensational singletrack secret.

Stashed away in the hills that slope down to meet the golden sand is more great trail than you can squirt a leaky hydra-pack hose at. There’s almost 50km of some of the finest handbuilt trails imaginable; in fact there’s so much trail and so few riders that the locals are crying out for more more riders to drop by and help keep the leaves off.

We’re good Samaritans here at Flow, so we heeded the Tathrans cries for trail-clearing assistance. We packed the cars, loading in our cross-country bikes, and hit the road south. You can read all about it in issue #3, but watching the video above and casting your eye over the shots below should give you a pretty good idea of what you’re missing out on.

Flowing down the ‘Bridges’ trail. This is a must-ride.
Signposted and mapped trails, plus a full-stocked bike shop. You cannot go wrong.

Razzing around the ‘water tank’ trails on the south side of town.
It’s all about the burgers. Small town, big burgers.
The killer trails of Bermagui are just up the road.

Bikes, boards and bromance.

Two hands for beginners please.

 

Bec Henderson Writes: Dan and Bec’s Dream Weekend

It has been an absolutely surreal couple of days with Dan and I achieving the biggest results of our racing careers over the weekend winning our World Cup races at the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Albstadt, Germany.

The week leading into the race went perfectly smoothly being looked after by all the kind people from the Trek Factory team, for me there were two major things ticking over in my mind. The first, what was going to happen with the weather, it has been completely inconsistent with rainy days followed by beautiful sunny days and the forecast was continually changing. The second, how is my form? My training had been going well, I had a dream start to the season in February/March (winning my first National Round, Mellow Johnny’s Classic and a few other races). But, I had a really average race in Solothurn in Switzerland a couple of weekends ago so there was certainly some doubt in my mind…. I was really keen to get the first World Cup race done and dusted, just to see where I stand relative to the other girls and see where I need to improve.

I warmed up playing over my race tactic in my head, all I could think was RIDE SMART, Dan and I had talked about in the leading days and we knew it would be crucial in the later half of the race. I knew it was 100% important to keep my head cool and clear and not get caught up in any silly moves.

I had a clean and fast start and was in the leading group of about five riders but I could see one of the Colnago girls already putting the pressure on and opening up an advantage. I was getting caught up with a few anxious and stressing riders who were burning energy being silly. At this point I wasn’t backing myself and was starting to think about where I stood. Can I get top 5 today?

I settled into my pace straight away and on the second climb I was already starting to pull back and pass riders and rode into about third of fourth at the halfway point. It was then that the leader had a flat tyre and at that same point I passed another rider. Now into second (although I thought I was now into about fourth) and at the end of the first lap I rolled onto the wheel of the Swiss leader through the star/finish area.

There was a bit of a head wind and I played it cool and patient and refused to pull a turn until we got back into the slower climbing and was able to ride away. By now, I knew I was leading and knew NOW I need to keep in under wraps and focus on doing everything right, relaxing and recovering where possible and riding consistently.

It was on the first climb on lap two that I got the gap and was able to extend it to almost a minute at the halfway point. I didn’t see another rider for the rest of the race and tried not to think about the end result until I had crossed the line.

It was an unbelievable race for me, if I ever expected/hoped/trained to win a World Cup, I didn’t plan to do it by 48 seconds and a solo ride. It gives me great confidence leading into the season (which has actually for me been going since January) and into round 2 of the World Cup this weekend on my favorite course in the Czech Republic.

It was a little bit emotional at the finish line, I’m not sure if it was sheer relief as this had been my years goal, or if it was surprise, shock and just happiness but a few tears decided to leave my eyeballs…. (I was not the only one…)

And now I go into the second round wearing the leaders jersey which I will hold on to as long as I possibly can! Time to not change anything as all the training seems to be working!

Dan’s race was almost a complete blur to me, I was watching on my own for the first few laps, he had a great start and then dropped back to about 18th position where I was happy, as I knew he had backed off the pace a little to conserve as it was going to be a long and tough race on a crazy brutal course, not to mention the conditions!

As the race went by he just pegged off rider by rider and I was so happy he was going to be in the top 10. I spent the majority of the race watching with Team Manager Rourkie and Emily & Adam who were as excited as I was. Adam started making up crazy scenarios like (Canadian Accent) “ohh, imagine if he got on the PODIUM” and “Imagine if he WON the race, that would be CRAZY, could you just imagine”. We laughed at the thought of it, and before our eyes Dan continued to move up and pass the riders ahead of him.

With half a lap I saw him make the pass on the Olympic Champion Kulhavy and I ran down to the finish line, but now I had no idea what was going on. I heard a false rumor he was in the lead and then found a high place to see him cross the line. I couldn’t believe the first rider to enter the finish straight was DAN!

The look on his face (and I ‘m sure mine) was that of absolute disbelief! There was almost no excitement, just shock, it really is indescribable. There are few who truly understand what Dan has been doing over the last 12 years (and the lack of assistance and support he has had until this year) as he chases the World Cup series across the globe, but on this day, everything fell into place for him and he could show what he is really capable of!

There is not much more I can write to explain what happened, but this is a huge step forward for mountain biking in Australia and I know once things start heading in the right direction, there could be a few more riders following in the footsteps of Dan.

Again, it has been a ridiculously crazy weekend with both of us achieving the unexpected. To win for either of us is awesome, but on the same weekend at the FIRST World Cup, with the leaders jersey. Well. You get the point!

There are some crucial people that must be thanked… Our Families are the ones who have supported us forever, in every way, Trek Factory Racing, our new team have taken us under their wing, and taken crazy good care of us with love, support and the best equipment and are so genuinely happy for us, it’s awesome! Rich Peil, who has put a lot of time, effort and money in supporting us throughout the last couple of years, helping us get to the Olympics, and now to our first World Cup victories. Rich has not just supported Dan and I, but the developing, and elite mountain bikers of Australia, he is one of the last people left supporting the Australian scene. Thankyou!

All of our sponsors who have supported us along the way, I hope this is just the beginning, I am so excited and hope there are many more success stories to share! We are on a level playing field now.”

This post originally appeared on Bec Henderson’s blog – http://bechenderson.com.au/blog/

Bec Henderson Writes: Dan and Bec's Dream Weekend

It has been an absolutely surreal couple of days with Dan and I achieving the biggest results of our racing careers over the weekend winning our World Cup races at the opening round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Albstadt, Germany.

The week leading into the race went perfectly smoothly being looked after by all the kind people from the Trek Factory team, for me there were two major things ticking over in my mind. The first, what was going to happen with the weather, it has been completely inconsistent with rainy days followed by beautiful sunny days and the forecast was continually changing. The second, how is my form? My training had been going well, I had a dream start to the season in February/March (winning my first National Round, Mellow Johnny’s Classic and a few other races). But, I had a really average race in Solothurn in Switzerland a couple of weekends ago so there was certainly some doubt in my mind…. I was really keen to get the first World Cup race done and dusted, just to see where I stand relative to the other girls and see where I need to improve.

I warmed up playing over my race tactic in my head, all I could think was RIDE SMART, Dan and I had talked about in the leading days and we knew it would be crucial in the later half of the race. I knew it was 100% important to keep my head cool and clear and not get caught up in any silly moves.

I had a clean and fast start and was in the leading group of about five riders but I could see one of the Colnago girls already putting the pressure on and opening up an advantage. I was getting caught up with a few anxious and stressing riders who were burning energy being silly. At this point I wasn’t backing myself and was starting to think about where I stood. Can I get top 5 today?

I settled into my pace straight away and on the second climb I was already starting to pull back and pass riders and rode into about third of fourth at the halfway point. It was then that the leader had a flat tyre and at that same point I passed another rider. Now into second (although I thought I was now into about fourth) and at the end of the first lap I rolled onto the wheel of the Swiss leader through the star/finish area.

There was a bit of a head wind and I played it cool and patient and refused to pull a turn until we got back into the slower climbing and was able to ride away. By now, I knew I was leading and knew NOW I need to keep in under wraps and focus on doing everything right, relaxing and recovering where possible and riding consistently.

It was on the first climb on lap two that I got the gap and was able to extend it to almost a minute at the halfway point. I didn’t see another rider for the rest of the race and tried not to think about the end result until I had crossed the line.

It was an unbelievable race for me, if I ever expected/hoped/trained to win a World Cup, I didn’t plan to do it by 48 seconds and a solo ride. It gives me great confidence leading into the season (which has actually for me been going since January) and into round 2 of the World Cup this weekend on my favorite course in the Czech Republic.

It was a little bit emotional at the finish line, I’m not sure if it was sheer relief as this had been my years goal, or if it was surprise, shock and just happiness but a few tears decided to leave my eyeballs…. (I was not the only one…)

And now I go into the second round wearing the leaders jersey which I will hold on to as long as I possibly can! Time to not change anything as all the training seems to be working!

Dan’s race was almost a complete blur to me, I was watching on my own for the first few laps, he had a great start and then dropped back to about 18th position where I was happy, as I knew he had backed off the pace a little to conserve as it was going to be a long and tough race on a crazy brutal course, not to mention the conditions!

As the race went by he just pegged off rider by rider and I was so happy he was going to be in the top 10. I spent the majority of the race watching with Team Manager Rourkie and Emily & Adam who were as excited as I was. Adam started making up crazy scenarios like (Canadian Accent) “ohh, imagine if he got on the PODIUM” and “Imagine if he WON the race, that would be CRAZY, could you just imagine”. We laughed at the thought of it, and before our eyes Dan continued to move up and pass the riders ahead of him.

With half a lap I saw him make the pass on the Olympic Champion Kulhavy and I ran down to the finish line, but now I had no idea what was going on. I heard a false rumor he was in the lead and then found a high place to see him cross the line. I couldn’t believe the first rider to enter the finish straight was DAN!

The look on his face (and I ‘m sure mine) was that of absolute disbelief! There was almost no excitement, just shock, it really is indescribable. There are few who truly understand what Dan has been doing over the last 12 years (and the lack of assistance and support he has had until this year) as he chases the World Cup series across the globe, but on this day, everything fell into place for him and he could show what he is really capable of!

There is not much more I can write to explain what happened, but this is a huge step forward for mountain biking in Australia and I know once things start heading in the right direction, there could be a few more riders following in the footsteps of Dan.

Again, it has been a ridiculously crazy weekend with both of us achieving the unexpected. To win for either of us is awesome, but on the same weekend at the FIRST World Cup, with the leaders jersey. Well. You get the point!

There are some crucial people that must be thanked… Our Families are the ones who have supported us forever, in every way, Trek Factory Racing, our new team have taken us under their wing, and taken crazy good care of us with love, support and the best equipment and are so genuinely happy for us, it’s awesome! Rich Peil, who has put a lot of time, effort and money in supporting us throughout the last couple of years, helping us get to the Olympics, and now to our first World Cup victories. Rich has not just supported Dan and I, but the developing, and elite mountain bikers of Australia, he is one of the last people left supporting the Australian scene. Thankyou!

All of our sponsors who have supported us along the way, I hope this is just the beginning, I am so excited and hope there are many more success stories to share! We are on a level playing field now.”

This post originally appeared on Bec Henderson’s blog – http://bechenderson.com.au/blog/

Racing Alice: The Ingkerreke Commercial MTB Enduro 2013

It’s no secret that John Jacoby from Rapid Ascent goes to great lengths to deliver the goods. But rumours about John’s possible involvement in securing the unusual weather conditions in Alice Springs during this year’s Ingkerreke Commercial Mountain Bike Enduro (ICME) have yet to be confirmed.

 

Rolling out with a police escort under Melbourne-esque skies, not the endless blue we’re used to seeing in Alice! Cheers to Alice Springs mayor, Damian Ryan, for this shot.

It never rains in Alice

 

The ICME is renowned being a staunch introduction to the demands of riding in Central Australian in winter: low humidity, significant temperature fluctuations, and Alice’s distinctive terrain – the sand, the rock, those tyre-puncturing thorns and that gritty but loose red dirt. John describes it as ‘rude, rocky and rough’.

‘The terrain is different,’ adds Michael Crosbie. ‘But once you get it, it’s fast.’

But the riding conditions changed dramatically this year when a sudden cold front brought the region’s relentless summer to an end just days before this five-day, seven-stage froth-fest began. ‘We’ve never had such wet and cold conditions,’ said Sam Maffet from Rapid Ascent.

While the locals were scratching their heads in wonder, the interstate visitors settled in for more of the kind of riding they thought they’d left at home – stable temperatures of 12–18°C, with morning mists and spells of rain.

Rain mightn’t have been what competitors were expecting, but it packed down the sand and made for grippy, fast riding.

It proved to be a win-win situation, however, especially for Andy Blair, who won the race this year, for the third time running. The rain packed down Alice’s infamous sand and gave steep climbs and uncambered corners unprecedented amounts of traction. Local riders and ICME regulars were easy to spot, particularly during stage one, as they yipped and yahoo-ed over the still damp tracks.

On the right, men’s winner, Andy Blair, after the infamous ANZAC Hill Climb stage (yep, slick tyres, skin suits and all!).

‘The tracks were in the best condition of all the years we have run the race,’ said Sam Maffet.

Ben Mather, who won the race in 2009, agreed: ‘The sand hardly slowed anyone down this year, and the singletrack rode really fast. There wasn’t as much sliding out on the corners to slow you down.’

‘The tracks were a lot grippier,’ said Andy. ‘And that made it easier. But I quite like the loose stuff – it makes it harder for everybody,’ he joked. ‘Lots of people had problems, with crashes and mechanicals ruling them out early in the race, but that’s just typical of the racing in Alice.’

The faster-riding track conditions, together with a high turnout of elites and a faster-rolling middle and back-end, made for a noticeably quicker field throughout the ranks.

Women’s winner, Rowena Fry. Not tired enough, clearly.

Winner Rowena Fry came into the race with low expectations: ‘I just planned to see how I would go, but the tracks were so good, and the riding conditions really suited me, being from Tasmania, so I went for it.’

‘Having some close competition at the front end always pushes the pace up a bit, too,’ said Sam. ‘With Michael Crosbie nipping at Andy Blair’s heels the whole way, they probably rode a bit faster as a result!’

Ingkerreke (in-ger-uka) – ‘all together’

 

The ICME is one of Australia’s longest-running stage races, with a line-up that makes the most of the terrain and really puts riders through their paces, including a 300-metre climb up Anzac Hill, the long stage, and the individual time trial and the night race (both on the one course).

For this year’s long stage, Rapid Ascent and naming sponsor Ingkerreke Commercial (an Indigenous Corporation that trains and employs Aboriginal builders and tradies) created an entirely new course. The 86km course started in the Aboriginal community Santa Teresa and went through station and Aboriginal land – all usually closed to casual visitors – to finish on the southern side of The Gap, just out of Alice.

‘We are very happy with the new stage four,’ said Sam. ‘It gave riders a new experience, especially with the race start in a remote Indigenous community, which was out in force to support riders at the start.’

The long, flat fire road of damp sand and puddles presented its own challenges, causing a fair few nose-to-tail collisions and spontaneous dismounts. It also shook up the GC: ‘It became a race of attrition for many of us who were trying to hold on to selected groups, which makes for fast and hard racing,’ said stage winner Jenny Fay. Things got even more exciting for the leading two packs of elites when vandals removed a crucial route-marker, making the last few kays of the race of attrition into an orienteering event.

But our hero for this stage has to be first-time eventer Brett Springer, who had never ridden more than 40km in a go before the ICME. While the fast kids finished their scenic slog in just over three hours, Brett kept his pedals turning for five and still had a smile as he crossed the finish line with his riding mates.

The night stage is always a favourite. It’s held on the same trails as the individual time trial, but riding them with lights is a completely different experience.

Flow subeditor Nic Learmonth relished every stage but we noticed her enthusiasm hit new heights with the night stage, and she was not the only one. ‘I love the night stage. It is my favourite memory from previous years,’ says Shaun Lewis, who won this stage and came second overall. His Swell-Specialized team mate Andy Blair echoed Shaun’s words almost exactly.

For those who have yet to experience it, the night stage is on the same course as the ITT. As riders line up for the mass start, their lights cutting through the darkness, the tribal beat of AC/DC’s ‘Thunderstruck’ blasts over the speakers. By the time that starter horn sounds the air is thick with adrenalin – perfect for riding your heart out.

Tips for next year

 

1 Tyres

Choose a hardpack tread, and run tubeless or put sealant in your tubes. The rocks in Alice bite like Steven Spielberg’s favourite rubber shark – no sidewall is safe – and the bindis can punch straight through even the thickest section of your tyre.

 2 BYO

Alice Springs tracks wreak havoc on tyres, tubes and derailleur hangers, saddles and seat posts, so if you flow over the trails like lumpy porridge or you run an unusual set-up, bring a few spare bits of kit.

 

3 Get acclimatized

Low humidity together with crisp mornings that heat up quickly are the norm, and the trail surfaces take a bit of getting used to, too, so give yourself a couple of days before the race to sort it out.

4 Local knowledge

Tap into it. The Central Australian Rough Riders (CARR) are a friendly bunch, so introduce yourself, stalk them on Facebook (Alice Springs Mountain Bike Trails), or tag along behind one out on the trails. Remember to contribute to your guide’s hydration program after the race.

 

5 Drink, drink, drink

Speaking of hydration, most of your fluid loss will be through sweat, and it will pour off you (unless you encounter a second year of aberrant weather). So find an electrolyte drink your stomach will be able to tolerate for a week, even in the heat.

The Soapbox: A bit of belief goes a long way

The last two days have been momentous for Australian mountain bike racing. Bec Henderson and Dan McConnell both took victory in the opening round of the UCI XCO World Cup – Bec in the women’s under 23s and Dan in the open men’s.

Let’s put this in perspective: the last time an Australian won an XCO World Cup was back in 2000, so to have two victories in one weekend is unthinkable.

For the last 13 years we’ve heard time and time again that Australia just isn’t much good at XCO racing, that we can’t compete with the Europeans, that we didn’t have the raw talent. Quite clearly, that’s crap.

What our riders have lacked is not talent or determination. It’s support and the backing of people who genuinely believed in our riders’ abilities.

This is Bec and Dan’s first year of racing with Trek Factory Racing, a fully-supported factory team, whereas in the past they’ve been largely on their own. When we chatted with the pair earlier in the year, they talked a lot about the challenges of racing in Europe and how they were really excited about having the opportunity to focus on their racing, not booking hire cars, finding somewhere to sleep or servicing their own bikes. And now, in their very first World Cup outing, they’ve showed us just what a difference that support can make.

We’ve always known that Dan and Bec had the ‘minerals’ and the dedication to win at this level, but without proper support, they were fighting an uphill battle. We hope their incredible success opens the eyes of those who hold the keys to allowing more young riders to follow in their footsteps.

Congratulations Dan and Bec, you’re bloody champions!

Watch Dan’s race here: http://www.redbull.com/en/bike/stories/1331591003682/watch-live-uci-men-xco-from-albstadt

Knights In Shining Lycra

As I darted out of work one Friday afternoon in a rush to get on the road, I began to mentally check off the things I would needed for my first 100km mountain bike race. Without noticing at the time, my biggest concern was about whether or not to don the typical cross country race attire or to ditch the lycra for my more recent, stealthy amateur female mountain biker getup. I had been teetering between the downhill and cross country look, finding myself more comfortable with loose fitting clothing, and happy to look like a punter so expectations weren’t built around the image I portrayed. I admired the men who comfortably strutted their lycra-clad stuff with blatant disregard for those anti-lycra fundamentalists who liked to eat meat pies and watch sport on TV whilst making fun of cyclists. I tossed in my brand new Jindabyne Cycling Club Jersey and decided to make my mind up on the day.

It’s an interesting experience being a female in the cycling world. As a teenager, I often tramped around the country with my family to watch my big brother race on the track and road, and I became increasingly aware of the ratio of men to women at these events. My brother often had fit, good looking friends and I slowly came to enjoy this as a spectator sport. I gave road cycling a go during this time, but the social butterfly in me did not enjoy the lonely hours training in the cold, wet Cootamundra winters, taking refuge instead in the camaraderie of team sports such as netball, soccer and touch football.

Almost three years ago I moved to Jindabyne for work and play. I began mountain biking with the Jindy crew on sweet single track and scenic fire trails in the Snowy Mountains not long after I arrived. My introduction to single track riding had taken place only 6 months earlier when I was roped into riding an eight hour enduro at Beechworth. The competitive spirit within me went hell for leather right from the start, with no regard for tight switchbacks and technical descending on a course I was unfamiliar with. I returned to my team after that first lap, slightly embarrassed as the blood and bruises gave away my rookie status. That didn’t stop the passion, and coming first in our category only added fuel to the fire that had begun deep within.

As I geared up for the Capital Punishment, a little wiser and even more excited than that first race, I wondered if I really should have signed up for the 100km. My brother- mentor, bike mechanic and voice of reason- wasn’t convinced that I was up to it, with my ad-hoc race preparation that I had tried to fit in around a busy month of outdoor guiding and my soccer, netball, touch and rugby commitments.

Lining up for the race with my friends Matt and Ed, I scanned the crowd for other females. We were few and far between and I had a flashback to the days of my brothers cycling career. I always felt a strange connection with other girls who were racing, and the nods and smiles exchanged gave me the impression that they felt the same way. I felt a rush of pride standing there in my club jersey. All of the fears I had about being seen in lycra had been washed away by pre-race excitement. It also seemed like the most appropriate way to maintain a low profile where I was already in the minority. The odds were looking pretty good for a single girl, but I was too nervous to be checking out potential man-friends, and I was more interested in perving on hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of sexy high tech machinery that hovered between their legs; two years ago I didn’t know what a dualy was.

When the start horn sounded, I drifted off into what would become five hours of solitary daydreaming, interrupted only by a phone call to request an ambulance for rider who had an unscheduled dismount, and brief encounters with encouraging marshals and empathising fellow competitors. One rider who sat on my tail through a long section of single track, commented “how ‘bout this view?? I could do this all day!” and as I agreed, I wondered if he was being a smart ass and referring to my lycra adorned rear end. I decided to take it as a compliment.

At the end of the untimed section I stopped to join a number of others who were using their last few minutes of rest to stretch. I became acutely aware that I was the only girl around and I tried to blend into my surroundings. I smiled politely and quietly ate another gel as a fellow racer noticed me and loudly verbalised his approval of my skills on the single track. Another man turned and asked if I was single, announced that his friend was looking for a girlfriend, and wanted to know if I was going to the after party. As heads turned to see my reaction, I got back on my bike and in an instant I was gone.

I was shocked at my sudden lack of confidence and inability to act cool. I shook off the embarrassment as I rode along on my own, and in my daydreaming I began to ponder the idea of the after party. I didn’t know about it until just before the race and so I hadn’t planned to go. But now my mind was ticking over. A room full of men that can ride 100km on a mountain bike? Wow. This is what my dreams are made of, and an opportunity that doesn’t present itself very often.

As I crossed the finish line, there was no cheering and clapping. In fact there was no one waiting to congratulate me except my friend Matty who crossed the line in front of me and understood how far I had just come. It didn’t matter. I felt amazing. I was ready to call my brother to let him know that I had not only survived, but did it in a timely fashion and enjoyed it immensely.

Packing up to go home, I asked my friend Ed if he wanted to go to the after party. With a ratio of roughly 1:7, he didn’t seem interested in being my wingman, and despite my usual healthy self-confidence, there was no way I was entering the lion’s den without some backup.

On the drive back to Jindabyne, I thought about all of the brilliant aspects of mountain bike racing: sweet flowing single track; pushing the physical and mental limits; checking out all of the different bike rigs; and the feeling of exhaustion after completing a personal challenge, alongside a thousand other like-minded people. If I had missed an opportunity to meet a lovely gentleman that shared my love of mountain biking, it didn’t matter.

The next day, back in the comfort of our local coffee hangout, I found myself surrounded by friends who were eager to hear about the race. When I told them about the after party that I didn’t attend, and hamming it up with talk of fit, athletic men and favourable ratios, they quickly offered to come along to the next one and wanted to know when it was. Well, there’s the Tathra enduro, the Kowalski Classic, the Wicked Wombat….

Looks like I’ll have a support crew on and off the bike from now on. Hopefully it will entice a few more of my friends to try mountain biking and add to the numbers of girls on the start line. Who knows, I might even meet my knight in shining lycra.

Convict 100: Chains of Love

I must confess I always look forward to the Convict; I love its fast fire trail style, with lung busting climbs, technical high speed descents and the water crossing which is such a unique challenge that can put off the most competent of riders. To be fair, there is not as much single track on offer, but as long as you know that in advance you aren’t disappointed.

Up at the crack of dawn again for another endurance race, the first stage entails successfully making it from your warm bed to the start line before 7am and negotiating the ferry queue if you are coming from the south.

Pulling up to the attractive St Alban’s pub in the chilly dark, the silly ones like me are hurriedly stuffing down bananas, muesli bars and other stuff while we affix number plates, load up drink bottles and throw on race kit. The smart people who camped were in cruise mode, warming up their legs on the streets around the pub.

As the morning sun rises so do the campers – straight to the coffee.

I am never quite sure what to wear when these events start in the freezing cold, when you know that it is probably going to heat up. Do you tough it out in bib and nicks or add the arm warmers or even a vest? I went with my favourite merino wool arm warmers which can easily be ripped off and stuffed in a pocket.  Others who had mates / loved ones in support had jackets at the start line, ripped off before the gun while the rest of us toughed it out.

A beautiful sunrise greeted the 600+ competitors lining up for 100km. The elite category were well represented with over 30 guys and girls sent off in the first wave. Successive waves were released in 10min intervals down Settlers Rd for the 10km road section. I was off in the first lot, post the elite riders, and the pace at the start was pretty pedestrian and mighty chilly, thank you arm warmers. After some jockeying for positions on the road section, we all turned left onto the track and ready for the first ‘get stuffed’ climb. A quick chug of the water bottle and then it was game on up the hill.

Many faces with many different expressions all showing the different feelings at the start of the race.

Every year I remember that this hill is quite steep in sections and every year, surprising as it may seem, it is confirmed. It’s a real handle bar chewer, especially the little kicks as you go up. For those that can ride it, you were rewarded with a sizeable lead over the rest of the group, your breakfast at the bottom of your wind pipe, and legs full of lactic acid.

Spinning out over the top, natural groups had already formed and I found myself in a group of about 10 carrying good pace as we travelled along the ridge top towards the first feed station. It was at about this point that I picked up my first stick, luckily not one I had to stop for as I would have dropped the group but as annoying as if you had a footy card on your old BMX.  Brrrrr for the next 10km and then it stopped, phew. Turns out ‘phew’ was right as after the race I found that my lower jockey wheel was missing some teeth; wasn’t I lucky it didn’t shatter!

We turned past the first feed station into the singletrack section all in file. This was where I had my second race incident. I carry two bottles for events like this, one behind the seat and one in the front triangle and try to only stop once during the race. I had finished the first bottle at the 30km mark and deciding to swap it out with the other, I found the other had departed the vehicle. Mmm, no water for 20km, awesome! The third ‘awesome’ moment was that I was at the tail end of the group and the group had split in the middle. It was sometime before I realised this and the front dudes were nowhere to be seen. Head down then to start the reeling in the bolters.

Brief glances around the smoother sections of the track revealed fantastic vistas of the plunging wooded valleys that we were riding besides and surprisingly, the sun really didn’t kick in until about 11am so the arm warmers although pulled down to the wrists, they never came off.

The 50km feed station – relief, aqua plus bananas and treats if you were running out of power! Gulping and filling my bottle, I raced off to chase the guys who had escaped up that long grinding hill. It is one of the few sections of the course where you could see a long way ahead.

At the top, the fun was about to begin, many kays of technical predominately downhill sections where the 29er full suspension rig that I was on really came out to play. Other riders on hard tails were doing it tougher through this section, but I was loving it, point and shoot. There were also some reasonably technical ascents requiring a mono and some weight transfer. One section was probably rideable but I decided it was quicker to jump off and run.

The final descent to the gate, back just before you get back on the road, was great fun; the baby head rocks didn’t seem as bad as last time, although I still had some heart-in-the-mouth moments.

The correct way.

Back to the road and a short trip to the river crossing. I really like this crossing, but funnily enough it really gets some people spooked. A steady pace and riding looking a couple of metres ahead is the key. Don’t look at your tyres and you’ll be across in no time, into a sand pit on the far side.

The not so correct way.

Time for the second section of the course; the lonely road out and back, another decent climb and some scary brake burning / water bar air time descents. This part of the course can be tough, not just because it is towards the end but the many (seems like 20) pinch climbs along the ridge top really put your legs in the hurt locker.

The final river crossing was not rideable this year and my chain decided to get stuck between my frame and chain ring as I dismounted – fantastic.  We were also starting to mix it up with the 50km riders at this point, so until you could see their number plates, you couldn’t work out if you were chasing or being chased by someone also doing the 100km.

The final 5km along the road goes relatively quickly and then you are back to St Albans to cross the finish line welcomed by the cheers of spectators and a beer and water – all the suffering is worth it and everyone I saw had a big smile from ear to ear.

Some people have too much energy to be doing this at the finish line.

Tory Thomas Chats About Joining Target Trek

Tory Thomas is the latest signing to an incredibly impressive roster at the Target Trek MTB team. As one of the most experienced female elite racers in Australia, she’s possesses a wealth of knowledge to impart upon the young squadron. Flow quizzed Tory about her role in the new team and why she joined the Target Trek crew.

You’ve just signed up with the massive Target Trek powerhouse team – what are you looking forward to most about this setup?

There is a lot to look forward to! If I have to pick what I’m most looking forward to, then that’d be being part of an upbeat and motivated team that offers fantastic support to its riders.

Why did you choose to join the Target Trek team? What about it appealed to you? 

I like the people on the team, they are confident and motivated and love mountain bike racing. I respect how the team backs their riders to achieve great results domestically and overseas. Riders are given the support they need to improve and develop, with a big emphasis placed on enjoying the process of riding and racing.

What do you see your role as being in the team, beyond simply racing?

When I started racing there weren’t really any experienced riders available to me to be able to talk about training and racing. I’m keen to do my best to help the younger and less experienced riders on the team with their racing. I think that even simple things, like riding a practice lap of a course, or debriefing after a race, can be invaluable in terms of learning and helping to build confidence with racing.

I think too that there is a role to play within the team to support the other elite riders in achieving their goals, and just doing my bit to help to create a friendly and relaxed team atmosphere when we are together as a team.

You’ve been racing as a privateer lately (prior to joining Target Trek). Tell us about that.

Not surprisingly, things changed a lot when Tim and I became parents. I think I have struggled a lot during my cycling career to keep things in perspective, and travelling to all the races as a family has certainly given me perspective! The combination of racing and travel and sleep deprivation, breast feeding and all the other things that go along with parenting was at times really challenging and pretty comical. I think it was great to be able to treat the races as a good excuse for a family holiday, or when things got tricky as a bit of a travelling circus! I need to say, Tim has been an awesome support.

I think being independent and autonomous was important for me from a practical and a psychological point of view. It meant I could pick and choose to race in just a handful of events, when it suited us as a family. And there was no pressure or expectation from anyone to turn up to the race or to perform well.

I have been racing as a privateer with no official sponsors, but I did receive some support from a few people and places to put together my race bikes. It is really challenging trying to make things happen on your own, and Tim and I were really grateful for the support I did receive.

There’s a bit of talk about recently regarding the lack of fresh blood in XCO. Do you agree? What are your thoughts? 

There’s always talk about the lack of fresh blood in XCO! Since I began racing, I’ve been told many times that Australia lacks talent. From my perspective, it’s been a really frustrating and demoralising experience being told time and time again that we are doomed – especially when there’s been virtually no investment in the current athletes. I agree that Australian athletes are under-performing, but that doesn’t mean that we lack the talent.

I think that’s a big reason why Target Trek is so appealing – rather than being negative and discounting current athletes and pouring funding and resources in to searching for better athletes, Target Trek is backing the current crop of elite riders in Australia.

What is your racing schedule looking like? Where will you be focusing your efforts?

Bit of this, bit of that! My efforts are going in to trying to get better and faster on the bike. I really haven’t done much racing during the last few years so I’m just looking forward to getting along to some races! I feel very under-raced, which is a nice feeling! Over winter I hope to do a few endurance events, a few road races and hopefully from cyclocross! All pretty low key. And some skiing – it’s cold in mount beauty over winter!

Lastly, what are your goals and aspirations racing wise throughout 2013-2014?

I’d like to be fit in time for the National XCO Season, but my main focus is preparing for World Cups next year. I’d love to finally go to a World Championship, but along the way there are heaps of races to look forward to and lots of fun adventures ahead.

 

Josh’s Jabber: Team Shoots And The Beginning Of Race Season

Wow, where did the last month go!

April marked the official start of the 2013 race season for me and involved travelling to GIANT HQ in Los Angeles for the 2013 Team Camp and the famous Sea Otter Classic at Laguna Seca.

The purpose of team camp is for everyone in the GIANT Factory Off Road team to meet up, hang out, see the new faces, and organise the upcoming race season. On top of that, we endure PLENTY of photo shoots in our fresh kits, and on our brand new bikes, all before we head our different directions for the crazy busy race season.

It’s a pretty rad feeling being on a factory team and being presented with all our fresh race rigs for the year, and receiving all our 2013 riding/racing/training gear from our amazing sponsors. The sight of huge boxes of kit awaiting us, filled with gear from our sponsors, is something we all are very appreciative of. Thank you!

Xmas early of late?  I don’t care but Adam Craig pushed in!

First order of team camp is to get photos and posters done while our bikes are in prime condition and our kits looks wicked and brand new. Day 1 of team camp has not been kind to me in the past and last year was not an ideal introduction to everyone. This year I was expecting it to be way more relaxed and exciting because I was now more “officially” part of the family, however my 2nd year wasn’t to get off to great start either!

We all packed our bags, racked up our bikes and headed to the hills for our first day of shooting. The main objective of day 1 is to get a poster shot so team posters can be made in time for Sea Otter and the autograph sessions later in the week.

All was going sweet and we were all having fun on our new bikes and catching up as the day went on. It was great to be back in the Los Angeles hills shredding and feeling the warm sunshine in my face after a freezing winter! By about 4pm however, I was about to feel a different sensation on my face – the sensation of blood trickling and a bit of swellage to my lips and mouth.

Looks only a mother could love.

We came to a loose drifty turn along the trail and team mate Adam Craig and I were roosting through it, looking for that golden shot! We had both hit it a few times with Adam keeping his feet in and I was drifting through with my foot out.

‘I’ll try it this time with my feet in and see how that goes ay,’ I say to our photographer Jake.

I pedalled into the corner fast, attempted to roost through the turn, and before I knew it I was checking to see if my teeth were still intact and trying to work out if I had just made my upper and bottom lips more ventilated.  Luckily enough my teeth were still intact and my face seemed to take the majority of the impact.

My day was done. I cleaned up my face and limped back to the truck with a bruised ego and elephant-man sized face!

A bit of ice, a few laughs in the evening, a good rest, and we were onto day 2 of shooting. The worst thing about the incident from day 1 was that we didn’t get my poster shot. The other issue was that my face was massively swollen. I had bloody cuts on my top lip and chin and both my knees had some nice bloodied cherries on them.

‘How bout we shoot Josh today in his Enduro race kit of full face and knee pads,’ was the best idea floating around that 2nd morning. Great idea, and a good way to cover up all my marks.

A day of shooting involves leaving the hotel at 7.30am, gearing up with our bikes and gear for the day, hiking/riding up to the photo shoot location(s) and taking photo after photo in different spots, with different angles, and in different light. All that repeated many times as it’s needed to fulfil our sponsors desires for photos to represent their product. On top of that I had to get my poster shot.  It was a hectic day to say the least.

In the end we got a killer shot, and I had a great day on a ridgeline trail that I would never had ridden or seen in any other circumstance.

In the end the poster turned out pretty good, despite my best efforts to sabotage it.

The next hurdle of team camp, and my busted up face, was our studio ‘headshots’ on day 3. I still looked a mess. With a bit of makeup and some digital touch up paint, and a Fatty Vaughtin head wobble to get into character, we were good to go! (Ain’t Photoshop a magical thing!)

The week wasn’t just the endless photo shoots, team meetings, bike set ups and media obligations, we were also able to get some cool rides in through the hills towards the coastline and over to Malibu along the Los Angeles coast. I am lucky enough to have some wicked team mates and it makes for some easy going rides with plenty of laughs on our training days. Plus, they are drivers and proceed to tear my legs off at every chance they get!

Away from the cameras and the calls of ‘just one more time’, endless trails.
Team camp is a lot of fun and team mate Carl Decker puts on race face for a friendly game on pong.

With our fresh rigs set up, new race kits sorted and posters in print it was time for me to put on my race face as we headed to The Sea Otter Classic. This event is a one of a kind. It is a huge deal amongst the industry due to the fact that it’s the first time many of the teams and sponsors have seen each other since the end of the previous season. This was my 3rd “Otter” and this year I decided to race the downhill as well. Adam and I thought it would be a cool training weekend if we raced the short track cross country on Friday, the full cross country on Saturday, and finished off  the weekend with the downhill on Sunday. This made for a super busy few days, fitting in training on all 3 courses along with racing them. Not to mention that this year’s entry lists for all 3 events was like a World Cup!

Cross country and downhill – all for training, and fun.

Each event was obviously super hard and competitive and it was a good eye opener to see where my form was heading towards the start of my race official season in May. Finishing off the weekend with the downhill was super fun and racing all 3 events was wicked and I couldn’t have asked for a better 3 days of training.

After a couple of cheeky brewskis and some chocolate cake with the team it was time for everyone to head their separate ways to start the season. For me, I was able to head back home to Vancouver for a couple of weeks before I leave for Italy for the start of the Enduro World Series.

Back home and time to put the finishing touches on my preparations for a huge season.

With a new bike to test and train on, and the weather on the improve in BC, I was frothing to get back. Back to the trails and back in the hurt locker to add the finishing touches to my winter prep leading into game day. It’s crazy to think how quickly it has come around and it is hard to contain my excitement to sink my teeth into the first big race.

There’s something a little different about this new bike?

SHOWTIME!

JC

Josh's Jabber: Team Shoots And The Beginning Of Race Season

Wow, where did the last month go!

April marked the official start of the 2013 race season for me and involved travelling to GIANT HQ in Los Angeles for the 2013 Team Camp and the famous Sea Otter Classic at Laguna Seca.

The purpose of team camp is for everyone in the GIANT Factory Off Road team to meet up, hang out, see the new faces, and organise the upcoming race season. On top of that, we endure PLENTY of photo shoots in our fresh kits, and on our brand new bikes, all before we head our different directions for the crazy busy race season.

It’s a pretty rad feeling being on a factory team and being presented with all our fresh race rigs for the year, and receiving all our 2013 riding/racing/training gear from our amazing sponsors. The sight of huge boxes of kit awaiting us, filled with gear from our sponsors, is something we all are very appreciative of. Thank you!

Xmas early of late?  I don’t care but Adam Craig pushed in!

First order of team camp is to get photos and posters done while our bikes are in prime condition and our kits looks wicked and brand new. Day 1 of team camp has not been kind to me in the past and last year was not an ideal introduction to everyone. This year I was expecting it to be way more relaxed and exciting because I was now more “officially” part of the family, however my 2nd year wasn’t to get off to great start either!

We all packed our bags, racked up our bikes and headed to the hills for our first day of shooting. The main objective of day 1 is to get a poster shot so team posters can be made in time for Sea Otter and the autograph sessions later in the week.

All was going sweet and we were all having fun on our new bikes and catching up as the day went on. It was great to be back in the Los Angeles hills shredding and feeling the warm sunshine in my face after a freezing winter! By about 4pm however, I was about to feel a different sensation on my face – the sensation of blood trickling and a bit of swellage to my lips and mouth.

Looks only a mother could love.

We came to a loose drifty turn along the trail and team mate Adam Craig and I were roosting through it, looking for that golden shot! We had both hit it a few times with Adam keeping his feet in and I was drifting through with my foot out.

‘I’ll try it this time with my feet in and see how that goes ay,’ I say to our photographer Jake.

I pedalled into the corner fast, attempted to roost through the turn, and before I knew it I was checking to see if my teeth were still intact and trying to work out if I had just made my upper and bottom lips more ventilated.  Luckily enough my teeth were still intact and my face seemed to take the majority of the impact.

My day was done. I cleaned up my face and limped back to the truck with a bruised ego and elephant-man sized face!

A bit of ice, a few laughs in the evening, a good rest, and we were onto day 2 of shooting. The worst thing about the incident from day 1 was that we didn’t get my poster shot. The other issue was that my face was massively swollen. I had bloody cuts on my top lip and chin and both my knees had some nice bloodied cherries on them.

‘How bout we shoot Josh today in his Enduro race kit of full face and knee pads,’ was the best idea floating around that 2nd morning. Great idea, and a good way to cover up all my marks.

A day of shooting involves leaving the hotel at 7.30am, gearing up with our bikes and gear for the day, hiking/riding up to the photo shoot location(s) and taking photo after photo in different spots, with different angles, and in different light. All that repeated many times as it’s needed to fulfil our sponsors desires for photos to represent their product. On top of that I had to get my poster shot.  It was a hectic day to say the least.

In the end we got a killer shot, and I had a great day on a ridgeline trail that I would never had ridden or seen in any other circumstance.

In the end the poster turned out pretty good, despite my best efforts to sabotage it.

The next hurdle of team camp, and my busted up face, was our studio ‘headshots’ on day 3. I still looked a mess. With a bit of makeup and some digital touch up paint, and a Fatty Vaughtin head wobble to get into character, we were good to go! (Ain’t Photoshop a magical thing!)

The week wasn’t just the endless photo shoots, team meetings, bike set ups and media obligations, we were also able to get some cool rides in through the hills towards the coastline and over to Malibu along the Los Angeles coast. I am lucky enough to have some wicked team mates and it makes for some easy going rides with plenty of laughs on our training days. Plus, they are drivers and proceed to tear my legs off at every chance they get!

Away from the cameras and the calls of ‘just one more time’, endless trails.
Team camp is a lot of fun and team mate Carl Decker puts on race face for a friendly game on pong.

With our fresh rigs set up, new race kits sorted and posters in print it was time for me to put on my race face as we headed to The Sea Otter Classic. This event is a one of a kind. It is a huge deal amongst the industry due to the fact that it’s the first time many of the teams and sponsors have seen each other since the end of the previous season. This was my 3rd “Otter” and this year I decided to race the downhill as well. Adam and I thought it would be a cool training weekend if we raced the short track cross country on Friday, the full cross country on Saturday, and finished off  the weekend with the downhill on Sunday. This made for a super busy few days, fitting in training on all 3 courses along with racing them. Not to mention that this year’s entry lists for all 3 events was like a World Cup!

Cross country and downhill – all for training, and fun.

Each event was obviously super hard and competitive and it was a good eye opener to see where my form was heading towards the start of my race official season in May. Finishing off the weekend with the downhill was super fun and racing all 3 events was wicked and I couldn’t have asked for a better 3 days of training.

After a couple of cheeky brewskis and some chocolate cake with the team it was time for everyone to head their separate ways to start the season. For me, I was able to head back home to Vancouver for a couple of weeks before I leave for Italy for the start of the Enduro World Series.

Back home and time to put the finishing touches on my preparations for a huge season.

With a new bike to test and train on, and the weather on the improve in BC, I was frothing to get back. Back to the trails and back in the hurt locker to add the finishing touches to my winter prep leading into game day. It’s crazy to think how quickly it has come around and it is hard to contain my excitement to sink my teeth into the first big race.

There’s something a little different about this new bike?

SHOWTIME!

JC

The Soapbox: Pulling The Wool Over Your Own Eyes

Trick me once, shame on you. Trick me again, it’s a pretty good trick.

Just a little way back, at the Mont 24 in fact, I overcooked my goose slightly. Getting a bit excited, I pushed myself into the anaerobic zone a couple too many times and ended with cramps in my face (not legs, face). It was a new one for me.

Needless to say, the last few kays of that lap were a bit of trying experience and I found myself resorting to one of my standard mind tricks to get my slightly nauseous butt through the remaining five or so kays. I began breaking the rest of the lap down into little chunks, digesting each bit of the trail, one small section at a time, rather than concentrating on how far I still had to go. It became a race to the next corner, the next switchback, rather than a race back to the transition area.

I find myself doing this quite a lot, particularly on the road bike, or when faced with a mother of a climb. For me, it’s a really effective way of finding the motivation to keep digging deep. Pick a spot on the trail or road 50m up the climb and keep reeling it in, like some tractor beam out of Star Wars. Tick it off then pick another. Repeat, repeat, repeat. The brief self-congratulatory buzz of achieving each small milestone gives me the motivational kick needed to achieve the next. It’s self-fulfilling and, while I’m clearly living in denial about how big the climb really is, it works for me every time.

The other trick I find myself pulling…on myself… (geez, my psychologist wife would have a field day with this) is to lie about how many gears I have. Essentially, it’s all about denying myself the use of the granny gear if at all possible.

Sounds stupid, but for me, the moment I drop into my lowest gear (especially if I’m at a race) it’s like I slip into a state of defeat. I lose the will to put any grunt through the pedals, and suddenly it just feels like pure suffering. I sit down and find myself in a funk, like a petulant teenager being forced to do school sport. It hurts.

On the flipside, if I know that I haven’t used my lowest gear yet, I feel like I’m still in the game, like I’m having a proper crack at it. I know I could just adjust the limit screws on my derailleur and take the granny gear out of the equation, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about not feeling beaten!

It’s also about having the reassurance that you’ve got somewhere you can go to as a very last resort. At some stage, we’ve all pushed at the shift lever in vain, hoping against all reason that we’ll find another, lower gear there. By keeping my granny gear ideally untouched, I have that mental safety net – I know that if things get really hard, I’ve still got one more ace up my sleeve to bail me out.

Whether I’m just good at tricking myself or perhaps just very gullible, playing these little games has become part of the way I deal with tough times on the bike.  What works for you?

 

Vino and singletrack: A rider’s perspective of the Rocky Trail Shimano GP at James Estate

The Rocky Trail pitch for this race was pretty enticing “Round 2 promises to be not only the inaugural race at James Estate Winery but also a culinary highlight. James Estate is located in the Upper Hunter Valley, about 2 hours West of Newcastle. The race track will be just under 10 km long and feature awesome single track through the bushland surrounding the vineyards and offer spectacular views of the Upper Hunter Valley wine country as you make your way back to the event centre, right in front of the cellar door.”

Wow, new trails, racing in a vineyard and Rocky Trail races are always well run friendly events.  Sign me up!  The only kicker, it was located in the Upper Hunter Valley, about 2 hours West of Newcastle.   For me being Sydney based, that’s 3+ hours of driving.  Do I a) leave late Friday, camp and eat dodgy take out or b) sleep in my bed and get up uber early Sat?

Option b was the preferred choice for a mate and I who with young families frequent those hours all too regularly.

Up at 4:30am the weather on the coast of NSW was atrocious, heavy sideways rain and I had inherited a head cold to boot.  Vainly training to convince my mate we should pull the pin, we were off at 5am up the F3.  It rained all the way, only stopping about 5 mins from the vineyard.  Amazingly as we arrived, the ground was as dry as a bone and we were greeted with a well organised event centre with a free bottle of wine for every entrant.

Martin Wisata of Rocky Trail Entertainment gave us all the prep talk prior to rolling off down to the start line. “Slow down on the first lap” he stressed showing his recently acquired leg grazes to prove a point, shaved as well to accent his calves….

Gazing around the field at the start line, it was clearly a well-attended event, 250+ starters with at least 20% girls which is awesome to see.  The most popular categories between the 7hr and 4hr formats was for 4hr in solo, 7hr in teams.  Some large teams were present, Quantum Racing, Cogheads and Cogettes, Blackmans and Deubel had representatives in the various categories.

The start line was positioned in the picturesque vineyards with the track commencing with a 2km fire trail section in order to sort us all out before we were all fed into the single track.  When we launched there was a cracking pace off the front, with some killer lap times being posted by the guys at the pointy end of the field.  I was nowhere near this pace with my head cold and quickly had to rein it in and cool off before there was an internal explosion.  Thinking I was in for a dreary afternoon, after a couple of laps I started to reel guys in who were cracking after the hypersonic pace at the start.  It just goes to show with endurance racing that you need to race your own race and to keep going, you never know what will happen.

The layout of the track comprised two main sections, fire trails mazing their way through the vineyard and wine vats and single track through the surrounding bushland.  It is amazing that Graeme Scott, General Manager of James Estate has been building these trails in the bushland next to the winery for the past four years with his bike, shovel, trail dog Raz and with the help of a few friends.  You could find little to fault with the course layout, there was something on offer for everyone.  Probably the only issue was that the extensive sections of single track meant over taking could be challenging, however on the whole everyone coped pretty well.

The trail surface through the single track though was something else entirely.  It has clearly not rained in that area for some time.  The very dry dirt quickly became pulverised powder after the passage of a few thousand bike tyres, the corners in particular were very chopped up after a couple of hours.  Those who were coping with the conditions were flying through the single track.

I was unfortunately in the not coping very well category.  After losing the front wheel a couple of times and ending up in the scrub or on my side as I was trying to push it, I was thinking % racing was the key, smashing it on the straight sections and easing off for the corners.  A few seconds lost through the single track could be easily outdone by a crash and hopefully not so much that I couldn’t regain time on the fire trail section through the vineyard.

Everyone on track seemed to be having a great time, with the few exceptions being those unfortunates who were walking back to the start with double flats or sidewall tears.  With the large number of campers, there were lots of people on hand to cheer as you passed through transition or the entrance to the camping area.

At the end of the race there was wine tasting, olive oil tasting and cheese packs on offer.  Mmm, I could easily get used to this at mtb events.  The only issue is that wine tasting after necking 5 gels and drink supplement can be challenging.  Judging by the number of cases purchased, it appeared that most people were coping.

4hr results

Stu Adams, racing in 4hr solo Masters, also won the 4hr solo event by 4mins.  An outstanding effort.

James Lamb, MC at the presentation finished 1st in Elite 4hr solo and proceeded to interview himself.

Susanna Fasold won the solo female 4hr elite with 7 laps.

In the team’s; Boys: Crank Addicts took out the team category from Quantum Racing.  Girls: Team Fun and Giggle logged 6 laps to take that category.

At the 7hr podium, Andrew Lloyd won male solo comfortably from Grant Webster. Sarah Neumann took out first in the girls with Meredith Quinlan in 2nd.  In the teams, Shimano Racing threes took out first place by a full lap from the Newy Cogheads threes.

Well done by everyone.

Must-Ride: Jindabyne, NSW

In the next issue of Flow (Issue #4) we are going to feature the trails and grand plans of mountain biking in Jindabyne.

The little township of Jindabyne, NSW is a small dot on the mountain bike map however recent work and future plans may mean that Jindabyne, and the greater area, could very easily become an Australian mountain bike mecca. There’s already a smorgasbord of trails in the greater Snowy area and Jindabyne is the perfect hub to explore them all.

The new trails between Tyrolean Village and the township of Jindabyne are just the start of those future plans and Flow got to ride them on a recent trip to Thredbo.

Probably like most, we normally drive straight through Jindabyne, however his time we decided to make the stop – and it was more than worth it. On top of the new trails in the video, the old network of trails in the Tyrolean area still running, and access has also been granted for all to ride the sweet network of trails at Bungarra (just a few minutes out of town).

Look out for a full feature in issue #4, and make sure you add Jindabyne to your list of favourite trail destinations. You can even grab a locally brewed ale just metres off the trail. Now that’s worth the trip alone.

Must Ride: Alice Springs, NT

Flying into towards Alice Springs from Sydney is like watching some incredible abstract painting unfurling in front of your eyes; a canvas of swirling colours and ripples, like a pond with a rock lobbed in. As you near Alice itself the ripples consolidate into larger and larger peaks and cliff lines, eventually compressing into the impressive McDonnell Range that looms over the town.

I’d refused to buy into the hype about Alice Springs, but as the wheels touched down and I saw the landscape around me from ground level for the very first time, I began to grasp the potential here. I lived for a few months in Moab, Utah, one of the most revered mountain biking destinations on the planet. Alice looked remarkably similar, with the same ancient crumbly escarpments, open terrain unrestrictive of trail building, big red rocks… it was all eerily familiar, albeit with the altitudes shrunk down a bit.

Like nowhere else in Australia.

When we hit the trails the next morning, early so as to beat the still-hot sun, it really sunk in: the crushed granite and quartz singletrack under my wheels was world-class, right up there with Moab. Over the next few days we rode trails that rivalled anything I’ve experienced in Australia, and around the world, and there’s so damn much of it.

Looks good, huh?

Three main trail ‘centres’ cluster around Alice, like a clover leaf, all within five minutes’ ride from the middle of town. And once you’re out there, you really out there, you can lose sight of town and civilisation in a heart beat.

For our visit, on the tail end of summer, the middle of the day was still roasting (winter is gorgeous all day long though) forcing us to ride early or late. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Sunrise and sunset is pure magic – “like swimming through cider” – with golden light making the reds and oranges or the landscape glow like they’re lit from within.

As the sun sets, the rocks change colours by the second.

I admit that I’m prone to effusive frothing, but Alice is the real deal. The terrain is magnificent and completely unique in Australian mountain biking. The trails are as endless as the sky is vast and it’s all there, three hours from anywhere in Australia. Drop by.

 

Mountain Bike Bali

‘We usually start at 1,300 metres, then we go down.’ Ramang, my fellow mountain biker and guide, looked across a volcanic lake as vast as a large town, as we stood on the southern rim of the crater.

From our lookout, he pointed across to Mount Batur and its slopes rising up from the lake waters.

‘That’s an easier ride. Today we’re doing intermediate but it depends how fast we go.’

Author, Ray Marcelo, gets ready to tackle the ride.

We were set to ride 41km from Mount Abang to the Telaga River, through villages, farms and forests in Bali’s north east. My Garmin altimeter read 1450m and without yet pedalling a stroke, my heart rate was racing with pre-ride adrenalin.

After tinkering with my saddle height and pedal tension I pumped more air in my tyres. ‘Thirty two PSI should do it,’ I mumbled, and didn’t think to try the squeeze test. Soon, we rolled away, climbing gravel roads. After months of road riding through Java’s traffic, the crunching sound of fat tyres rolling over dirt and gravel was an aural balm.

Ramang, riding ahead on a new Giant Anthem X dually, darted right into a 2m-wide dirt trail. Its volcanic-rich soil was the colour of dark chocolate and the surface buffed by local motor scooters Despite riding on a borrowed Cube hardtail it didn’t take long to feel the flow of the trail as it plunged through farmland on both sides.

Occasionally, a break through tall grass or trees would reveal a view down to the plains towards the sea, but I was focussed on scrubbing off speed and keeping upright. Some dogs barked and chased as we rode past a village and the trail changed to hardpack beneath a gravelly surface.

I’d already had a few slides during what seemed like a ten minute descent and the 160mm  disc brake rotor on the front returned whiplash-like stopping power with a squeeze of a finger. But even with 100mm of front suspension that absorbed my pre-ride fiddling with a pleasing buttery bounce, the bike somehow didn’t feel forgiving.

Inevitably, when the forces of gravity, technical terrain, a bike setup not quite right, and rusty handling skills combine, a rider’s velocity is prone to unpredictable turns. Newton’s laws of motion were far from my mind as I turned a corner at speed and soon felt the sensation of flying. Nature’s physical laws can’t be mocked, however, and inertia brought be back to earth. The bike and I parted ways and I momentarily body surfed the trail before rolling then stopping, facing uphill.

I reached for the bike, which is always a positive sign after a crash, and stood. My left knee was already bloody and my left forearm bore a scrubbing that hinted at stinging pain to come. Searching for other wounds, I lifted the edge of my shorts at my hip, tipping out a handful of dirt, to reveal another patch of raw skin.

I flipped the handlebars around and rolled down the hill. Ramang was already riding back and we stopped under shade to assess.

As any triage manual advises, the order of treatment is vital. We spun the front and rear wheels: still true. We tested the forks and handlebars: no cracks. Frame? Check. We let out air from the front tyre.

A farmer with a bundle of fresh cut grass larger than his scooter stopped to talk. ‘I fell,’ I said to him in Bahasa Indonesia. He grinned and rode away. Ramang retrieved a first aid kit from his Camelback Mule and cleaned and patched my injuries.

‘The tyre was too hard,’ he said.

It’s satisfying to know that gear plays a big part in mountain biking, but I knew the real problem was that I was riding like a roadie. Which was fine for the climbs, because the last time I rode with Ramang, I was all but destroyed after joining an intermediate ride unfit.

Luckily for my confidence we’d finished most of the fast descents and I pushed hard into the hills to recover momentum.

After lunch of grilled chicken and rice at a roadside “warung” we meandered through village trails, including a snaking loop inside a bamboo forest and a blast along metre-wide concrete footpaths that curled through irrigated rice paddies.

We stopped by one village to watch a cock fight that ended badly for one of the roosters.

The ride finished, fittingly, on the road including a descent along sweeping switchbacks that I thought would be nice to ride up one day. I flicked on my new Strava app and it showed a ride profile like a right-handed isosceles triangle, if you can remember your high school maths.

On Ramang’s www.bali-rides.com website, the estimated ride time for the route is four hours. We finished it just under three.

‘Not too bad,’ I said. ‘Next time I”ll try to keep the rubber on the road.’

Road Trip: Go West, NSW

This feature first featured in issue #1 of Flow. Apart from some copies we may find in the back of a toilet somewhere, issue #1 is now unfortunately sold-out.

To avoid the sorrow of missing out on getting your hands on Flow magazine make sure you’re signed up to get your own personal copy. Being a Flow Royalty member also means you can avoid going to the local news agency as it’s delivered right to your door. This means more time on your bike and less time at the shops – win, win situation.


 

On my too frequent visits to the local bistro, I usually default to the $10 rump with pepper sauce. it is a good option – the value is undeniable and you get to cook it yourself, which appeals to the control freak in me. But sometimes I yearn for the crispy crumbiness of a schnitzel, or the barbecue tang of a rack of ribs.

Trail riding is the same. The old favourite trails will always cop a flogging, but occasionally you find yourself craving something new, fresh trails in far away towns, and topped off with nutritious post-ride parmigianas.

One tuesday evening, I was perched at the top of a cleat-marked rock on Manly dam in northern Sydney, a place that I’ve stopped at umpteen times. Squinting up through the evening’s smoggy haze, I could just make out the lumpy horizon of the Blue Mountains, like a grey caterpillar crawling over penrith. as sometimes happens – far too frequently for my wife’s liking – I began singing a village people song: ‘go west… life is peaceful there. go west… lots of open air.’

Hmm… if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it’s that you should always listen to the village people. I’d ridden north, I’d ridden south, and east is where the sharks live. It was time to go west. it was time for new bistros and fresh singletrack. Blueys, Lithgow, Orange and Parkes. It already smelled like fun.

Scribblies, Picnic and Hanging Rock and Lockyear’s

Our crew was five strong: Paul Rowney – a man of wizened years (and face), who has an infatuation with chilli and beers. Chris Benny – photographer to the stars. He bunny hops like roo on a trampoline and but has an aversion to hills of the upward variety. Mick Ross – toys with shaving his legs, but usually limits himself to trimming his chest. Greg Chalberg – this guy never crashes, ever. But I have it on good authority that he bears a surprising resemblance to Moby (or a timid Peter Garret). And me – usually excited as a spaniel and, when that’s mixed with singletrack, often bleeding.

It was blowing a wind stiff enough to push your teeth back into your gums when we pulled into Leura and cracked open the predictably red front door of the Red Door café. remarkably, we were on time to meet our guide, the disturbingly fit Chad Gossert. Judging by the absence of body fat on this man, I thought it wise to put honey as well as butter on the banana bread I wolfed down before we followed Chad in convoy out of town to the first stop of the road trip, Scribblies.

Chad wasn’t sure if Scribblies got its name from the preponderance of scribbly gums, or the fact the trails feel a bit like an excited child has drawn them onto a topo map in crayon in those five minutes the adults were out of the room. These popular, whoopy trails twist and turn back on themselves with endless turns and poppy little gaps jumps. Within seconds I was frothing like a puppy on a choker chain, drifting through flat and bermed corners, the sandy quartz flying off my tyres and getting whipped into my eyes in the wind.

This was exactly the kind of singletrack people had told me did not exist in the mountains. The flow was just insane, making the climbs feel so effortless that even Chris Benny was having fun.

I got a little too excited and tried to jump a gap that really required a motor to clear it. Let me tell you now, Scribblies’ dirt is a particularly abrasive variety, just the thing for exfoliating that unwanted skin from your chin. And it’s tasty too.

The Blackheath Sourdough Bakery is a must- do. Not only did the kindly gentleman sell us most of the shop for $17.10, but he didn’t laugh at the bleeding hole in my face. With most of our blood supply now digesting baked goods, we followed Chad out to hanging rock with the promise that the view would make us wet our chamois.

The trail in proved to be almost as awesome as the view itself, a classic fire road descent that had the crew chopping each other up like frustrated cabbies on George Street. The vista was properly stunning; a sheer drop of hundreds of feet, made terrifying by the 80km/ hour wind gusts and Mick’s game of trying to ‘skid’ rocks over the edge into the abyss. A hundred kilometres away, blurry behind its smoggy veil, Sydney could be seen at the end of the Grosse Valley. As Chad pointed out other rides in the area, which we didn’t have time to do, I had one of those surreal moments when you’re sure time has been stretched. It seemed impossible that just a few hours had passed since I was sitting in Sydney traffic. There’s nothing like fresh trails to reset your brain.

As we trundled to our next destination, Rowney lamented that for too many people
the adventure element has disappeared from mountain biking, replaced by clean, easy loops. Little did he know, we were about to get a double helping of adventure. Craig Flynn, president of the Central Tablelands Mountain Bike Club, is 100% Lithgow local. When we met up with Craig at the foot of Mt Victoria, he had lights strapped to his bike and he suggested we do the same; the sun was already dipping low. Cue Indiana Jones music, it was time for something epic.

After a gentle grind to the saddle of Mt York, we joined a ridge-running singletrack that, for me, was a highlight of the whole trip. Lockyear’s is a walking trail that seems handcrafted for mountain bikes. Loose, chundery descents, sandy bermed corners, steep chutes and lumpy sandstone: there’s something far more rewarding about a trail that has evolved perfect flow over time, as opposed to being manufactured that way. It finished with a plummeting descent that we did in the purple half-light of early evening, our pupils almost as wide as our smiles.

The crawl out under lights was a challenge, especially for Chris Benny our photographer, who was on the point of literally crawling. At one stage he asked me to ‘leave me here to die’. I think he actually meant it. The lure of a pub meal pulled us through, though, and by the time we’d descended back to the car the smiles were fixed in place again. This ride was a bit of a game-changer for me, a real wake up call as to the kind of riding I’ve been missing out on lately – an adventure, rather than a pedal.

The Commercial Hotel welcomed us that night. Trivia was played, beers were drunk, though the absence of parmigiana from the bistro menu was a shocking blow. The Commercial’s steak Diane, a superb offering of fat on protein, went some way to easing my pain.

Commercial Hotel, Lithgow: 1 x steak Diane, 4 x James Squire Original Amber Ales

Rydal and Hassans Walls

‘Why is the rain bouncing off my handlebars?’ asked Mick. ‘Oh. it’s frozen.’ clever lad. Things get cold fast on the far side of the great dividing range, as we discovered that morning when a driving wind cut through our warmers and vests. Luckily Rydal warmed us up quick- smart. And no, Rydal is not a man. Rydal is the township that plays host to a recently installed cross-country race track, about fifteen minutes out of downtown Lithgow.

The local crew, as well as folk who travel from further afield, come here to race every Tuesday (except when it gets too cold for the time keepers) and to punish the side knobs of their tyres. If you like going round corners, you’ll be quite happy on Rydal’s 10-kilometre loop. It’d be a tough place to race, with little space for rest and constant accelerations to keep you on the rev limiter.

Speaking of rev limiters, while Chris Benny had been suffering on the trail the previous evening, his car, overwhelmed with empathy for its owner, underwent its own quiet meltdown and had a little under-the-bonnet bonfire. Putting safety first, and adding to the drama, young Greg locked his keys inside his car, where no one could steal them. To free them, we had to join the NRMA, which gave us a new unit of monetary measurement: ‘the Member$hip’. Our accommodation for the whole road trip came to just 1.3 Member$hips. Things were even more affordable for Mick, who’d left his wallet at home and didn’t have to pay for a thing.

With four men, their luggage, bikes and body odour now sandwiched into the one car, we headed back to Hassans Walls. Not, as it may sound, a medieval castle, Hassans Walls is an amazing rocky outcrop that towers above the plains on the southern side of Lithgow. It is littered with fast, punchy rim-pinging rocky descents, in complete contrast to Rydal. Even better, it can be shuttled in just a few minutes on a smooth dirt road. Blindly following our local guides down leaf-littered trails that moved beneath my tyres was unreal. I wasn’t sure if the tears streaming down my face were from joy or from the wind-chill making my eyeballs cry in pain. Craig Flynn reckons there are 15 unique descents from Hassans, all depositing you at different points around town. We’re itching to come back and have a crack at them all.

Less than hour and half down the road, our car doing some impressive wheelies, we pulled into Orange. I was relieved to find that our accommodation conveniently adjoined a drive- thru bottle shop, but disappointed to find that our accommodation budget didn’t stretch to five beds. Despite Mick’s pleas that he was chronic bed-wetter, there was some sharing.

Ophir Tavern, Orange: 1 x parmigiana, 3 x Tooheys Old

Kinross

‘We have a bogan problem,’ said Scott, Orange Mountain Bike Club president. He indicated the burnt-out cars that sat in various orientations (commonly upside-down, to make it easier to steal the gearbox) around the edges of the dirt carpark. ‘But at least they’re cashed up bogans,’ chimed in Steve. Fortunately none of the pine trees around the blackened shells had been caught aflame yet.

The trails of Kinross are a-grade: classic, sinuous pine forest singletrack. They are lovingly maintained, sometimes obsessively, by a core crew in the 50-strong club. ‘They staged an intervention,’ Scott tells me, ‘because I was out here trying to build trails with a broken collar bone and my arm in a sling.’ There’s over 30 kilometres of singletrack gold to be dug out, sometimes literally – with so much trail and so few riders, the pine needles can quickly bury the trail surface.

Flowy, grippy, with enough elevation change to keep you honest, the Kinross trails are the kind of loop that I wish existed in every town. Anyone can ride them, but at speed you’re on the edge, especially if you clip an errant pine cone. There are some real challenges, including a switchback that is so tight I’ll buy you a hamburger if you can ride it. But on the whole it’s pure in-the-groove stuff.

Broadway Hotel, Parkes: 1 x Avondale schnitzel, 1 x cheese platter, 1 x Pizza Hut Plank, 4 x Tooheys Old

Parkes

The Kinross groove is mighty, but it couldn’t match the display of groove that went down later that afternoon in Parkes, when Greg found the jukebox. I don’t think the Parkes farming and mining community quite grasped the funny side of the ABBA, the Bee Gees and at least four other boy bands being blasted out at 4:30pm on a Saturday arvo. I was happy to slink outside to take a pretend phone call.

The town was bristling with mountain bikers, all in Parkes to race the annual Back Yamma Bigfoot, held in the Back Yamma state forest, about twenty minutes south of Parkes. I met riders from as far away as Melbourne and Brisbane, and we ran into Jason English who wanted eating partners for a pre-race, all-you- can-eat assault on Pizza Hut. We opted instead for a bistro famed for it’s plethora of schnitzels, Parkes’s Commercial Hotel, and it did not disappoint.

Parkes has a great vibe and particularly welcoming locals (thank you, random pub youth, for telling Greg he looked like both ‘Moby’ and ‘Peter Garret’ in the same sentence). The Broadway Hotel was the perfect place to bunk down – its guest list seemed to consist mainly of itinerant old men who smoked while crapping in the shared bathroom, and it was well stocked with dairy products that were at least 12 months out of date. At $55 a night for three (or 0.2 Member$hips), that’s entertainment you can’t beat.

The glorious morning that greeted the Back Yamma Bigfoot the following day was a welcome change from the frosts of Lithgow and Orange. Race organiser, Rocket Rod, was clearly happy with how the day was shaping up – the only hiccup was provided by some particularly creative bogans who’d placed a dead roo in a port-a-loo and then dragged it around an empty paddock. Bogans in Orange: you’ve just been upstaged.

Fast, flat, dusty and wildly fun, the trails of Back Yamma were such a contrast from
the rocky descents of Lithgow or the pines of Orange; this road trip had served more
sweet variety than the confectionary aisle in a Blackheath deli. It was sensational riding at Parkes; sweeping bends that were full of hidden lines and ruts to keep you on your toes, slippery quartz-filled corners, dipping gully runs, bursts of yellow canola fields, and some of the straightest, longest fire roads in the universe. All of it covered in a powdery red dust that stuck to our faces, leaving us looking like a pack of manic Oompa-Loompas. Powered by who knows how many pizzas, English won the race (surprise!) As the rest of us crossed the finish line, I was drawn to the prodigious BBQ, where I soaked up the chilled-out vibe, chatted with the big family groups who’d made a camping trip out of the weekend and enjoyed the feeling of warm sun on my tired legs.

Our last stop in the road trip complete, we packed a couple of spare steak sandwiches and began the four-hour jaunt back home to Sydney. A week on the road, complete with dusty bikes, smelly socks and a head full of great times on new trails, can’t be beaten. Heed the Village People and go west – good times await. Disco never lies.

The Soapbox: I Associate Strava With Cancer

We’ve heard how some hate it and some love it but here’s a different and personal story on how it can help.

 


I associate Strava with cancer. Not in the sense of a ‘cancer on the soul of mountain biking’ as some do. And not in a bad way.

Strava helped lead me back to the light – a born-again mountain biker.

I was diagnosed with cancer a year ago. A GP I’d never met before went pale as he examined my throat and from that moment I was in the machine. It’s an impressive one with lots of remarkable healthcare professionals and very flash gear. My favourite was The Mask. A sheet of polymer lattice was softened and went clear in a warm water bath. This was then draped over and moulded to my face, throat and shoulders. I’d be locked into this 5 days a week for seven weeks to line me up precisely for the death rays. I also had three sessions of chemo – cisplatin, which is nuclear-strength and has left me partially deaf.

The cancer was the result of a virus (who knew!?) and is very treatable and survivable. My chances were even better than the average, as I was mountain bike fit. Anyway, long story short the treatment was gruelling, one of the toughest, I was constantly reminded.

I got through it and then recovery and recuperation began.

I’d been so focussed on counting down the days of treatment and also pretty spaced out on morphine, that I ignored or missed the warnings that this would be a long process. I lost nearly a third of my body weight and there wasn’t much to spare to start with.

My throat was mincemeat.

It did take a while, but five months after treatment ended I finally climbed back on my bike. We live in Rotorua and moved here in 2000 mainly for the mountain biking. We actually live across the road from the forest so it is only five minutes to the northern trailhead of the Whakarewarewa network

I started slow, just 10 kilometres on low-altitude flat track. That’s slowly built up to 25-30 kilometres, even getting close to the roof of the forest. Hello, granny – or even walking.

It’s a special place that Forest – with healing powers.

And Strava? Well, the week before that first ride, I’d done a bit of media work on one of the Rotorua classics – the Whaka 100. Magellan is the sponsor and they sent me a very smart GPS unit as a thank you. It seemed rude not to use it and was a major spur to get out again. The only way I could figure out how to access the information on my Mac was via Strava.

I’ve never obsessed about distance or other stats. Fun was my motivation. However, the GPS and Strava have really helped me get back on the bike. The challenge isn’t versus others, but against myself. Improving times and an accurate measure of distances covered, total elevation gained and so on has really helped rebuild my confidence. I do check where I am on the charts. And I am pleased to not be last on most trails. In fact, not even close.

On New Year’s Eve, we headed out on Te Ara Ahi. This is Rotorua’s contribution to New Zealand’s National Cycleway rolling south alongside the road to Taupo. It’s mainly concrete, tar seal and a short section of hard-packed pumice. Not hard, even on trails bikes with fat-tyres. It was still a mission.

When I uploaded the ride info to Strava, it revealed total distance was 57.4 kilometres – my age.

 

Making the Switch – Caroline Buchanan

Switching from one bike to another can definitely be a challenge. Even when it’s two similar bikes, there’s always that learning curve before you’re comfortable. Nothing’s ever just quite the same and the bigger the difference, the longer it takes to adapt.

Most of us can relate through swapping from 26” to 29” wheels, or from one bike in the shed to another. It’s generally not too big a deal, but when you go from the pointy end of one extreme to another, things can get a little tricky.

After a successful 4 year Olympic BMX campaign, former 4X World Champion and Stromlo Forest Park ambassador Caroline Buchanan is doing just that, making the switch from Olympic BMX racing to World Cup Downhill racing- two forms of cycling that are worlds apart.

After a 2nd place finish to Tracey Hannah at the Australian National Championships at Stromlo Forest Park, I thought I’d ask Caroline a few questions about the challenges of swapping between the two disciplines.

Caroline relaxing between downhill runs at Stromlo Forest Park.

Here’s what she had to say-

You’re going from a bike with no suspension and rock hard tyres on a perfectly groomed surface to a bike with 200mm of suspension, squishy tyres on the roughest terrain you can find- it’s a massive change. What’s the hardest thing to overcome?

I definitely love a challenge but I’ve found the hardest thing to overcome has been from competing at the top of my game in London, at the pinnacle of BMX racing- the Olympic Games. To find myself so far out of my comfort zone, aiming for World Championships and starting at the bottom with no ranking and feeling like a beginner again.

How long has it taken you to feel 100% comfortable on the downhill bike, and do you think it will be just as hard to make the switch back to BMX?

Prior to just recently getting back on the BMX, I found that I made a very quick transition to the top of the downhill podium in Australia. I hadn’t raced a downhill for 5 years, and I had expected that coming back to mountain biking- especially downhill, that I would have a lot of work to do.

The past three years of BMX training, strength and conditioning translated right across onto the downhill bike. It has always been harder to switch back onto the BMX. If you simplify it right down both sports are riding a bike, but to compete at the top international level every 1% counts. Switching back and forward so often affects my performances and this is the reason I have broken my 2013 calendar up into blocks, or chapters, of BMX and MTB.

Suspension setup and tyre choice in downhill is a huge part of racing. Has it been hard learning to tune your suspension and set up your bike, and are you doing anything in particular to suit your riding style?

Well I can say I will never complain about working on my BMX bike ever again! There’s definitely a lot of maintenance and knowledge that goes into setting up a downhill bike for a race. I remembered quite a lot from four cross three years ago, however downhill is another ball game all together. BMX involves being smooth, getting perfect backside and working the jumps for every inch of speed. My riding style and bike set up for downhill imitates this. I am working on trusting my suspension, getting loose and riding on the edge more.

What do all your BMX buddies think of your switch to mountain bikes?

To be honest I’m not sure- maybe crazy, happy, envious? Some people above in cycling are obviously not happy with my decision to have a bit of a gap year and mix things up on the mountain bike.

But at the end of the day I fell in love with mountain biking when I was fifteen, the people, the mountains, the lifestyle and the races. Living life to the fullest, challenges and being happy is what’s most important.

You’ve made the switch from 20” to 26”, how about 29” wheels?

29……. reminds me of cross country and uphill pain! Just like my post London Olympic goal to come back to mountain biking I have plenty of post Rio 2016 Olympic goals. My ultimate goal is to dominate the world in cycling, you name it! I have learnt to backflip into foam…Nitro Circus, velodrome?  We will see where the future takes me.

Well, it’s really great to see you riding a real bike again and I’m sure everyone out there in Flow MTB land is wishing you nothing but the best. You’re on a new team, surrounded by great people, aiming to continue your winning ways. It’s really great to see. Anyone you’d like to thank?

Thank you and especially a huge thank you to my team behind the dream, supporting the whole package and my long term goals. Family, friends, Julian Jones, Robert Joske, Tim Chadd and all my sponsors…

Make sure you keep your eye on Caroline to see how she does in her first year of World Cup downhill racing.

 

2013 ABSA Cape Epic

Once upon a time…

A man named Kevin Vermaak travelled to Costa Rica and participated in a multi-stage mountain bike race. On his return to South Africa, he was inspired to create the biggest mountain bike race in the world, and after two years of planning, an 8-day two-person stage race evolved and was dubbed the Cape Epic. The untamed African mountain bike race is a self-sufficient mobile home, catering for 1262 competitors and 1800 support crew, selling out in just 30 seconds this year. Kevin’s unbelievable dream has without a doubt evolved into reality.

The truth is I can barely write about my experience at the Epic without getting emotional. The race is hard on the legs, but it’s harder on the soul, and there is no way that a 5-minute YouTube clip or race report can help you to envisage it. But here goes anyway: A Day at the Absa Cape Epic.

If you managed to sleep through the sound of musical port-a-loos, you would then wake in your tent at 5am to a man playing bagpipes. You attend breakfast in a massive tent with good food on offer, before locating your bike in the secure bike park. You then get dressed in your tent with head-torch assistance; layer up with sunscreen, gels and chamois cream, before opening your tent to witness the sun beginning to wake for the day. You move into your allocated start chute where you wait for 20minutes before the gun fires and you are racing.

You race on the limit for 3hrs before giving up, then you race another 2hrs before you ‘bonk’ for the day and hit survival mode and if you are unlucky like I was, you will have to sprint to the finish. Your bum is chaffed, your hands cramping, your feet are swollen from the heat and after all that walking they’re also full of sand. You’re dehydrated but the thought of drinking nearly hurts your stomach from the after affect of gels, and that first trip to the port-a-loo is never a nice one.

The dirt, the dust, the dry – it’s never ending.

You retreat to the Rider Chill Zone with beanbags, wi-fi and icy-poles, and maybe have an ice-bath because it’s hot rather than for recovery purposes. You eat and drink all day but not due to hunger, before attending dinner and presentations where you will listen to the same four songs they have played all week before heading to bed, knowing that you have to do it all again for another 6 days.

My honest opinion is that you can’t prepare for the Epic. As fit as I am, by day five it was like the race had peeled back my first two layers and all I had left was raw emotion and vulnerability. That night I caught a stomach bug and my body decided to give up. At that point I couldn’t picture crossing the finish line and it was only through my partner Jarrod that I stayed strong.

You cannot be prepared for this race.  Fitness is one thing, but the mind is another.

But I had it good. One man had crashed and received 30 stiches on the inside and outside of his calve, but he finished. Another team had a rider with one arm, and his partner had just one leg and they finished. For god sakes the tandem finished… If I couldn’t finish with a stomach bug then I was going to get a hook and a nail and hang the bike up when I got home!

When I crossed the finish line for the final time I felt nothing. Not happiness, relief or liberation. It sounds like a harsh reality, but I had no will power left to enjoy the spoils of finishing. I reflect on it now and brag to myself at how bloody amazing I am, and every other one of the 1086 competitors to cross that line in Lourensford that day.

Will I race it again? I think that I will. The struggles and adversities of this race are what make it so special. Eventually the painful visions I have will re-form into amazing memories of picturesque wineries and contoured mountains and I will want to come back and re-live the adventures of the ‘human spirit’.

The End

Away From The Popular

When was the last time you went to a trailcentre, or popular MTB destination? Why, because everyone else goes there? It’s easy?

Whilst mainstream and popular ride locations often guarantee at least some quality of riding, sometimes the best riding is the stuff you don’t read about, and often it’s really just there are requiring a little more effort or research, and a little bit of chance too.

After 5 months of working as a mountain bike guide in the French Alps, I thought I knew most of the good trails in and around the beautiful town of Samoens. Samoens and the surrounding Grand Massif region is a ‘hidden gem’ itself in the Alps, being just an hour from Geneva, and just over the hill from popular the mountain bike haunts of Les Gets and Morzine. The beauty of Samoens, is that mountain biking is less mainstream here and just one of many activities that go on in the summer. There is a mix of tourists doing all sorts of activities-hiking, rafting, or just soaking up the mountain atmosphere. What you find is perfect, quiet, natural ancient trails that get very little mountain bike traffic, so are a total contrast to the well-worn purpose-built tracks of The Portes Du Soleil area. The villages are filled with stunning old alpine huts and churches, and pre-date the ski resorts by hundreds of years. It still has a number of lifts open to riders too, including a gondola that goes to 2550m, and from where you can ride all the way back to the Samoens village 2000m below in one go. And as Les Gets is only a short drive over the hill, you get the best of both worlds.

Dreaming of where to ride and the lines we could find.

However, there were still a fair few corners of the area I hadn’t explored properly, areas that on the map looked like they had great potential but could be hard work to access, and so it became a bit of a challenge to see what we could find. Gathering information about these areas from a hiking guide we worked with didn’t help much either- as a non-rider, he frequently told us either that trails would be good to ride only for us to then find they were totally unpassable, and other trails he dismissed as too easy, only for us to find perfect singletrack.

One area we kept on coming back to was a section of trail below Lac d’Anterne, a high alpine lake at 2000m, that got a fair amount of hiking traffic due to a popular long distance hiking track, the GR5, going past it. However it wasn’t this trail that caught our eye, rather a secondary trail which zig-zagged down from a stunning plateau into a neighbouring valley. The trail was 8km long and dropped about 900m in height, and was just too tempting to not try.

However, the question was how best to approach it!

The most obvious way appeared to be to approach it via the popular hiking track, although this was one of the few designated no-ride trails in the area, so would involve a long walk. One of our fellow bike guides decided to try this approach, and reported back on a backbreaking 3 hour climb/push to the Lake, which didn’t sound like fun. However, reports on the trail down were much more encouraging, with a smooth winding wide singletrack heading down the mountain.

There just had to be another way to get to it. That was when we had a moment of inspiration, and realised we maybe just needed to tackle the climb differently and come in from over the top!

The Col d’Anterne stood at 2300m, a few hundred above the lake. But the bonus of this route was it looked like vehicle access was possible to within striking distance of the top- the challenge was on.

The first part of the trip was an easy drive around the mountain into the Chamonix valley, and up to the beautiful ski resort of Plateau d’Assy and Plaine Joux. From here you get just stunning views of nearby Mont Blanc, and we could even see the string of climbers ascending the mount. Onwards and upwards we drove, until the roads turned to gravel, and then loose rock, then not really even a track at all. The further we went the more unlikely it was that our trusty old 2WD minibus would be able to power up the climbs with a full load AND a trailer full of bikes, but somehow, after 90mins we made it to the end of the road- literally!

Too steep to even think about riding.

We had made it to 1600m, and whilst it was nice to have achieved this height without working, it was a daunting sight to see the neighbouring mountains overshadowing us at heights of well over 3000m, and with Mont Blanc mocking us across the valley, dwarfing it’s neighbours at 4810m.

Our first goal was to reach the Col d’Anterne, which was just 4.5km away. The only problem was it was also a good 700m straight above us! The first 3.5km was on steep firetrack that gained 400m pretty steeply in sections. Only the toughest could manage to ride the whole stretch, and all of us used the excuse of ‘stopping to look at the view’ numerous times. After an hour of solid climbing though, our progress looked good, and we could see the saddle of the Col above us- the only problem was the extremely steep, rocky, narrow footpath disappearing skywards.

At this point it was clear there was no easy option. Nope, the only thing to do was to suck it up, and start pushing or carrying your bike up the last 300m of height in 1km! A steady 45min of pushing makes you really appreciate chair lifts, I can tell you. And some of the looks from the hikers we encountered were priceless. Clearly we were the first mtbers they had met pushing bikes up a sheer cliff!

The climb was well worth it.

However, the reward at the summit was without doubt worth it.

The top of the Col d’Anterne is at 2,300m, but it is still dwarfed by the massive Pont d’Anterne above it, and of course nearby Mont Blanc. At last though we could see our final destination, Samoens village, over 30km and 1700m below us. The only thing between us was a long run downhill, oh and maybe a lake, a waterfall and a mountain hut serving afternoon tea……

A well earned rest.

There was no question we had chosen the right side of the Col to ascend, as whilst the way we came up would have been totally unridable both ways, the decent we had lined up looked perfect- a rocky high alpine paradise- and before long we were all picking alternate lines as we weaved through the rocks and jumped from one string of single track to the other. The main key was to look far enough ahead to make sure the bit of walking single track you had chosen was not going to fizzle out or hit an unrideable stack of rocks before you had time to switch lines.

Endless trails and lines.  We learnt very quickly to look far ahead to catch all the changes in the trails and avoid dead-end lines.

A couple of tricky, exposed rock slabs tethering near the edge of a steep drop proved too much for half of the group. The line required a serious amount of nerve and a little rock scrambling, but with the correct line choice it was amazing how grippy and smooth the rock slabs proved to be. Only those brave enough to block out the drop and focus on the inches of platform available were rewarded with a nearly clear run down to the lake, and the next riding challenge, a large area of the last remaining snow of winter. No-one managed this one!

Some decided to take the easier route down the rock slabs.

After riding past the lake, there was a final short climb and a turn off from the main GR5 trail, onto our own private singletrack. As we rode along, the whistles of Marmotte’s could be heard, and occasionally could be seen- one narrowly missing my wheel when it decided to go for a wander- clearly it hadn’t seen fat wheels before.

Then, we got to the point overlooking the whole valley. We were still at well over 2000m in altitude, but could look straight down a cliff to the small village below us- a careful eye could even make out the pub 1400m below. With only the local wildlife to keep us company, the descent began, and my god, was it good! In 5km we dropped 600m on sweet flowing singletrack, ducking in between trees and through high alpine meadows, with no time to stop for the view. It was very clear that no riders had been here for a very long time, if ever. The trail was an ancient route for local herdsmen to get their sheep and cows to the high summer meadows, and had been carefully cleared and smoothed by years and years of use. And no braking ruts!

Epic.  The slow ride, hike up is more than worth it for trails and downhill runs like this.

After what seemed like forever (but was around 20mins) the trail popped us out at a roaring stream, and a chance to rest and cool tired fingers, hands and brakes. And of course, right next to the stream was a wonderful high alpine refuge, serving amazing coffees and myrtle-berry tarts, result!

And so, from this point all that remained was a leisurely 15km roll back into town, via an Indiana Jones swinging bridge, a quick detour via root-central to ride underneath a waterfall, and a final ride down through the gorge just above Samoens.

Indiana Jones would not have ridden across this.

All up the ride had been a total of 36km. So not really what you’d normally call an epic. Except it had taken the entire day, and involved a 90 minute drive and almost 2 hours of climbing to get to the top. But from there we had nearly 30km of descending, on untouched alpine meadows and forest singletrack.

Had it been worth it? Hell yes! So much so we have repeated this ride every year we go back to the Alps- and each time it’s pretty clear we are the first (and possibly only) riders to have ridden these trails in the last year.

So, next time you are off somewhere, rather than just sticking to the tried and tested trail centres and ‘well-ridden’ trails, why not do a little exploring? Pull out the map, study it, ask a few locals, take an educated guess, and go exploring. If it looks hard work, all the better, you may well be the first to try. It really could be an awesome ride, and you could be the first one to discover the next epic must do ride!

Ian Fehler worked as a mountain bike guide in the Alps for 2 years, before moving back to Adelaide to set up his own MTB guiding business, Escapegoat Adventures, which run skills training and guided MTB trips in South Australia and beyond, including Europe. Each July Ian leads a group back to the Alps and Samoens, and the Col d’Anterne ride is always one of the highlights of the trip.

Get away from it all and explore something a little different.

 

 

 

 

 

The Best Mont Yet

It’s almost two weeks since the Trail Gods smiled on yet another Mont 24, the legendary pioneering 24hr race, held amongst the pines of Kowen Forest. Our afterglow has lingered ever since.

With a mixed team of six (there are only teams of six and four at the Mont – part of the reason the traffic flows so well), we didn’t have our ambitions set too high, touting out that old chestnut: “we’ll see how we’re travelling once the night falls, and make the call then if we’re racing or beering.” Turns out you can kinda do both when there’s half a dozen of you to share the load.

Team Flow and campsite coordinators: Dave ’12hr Nap’ Southwood, Craig ‘BBQ Master’ Baylis, Pat ‘The Porpoise’ Campbell, Kath ‘FrothFroth’ Bicknell, Jason ‘Lay Down Sally’ Blackmore, Lara ‘The Legend’ Winten, Chris ‘The Beak’ Southwood, Mick ‘Crop Circles’ Ross an Damian “Postie” Breach (missing due to being soft)

Our number one tip for the Mont is to arrive on the Friday, get your campsite sorted early and then sit back and watch the people roll in. And roll in, and roll in, and roll in…. This is a mountain bike event on a scale rarely seen, and with over 3000 riders plus their retinue in attendance, the tent city is a sight to behold.

Tent city is crowed yet personal. Bring your own “something” to make it feel a little more like home.

Friday night’s a good chance to get everything prepared too; it’s amazing how time simply evaporates once racing commences, and next thing you know you’re battling to fit your lights or adjusting your headset when you should be in transition. Oh, and there’s Roller Racing on the Friday as well, just in case you’re worried you won’t do enough pedalling during the race!

You think we’d have this stuff figured out by now?

The rain earlier in the week had politely buggered off, leaving the dirt with the moisture content ‘just-so’, and beneath a clear sky pricked by thousands of stars, we settled down with an ale, a BBQ and a happy heart knowing that tomorrow we’d be racing on some of Australia’s finest trails.

As the familiar babble of MCs Ben and Stu poured out into the morning air, we rose to a classic Canberra dew, and the nervous movement of thousands of riders, registering, lubing chains, affixing number plates and making excuses. Despite the mass of riders, things always feel fun at the Mont. It’s hard to put your finger on the vibe, but the efforts to retain the Woodstock-esque sense of freedom and frivolity hit a chord with us.

The usual running start and its associated madness had been abandoned this year (have you ever tried running in carbon-soled shoes?) with riders instead lead out, Presidential motorcade style, by a pair of motor bikes before peeling off into the 20.3km lap.

The motorbike start had the field well spread before the first singletrack.

The smiles when riders began returning from lap one told the story: over 20km of simply superb trail, singletrack in almost its entirety, free-flowing and in perfect condition. If the local trail building crew, the Kowalski Brothers, were to start a political party, we’d vote for them.

The dedication that the Kowalskis have dug, with shovel and pick, into the hard, flinty earth of Kowen is staggering. It’s a thankless task: most riders wouldn’t have known they were rubbing shoulders with the trail builders themselves, as they clustered in transition. Paul Cole, one of Canberra’s most revered trail-fairies, kept up his regular stream (no, torrent) of warm banter, clearly happy with the feedback he was receiving from riders about his handiwork.

The Mont has it all.  Flowing trails in native forests…
…short open fireroads past dry grass fields…
…open plains across farm land, and…
…sweet singletrack in green pine forest.

With the trails heading out to the ‘Far East’ , there was a figure-of-eight in the course map, meaning riders heading out would be intersecting with riders returning. The solution came in the form of some large-scale engineering, with a gigantic scaffold overpass/underpass erected. It added its own kind of industrial charm…

Day becomes night, and we were pleasantly surprised to find ourselves sitting in fourth place in the Mixed Sixes category. With a podium in striking distance, it looked like we’d be racing through the dark! A quick debate about whether or not we’d ride double laps at night was settled with the decision that single laps were the way forward – with average lap times for the team likely to be around an hour at night, singles would still afford a few hours kip in between laps. A quick bit of mental arithmetic drew swear words from Chris, who realised he’d be starting his deepest night lap at about 3:30am.

As night come, so do the strange things.

Strange things happen at night in the forest at the Mont. Strange things like stumbling across two duelling banjo players, plucking up a storm, surrounded by smoke machines and disco lights. Or wildly flailing drummers, jamming away between the gum trees, pumping your sapped legs up with their energy. It’s these kind of gems that make the Mont even more memorable. I don’t think we’ll ever forget the deadpan look on those banjo players’ faces! Another highlight was coming across young Charlie Todd, 11 years old, out on course at about 4:00am. What were you doing at 11 years of age?

Swirling fog masked the pointy tops of the towering pines as dawn broke. The smell of bacon sizzling, coffee brewing and chamois stewing filled the morning air. Overnight we’d crept into third place, there’d be no cruisy morning laps for our last two riders, Kath and Craig!  With just 15 minutes of racing left till midday, we sent Craig on his way, his drivetrain skipping in neglected protest. A seasoned campaigner, he didn’t buckle under the pressure and we hung on for third – the glory lasts forever!

One for the photographers. Golden hour and blue hour.
Yes, Flow was there but that’s not why we posted this photo.

But in all seriousness, there’s not too much seriousness about racing at the Mont. We left this event on a massive high: over the 24 hours of racing we didn’t encounter one grunt of aggro on course, hear one whinge about the track, feel a single speck of rain or even stop grinning.That might sound a little too flowers and moon-beams, but it’s the truth.

Best Mont yet? We think so.

Next year’s event will undoubtedly sell out with the same kind of frenzied enthusiasm as in years past, so keep your eyes peeled and watch the Flow Calendar for an entries opening date.

The Flow team photographers weapon of choice.  Honda had the famous downhill bike, now they have a limited edition 24 hour race machine.

Full results are available here, and if you want to get a better idea of the kind of on-course musical talent, check out the vid above. See you next year!

The end.

 

 

 

Photo Feature: Teva Slopestyle, Queenstown

Flow travelled to Queenstown last week to attend the 2013 Teva Slopestyle. Below is the official press release but we feel there’s no better way to represent an event like this than with a flood of photos.

Enjoy….


Crowds of thousands gathered to watch 20+ professional Slopestyle athletes from across Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Canada and the USA contest $10,000 in cash and prizes at the Teva Slopestyle.

Now in its second year, the event that last year brought Slopestyle mountain biking to the shores of New Zealand for the first time, has now been added to the prestigious international Freeride Mountain Bike (FMB) World Tour. With FMB points on offer and big money up for grabs, the quality of the field and the riding that went down was stepped up to a new level.

British rider Sam Pilgrim took out the win taking the field by storm with his ability to trick every feature linking together a technical and flawless run. The 23 year old was a crowd favourite; constantly bringing in cheers from the crowd.

Czech Thomas Zejda came in second followed by Conor MacFarlane in 3rd place, BMX legend turned Mountain Bike rider Chad Kagy came in 4th and Sam Dueck in 5th place. But that wasn’t enough for Dueck, who also took out Best Trick of the night with his double tail whip 360. 

With the riders throwing down tricks of all sorts’, commentators Cam McCaul and Josh Clark were quickly running out of adjectives to describe them, while the judges were left with some difficult decisions to split the field and ultimately decide the winners.

The Teva Slopestyle course is situated in downtown Queenstown in the Ballarat Street car park, and is designed and built by Teva athlete Kelly McGarry, and co-designer Tom Hey who has worked on many prestigious Slopestyle courses including the infamous Crankworx in Whistler and Colorado.


 

 

 


Sid Taberlay: Frustrations, Promises and a Path Forward for MTBA

As one of Australia’s leading mountain bikers, Sid Taberlay has had more involvement with MTBA than most. He wrote to Flow recently explain his views on where things have gone wrong and, more positively, how riders and MTBA are now working on a path forward.

 

Please note: These are Sid’s opinions and thoughts – Flow welcomes a response or counter opinion.

 

Sid, just prior to the XCE racing at the 2013 National Champs at Stromlo.

Perhaps I should start with a little background. I raced nine World Championships, Commonwealth Games and Olympics up until 2008, at which time I had lost the love for racing in Europe. Don’t get me wrong – I still loved riding my bike, I was simply emotionally tired.

So I stepped back and started racing events I really enjoyed and wanted to race, primarily in the USA since my wife was working in LA. Over that time I became distanced from what was happening with the Australian National MTB program. Then in 2011, with the Olympics just around the corner, I decided that making the Olympic team would perhaps be a nice way to sign off from competitive racing. This decision brought me back into contact with MTBA and has lead to where I am today, like many other athletes, frustrated. Here’s why.

MTBA was formed back in the late 90s in response to a feeling that mountain biking was being neglected by Cycling Australia. It was supposedly an organisation “by the members, for the members”. But from where I stand today, I have to question the relevance and role of MTBA, both for the masses and for elite riders.

MTBA has several thousand members, but what does it really offer? Trail advocacy? Yes – and it does a good job on this front –  though by no means is MTBA the only avenue available for local clubs and riders to secure legal trails. Event support? Most of the country’s biggest events are run without MTBA involvement. Regulation? The rules that govern competition are really set by the UCI, and merely passed on by MTBA. Insurance? Perhaps this is MTBA’s biggest reason for existence. As an MTBA member, you’re covered should you have a serious accident at any MTBA sanctioned event. In my mind, this is why most people are members – they are just buying an insurance policy to be involved in their local club, they don’t have any real understanding of what MTBA is or does.

From an elite perspective, it’s no secret that there has been considerable friction between elite riders and MTBA of late. It’s a very complicated scenario, but from my perspective, it all comes down to feeling that MTBA have not given sufficient support to our best elite riders in a logistical, monetary or coaching support sense.

Back in 2011, when I became re-involved with MTBA, I was dismayed by the lack of communication given to riders about the selection process or logistical arrangements for the World Champs. I’ve relived that experience again recently, as I’ve been coaching my cousin-in-law Ben Bradley. Ben has World Champs aspirations and so we’ve been targeting races that will garner him the points needed to secure a good starting position at Worlds. Unfortunately this has created tension with MTBA as it was not ‘their’ way of doing things.

This is a story I’ve heard time and time again from the parents of junior racers; riders are largely uninformed of what is expected of them – there is no transparency surrounding the National Team selection. But if riders should choose to work out a personalised program of racing, or choose to work with coaches other than MTBA’s coaching staff, then they are disadvantaged at selection time. To me, this is crazy; junior riders need flexibility to balance riding, education and work, and this is exactly what personalised coaching offers them.

This attitude of poor communication and inflexibility was best demonstrated recently with the Oceanias (to be held in Tasmania, over the Easter long weekend). With just weeks to go, riders were given information about a pre-Oceanias Junior Team Camp. For one, many riders had already booked flights, accommodation etc, unaware of the camps, but more importantly, the camp was to include a huge training workload that had the potential to seriously undermine months of coaching preparation for the Oceanias. As one of the events that has the biggest bearing on UCI points, changing training plans so close to the Oceanias could have a huge bearing on a rider’s World Champs chances.

The costs of racing for your National Team and allocation of funds is also a source of contention. Most junior riders (or their families) can expect to be around $10,000 out of pocket should they be lucky enough to be selected to attend the World Champs and associated pre-World team camps. While some families will find a way to make this happen, for others it’s simply too big an ask – what a pity it would be if the next Australian World Champ was unable to fulfill their potential because of the costs involved.

This doesn’t just effect juniors too, of course. While MTBA spent $55,000 on staff at the 2012 World Champs, every athlete involved (including our Olympic representatives) was handed a bill to pay to cover the costs of representing their country. This raises some serious questions – should it really cost you thousands and thousands of dollars to race for your country?

When I first raced at Worlds, back in the year 2000, it did cost me, but less than $1000 all up. If things operated back then as they have been recently, I would’ve abandoned my elite racing hopes long ago.

Things are looking like they may be on the up, however. Of the back of a very heated meeting just prior to the National Champs at Stromlo, it looks like the wheels are turning to change the way things operate at MTBA. Here are some of the changes that have been promised:

  • Riders are allowed to keep their existing Oceanias arrangements without ramification for their World Champs selection chances.
  • There will be additional freedoms for riders to make their own arrangements for travel to Worlds (hopefully allowing them to reduce their own costs)
  • Selection criteria for the National Team will be communicated more clearly.
  • Junior training camp structure, timing and costs will be communicated long in advance.
  • The World Champs team structure will be determined and communicated well in advance.
  • MTBA will set up a committee with team and rider representation to help shape the future direction of the National Program support.
  • MTBA will survey all 2012 World Champs team members about how the organisation can best address athlete needs for 2013.

While these might all seem like very basic elements (and they are), these are key areas where MTBA has let elite riders down in the past. Getting these basics right at least gives our riders a chance of knowing where they stand with regard to progressing through to the National Team and preparing themselves properly for competing at a World Champs level.

Hopefully in four years time we can turn the TV on and see our current generation of young guns lining up at the Olympics. If not, we may be turning the TV on to watch those same riders lining up for their first Grand Tour on the road while we talking about what good young mountain bikers they used to be.

Jared Rando: Why Is Australia So Good At Downhill Racing?

Why? Seriously, it makes no sense. We have no big mountains to race down, our access to good downhill tracks is limited at best, the conditions here are incredibly different to those at World Cup races, and we have a relatively tiny talent pool for riders to come from.

Still, year after year, our pro downhill racers continue their run at the top of the World Cup circuit and once a year, our Junior and Elite racers band together to consistently take the number one or two spot in the team rankings at the World Championships.

Why Australia is so good at downhill racing is a common question. Pro’s get asked it all the time and I’ve definitely been asked it more than once during my time as the National downhill Coach. To be honest, I don’t really know the answer, but I have some theories. It’s something I’ve been thinking more and more about over the last year and here is what I think makes our racers some of the best in the world.

Jared Rando knows a thing or two about racing downhill. Years as a pro, and now the National DH coach, have given him a unique insight into the mechanics of a good racer.

We have an extremely high level of competition at a National level.

Want to win a National round? Well you’ll have to beat the best racers in the world. Even if you want to make the top 10 you have to beat some seriously quick racers. Anyone coming up through the ranks has this as their target and this pushes racers limits to the max. Want to make the Australian Junior team? Well, you’ll need to have a finish at a National Round which would put you in the top 10 of the Pro class (I don’t like the term “Elite” for our top racers- these guys are Pros). Sounds a bit tough? Well, it is – but that didn’t stop 10 Junior racers achieving just this last year and 7 achieving the same this year. High benchmarks = high performances, and Aussie DH racers always rise to the challenge.

Aussie Pros are Pro.

We’re lucky, Australia’s pro downhill racers are some of the nicest and most down to earth guys you’ll ever meet. They are humble, committed and good at their jobs. Any pro out there knows that it’s their job to sell bikes for their sponsors. The other part of being a pro is building and developing the sport (partly, so there are more people to buy their sponsors bikes!). Australia’s pro downhill racers are fantastic advocates for downhill racing. They encourage the younger, developing racers and genuinely love the sport and want it to grow. This is a huge part of why the guys coming up are so good and why pro teams want Aussie riders. Our young racers have fantastic role models and this legacy of helping the younger riders and developing the sport is being passed down from generation to generation. Pro pros keep Australia at the top.

We have heroes.

This kind of goes hand-in-hand with the previous point but without heroes in the sport, young guys don’t have much to look up to. Every year, Australian downhill racers provide us with a list of heroic stories to inspire and motivate their younger peers. And it’s not all about winning either- Sam Hill’s World Championship run in 2007 and his 3rd place finish at the Champery World Cup that same year come to mind. Mick Hannah racing and kicking ass with some serious injuries; Tracey Hannah and Bryn Atkinson’s come backs from broken femurs over the past few years; Rennie winning the World Cup when he was only 22; Troy Brosanan not letting injuries hold him back and working 110% to get fit again. These are all incredible stories and just the tip of the iceberg. You need heroes in any sport, and Australian donwhill has plenty.

Sam Hill is a hero to many, not only in Australia, but around the world.

Australian downhill racers love the sport.

The Australian donwhill scene isn’t without its problems. Low numbers at races, limited sponsorship, limited funding opportunities for young developing racers, a relatively high cost of racing, large distances between races and limited exposure to World Cup style tracks are just a small sample of problems Australian downhill racing has always, and will always have. And you know what? I don’t care. Neither do most downhill racers out there. Australian donwhill racers love the sport and everyone (well, maybe nearly everyone) involved is doing everything they can to help develop the sport. Australian racers do what they can with what they have and don’t let the problems get in the way. Our love for the sport and the determination of Aussie donwhill racers keeps us at the top.

If we can keep all these things happening within our sport, I’m sure Australia will keep producing world class donwhill racers and stay at the top. Downhill racing is a unique sport and a proud part of Australian mountain bike culture. If you haven’t checked it out before, well maybe you should. Nothing’s better than riding your bike down a hill as fast as you can go and a downhill bike allows you to go really, really, really fast.

Thank you to everyone who rides, the pros, MTBA and anyone in the Australian bike industry who supports downhill racing in any way shape or form for making it all happen. As part of a much bigger team, we can all contribute to keeping Australia at the top of the donwhill world for a long, long time to come.

 

 

Photo Feature: Yeti Headquarters

Way back in 2009, Flow’s Damian Breach and Mick Ross were in Colorado for some riding, relaxing and margarita indulgence.

We both fell in love with the margarita and we also fell in love with a very special part of the trip, a visit to Yeti Headquarters in Golden, Colorado.

The Yeti brand has always been famous for “grass roots” mountain biking and seeing the facility first hand enforced that image.   Yeti is steeped in mountain bike history but that history hasn’t always been golden (pun intended).  There was a time where the brand almost disappeared.

We found that the people who worked their really love the brand, they all rode mountain bikes, and we got a sense of a small family atmosphere.  Yeti is no small brand by any sense of the imagination, however they have found a way to balance the busy craziness of the corporate world and the peace and friendship of mountain biking.

We’re pretty sure some things would have changed since our visit in 2009, but we’re confident that the Yeti brand and the culture remains the same.


The front office of Yeti HQ, Golden, Colorado.  It’s both a work space and display area for a little bit of history behind the brand.
The “Yeti”.
Yeti has sponsored and supported some of the biggest names in mountain biking. It’s hard to think of a brand that has had so much talent come through their doors.
Which bike do you want?.  The Yeti facility in Golden was a global business HQ, office and assembly facility.
So much Yeti eye candy to be had everywhere we looked.
All brands have bikes that break and this is where some of the Yeti destruction ends up.  It’s important that some broken bikes end up back with the manufacture so they can learn and make improvements.
The Golden facility didn’t manufacture all the production Yeti’s but the prototypes made their home there.
This is just one such prototype.  It was very cool to see all the different designs Yeti plays with and there’s many that never see the light of production.
Can’t say we’ve seen too many of this colour on the local trails?
The assembly area.  This is where your dream Yeti is build and shipped off for your enjoyment.
The end.

 

Remembering Willo

In the week before the Willo Enduro I picked up Enduro Magazine’s compilation of James Williamson’s writing and sat down to have a read. I got to know Jimi while working with him at Enduro so, for me, reflecting on his life through his writing brings up other memories that are special too.

In one piece, he hangs a story about riding the Mawson Trail in South Australia on a scuzzy, dressed up bear. In another, he takes us into his experience of the Otway Odyssey. It’s cleverly pinned on his fear of the final, hard climb: the Sledgehammer.

I was expecting to feel a familiar sadness while re-reading these stories. But I found myself caught up in their enthusiastic energy – laughing along with Jimi’s insights and honesty.

Jimi’s writing draws attention to riding’s simple pleasures. He would let you in on how hard he found some aspects of the tough races he competed in, but he also made you want to revel in the fun that a sport like mountain biking brings.

As I packed my bag for ‘The Willo’, it was entertainment I was looking forward to as well. Tough enough to keep you honest, but fun and satisfying in the way that makes every pedal stroke something you feel lucky to be doing.

James Williamson writing one of his many great pieces.

The James Williamson Enduro Challenge, or the Willo Enduro, is held at Wingello in the Southern Highlands of NSW. It marks the anniversary of James’ (or Jimi or Willo’s) death.

For people who have come to mountain biking since that time, Jimi died in his sleep at the ABSA Cape Epic in 2010. His heart stopped beating due to a condition no one was aware of at the time.

James was 26. It was an event that rocked Australian and international mountain biking communities.

As an annual event, the Willo Enduro is a time for riders to get together and remember Jimi, but also to reflect on what he loved about riding. And with several tough but fun distances on offer, that’s a nice amount of time to do so.

The race course is a 50:50 fire road to singletrack blend. One 25km lap takes in some of Wingello’s best trails, and there is an option to do this one, two or three times. A 13km option for junior riders and a kids’ race at the beginning of the day adds to the nurturing, family-friendly atmosphere.

At the front of the men’s 75km event a tight group of riders set the pace. ‘The race was basically eight of us; Sid Taberlay, Shaun Lewis, Dylan Cooper, Mark Tupalski, Jared Hughes, Andy Blair and myself,’ reveals Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston (Target-Trek) after the event.

The stacked field in the men’s race.

‘There was a lot of attacking going on for the most part of the race mainly coming from Blair and Cooper. On the last lap it split up on the longer climb with about 10km to go.’

After a solid three hours (almost), Taberlay outsprinted Lewis to the line for the win. Despite breaking a few spokes and swapping out his wheel before the final lap, Trekky held on for fifth and bagged the King of the Mountain prize as well.

‘The course is such that it allows for close, fast and aggressive racing which I know Jimi loved, so it’s definitely a good way to remember him,’ shares Trekky. It doesn’t take much to imagine what a thrill it would be playing a lactic game of chasies, with some of your best mates, through the tight, flowy Southern Highlands trails.

The speed of the racing up front was such that most of the top riders in the men’s and women’s 75km events would have podiumed in the shorter distances as well. But in the women’s event, things were more spread out.

2011 winner Michelle Ainsworth recovered from a snapped chain to bag second place. Jenny Fay (Swell-Specialized) dominated out the front, but looked more than a little smashed come podium presentations proving that riding that fast isn’t as easy as she sometimes makes it look.

First place Jenny Fay crosses the line.

Me, I rode by myself for most of the race enjoying quick chats with other riders along the way. The fire roads seemed to fly by, although some short punchy ascents made me feel like I’d climbed more vertical kilometres than I really had.

When the course tipped into perfectly groomed singletrack I found myself laughing out loud as I wove through its twists and turns. A couple of rocks in a row is about as technical as it gets at Wingello. But the speed at which you can move through the tight trees and countless corners makes riders of all types exit one section looking forward to the next.

Even the podium celebrations were more fun than usual.

Unlike other events where the focus is often on personal results, this one is more about having fun on bikes and enjoying the feeling of pushing yourself. The results side of it was almost incidental.

‘Everyone is challenging themselves at whatever level they are,’ says Meg Patey, James’ aunt and one of the key people involved in making the Willo Enduro a day on the mountain bike calendar to be proud of.

‘So we want them to know that all riders can come to the Enduro, enjoy themselves, and maybe find a little bit inside them that they didn’t know was there before the event. And to then spread the word and come back for more!’

Trekky elaborates, pointing out the example this event sets for riders who are still discovering what mountain bike racing can offer: ‘I think the event has an awesome vibe, so it’s an excellent event for newcomers. It really showcases the fun and relaxed attitude that mountain bike events can be run on.

‘If newer riders can assume that every event is as well run and enjoyable as this one then they will want to do more ­­– which is good for all of us.’

Brendan ‘Trekky’ Johnston (Target-Trek) after the event.

‘I love the energy of the day,’ adds Meg. ‘Getting all those people here, making a really good event and trying to create a great atmosphere which is professional, well oiled, and noticeable – because that would impress James.

‘James loved the energy of people. He would have loved all this.’

Like Willo, Meg shares his desire to keep improving, and to keep things fresh. ‘We want to add a bit every year to what we do so that the basic framework remains the same, but there is also something new each year. A time trial next year on the Saturday is on the cards.’

And what about rider numbers? ‘I would like to keep 600 riders if possible, as that is the number that comfortably funds what we are trying to do.’

The fun and energy of the day isn’t just for the adult racers, the kids get to share in the spirit of the event too.

Bringing together the passion and expertise of the Southern Highlands and Canberra Off-Road Cycling Clubs, this event is run by, with and for the mountain biking community. And its profits go back into this community. The James Williamson Enduro Fund was established to help with junior development and hosts an annual camp for developing young riders.

Meg now speaks on behalf of a committee that includes Willo’s family and closest friends, which was formed to run the Fund: ‘We focus on 22 juniors each year, who are on the cusp of thinking about taking up mountain biking seriously.

‘By exposing them for a whole weekend to some of Australia’s top mountain bikers, we hope to give them that extra knowledge, insight, contact and mentoring, that will help them to the next stage

‘We feel that a well-considered and balanced career in mountain biking, can give an individual so much more than just being able to ride a mountain bike fast, and we want to expose a select small number of juniors each year to this.’ You can pick these riders by the bright jerseys they wear with Willo’s name on the front.

It was great to see several of these young riders enjoying the event, with many of them standing on podiums as well. Meanwhile, other participants feel glad to know their entries are contributing to something so positive. The example the race sets for mountain biking more generally is a heart-warming thing to be involved in too.

Every single person who raced helped keep the memory of Willo alive – all in the same spirit that he would have loved.

In his editor note to Issue 9 of Enduro, Jimi reflects on the Aussie domination which was part of his big win at the 2008 24 Hour Solo World Champs. He contrasts his experience in Canada to the (then named) Anaconda MTB Enduro in Alice Springs, ‘one I’ll never forget and one that most Aussie enduro riders can experience for themselves.’

‘If there’s one race you should put in the diary with a big black permanent marker,’ he writes, ‘it’s the Anaconda MTB Enduro in Alice Springs…It reminded me about a thousand times a day why I love mountain biking. It’s rare that you get to be a part of such a positive environment and the week in Alice Springs kept me charged for months!’

I like to think that Jimi would be on a massive high from this event, for very similar reasons. So take that big, black permanent marker and write a note to yourself to come and experience this one again too.


Detailed results can be found on the event website.

 

The Soapbox: Please Lay Off the Throttle

I recently posted a comment of Flow’s Facebook page about the wish for moto riders to stop trashing our trails.  That post got many comments and I thought it best to take the time to clarify and expand my thoughts.

My favourite local trails aren’t legal. Not for mountain bikes, not for 4WDs and not for dirt bikes. But with the illegality largely unenforced, the area is a bit of a playground for all comers. For as long as I’ve ridden there everyone has coexisted nicely and there’s been a good balance between users. Dog walkers, motos, mountain bikes, teenagers smoking drugs.

I’m used to these trails being chopped up, rough and loose. That’s one of the reasons I ride there, because the trails are so technical, unpredictable and always challenging. In many ways the motos have shaped some of the best of parts of the trail, berming up corners on the fireroads or created cool rock scrambles that are good to ride down.

Yet over the last couple of years the numbers of dirt bike riders on the trails seems to have gone through the roof. This isn’t a problem in itself – motos have just as much legal right to be there as I do. But when the rise in moto numbers seems to be accompanied by a collective decline in their respect for others, then we have a problem.

For me personally it came to a head a few days ago. I’d been avoiding the trails because it had been raining a lot; with so much sand and clay in the trail surface, riding in the wet trashes your bike and chews up the trails. On the fireroad into the trails I was almost cleaned up by two guys on dirt bikes, riding side by side round a corner at 50km/h. No sorry wave, they just forced me into the scrub and kept going. But it wasn’t until I hit the singletrack that I really got the shits…

The singletrack I was riding had been built by mountain bikers: it’s tight, very technical – most motos wouldn’t get out of first, maybe second, gear. As I mentioned, I’ve been avoiding it because of the rain. Apparently some moto riders haven’t been so worried.

This trail has always had a few motos ruts, but nothing like the massive channels that confronted me now. Big, deep trenches dug up by riders who have either no idea how to use their clutch lever or who just don’t give a stuff about anyone else enjoying the trail too. In other places, new lines had been simply ridden through the bush where the corner was too tight for a moto to make it easily around. Sections of scrub just flattened by riders who didn’t stop to think for one second, that perhaps this trail wasn’t really built for motos.

As I’ve said earlier, rough, technical trails are great. But rendering them almost completely unrideable to anyone without 125ccs under their butt is just selfish. And trashing the bush in an area that’s already seriously contentious with the green lobby is counter-productive for everyone. If motos are serious about getting more trail access, ripping a shortcut through the bush to avoid a corner is about the dumbest approach I can imagine… This kind of stuff will get the whole area closed down to all users in no time.

I’ve heard all the arguments: that it’s fundamentally an access issue, that motos need more legal places to ride too, that it’s just a few bad apples giving moto riders a bad name, that mountain bikers do the same thing to walking trails. All of these arguments miss the basic point that on the whole, motos and mountain bike trails don’t mix. This is especially true in areas where there are hundreds of other trails users looking to enjoy the same patch of dirt over a weekend.

If you live in a capital city and want to ride a moto, you cannot expect to just be able to ride the same local trails as shared by walkers and mountain bikers and then, when the inevitable confrontation happens, chuck your hands in the air and say you’ve got just as much ‘right’ to be there as anyone else. This is over simplification in the extreme and the worst kind of feigned ignorance. In terms of the impact upon both the trail and other users, a moto is in a different league. In one wet ride, a moto can tear apart a singletrack in a way that 100 mountain bikers never could – this cannot be denied with a straight face.

Yes, moto riders have the same legal rights to ride these trails as I do (or in this instance, the same lack of rights), but that’s no excuse for flouting common sense and ruining the trails for everyone else.

Ridden by few and ruined for all.

Bring it on at Buller

The Bike Buller Festival’s three stages send riders up, down and all around the steep flanks of Mt Buller and it’s neighbour, Mt Stirling. The racing incorporates Mt Buller’s chairlifts as well as rugged fire trail and some of Australia’s most finely wrought singletrack.

Mt Buller – Bikes racing and magic vistas.

Built by Glen Jacobs and World Trail, Buller’s iconic tracks are designed to tempt riders out of their comfort zone and high up onto the berm – and there was plenty of that going on as the weekend unfolded. Alpine environments are known for their surprises, and this year Mt Buller really sprung one on us, serving up an unusually long warm spell in the festival’s lead-up this year, so the track surface was transformed into a dry, slippery dust that kept everyone’s eyes peeled and their faces grimey.

Mt Buller was dryer than normal and the greens had turned to brown and dust.

The gravity enduro is a relatively new format, and Bike Buller’s double-whammy Brakeburner and Super-D format presented a few timing hurdles. The results for that day were initially posted with rankings organised by total riding time, much to the delight of those backbenchers who completed just the Super-D. For one night, first-time racer Ninna West was ranked 6th overall, ahead of Pete Kutschera and Adrian Jackson, and well ahead of her nearest female rival, women’s overall winner (and rightful winner of both gravity stages) Jenni King. We toasted Ninna’s success and planned her imminent pro tour until late into the night. But by morning, the glitch had been corrected.

Despite all the white-knuckled descents and lung-busting climbs, the Bike Buller Festival had a relaxed atmosphere, and the racing was all about fronting up to the challenge at hand. With riders of all levels and areas of strength stepping up to the plate, the air was thick with dust and camaraderie, and the weekend was packed with highpoints, not all of them topographic.

Men’s overall winner Paul van der Ploeg was stoked with the weekend: ‘It’s such a chilled out event. I’ve wanted to do it for a long time and this year I finally made it. It’s been a lot of fun, really relaxing.’

Paul’s team mate Josh Carlson came from the cold of Canada to the heat of Buller.

Flow subeditor Nic Learmonth, who rode in the festival, was full of tales of warm-fuzzy moments, including this one, from late in the Cornhill Cranker:

The tank was running on empty and the switchbacks had the gradient and duration of a celestial overpass. Blank-faced with exhaustion but still upright, Nic came across a bloke sprawled across the tracks. She lifted his bike off him and set it down off the track while he staggered about, assuring her he was fine. Then the two guys behind Nic rounded the corner and took in the scene.

‘You look like you need a man-hug,’ the guy at the front called out.

Nic thought they were joking, but the fallen rider nodded: ‘I do, I do need a man-hug.’

And his friends pulled over and swept him up in a big hug.

‘You alright mate?’

‘You ready to get back on your bike? C’mon.’

And as easy as that, the three of them got back on their bikes and we continued our slow up-hill plod.

That camaraderie did not stop with the race clock. The cafés and bars at Mt Buller hosted plenty of post-race analyses between friends who’d met on the trails. And the gravity events of day two brought riders down the Delatite River Trail to a wine and food festival in Mirimbah, where a dip in the river and a cold bevvie or two was just the thing for post-race recovery.

The river was perfect for two things. Cooling off and cooling your beverage of choice.

Cheers to Rapid Ascent, Giant and Mt Buller for putting on such a fun event, big thumbs up to Glen Jacobs and his team for their artistry with pick and shovel and thanks to all who rode in one, two or three stages at the Bike Buller MTB Festival.

See you all next year!

Beautiful Mt Buller.

Gravity Oz Camps – A Student’s Tale

It’s 3 o’clock on a relatively hot Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne. I’ve just moved over from Perth and I’m staring at my fairly sparse apartment that’s still littered with packing boxes. Of course I have my priorities right, unpacking and setting up my apartment…but I can’t help gazing at my freshly assembled, but neglected downhill bike, sitting on the balcony.

I’m jonesing to get out for a ride but don’t know anyone to go shuttling with. Back home in Perth we have neither mountains nor ski lifts, but on the east coast you have the option of Mount Buller or Thredbo. By comparison, downhill trails in the west are around 1 to 1.5 kilometres long but at Buller most are at double to triple that length.  With Thredbo’s cannonball run at 4.5km and over 6 times the vertical drop of anything in Perth, it makes a compelling argument to make a journey.

The big mountains of Victoria are a dream for mountain bikers.

A quick search on the Buller website enhanced the argument. It says there will be a Summer Gravity Camp being hosted on the weekend. So I call the number and speak to a guy named Shannon, who turns out to be the owner of both the Mansfield and Mt. Buller bike shops and chief instructor for the weekend. He gives me a brief outline on the skills they’ll cover but to be honest I was thinking it was expensive. Their 1-on-1 training sessions are a bargain at $70 for 2 hours in comparison to the $795 for the three day camp, but it does include food and accommodations. By the end of the weekend though I found it a worthy investment.

I’m hesitant to put my name down since I’ve been downhilling for 15 years and slightly skeptical as to what they can teach me. I ask who their target market is while hoping he doesn’t say something generic like they ‘cater to everyone.’

Sure enough, I could have scripted his answer.

‘We’ve got a couple of cross country riders, some up-and-coming downhillers, a 55 year old doctor who rides quite a bit and can patch you up if you fall off and a BMXer,’ explained Shannon.

His sales pitch didn’t instil confidence in me but faced with the choice of unpacking the rest of my apartment or shirking responsibility and going riding for three days the choice was clear. So I was on my way to Mt. Buller. Fortunately, as I would later discover, this little overview was just Shannon’s usual understated style.

“The BMXer” turns out to be 22 year old Caroline Buchanan, 3 time World Champion and Olympic Games finalist, who was out to brush up on her skills ahead of her return to downhill racing. Also, one of the “cross country riders” would be World Cup rider Katherine O’Shea.

Both Caroline and Katherine went to the Gravity Oz Camp as students. Caroline went on to finish 1st in the women’s downhill a weekend later and Katherine won the XC eliminator. Both of the girls acknowledged that the Summer Gravity Camp improved their skills to help them win.

As for Shannon, I learned his last name was Rademaker, a former pro BMXer who would be teaching the camp along with Australian World Championship team mechanic Tim Chadd and top Elite downhill racer Rhys Atkinson. It quickly became the who’s who of the Aussie riding scene.

Gravity Oz instructors (l-r)  – Rhys Atkinson, Shannon Rademaker, and Tim Chadd

On Friday morning the group assembled in the second floor lounge of the lodge to be given the rundown of events for the next few days. There were 18 of us in total and we were split up into three groups of six with one instructor per group. That morning started with a free ride session to get us warmed up and to blow out the cobwebs followed by a cornering class in the afternoon.

Before we head out though, there was a massive continental breakfast waiting for us in the kitchen that’s wafting through to the lounge while we do the introductions. The first breakfast also gave the group the opportunity to meet and greet and I met my roommate Paul, who’s another Doctor in his mid 30’s. Paul explains that he’s got two young kids at home and his wife has let him out of the house to come riding. We put in our best effort to devour all the food in front of us but come out well short. Catering 1, Team 0.  We gear up and hit the hill.

My first run was good but the altitude was killing me. It was either that or I had more cobwebs to shake than I thought after not having a proper downhill session in 4 months. Either way that combination was doing me no favours. That afternoon we break up into our groups with Shannon as my first instructor discussing lines through berms, entry, exit, apex and clipping points. His main technical critique of my riding was to “get my arms out”.

‘What?’ I asked puzzled.

‘Like a chicken,’ he explained.

With my freshly opened stance and new positioning more over the bike a few clumsy berms later I could get the bike low enough to scrape pedals. Maybe he was onto something. We finished up that afternoon when the ski lifts closed at 4pm and headed back to the lodge. Our chef cooked up a feast so large that no one touched dessert… Catering 2, Team 0.

That evening, while everyone sat in the lounge retelling war stories of hitting gaps that earlier in the day were only 5 feet and have now become 50, I was putting ice and anti-inflammatories on my swelling fingers to keep them at bay.

While trying to minimise movement I talked with Shannon for a while.  Turns out he studied outdoor education at the university and is a lecturer at TAFE for MTB instructor and guide course. He also instructs at the Gravity Oz camps and tells me that his favourite thing is running into ex students from the camp and seeing their improvements.  Clearly what he says holds some merit.

Being taught by some of the best in the business help everyone on the camp improve their skills and confidence.

Shannon bids us all goodnight and pretty soon everyone clears out leaving the lounge vacant at a mere 9:30pm. Everyone was exhausted, happy and sound asleep by 10pm. The only downside I can see was the lack of an in house masseuse – I was hurting!

Day Two, Saturday

A huge continental breakfast started the day again and was now convinced that catering would win on all counts. Next Tim gave a talk on bike maintenance and setup. Then we were on the ski lifts for first runs. We had free ride for the first few runs then get into hitting jumps – setting up, bike control and landing.

For the Saturday afternoon activities we piled into a shuttle bus and headed down to Mansfield to a private property owned by one of Shannon’s friends. On arrival we grabed our bikes for a big air session followed by a pump track course, which inevitably turned into a competition.

Graham (the 55 year old doctor) had lent Paul a GT hardtail for the afternoon, which he had nicknamed ‘Chucker’. I asked how the name came about and he explained that it’s the bike they use as a dam jumper, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. Graham extended me an invitation but I felt like I couldn’t leave the group. Then he extended an invite to everyone – none of us realising he lives on the property right next door.

What a fun afternoon it was.

Chucker getting a workout.

After Chucker got a good workout and we all got a chance to cool off we headed back up the mountain to the lodge in the same spirits as the afternoon before, equally exhausted. After another spectacular meal prepared by the chef, Paul and I climbing into our bunks. He mentions that he found some cheap dirt jumpers online and now is tempted to pick one up. Paul had that much fun on the pump track and dam jumper.

We switch out the lights and a few minutes later his phone rings – it’s his wife.

‘You can’t buy another bike!’ she expressed.

Confused, we had no idea how she knew we were just talking about it. No she wasn’t hiding in the closet, as it turns out they share an eBay account and she had just seen his search history.  Caught!

The Final Day (Sunday)

After one last continental breakfast, it was off to the ski lifts for the final day. We started off with a free ride for the first few warm up runs again. Sunday’s session was on rock gardens and picking lines to link it in with our previous sessions on berms and jumps.  Rhys shows us a line that made me think he’s ADD and been given a bottle of red creaming soda to wash down the bag of sugar he just ate. He did a demonstration run that showed why he’s a top Elite male in Australia, it was spectacular.

Rhys Atkinson showing us how to corner like a pro.

After lunch we were given the last couple of hours to practice and work with the instructors 1-on-1 for any extra help we needed. Before heading back to the lodge everyone got a bag of goodies, a free tyre from Specialized, and the guys picked winners for a pile of extra high ticket giveaways.

They say you should never acknowledge it’s your last run of the day because it’s the one you always crash. Sure enough my one and only fall for the weekend was on my last run. I was actually in better spirits after the crash because I’ve figured out just how fast I could hit that corner – only 150 more offs and I would have that whole run dialled.

Would I recommend the camp? For sure. They have a high rate of satisfied riders as evidenced by the fact that more than 70% of their business is referrals from previous customers and because many people come back two or three times.

I might be one of them.

Mt Buller is a perfect place to improve your skills with all kinds of terrain and obstacles to progress your riding.

 

 

 

Gravity Oz Camps – A Student's Tale

It’s 3 o’clock on a relatively hot Wednesday afternoon in Melbourne. I’ve just moved over from Perth and I’m staring at my fairly sparse apartment that’s still littered with packing boxes. Of course I have my priorities right, unpacking and setting up my apartment…but I can’t help gazing at my freshly assembled, but neglected downhill bike, sitting on the balcony.

I’m jonesing to get out for a ride but don’t know anyone to go shuttling with. Back home in Perth we have neither mountains nor ski lifts, but on the east coast you have the option of Mount Buller or Thredbo. By comparison, downhill trails in the west are around 1 to 1.5 kilometres long but at Buller most are at double to triple that length.  With Thredbo’s cannonball run at 4.5km and over 6 times the vertical drop of anything in Perth, it makes a compelling argument to make a journey.

The big mountains of Victoria are a dream for mountain bikers.

A quick search on the Buller website enhanced the argument. It says there will be a Summer Gravity Camp being hosted on the weekend. So I call the number and speak to a guy named Shannon, who turns out to be the owner of both the Mansfield and Mt. Buller bike shops and chief instructor for the weekend. He gives me a brief outline on the skills they’ll cover but to be honest I was thinking it was expensive. Their 1-on-1 training sessions are a bargain at $70 for 2 hours in comparison to the $795 for the three day camp, but it does include food and accommodations. By the end of the weekend though I found it a worthy investment.

I’m hesitant to put my name down since I’ve been downhilling for 15 years and slightly skeptical as to what they can teach me. I ask who their target market is while hoping he doesn’t say something generic like they ‘cater to everyone.’

Sure enough, I could have scripted his answer.

‘We’ve got a couple of cross country riders, some up-and-coming downhillers, a 55 year old doctor who rides quite a bit and can patch you up if you fall off and a BMXer,’ explained Shannon.

His sales pitch didn’t instil confidence in me but faced with the choice of unpacking the rest of my apartment or shirking responsibility and going riding for three days the choice was clear. So I was on my way to Mt. Buller. Fortunately, as I would later discover, this little overview was just Shannon’s usual understated style.

“The BMXer” turns out to be 22 year old Caroline Buchanan, 3 time World Champion and Olympic Games finalist, who was out to brush up on her skills ahead of her return to downhill racing. Also, one of the “cross country riders” would be World Cup rider Katherine O’Shea.

Both Caroline and Katherine went to the Gravity Oz Camp as students. Caroline went on to finish 1st in the women’s downhill a weekend later and Katherine won the XC eliminator. Both of the girls acknowledged that the Summer Gravity Camp improved their skills to help them win.

As for Shannon, I learned his last name was Rademaker, a former pro BMXer who would be teaching the camp along with Australian World Championship team mechanic Tim Chadd and top Elite downhill racer Rhys Atkinson. It quickly became the who’s who of the Aussie riding scene.

Gravity Oz instructors (l-r)  – Rhys Atkinson, Shannon Rademaker, and Tim Chadd

On Friday morning the group assembled in the second floor lounge of the lodge to be given the rundown of events for the next few days. There were 18 of us in total and we were split up into three groups of six with one instructor per group. That morning started with a free ride session to get us warmed up and to blow out the cobwebs followed by a cornering class in the afternoon.

Before we head out though, there was a massive continental breakfast waiting for us in the kitchen that’s wafting through to the lounge while we do the introductions. The first breakfast also gave the group the opportunity to meet and greet and I met my roommate Paul, who’s another Doctor in his mid 30’s. Paul explains that he’s got two young kids at home and his wife has let him out of the house to come riding. We put in our best effort to devour all the food in front of us but come out well short. Catering 1, Team 0.  We gear up and hit the hill.

My first run was good but the altitude was killing me. It was either that or I had more cobwebs to shake than I thought after not having a proper downhill session in 4 months. Either way that combination was doing me no favours. That afternoon we break up into our groups with Shannon as my first instructor discussing lines through berms, entry, exit, apex and clipping points. His main technical critique of my riding was to “get my arms out”.

‘What?’ I asked puzzled.

‘Like a chicken,’ he explained.

With my freshly opened stance and new positioning more over the bike a few clumsy berms later I could get the bike low enough to scrape pedals. Maybe he was onto something. We finished up that afternoon when the ski lifts closed at 4pm and headed back to the lodge. Our chef cooked up a feast so large that no one touched dessert… Catering 2, Team 0.

That evening, while everyone sat in the lounge retelling war stories of hitting gaps that earlier in the day were only 5 feet and have now become 50, I was putting ice and anti-inflammatories on my swelling fingers to keep them at bay.

While trying to minimise movement I talked with Shannon for a while.  Turns out he studied outdoor education at the university and is a lecturer at TAFE for MTB instructor and guide course. He also instructs at the Gravity Oz camps and tells me that his favourite thing is running into ex students from the camp and seeing their improvements.  Clearly what he says holds some merit.

Being taught by some of the best in the business help everyone on the camp improve their skills and confidence.

Shannon bids us all goodnight and pretty soon everyone clears out leaving the lounge vacant at a mere 9:30pm. Everyone was exhausted, happy and sound asleep by 10pm. The only downside I can see was the lack of an in house masseuse – I was hurting!

Day Two, Saturday

A huge continental breakfast started the day again and was now convinced that catering would win on all counts. Next Tim gave a talk on bike maintenance and setup. Then we were on the ski lifts for first runs. We had free ride for the first few runs then get into hitting jumps – setting up, bike control and landing.

For the Saturday afternoon activities we piled into a shuttle bus and headed down to Mansfield to a private property owned by one of Shannon’s friends. On arrival we grabed our bikes for a big air session followed by a pump track course, which inevitably turned into a competition.

Graham (the 55 year old doctor) had lent Paul a GT hardtail for the afternoon, which he had nicknamed ‘Chucker’. I asked how the name came about and he explained that it’s the bike they use as a dam jumper, which is something I’ve always wanted to try. Graham extended me an invitation but I felt like I couldn’t leave the group. Then he extended an invite to everyone – none of us realising he lives on the property right next door.

What a fun afternoon it was.

Chucker getting a workout.

After Chucker got a good workout and we all got a chance to cool off we headed back up the mountain to the lodge in the same spirits as the afternoon before, equally exhausted. After another spectacular meal prepared by the chef, Paul and I climbing into our bunks. He mentions that he found some cheap dirt jumpers online and now is tempted to pick one up. Paul had that much fun on the pump track and dam jumper.

We switch out the lights and a few minutes later his phone rings – it’s his wife.

‘You can’t buy another bike!’ she expressed.

Confused, we had no idea how she knew we were just talking about it. No she wasn’t hiding in the closet, as it turns out they share an eBay account and she had just seen his search history.  Caught!

The Final Day (Sunday)

After one last continental breakfast, it was off to the ski lifts for the final day. We started off with a free ride for the first few warm up runs again. Sunday’s session was on rock gardens and picking lines to link it in with our previous sessions on berms and jumps.  Rhys shows us a line that made me think he’s ADD and been given a bottle of red creaming soda to wash down the bag of sugar he just ate. He did a demonstration run that showed why he’s a top Elite male in Australia, it was spectacular.

Rhys Atkinson showing us how to corner like a pro.

After lunch we were given the last couple of hours to practice and work with the instructors 1-on-1 for any extra help we needed. Before heading back to the lodge everyone got a bag of goodies, a free tyre from Specialized, and the guys picked winners for a pile of extra high ticket giveaways.

They say you should never acknowledge it’s your last run of the day because it’s the one you always crash. Sure enough my one and only fall for the weekend was on my last run. I was actually in better spirits after the crash because I’ve figured out just how fast I could hit that corner – only 150 more offs and I would have that whole run dialled.

Would I recommend the camp? For sure. They have a high rate of satisfied riders as evidenced by the fact that more than 70% of their business is referrals from previous customers and because many people come back two or three times.

I might be one of them.

Mt Buller is a perfect place to improve your skills with all kinds of terrain and obstacles to progress your riding.