Friday, 28 November 2014


Riding twenty five miles and climbing over 3600ft earns you a lot of post ride food stuffing and chocolate binging. Yep, it's Thanksgiving again! My favourite time of year to ride the NorCal trails, anchored by one of the most fun and challenging rides in the area - the Annual Thanksgiving Appetite Seminar. This year marks the fifth time I've done it. A mixture of better conditioning and beautiful weather meant it was the best yet.

My regular road riding commutes have boosted my cycling fitness and technique by a decent amount. Pedaling feels different. My cadence is smoother, my breathing steady and deep and power is delivered from the core. I rode the tough, loose, endless fireroads of Pine Mountain with a level of strength I've not felt in previous years. That being said, my new found physical prowess was completely overshadowed - as usual - by Rosson. He rode the whole thing on a solid steel, single speed, fat-fucking bike. And I still had to work hard to keep up! Impressive to behold. Especially on the steep and fast descents where those chunky rubbers looked like a moto bike as they tore up the dirt.

The turkey ride is always a great experience. It embodies much of what I love about mountain biking : stunning views, beautiful California weather and tough climbs leading to fast, loose and thrilling descents. Sharing this with friends and strangers, all joined in the common pleasure of mountain  bicycling is a real treat. This annual event also marks the end (almost) of another year living and riding in the USA. Last Thanksgiving, I could never have anticipated what the year ahead had in store. Cycling has been one of the constants that has kept me sane and given me some happiness through the  overwhelming sadness of personal loss. I'll always be grateful to the sport for that. And I hope to keep the tradition of riding the Pine Mountain loop each November alive for many years to come.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Simon's Vid

This weekend myself, Eric and Rosson took in the delights of Tamarancho followed by Porcupine Trail. I love Porcupine. So fast and flowey and usually quite empty as most riders are drawn to the delights of the Flow Trail and the regular  'rancho loop. Simon was kind enough to document our adventures and put together this sweet little edit. Fun times.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Finding Flow

I got into this mountain biking lark too late in life. Gone was the chance to rely on a youthful, sponge-like brain to help me develop the natural skills needed to shred with ease (not to mention hours upon hours of free time to play with.) As a mid 30’s-something year old, each trick has been a lesson I've learned through experimentation, frustration, applying theory from books and DVDs, repetitive sessioning and lots of self analysis and critique. I've also employed coaching along the way to help me unlock a few Eureka moments. It’s not always a pleasant way to learn the sport as disillusion creeps in where ability is found lacking. But I feel I’ve developed a decent understanding of everything I’ve learned and take pride in how far I’ve come (although I still have a long ways to go. The urge to always go faster, bigger and higher is one of the driving joys of this sport, and one of its biggest curses.)

Like most riders my age I spend far more time thinking about riding than actually doing it. During one of these dirt dreaming sessions I came to realize my learning curve could be broken down into definite stages. Each milestone reached took me one step closer to achieving the tantalizing satisfaction that is : Flow. Now, allow me to caveat. I don’t believe I’m able to achieve flow all the time. Neither have I conquered all the stages I’ve described. And I’m not a coach. But I think the following is a fair boiling down of everything I’ve learned and try to put into practice whenever I ride.

The Fear Stage
Perhaps fear is too strong of a word. We're not yet scaring ourselves on steep, high consequence technical sections or hitting big drops, but we're not confidently driving the bike when the trail points south either. We are passengers giving mechanical input to the bike but we don't yet fully understanding the feedback our steeds and trails are sending back. Trepidation constantly tickles the nerves and though the fun factor is definitely there, confidence has yet to be earned. Body position might not be quite correct so it often feels like you're sat too high up on the bike and failure to clear any obstacle or section of challenging trail can result in going over the bars. At the mercy of gravity and the undulating terrain, we exercise control through the only way we know how - by constantly dragging the brakes to keep speed in check.
This is the beginner stage where technical singletrack and open, gravelly fire road all feel the same. Speed is something to be reigned in and descents are challenges to be endured. Getting through in one piece is the primary objective. We enjoy it, but we don't yet have the confidence to really own it.
To leave this stage, we must first learn to brake correctly. Simply applying either brake without proper control will pitch the rider forward doing all sorts of bad things to body position, weighting and traction. This leaves the rider with less control which in turn dims confidence. The rider brakes even more as uncontrolled speed becomes something that induces the run away train feeling of fear.

Learning to Brake
This is the first real stage of achieving flow on the trail. Applying the brakes in short, controlled bursts as a means of maintaining traction is the goal. Dropping the heels at these moments counters the momentum of the body pitching forward as the bike decelerates. A good neutral body position is maintained which keeps the bike balanced. A balanced, controlled bike induces confidence so braking is used only as needed. The habit of dragging the brakes begins to be broken.

Learning to Unweight
Recoil from the bike happens often, for example when braking force is released or when coming out of a bermed corner. This recoil can also be induced with a quick preload and release of the bike's suspension, eg bouncing on the pedals. When in this state, the bike is less susceptible to being deflected off course by rough terrain. This un-weighting of the bike is a key component to finding flow as it allows the bike to float over technical trail sections that would otherwise cause the rider to slow down (either because of trail topology sapping momentum or through rider braking to regain control in a challenging section.) Un-weighting also allows the rider to easily manipulate the bike as it becomes momentarily weightless, eg flopping the bike from one lean to the opposite side to change direction between chicane corners.
As un-weighting becomes familiar, it can be exaggerated so the bike is pulled tight to the rider as the arms and legs bend to accommodate. This is the perfect setup to push the bike back into the dirt and create the pump......

Pumping the Trail
Wise old men of the mountain will say "if you're not pedaling, you should be pumping." Use of this technique should become the default way to ride any descent (and most flat sections) in order to maintain control and carry speed. Not only does it allow the rider to squeeze extra momentum out of the trail, it stops the riding high and feeling like a passenger sensation that can happen during the early stages of learning. Pumping keeps the arms and legs loose and in sync with the terrain. Body weight settles low in the bike's chassis so the trail feels less harsh. Riding feels smoothed and more relaxed. This can only have one effect - increasing control.
The compression stage of the pump (loading the suspension) creates incredible grip. Squashing the bike and tires into the dirt with deliberate force can often create enough grip that the need to brake in order to maintain control is made redundant. Often when people brake it is a reaction to feeling loss of control of the bike (either through speed increasing or trail conditions changing.) However it isn't always a scrubbing of speed that is required to maintain control, it is a need for better grip.

The Holy Grail. Achieving flow depends on more than just the mastery of technique. The delicate balance where ability meets challenge requires many stars to be in perfect alignment. However it is possible to give flow a helping hand. A nudge in the right direction. Once pumping becomes (almost) unconscious the trail morphs into something new. Individual sections that used to require their own unique problem solving (and often slowing down for) become threaded together into one continuous motion. Everything feels fluid, regardless of trail technicality. Sometimes it even feels slow and its only a Strava sanity check that confirms you are riding fast. You are in the zone. This effortless feeling requires a lot of effort to maintain, yet it feels like the bike and body are bearing this effort. The mind is freed to live in the exact moment and soak in the sheer pleasure of achieving flow.

Monday, 29 September 2014


Yep, its been a while and this blog has been neglected. This summer has been something of a blur. Life happens when you make plans, and that’s what happened these past few months. Plenty of life. My annual pilgrimage to Whistler had to be cancelled so the poor Glory has been left somewhat impotent this year. Still, the dirt and jumps are patient and will be waiting for me next season. I’ve also sold the Orange hardtail commuter brute in favour of a spindly, sleek road bike. I spend most of my eves in Fairfax now and a spirited 1:10 commute by bike (which I’m aiming to get under the 1 hour mark… eventually) is preferable to sitting in traffic each day. I’m also retiring the Nomad. More on that another time, but fear not – I’ve not gone completely over to the dork side. Mountain biking is my first love and the Nomad’s successor will be a steed worthy of taking its place. Exciting times are ahead.

In the past I have been somewhat…. unkind about road riding. It never really appealed when compared to the many thrills and spills of riding knobblies over singletrack. All I saw was the dull grind up tarmac roads for the reward of coasting down more tarmac roads. Nice views – yes, but not the same adrenaline charged, technically challenging, flow finding fun that riding a mountain bike induces. When I chose my road bike I did so because it was the best tool employed for a (almost) 40 mile round commute. But when I first threw my leg over its slender frame and set off to work on a brisk late Summer morning, something changed. A switch was flicked.

My weapon of choice is the Giant Defy 1. Hydro sculpted aluminium tubes meet slender carbon blade forks and a nice carbon seat post. With a decent mid range component set and sweet looking graphics, the Defy is definitely easy on the eye and, after an expert fitting from Brian at Big Swingin’ Cycles, easy on the arse too! The terrain might be a little less interesting compared to mountain riding but the joy of feeling immediate forward propulsion from every pedal stroke is awesome. The acceleration is something I’ve never experienced on dirt and is certainly grin inducing. However the real fun begins on the descents. Climbing on a road bike is completely different to MTB climbing. Its actually very satisfying to feel the benefits of a disciplined cadence and good breathing transfer into a swift, efficient climbing rate. Once you crest the climb, catch your breath and admire the view its time to see what you’re made of on the backside slope. 

Riding on super skinny tires at speeds tipping 40mph on the same terrain occupied by cars is an exercise in fear control, bike handling skills and rider commitment. Never before has choosing a good corner line and leaning the bike been so important. Failure to commit and nervousness with the brakes can lead to hideous disaster. Weighting a bike than weighs less than 20lbs at such speed feels like riding on a knife edge but its amazing and beautiful to feel nothing but smooth speed and the wind in your face as you hunker down into the drops and mix it with the traffic.

I can’t see road biking replacing my primary love of threading chunkier bikes through the rocks and trees just yet. But it feels good to have discovered a new area of cycling that I feel a real passion and enthusiasm for. It helps that the Defy is not only beautiful, but extremely practical. Step foot outside the front door, and you’re on a ride. I love that. And I’m excited to reap the fitness benefits for my mountain bike rides. I won’t be changing the name of this blog just yet, but I’ll happily document my roadie adventures in the meantime.


Thursday, 19 June 2014

Blowing off the Dust

After a few months of being cooped up in a dark office with nothing but computer glare for company, it felt good to get out into the summer sun and ride with Eric and Chris this weekend. It felt especially good as we were heading north to beautiful Lake Tahoe for this year’s first (and Eric’s first ever) downhill session. Having sat mothballed and pristine since last year’s Whistler trip I was keen to sling a leg over the Glory and get it (and I) dusty again.

Half the mountain’s trails were closed until the 27th. This was still early season. But we had plenty to sink our knobblies into. Old favourites like Livewire, the challenging tech of Boondocks plus the all new Gypsy kept us busy from the first uplift to the last. Long lines of eager, grinning riders meant for a welcome break in between each run where we could catch our breath and give quick, excited recaps of what we’d just ridden. Eric did a great job on his Blur LT and was soon catching air on Livewire. Chris picked up where he’d left off from last year’s Whistler trip, whipping tabletops and hitting some of Northstar’s gnarlier features.

I kept the riding somewhat mellow. Keen to ease in slowly and not aggravate injuries still being nursed from last year – or create new ones that might cut this season short. Plus I wanted to focus on Oscar’s teaching’s and really try to dial in my jumping. I felt great though. Much better than how I ended last season. My berm railing felt flowey and through the technical stuff I definitely felt a little faster and more agile (especially after a nerve softening lunchtime beer.) But the biggest leap forward was with my jumping. The real test will be when I hit A-Line next month. But I definitely felt good and caught some decent air as I hit the front sides of jumps with relaxed confidence. I still have a ways to go, and much technique to dial in. But for the first session of the year I felt good about where my downhill riding is at. Now I just need to build on that and make some real progress on the Glory.

Here’s a little video of me trying to chase Chris down Livewire. I need to fiddle with my set up and get those sodding cables out of view…..

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Shreds the Dust

A packed schedule of robots and industrial magic means I haven’t had too many rides to write about recently. It's been more about squeezing in some two wheeled fun as and when, in between bouts of long hours at the computer. Still, as work on Hollywood’s latest blockbuster draws to a close, Summer is slowly ramping up with the promise of warm, dusty descents to be ridden to the sound of whirring chair lifts. Me and Chris have our downhill sleighs out of storage and a weekend of Northstar booked for early June. A perfect limbering up before our regular pilgrimage to Whistler in July. However, before we gave in to the excitement of another hot season of shred, we had to say a bittersweet goodbye to good riding buddy Dave. He’s off to Colorado soon so felt it fitting to say adios to his riding buds with one last blast around home turf – Tamarancho.

Knowing it would be last time we'd ride these familiar trails together, and the fact that my riding has been scarce recently, meant an amazing ride was had, where every lungful of air spent grinding the cranks and shredding the dirt felt fantastic. No strava times were bothered during the ride, but judging by our sweaty grins we'd all ridden hard and well deserved the post ride beers.

All the best Dave, you're an awesome riding buddy and I look forward to you showing us your new local trails.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Try Before You Buy

Tennis ball yellow curves contrasting with the stunning Bay Area view below. This is my ride. A carbon Bronson with Enve wheels and full XTR component set. This right here, is California dreamin’…. Except I’m not dreaming. Its all real and all mine (at least for one day.) Tam Bikes were putting on a Santa Cruz demo day so me and Simon decided to drop by early and score ourselves a couple of shiny new steeds to play with.

I do love the Nomad. Buying that bike was not only an investment in aluminium tubes and component pieces, but also an investment in me and my new hobby. It signaled the start of my passion for a sport that gives me unrivalled pleasure and physical (and mental) fitness. I owe that bike a debt of gratitude that I endeavor to pay back each week in blood, sweat and tears (of joy.. obviously.) But she’s getting a bit long in the tooth. And it’s a tank. A tank that has served me well and saved my arse many times, but I do crave something a bit lighter. Something that I can use to step my game (and speed) up a bit.  I’ve been thinking about the Bronson as next year’s birthday gift to myself so the chance to ride it before committing was not to be missed.

There are plenty of reviews out there and they all rave about the Bronson. I know it's good (on paper) and state of the art. Really, I just needed to feel a big enough difference to know it was worth retiring the trusty Nomad for. So I handed over my deets to the fella at Santa Cruz and set off for the test ride with an open mind and a grinning face. Given Tam Bike’s location, a quick grind up Railroad Grade to Eldridge seemed like the best option. Not too long of a ride but enough to put the bike through it's paces. I was also keen to see how the Bronson climbed given that it is much lighter than I’m used to, and it has the slightly larger wheels. Both factors seemed to make a difference. I still huffed and puffed my way up Mt Tam, but I consistently sat in a higher gear than usual. Progress felt faster than normal for the same amount of effort spent.

The descent down Eldridge was awesome. I started out a little reserved. The suspension wasn’t quite as plush as I'd like (I’d need to spend some time dialing it in) and the brakes were set up American style so I had to be mindful of not grabbing a fistful of front rotor in error. But the cockpit felt dialed so I started to pump the bike and put trust in those lovely big carbon wheels and let the thing fly! Like with the 29er Yeti I rode a while ago, I noticed the wheels had a slightly more pronounced giro effect and resisted quick changes of direction. Minimal, and not something to put me off as I felt I'd get it dialed and snappy after a few rides. But the acceleration was insane and once flowing, the ride suddenly became very supple. I’m sure I rode Eldridge much faster than previous efforts. I certainly felt smoother.

Once we hit the bottom section, where the trail smoothes out and turns into lovely whoop filled goodness, I discovered how well the Bronson flew. The back end naturally tucks underneath as you launch rollers which inspires a lot of confidence to hit the jumps with abandon. And for a light bike, the Bronson plants itself reassuringly once you hit terra firma. In fact, the back end overall felt really twitchy, in a good way. Like you can put it where you want it and manipulate the bike at will. Possibly something to explore and use to counter the slight cornering resistance I experienced with the bigger wheels.

So, in short. I feckin’ love the thing. It felt awesome. Enough like my current bike to know I'm not compromising anything, but different and better enough to justify the change. The bigger wheels felt a bit more resistant to leaning into corners, but not much. However the rolling speed felt great! And its so nimble... At times it felt like my Jackal. I could pick the thing up and put it anywhere. So next year's ride will be a carbon Bronson beast. In the meantime, I’ll eek out every last bit of pleasure from the Nomad until she’s ready to be put out to pasture (well, Craigslist classifieds.)

Monday, 24 February 2014

Mo' GoPro

Here's some more GoPro movie magic. This time its me and Jaime riding Annadel's South and North Burma trails. Whilst the videos might not quite capture the thrilling speeds (I'm convinced) we hit, they do at least show how utterly lush NorCal is at this time of year. We're truly spoiled!

>>>South Burma Video <<<<<      >>>>>North Burma Video <<<<<<   >>>>>Lawndale Video<<<<<

**Remember to set the youTube player to HD**

Sunday, 23 February 2014


I've had the Jackal about a year and a half now. I originally bought it to help me get some extra riding in each week and master some new skills, namely manuals, bunny hopping and low speed two wheel control. Well, my trackstands have come on a treat, and my hopping is getting better, but I still can't manual. The problem is, when I get on the lovely blue fecker, I just want to cruise around and enjoy the feeling of child-like freedom this bike invokes. Still, I'll plug away and hopefully one day I'll be riding one wheeled through the Marina. Until then, here's a lovely picture of the Jackal in its natural environment (taken when I should've been practicing on it.)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Sleeping Beauty

There are many things I love about Mountain Biking. One of them is it segues so nicely into my other passion - taking pictures. Being out in the beautiful outdoors offers plenty of opportunity to grab snaps. Most of them are missed in the blur and frenzy of riding hard and losing myself in the flow, but every now and again I come across some treasure and get the chance to photograph it.

This lovely old carcass is just off one of the trails at Water Dog. Me and Chris were out there today figuring out a good loop to ride. I'd love to know this car's story, but until then I'll just enjoy capturing it bathed in glorious Californian sun.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

GoPro Shizzle

I rarely bother with the GoPro. Stuff never looks as big or as fast as it is in real life (an excuse used by most people with GoPros showing friends and loved ones the "gnarly shit" that looks like a small rockery when viewed later.) But I do like to dust it off once in a while and grab some snaps with it. Here are a few from this Saturday's Rancho blast with Eric, Chris and Simon. A typical NorCal winter's day.... Crazy how beautiful and sunny it is right now.

I also filmed me and Chris hitting the last descent of the loop. It can be seen :

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Hair of the Dog

It's really easy to forget all about Water Dog park. Come the weekend hitting our familiar Marin destinations or heading south somewhere always seems the obvious choice for a decent shred. However, right on our doorstep we have an awesome singletrack network and some genuinely gnarly jumps. So this weekend myself, Chris and Eric decided to head to Belmont and explore the dirt treasures nestled amongst suburbia.

It's a little difficult to figure out a logical loop at Water Dog, however the place is small enough, and the climbing easy enough that you can explore and figure out a route that satisfies. Exploring is a part of mountain biking yet we rarely do it. We're too busy riding familiar trails over and over, the same way each time trying for faster Strava times. So it felt good to eek out our own route and stop and session certain areas to help figure out how to find our flow.

The actual trails are awesome. Often short, but clearly built for bikers. Names like "Rambler" suggest something sedate but nothing could be further from the truth. Every corner is slightly bermed and the bits in between are fast, tight and full of little boosters and interesting features that encourage pumping and fast lairy riding. There's also lots of fairly challenging stuff too like steep, rutted trails and tight switchbacks. Plus, one trail even has you riding over an ancient sunken car!

We rounded off the ride with a session at the nearby jump park next to the high school. Much of the jumps are insane gap jumps that invoke chills just by looking at them. But there are plenty of smaller jumps to have fun with too. I felt somewhat rusty but I had Oscar's words of wisdom rattling around somewhere so felt confident boosting off the smaller stuff.

We'll definitely be going back. In the meantime, if you want to see a video of the three of us hitting some really gnarly shit, watch.........