Sunday, 18 December 2016

Klunker Dude

My goal for 2016 was to rekindle my passion for drawing and illustration. Over the course of the year I've managed some half decent scribbles, some inking and - most recently, working on my nice new iPad pro with Procreate software and the iPencil. My first finished piece combines my newly rediscovered love of art with my existing passion for mountain biking - The Klunker Dude! Inspired by the crazy pioneers of our sport and a few of my favourite artists, I created this ballooner riding maniac as he rips down a stylized Repack trail - drool, dust and hub grease left in his wake!

Procreate also stores a timelapse video of each paint stroke. I added it HERE if you're interested.


Friday, 25 November 2016

Tough Mudder

Its that time of year where, within the space of a month, the weather goes from short sleeve jerseys and shorts to multiple warm layers and snoods. Yep, its Autumn in Northern California and the crisp, cold weather, clear cobalt skies and tacky trails mark the end of another summer season of shred. As is tradition, the holiday season is celebrated with a lung-busting slog up Pine Mountain along with a few hundred other keen souls for the Thanksgiving Appetite Seminar!

I'll spare details of the route as it is exactly the same as last year, and the year before that. Suffice to say we climbed a lot of steep rocky fireroad in order to descend with wild abandon some other steep fireroads. This year the mud was back in full force. Each wincing grind and grimace of my slop caked bike felt like a massive "fuck you!" to my poor components. Due to harsher conditions and a few group mechanical incidents our ride took almost four hours. Cleaning off the clay like muck took a further hour and a half..... plenty of calorie burning to justify the rest of the day's eating and drinking!

It felt good to be out in the beautiful Marin mountains, bathed in sun and seeing lots of MTB buddies along the way. The mud really messed with my mojo on the descents though. I don't feel like I rode hard or fast, but I got some solid exercise in and felt better for it. Work is crazy (as usual) so escaping into the fresh air and punishing my legs for a few hours definitely beats sitting in front of a screen. For that reason, I'll get the Trance fixed up and hopefully punish it once again next year - come rain, mud or shine!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

North Stars

This right here, this mess of crazy fools - this is what a great day looks like! Heading up the mountainside on a chair lift, ready for another fast, loose and dusty run back down on our two-wheeled steeds. The first (and likely only) visit to Northstar this season was a full on day of shred that contained more than its fair share of punctures, mechanicals, spills and - most importantly - grins!

I haven't ridden the Glory since last season so it felt good to throw a leg over and wake up the shiny beast. We spent the whole day laying down runs and I couldn't keep from smiling. A little rusty since our Whistler trip, but extremely grateful to be riding awesome trails (especially after the dull confusion I experienced at Mammoth.) The bike and I both felt pretty good and even though the trails were made more technical than usual by some decent dust levels, I experienced a satisfying amount of flow.

I didn't conquer any new features, and I took a punishing spill on Boondocks which messed up my mojo for a while, but we left Northstar feeling like we'd left the best ourselves (and in my case, some elbow skin) out on the trails. This season has definitely lacked quantity (of riding) but I feel the quality has been enough to keep me feeling good about my progress and motivated to keep at it and ride hard next year. Good times!

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Mammoth Disapointment

Last weekend we took a family trip to Mammoth Mountain. Although I'd be riding solo, it seemed like a crazy waste of opportunity if I didn't ride "America's Best Mountain Bike Park" (or whatever they claim its title to be.) So, with great excitement and anticipation I turned up at the Mammoth Village shuttle point early Saturday morning, ready for a full day of new downhill discoveries!

For reasons too boring to document, I didn't bring my Glory, but elected to rent a bike instead. I ended up with a Trek Session. Like most modern 27.5 downhill rigs it felt light, nimble and not too dissimilar to a regular trail bike. I haven't ridden my Glory since last season and I suspect its going to feel like a moto-cross bike in comparison to the V10 I had at Whistler and the Trek I rode here. However, as nice as the Trek felt, after a few runs I started to realize I was seriously over-gunned.

Mammoth is huge. A massive sprawling mountain with miles of barren trails. Surprisingly its easy to hop off the lift and almost immediately get lost. I honestly have never had such a confusing, frustrating day on a downhill bike in my life. The trail map (which I used constantly) is a spaghetti mess of criss-crossing trails. There's no clear route to take - at least not that I could fathom. After reaching the peak (via gondola) I rode down the double black rated Skid Marks. An endless, dusty single track with a few rocky features here and there to add interest (though I didn't encounter anything that suggested an "expert" level trail.) Aside from being confusing to read on the map, the trail ratings themselves are also odd. There's the familiar greens, blues, blacks and double blacks, but then there's pro and expert lines. The blacks felt like Northstar blues and the double blacks felt more like singles. Once I'd mentally re-callibrated it made trail choice decisions easier, although the lack of adequate signage meant I took plenty of wrong turns and had to back track often. Pedaling a downhill bike isn't fun at the best of times, its even more annoying when you're trying to find your way to a half decent trail.

Because Mammoth is so big, it meant I barely saw anyone all day. I would've loved to have latched onto some folks and followed them. I had a pervasive sense that I was somehow missing something. That there really was a fun, flowey loop via lift and I just kept missing it by accident. The only fellow riders I did see were riding XC and all-mountain rigs and wearing normal riding gear. I envied their ability to explore and enjoy the alpine air as I watched from behind foggy goggles, huffing and puffing on my burly bike.

Eventually I found a decent descent. From one of the lifts I followed a fellow downhill dressed dude to Flow, Pipeline and Shotgun. Flow was an expert trail and had some fun, steep rocks. Pipeline had a big drop and Shotgun had a few tables and some tech and flow sections. However, by the time I discovered them, I was already beaten down. There's no such thing as dirt at Mammoth. Just dense, kitty litter-like ground pumice stone. Every corner and random parts of the trail (usually just before or after a jump or feature) had deep trenches of the stuff. Big speed sapping traps that would easily send you flying if you touched the front brake enough for the wheel to dig in and send you over the bars. Because my bike wasn't set up moto, I did this a couple of times by mistake - on one particularly bad (but lame) fall I hurt my neck. Without knowing exactly what damage I'd done, I decided to skip the extra steep sections and drops, do a couple of runs to at least warrant getting the bike rental, and then I called it an early day.

Mammoth was bitterly disappointing. I almost want to scrub the experience from memory and go back with the same excitement I previously had, but this time ride with someone who knows the place, and preferably after a period of rain. With decent dirt the trails would be faster (or at least rideable) and knowing exactly where to go without being stumped at every signless five way intersection would make for a much more enjoyable, flowey day of riding. But, it wasn't to be. Fortunately my neck is fine, but the bad taste left by riding somewhere that promised so much is still lingering. A shame :o(

Saturday, 9 July 2016

What a Difference a Day Makes

Your man Mark Twain wasn't wrong.... Summer in San Francisco is feckin' cold. I guess I never noticed it so much when I lived there, but commuting home to Marin its hard not to notice the juxtapose. The wind and icey fog leaves you damn and chilled as you cross the Golden Gate. But hit Sausalito and its back to sunny California again. Crazy, but it makes me appreciate what I have on my doorstep. Half a day later and I'm wearing a vest and baking in beautiful golden sun. Good times.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Whistler Trip 2016

After my last trip to the mecca of downhill mountain biking, I wasn't sure if I'd ever return to the big mountain again. I left the place dampened (literally and spiritually) after some (albeit great) coaching sessions dug deep into my abilities and exposed some real flaws in my riding. Not what I wanted from the trip, especially as it paired with God-awful weather for the whole week. However, with a healthy amount of time to reflect, I realize it was just what I needed (the skills analysis, not the rain!) and for the two years since then I've been working on a few things : getting my body position and weighting correct, pumping through corners, using my hips, getting my upper body working to help bike lean and - most importantly - not allowing self criticism to get in the way of a good ride!

I figured I'd venture back to Whistler one day, maybe in a couple of years or so. However when Eric kindled the flames of a trip suggested by Chris earlier this year, a date was set and I couldn't bear the thought of missing the chance to ride. So I signed up too! Along with Rosson and his brother Todd, we had a crew! And so it was that we spent a week this June up in beautiful British Columbia, surrounded by like minded folks all looking to hit up mother nature's roller coaster for some full on shred!

To save major hassles with airlines, I decided to rent a rig. A nice 650b Santa Cruz V10. Aside from having brakes that felt a little under gunned for the task at hand, the bike felt great! Burly enough to inspire confidence but playful enough to push your limits. In fact by the last day's riding I was experimenting with bar twists when mid air on some jumps. Great fun!

After arriving to an apocalyptic looking sky filled with rain, the chances of a soggy week's riding seemed likely. However as we suited up and collected our rental steeds early the following day we walked towards the lifts with sunshine in our grinning faces. Aside from some showers on the very last day we were spared the wet weather and instead treated to some near perfect (if not sometimes muddy) conditions. After some warm up laps down old friends B Line and Crank It Up we ventured higher up the mountain and rode Blue Velvet and Freight Train. 'Train became a new favorite on this trip. The perfect mix of flow, jumps and some fun tech. And it has the infamous Drop In Clinic - a feature that I've previously wilted at, but on this trip we all hit it on the first day! By the end of the long afternoon's riding I'd also successfully hit the drop on A Line that was also on my bucket list. My only other goal was to clear the container jump, however - as much as my jumping improved over the week, I never felt fully confident to try it. Watching Rosson painfully case his rental Glory into the metal box's lip didn't help inspire confidence in my own ability to clear it either. Something for next year maybe....

My number one goal for this trip (aside from going home injury free) was to enjoy my riding for what it is, whatever level I'm at and not pressure myself to improve and nail everything perfectly. This mindset, the great conditions and being surrounded by good friends (even bumping into fellow Brit Chris Walley!) meant I not only rode better than previous years, but that I also had a feckin' great time doing it. Its probably also why I didn't hurt myself. Save for a couple of bad line choices and one or two spills, I didn't fall hard once. I was extremely happy with my riding. Corners and berms in particular felt really smooth. Weighting correctly and hips and leg pumping all came together in concert and allowed me to (for the first time) feel utter freedom on the flowey trails.... Coach Oscar would've been proud!

Amusingly (in hindsight) we did get completely outplayed on day three (or maybe it was four.) Taking a shortcut through In Too Deep (a very aptly named double black technical run) lead to a full on hike a bike down large sections of insanely challenging (on foot!) trail. Knowing the crazy steep features were designed for a level of bike riding well outside our comfort zone was both humbling and awe inspiring. Definitely a glimpse of what our future could hold if we keep up the progression. On regular black technical runs (which are still pretty gnarly - at least on par with Northstar's double blacks) we all did really well. Hitting wet, muddy and rooty descents with confident abandon whilst others stood around umming and aahing. We also did some nice steep boulder roll drops too. The flowey trails are amazing fun, but there's nothing quite like the satisfaction of cleaning an intense technical trail and feeling in control as the bike bucks wildly below.

My jumping skills however will always be a little behind everything else. I get the theory, and I know when Ive done it right. Also, big step ups and any blue run jump is something I'll gladly pedal towards with a crazy grin. But I get shy in front of certain steep black jumps. I'll get there, it will just take time and patience to get me where I want to be. But berms, drops and technical skills all felt pretty solid. I honestly think I rode the best I've ever ridden. And I loved every minute of it!

So thats it. Another trip in the bag. Five years since my first visit north and I really hope to be hitting those groomed hero dirt slopes, with my good riding buddies, for many more years to come. Here's a short edit of Blue Velvet to Crank It Up. Both blue runs so no crazy gnar, just flow and good trail times. Cheers!

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


Another pre-summer work slog over and another blockbuster in the bag. With it came the usual slide into slothiness and fitness dive that comes from not being able to ride regularly. Coupled with endless snacking and beer drinking crutch sessions I was left feeling fat, toxic and in need of UV light. So I took a two week staycation to recharge ahead of a summer of (I hope) shred.

Although I struggled on bursting lungs, I managed to get plenty of riding into my fortnight of fun. A few cheeky Tamarancho and Porcupine loops were the warm up for a blissful ride at Annadel and then a leg shredding and brake stripping day at Demo. I finished my holidays a little fitter, much happier and with my bike kung fu back on point.

Annabel never fails to leave me filled with utter joy. Its my favourite place to ride in the area. The fast, loose, natural feeling terrain coaxes the best out of me and despite rising lactic acid levels I managed to transcend my weary body and attain the heady, intoxicating state of flow. Amazing. The next day me and Owen headed south to Santa Cruz. Its been a year since I last rode Demo  - I always leave the place vowing to hit it more frequently but I never seem to manage it. The Trance felt awesome on the purpose built trails, soaking up the extra rutted and gnarly descents caused by the Winter's rains.

I finished my time off with a solo Tamarancho loop. Since then I've started back at the grindstone and braved the hideous head winds on my roadie work commute. It'll take a while for my legs to feel strong and capable again. Hopefully they'll get there in time for next month's Whistler trip!

Monday, 15 February 2016

New Shoes

Time flies when you're having fun. Just over a year ago I swapped my trusty beastly Nomad for the uber lite, extra spangly Trance Advanced. I unwittingly marked the anniversary of its maiden voyage by going back to Tamarancho for a swift loop in primo tacky dirt. The storms seem to have abated for the time being, leaving behind soft dirt that has been baked to perfection in the warming Californian sun.

The Trance feels just as tight and dialed as it did when I first bought it. The 1x11 drivetrain is a little sensitive and needs regular fettling. Shifting perfectly across a dinner plate sized cassette is a lot to ask it seems. But when dialed it really is buttery smooth. I'm noticing a little pivot creaking too - nothing a Spring suspension service won't fix. But the only issue real has been the tires. The stock Nobby Nics were always going to be the bike's Achilles heel. Not quite burly enough or aggressive enough to incite too much excitement they were just about good enough until I could find a reason to swap them out. A recent problem with my tubeless set up gave me the excuse to bail on the Nobbys and get some decent rubber installed on the otherwise perfect steed.

I like Maxxis tires so after a bit of research and recommendations from Fairfax Cyclery I decided to go for a High Roller II up front and a Minion Semi Slick in the rear. The High Roller is insane. Incredible grip and handling that inspires confidence no matter how recklessly you clatter through rough stuff, or how hard you lean into the corners. Over the years I've come to appreciate the subtleties of using correct tires and how a little too much or not enough pressure can make or break a ride. But I've never experienced a tread pattern giving such great feedback and inspiring quite as much confidence as I'm finding with the High Roller. I love it!

The Minion is the party animal of the pair. With a tread pattern like Keith Flint's hairdo its a strange looking beast. The low profile centre knobs allow the bike to get up to speed very quickly - I really did notice it. I had the tire pressure set a little higher than is ideal to ensure good seating, so the rear did spin out on some smooth rock climbs. On the descents too it will lose traction under pumping,  but the chunky side knobs soon bite dirt and save the day. Coupled with the aggressive front pairing the bike will simply corner like its on rails once you get it leaning over. I had so much fun playing with the new set up and definitely felt a little faster in some sections.

I actually saw my old Nomad a few weeks ago in a bike shop parking lot. Its new owner had kept it pretty much as I sold it and was really enjoying it. It brought a big smile to my face, but no sense of regret. The Trance has taken a little getting used to and some fettling here and there. But right now I feel like I can tackle pretty much anything with its sleek carbon frame at my command. Giant really did a sound job. I've not felt tempted to swap any of the factory spec. Now the shoes are sorted I'm even more convinced it is the absolute perfect weapon for my riding adventures.