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!