Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Commuter Bonus

My road ride commute might not be quite as flower or exciting as a typical MTB shred, but it does offer up some incredible views. This was taken on a morning detour up Hawk Hill - a popular Golden Gate overlook in the Marin Headlands. I've decided to try and include Hawk Hill (when time allows) to try and boost my climbing power and to enjoy the awesome descent back to the bridge before starting the day's work. We have a lot of rain here in NorCal at the moment so our trails are slop. Having the road bike steed as a back up for two wheeled fun is definitely a plus, especially when I get to grab a few pretty snaps en route.

Friday, 27 November 2015

Turkey Ride 2015

The Turkey Ride seemed to come around quickly this year. It feels like Summer was just a moment ago, but the dropping temperatures and light frosting say otherwise. Winter is here and, in typical NorCal fashion its really rather pleasant. Cold but sunny and, just like the past couple of years - perfect riding conditions come Thanks Giving time. This is my sixth Appetite Seminar in a row, but my first on the Trance. I was keen to see how its nimble frame compared to the tank like Nomad over the 3600ft (plus) of climbing on this traditional 25 mile mountain route.

Sticking to tradition we met at the Java Hut just before 7:30am, keen to roll out nice and early. I joined Rosson, Greg and the rest of the Zeitgeist team. Its always a thrill to ride with strong racers. It pushes my mettle a bit, making a fun social ride a welcome challenge too.

The ride through Deer Park and up to the Bolinas road was stunning. Early morning sun painted golden light across frosty rugged terrain. I wish I'd stopped to take pictures but we were determined to crack on and warm our fingers and toes before the real climbing began.

I've described the route several times before. This year's was no different, except it felt much easier somehow. I'd like to credit it with my awesome fitness (which isn't bad, but certainly not my best) however it must have been the lightweight Trance. At a near 8lbs lighter than my old steed, it really is quite a svelte beast. Even with the newly acquired flat pedals, ascending the many challenging climbs seemed much easier. Almost enjoyable! On the descents, the Trance really flies. The Turkey Ride takes in some steep fire roads, whoops and rutted double track. The Trance ate it up and provided nothing but stability, agility and grin inducing playfullness. The flat pedal set up encourages some lairy cornering and I dared more than before to push the bike into each apex and lean the frame aggressively. Great fun.

Our final descent was the Porcupine trail. Fast and flowey by default, it was made more fun this year by some spirited racing and switchback overtaking with the Zeitgeist crew. Definitely a great way to end the ride and some inspiration to maybe get back into the race scene next year.

I hope to be doing the Turkey Ride for years to come. I'm not a native of this country, but I'm grateful to the Thanks Giving holiday. Not only is it a day off from the usual grind, but its a genuine chance to take stock, reflect and appreciate just how much mountain biking (and its community) really means to me. Cheers!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

MTB Mutt

Another long stretch with nothing blog-worthy to upload. Not to say I haven't been riding, I have. Living in Fairfax means I can pedal out of my front door and soon be hitting dirt. We've been riding the usual haunts on a regular basis and I'm continuing my roadie commuting commitment. There's also some cool stuff on the horizon : checking out Stafford Lake Bike Park is a hot agenda item and there's whispers of a summer Whistler trip too. Until then, I'm keen to simply enjoy my favorite time of the year - Autumn! (I still refuse to call it Fall.) The air is crisp, clear and at times bitterly cold (by California standards anyways) but I do love the holiday season. Each ride feels like an adventure and the trail conditions are often perfect. Plenty of sunshine sprinkled with just enough scattered rain to create beautiful tacky dirt.

This year I have a new riding buddy to share good trails time with : Chana! Our beautiful 9 month old mutt. As soon as we got her I had dreams of her running like the wind - tongue lolling out the side of her face as I ripped alongside her. This weekend we went to Sorich Ranch and did just that. Chana wasn't at all bothered by the bike, in fact she has a bad habit of getting too close to the wheels. As much as I'll try to avoid her, a quick accidental rubbery buzz to her hind quarters is inevitable. But she's a tough, fearless girl. Thats why I love her! I can't wait for the many trail adventures we'll share.

Monday, 29 June 2015

A Long Day in the Saddle

Its been a while since I did any sort of race or organized bike riding event. I've not really missed it, I've been happy to ride at a decidedly non-race pace and just enjoy good trail times at my own leisure. However my good lady pointed me to the Marin County Bicycle Coalition organized Solstice Fondo event and my interest was piqued. The registration cost was somewhat expensive, and the stats seemed grueling - 38 miles and 6300ft of climbing up and over some of Marin's steepest routes. But it was a good chance to explore new trails and to connect old favorites together in different ways, something I've wanted to do since moving to the area as I tend to only ride the same old loops over and over. Plus riders would receive a sweet t-shirt souvenir. I was sold!

Unlike a race which has a mass start, the fondo had participants register, pick up their wrist bands and head out solo with nothing but a turn by turn guide and a promise that we'd have our route marked and support stations along the way. During the day we'd occasionally see fellow riders and suffer up climbs as roughly assembled packs, but for the most part it was a lonesome day in the dirt, pitching mettle against a long and challenging route. I didn't mind this too much. A chance to see new trails and take in amazing views was what I signed up for. And it was nice not to have the pressure of a race vibe pushing everyone along.

The route covered most of the Marin rides around (but not including) Mt Tam. We started out from San Geronimo onto Porcupine trail and then up to the 680 trail. The day's first climb felt good. The sky was overcast and the temperature cooling. I'd ridden this route before - its the way we normally head to the Solstice trail. But I'd never continued along the 680 trail as the steep rugged fun of Solstice was always too much of a draw. I was suprised and pleased to discover the 680 is awesome fun to ride! Flowey and fast it feels a lot like China Camp's Bay Trail. Already I'd discovered a new riding route to add to our weekend options and the fondo was less than 2 hours in!

The first aid station, at the end of 680, was a welcome chance to rest, fill up on PB&Js and ready ourselves for the next climb. The morning mist was burning off and the heat of the day was making itself known. I topped off my Camel Sack with electrolytes and cracked on.

The Luiz fire road is rutted, steep and seems never ending. I caught up with a few stragglers and we all spent most of the climb pushing our steeds up the face of the hill. After a few false summits we eventually reached the telecom towers which meant the grunt was over (for now.) Our reward was a fun descent to Big Rock where the second aid station awaited us.

By now I was around 3 hours in but still felt pretty good. My plan had been to skip out the upcoming Tamarancho section to save my legs some grief. I knew I wasn't conditioned to do the whole planned route with any amount of prowess, and I know rancho like the back of my hand anyway. This ride was about discovering new adventures, so I felt fine about skipping a familiar chunk of it. But as I climbed Loma Alta heading towards White Hill I started to feel differently. Out there pretty much alone, it felt good to be pitching myself against such vast open space with nothing but my bike, determination and some peanut M&Ms to get me through. I decided to see how I felt once I'd dropped down White Hill trail, hit the third aid station to refuel and made my way to the B-17 extension.

Once I got to 'rancho, my legs were filled with the familiar dull ache of fatigue. My head struggled to stay focussed and I'd pushed up sections I've ridden with ease many times before. I should've played it safe and headed out to the finish, but common sense lost to bravado and I completed a Tamarancho loop in a fog of heat and exhaustion. From the cursory attention I'd paid to the route map, I figured I was almost done anyway. On the home stretch at least. The organizers had put the climbing total to be 63000ft and my Garmin was already pushing 6k. No worries. I headed out of B-17 and continued my way up White Hill.

As fireroad gave way to loose chunky rocks, my addled brain started to feel a twinge of familiarity. This was the route (in reverse) that we do on the Thanks Giving ride....... Realisation of what was to come dawned on me in an awful way. I had a LOT left to do and it was all technical and steep. My Garmin must've been confused as I clearly wasn't close to finishing. But it was too late now. I just had to dig deep and climb (or hike a bike) as best I could and keep fantasizing about finishing and stuffing my face with ice cream and cold sodas.

Eventually, after some sketchy fast descents (undertaken near-blind as my fogged up contact lenses had to be discarded trailside) and one last killer ascent I was spat out onto paved road. Bedraggled, sunburned and utterly fucked I could barely navigate back to Sir Francis Drake Blvd and the finishing line. The MCBC website says the average rider will take 7 hours to complete the Solstice Fondo. I did it with two minutes to spare. My Garmin friend insisted I'd ridden more than 38 miles and climbed over 7500 ft. I could well believe it as every fibre in my legs and ass groaned and grimaced as I finally climbed off the Trance.

I pushed myself too far. I rode more miles than anticipated, but I didn't climb in the saddle as much as I'd like either. Hike a bike became the only choice for much of the last two or three hours of riding. But I'd managed the whole distance and found some new fun trails (and discovered others I'll happily never climb again.) The event was pretty well organized, the aid stations in particular were well stocked and a real morale booster. However the camaraderie and sense of biking community you typically get at race events wasn't there. Even the post ride BBQ seemed to have fizzled out by the time I finished. But I achieved what I set out to do, and hopefully gave my fitness the kick up the arse it needs. Next weekend we hit Northstar for the first time this season. As riding goes, the polar opposite of what I just did. Thats why I love this sport so much..... variety of adventure!

Friday, 26 June 2015


The Marin Museum of Bicycling and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame finally opened its doors earlier this month. Being in the heart of Fairfax, the birthplace of Mountain Biking, it houses a comprehensive collection of steeds that help to document the rise in popularity (and ensuing technical advances) from humble bone shakers and Klunkers to today's sleek, burly and impressive shredding machines.

We took a tour round on the opening day so the museum was somewhat of a zoo. It was hard to read all the good info that takes visitors through our beloved sport's past, however there was plenty of room to admire the bikes. I hope, over time, more resources allows the MMBHOF to display some more modern machines. Maybe some of the awesome downhill world cup steeds that have really pushed the sport into one of the most impressive, challenging feats achieved on two wheels. For now though, it is well worth the price of admission and some quality time spent geeking out over treasures past.

Monday, 20 April 2015

** b!K3 p0R-n D@y!!!

Sea Otter is the perfect bike geek's day out. Glorious sunshine, plenty of sexy looking anodized gubbins, components and shiny new kit to check out, plus acres of sweet sweet rides to gorp at. The 'Otter is also a great chance to see the heroes of our sport competing (albeit casually and with plenty of showboating) in dual slalom and downhill races. Perfect for getting pumped for our upcoming Northstar downhill adventures. So, this weekend, me and Chris headed down south to the Sea Otter Classic to indulge in some bike related drooling. Here are some pics from the day! :

Almost all of the pro downhill racers opted to ride regular trail bikes instead of burly dual crown beasts. Here's a Giant Trance Advanced getting some big air.... Just goes to show what you can do with these rigs!

No chance of dropping a chain on this clever Commencal DH rig....

Old and the new (in the background.) Shaun Palmer's radical Intense downhill bike has earned legendary status and looks pretty sweet in the flesh.

Subaru's wall of innovation. This kid's face says it all.... not too convinced by this early fat bike!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Santa Cruzin'

Fairfax, Marin – home of mountain biking - gives access to some awesome trails. Mt Tam, Pine Mountain, Solstice and of course, Tamarancho. However, riding here you can’t help but notice there’s a prevailing sense of subtle hostility towards mountain biking as a leisure pursuit. At best, I would say it is begrudgingly tolerated. Any attempt to make multi-use trails more fun for bikers is usually flattened by park rangers or, I suspect, hardcore hikers. Even ‘rancho (a place we each dutifully pay to use and is only suitable for mountain biking) has seen an influx or hikers and trail runners. The final bastion of shredding safe haven has gone as we’re forced again to smile politely as we slow down and pull to one side for cold faced people on foot, snarling at our attempts to simply have fun and enjoy the landscape. Fortunately there is refuge just a couple of hours south - Santa Cruz!. The primary purpose of SC trails seems to be for the delivery of speed and flow with constant opportunities to hit creative lines and rail bermed corners. Man-made features litter the trail and remain untouched – maintained even!  And the non-riders you do see seem to enjoy witnessing our grinning fool faces as we hurtle through the woodland kicking up dust. It’s just shy of one hundred miles away, but in terms of how mountain biking is accepted into the culture, it’s a different world.

I’ve only ridden Soquel Demonstration Forest a couple time before. Each time we’ve been, we’ve vowed to go back as soon as possible, and then it turns into another year or more gap before we actually head down south to ride there. However, even though it’s been a long time coming, we rode it in style this past Sunday. Ten of us managed to co-ordinate our schedules and gather on the periphery road with our steeds, ready for an epic day of shredding.

This post could easily tangent into another love letter to my new Trance. But I shall refrain. However I will say that, thus far, the Trance has exceeded my expectations. From the crazy rockiness of Oat Hill (last week) to the flowey singletrack and many (sizeable) drops and jumps at Demo, my new ride does it all in a silky smooth buttery way that just makes me so happy. I swear I’ve never ridden this fast before. The fact that I’m able to keep up with the likes of Chris and Aaron proves it. Not that that is, in itself,  important. But their speed and radness is a good yardstick to measure my own performance by and, since getting my carbon beauty, I’ve definitely noticed a change in my riding ability. More importantly, the Trance is just so fucking satisfying to ride. Whipping through the trees of Braille and barreling down the new (and epic) flow trail felt amazing. I could feel every nuance of the trail through the bike. Each pump, air and wheel drift giving a real sense of being connected to the dirt. I felt confident diving into corners and pushing harder than I would normally dare – safe in the knowledge that, should things start going tits up, the bike would give me adequate notice and swift correcting input would be rewarded with a continuation of flow (and grins!)

The new flow trail (almost fully opened) is an impressive sight to behold. Miles long, it resembles a slightly smaller bike park trail. We were blessed by the MTB gods who favoured us with a light sprinkling of rain the day before creating perfect trail conditions. Full of banked turns and whoops, the flow trail stretched invitingly before us like a beautiful, dark chocolate coloured magic carpet. The goPro footage seen in the link   >>>HERE<<<  really doesn’t do it any justice. If only my weary quads could’ve given more I might’ve had a better chance of keeping Aaron tighter in frame. As it was I was just about able to hang with the pack. But what a sight we must’ve been! A train of ten dudes on bikes snaking our way through the trees!

We’ll be going back. Sooner than our usual year-long gap I hope. It’s just too good to leave it an annual trip. Until then, I’m excited to take the Trance on familiar trails and see how it performs. Up next – Annadel!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Getting’ Some Oats

There's nothing quite like the anticipation of riding new trails. Riding new trails on a new bike is even more exciting. So I was more than happy to rise early this past Sunday and join Eric and Chris in Calistoga to ride the Oat Hill Mine trail.

Oat Hill is, as the name suggests, an old quicksilver mining trail. Evidence of its former use could be seen carved deep into the craggy rocks ; wagon wheel ruts that lead us to the summit, eight miles up the trail. What starts as a fairly pleasant climb through shaded hard-packed singletrack opens to yawning views of the Napa Valley far below and boulder strewn road ahead. Technical climbing acrobatics quickly gave way to hike-a-biking as we ascended the 2000ft plus climb (kudos to those dudes who managed to get wagons up here back in the day...)

As the ride was to be an out and back, each rocky hurdle on the way up was mentally noted as a challenging feature to look out for on the way down. Multiple line choices were evident with plenty of gnar to test my new Monarch Maestro and Pike suspension. I felt dry anticipation in my mouth as we drew closer to the top. Keen to see what my new steed could do, but also wary of how treacherous the descent might be. Was the new bike burly enough to smooth these menacing lines and tame the trail? Would my lovely (expensive) carbon bits be smashed to pieces? Would I? As we climbed we passed a few riders tentatively making their way back down the trail. Each of them looked mildly terrified, especially one poor guy who tipped and fell OTB right in front of us. He picked himself up, regarded his newly dislocated finger with a sad face and limped on down the trail. As the wind whipped around and chilled our bones, one thing was clear ; new bike or not, the ride back down was going to be a challenge for the three of us.

Over two hours of climbing and hiking later we reached the end of the trail. Surrounded by huge, jutting crags of rock it felt like we'd stumbled into an alien world. The landscape, though beautiful, was exposed and extremely unforgiving. We dropped our seats, padded up and made a pact to look out for one another on the way down. A mechanical (or worse) would be a disaster out here. I also fired up the GoPro, keen to document the first real ride on the new bike. Unfortunately a splodge of lens condensation ruined the day's footage. Still, I have the memory of the day's ride seared into my noggin and a good excuse to go back and ride there again. Capturing the trail on camera isn't my only motivation for returning though. The insanely fast and ridiculously fun descent is something that needs to be repeated too!

When I chose the Giant Trance Advanced I did so knowing that it was a very different animal to the Nomad it replaced. I loved the wide, slack and long stability of the brawny Santa Cruz' but having ridden it hard for a few years and looking honestly at the type of trails I typically ride (and the type of rider I want to become) I decided I needed a bike that was much lighter, more nimble and capable of crushing climbs - even if all that meant sacrificing some descending prowess. My logic being ; I should rely on and develop rider skills to conquer the descents rather than fall back on having a big burly bike. Well, as it turns out, I need not have worried about the sacrifice. The Trance does climb like a startled goat (uber lite curb weight and a state of the art suspension platform make for an almost eBike like experience.) But the descending capabilities blew my mind. Anything that had been a niggling worry (the Nobby Nic tires being too tame for example) disappeared in a cloud of trail dust as I opened up the Maestro suspension and let it fucking fly!!!!

Everything about the Trance felt perfectly dialed. The lovely stiff wheels hugged the gnarly rockiness of the trail and the shocks did an amazing job of delivering such plush suppleness that I couldn't help but take increasingly riskier lines over the crazy landscape. The razor sharp blades of rock that formed our route went by in a blur as my confidence increased. The reassuring, unwavering poise of the bike combined with scalpel precise feedback coaxed me to go faster... Faster! Its been a while since I've had a riding experience like it! I hugged Chris' rear wheel the whole way down, aware I was going faster than I would normally dare on a trail such as this. The familiar (yet elusive) feeling of flow washed over me as we left the rocks and swept through the final leg - beautifully tacky singletrack with bermed corners to boot!

We arrived back at the trail head grinning, exhilarated and only 20-something minutes later than when we'd left the summit. Oat Hill Mine is a giddy roller coaster ride and well worth the challenging climb up. I'm looking forward to our next visit. Until then, I can't wait to get back on the Trance. I felt this Sunday's ride was a glimpse into a possible future. One where my current level of skill and speed is enough to generate a big grin of satisfaction, but there's so much more on offer. I just need to put in the time and miles and unleash what my beautiful carbon beast has in store for me. Good times are ahead!

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Factory Fresh.....

Here it is! Having decided, almost a year ago, that the Nomad was nearing the end of its tenure I finally picked up this beautiful beast. After test riding, loving but ultimately rejecting offerings from Santa Cruz, I decided to expand my Giant flavoured stable and go with the Trance. Having already acquired the Glory and Defy and putting plenty of mileage on both I've come to appreciate the solid design of Giant bikes, the awesome component outfitting they come with and, most importantly, how achingly beautiful they are. Amongst the ugly day-glo 90's inspired clashing neons most bike companies seem enamored with, Giant sticks to the tried and true combo of great material finish, sweet graphics and complementary colour choices. 

As visually arresting as it is, how a bike looks is really secondary to how it rides and I took something of a chance on the Trance, having never ridden one previously. But the great reviews, geometry & component spec and my experience with the Maestro suspension set up gave me enough confidence to pull the trigger almost blind. The Giant also had everything I was looking for in a trail bike : lots of carbon (including 27.5 carbon wheels) Avid Guide brakes and 1x11 drivetrain with a type II derailleur. In short, something uber light with amazing anchors and a snappy, responsive drivetrain. The factory spec Trance Advanced was everything I wanted. The only component that made me wary was the Revelation fork. Fortunately, Brian at Big Swingin' Cycles sorted me out with a Pike swap out upgrade. This would give the bike a slightly more aggressive stance (and capabilities) but still keep the curb weight a hair under 25lbs.  In short, the Trance is a very different animal to the Nomad. Lighter, more nimble and kitted out with state of the art components. I was hoping to challenge my riding style a bit and stoke the fires of my riding passion. I'm confident this is the machine to do just that.

So far I've only taken the Trance on a short test ride. Crazy California storms are tearing shit up and making a mess of the trails so a proper ride will have to wait. But initial impressions are encouraging. I need to get the suspension dialed to make the ride supple, but box-fresh the bike feels incredibly tight and responsive. I love how light it is and the overall commanding feel of the cockpit. The ride is not as slack or stable feeling as the Nomad, and it is certainly not as beefy. But those Nomad traits come with penalties that the Trance will trounce. Plus I'm hoping I can rely on my developing skills to get me out of trouble rather than the heft of a bigger bike.

More ride reports (and pictures) are to come. For now I'm gazing lovingly at my sweet new ride and waiting impatiently for these storms to feck off so I can christen my new beauty out in the dirt!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Spanking the Lurgey

December was a month of unusually fierce storms, and the usual Christmas splurge. January ended up being nothing but coughing, cold and the sodding lurgey. I'm still hacking up lumps of sickness addled lung, but decided to kick off February with a ride around my new back yard - Tamarancho! Heading out into crisp warming sun with Eric, Chris and new riding buddy, Joe felt amazing. My head hurt and my aching bones groaned, but shredding perfectly tacky trails and breathing in the fresh new year's air felt good. Well missed and much needed.

After a damp squib end to last year and a sickly start to this, I'm excited about the potential riding adventures that 2015 holds. The Nomad's replacement is just around the corner and there are whispers of another Whistler trip. Pretty soon I'll be back to full fitness and hopefully doing shit like the above! Young Joe is a trials rider by nature but shreds like a demon on the dirt, especially when there's some air to be had!