Oh yes, the mud pixies have definitely arrived and although we’ve not reached the “eyeball and feet freezing” stage yet, things are definitely feeling a bit autumnal on TFITs right now.
So as I nursed my slightly thick post-TFIT head this morning I had to smile when my mind was kicked back to memories of warm summer days and dusty Alpine trails as I received an email from Les Arcs MTB guide and all round awesome rider type person Emily Horridge at The Inside Line MTB with some big news for summer 2018.
For the coming year Inside Line are a very tasty looking fully catered package in Les Arcs but with the added benefit of 5 DAYS of guiding around the resort. If you’ve never ridden in Les Arcs, the collective TFIT can thoroughly recommend it as a destination AND when married with Emily’s guiding you can guarantee a fully “big day out”. This year Emily took us up and down the stunning Mont Jovet ride which you can read about here.
It also looks like Emily has been very busy scouting out another potentially awesome venue for back country MTB fun, now offering another catered and guided break in the Queyras Regional Park.
While we were being beasted up to the top of Mont Jovet Emily was describing this destination to us and it sounds awesome to put it mildly. You can check out the full details (as well as some of the other guiding she offers) on Emily’s site at theinsideline.com.
The other good news is that despite being 251 days away I think we have emotionally committed to MTB 2018 with Les Arcs again being our preferred destination!
Thursday post-ride pub sessions are just great!
Oh yeah – and for your Friday enjoyment, just a quick share of Dave D, Andy T and Steve F riding a section of “Thick and Creamy” last weekend (beautiful camera work by Bob!)
As I wrote in my last post, my somewhat melted Shimano XT pads from the summer have been weighing on my mind a bit.
If I’m honest this is mostly because those “bronzed little beauties” reminded me that I have a biblical need to get at least one Alps trip in my life where my brakes make it all the way to “day four” without running up the white flag of surrender and boiling away into the ether.
So it was that this afternoon, I found myself speaking with Tom down at MB Cyclery in Haslemere ** who told me about Shimano’s up and coming M8020 four pot (yep, count them) brakes.
According to the Shimano site, these new brakes (which are aimed at the e-bike market but will also suit normal humans) offer a 20% improvement in brake power, massively reduce the risk of overheating and if they are capable of stopping an e-bike at full chat they are indeed the fat boy brakes I’m looking for.
The callipers look remarkably “Shimano Zee” to me, but let’s be honest that is not a bad thing and there are “rumours” your existing XT brake lever “might” just cut the mustard and be transferable. I think this is a very exciting announcement and it’s also not a bad thing seeing as the callipers are expected to sit around the $100 mark (pricing TBC apparently).
I may not be in the e-bike camp just yet (and hopefully not for a good while) but I see no reason why I can’t start fitting e-bike kit to my rig asap!
Roll on my February when the M8020’s are released and conveniently also when my Scout will be getting her spring service. At this stage I can definitely see a pair of Shimano’s new four pots in place as soon as they become available in 2018.
** MB Cyclery was previously Cycleworks, but now Mike and Ben are running the show, still offering with the same level of superb expertise, Orange, Whyte and Trek steeds, top notch servicing and all round grooviness but now with some added Troy Lee gear (and potentially other boutique bikes… maybe…). They are my go-to LBS and I absolutely recommend them 150% if you are in Surrey and in need some MTB love, general help or advice. Pop in and say hi or checkout their website here!.
So I was rooting around in my “box-of-general-mtb-related-crap-that-has-no-natural-storage-space” looking for an unused set of pads. A TFIT related brake failure last week demanded a quick rear brake bleed.
And what do you know, as the comparative image above shows quite nicely, I came across my XT brake pads that were removed “after” the Mont Jovet descent Les Arcs in the summer.
So when I say removed, perhaps I should say “melted”. Can you spot the difference?
I’ve no idea exactly what temperature is required to “burn off” the black coating from the pad’s fins. Let’s just go with “very extremely quite hot”.
So, if the question is “do I need to update my MTB brakes for the Alps? Then yes. You do. No really, just get it done…
Anyway, I felt like I should give a view of fettling with forks, specifically the forks on my Nicolai G13. I’ve been reading around various websites and it seems that changing the air spacers in a fork is a common thing to do (!) and manufactures cater for this, making it relatively simple to do so.
However, for me, being a bit “old school”, taking your forks apart fell squarely into the “difficult / if ain’t broke don’t fix it” category.
However, I’m still working on getting my new bike dialled in and having owned a number of forks, both Fox’s and Pike’s, I was a bit perplexed that my new Fox 36’s weren’t as comfortable for me as they felt they could be.
It has been a latent itch that really needed a good scratch. So that was it, I decided to MTFU, I was going to have to take the forks apart and experiment with this spacers thing. What could possibly go wrong?
The story is that if you’re getting a bit fat (Ed: Aren’t we all…) then you simply put some extra volume spacers into the forks, and hey presto, you don’t bottom out as easily and the forks hold up better.
I totally get this. Very logical.
My problem however was the other way round. My forks were feeling very much “firm” and “sluggish” and not as “compliant” as I wanted. I also still have a dodgy shoulder following an Alpine stack of biblical proportions a couple of years ago and I know that this wasn’t helping but compared to my old Rockshox Pikes, it was definitely noticeable.
I also think I have lost a bit of weight (not always a good thing) and more to the point with slack angles the forces directly into the axis of the fork are diluted just a little bit.
So I concluded to open the fork up and take out a spacers….and, I’ve got to be honest, it is extremely easy. I did miss out on the slick honey, let out the air, undid the big bolt, slid off “o-ring”, slid off extra volume spacer, put “o-ring” back on, slid in the “spikey thing” (technical term) after coating with slick honey, tightened up big bolt (220 lbs/in), pumped back up the fork and hey presto, job done!
All I have to do then was go for a ride.
The result? Well it did just exactly what I wanted to achieve. A noticeably “softer squidgy” feel, with a bit more rebound in the fork. Or perhaps I was now getting the right amount of sag at the recommended forks pressure.
Also of note was that before I would have everything wound fully open, low speed compression, high speed compression and rebound compression. Now I can put on a few clicks on/off to get further dialled.
If you are contemplating doing something similar I suggest you watch this 2 min video from Fox. And a massive thanks to Bob M for the loan of a torque wrench.
Now, according to my Dad (so it must be true), the nearby town of Merthyr Tydfil once boasted 365 pubs in its mining heyday (note: never go there for a pub crawl). Not so today, but it does now contain about the biggest bike park on our island. As a last minute stand in with a group of Chris G’s Farnham associates I had a coveted uplift pass for a Saturday in September.
An early start, but a very uneventful drive had me pulling into the car park just after 9am, the blue skies that accompanied me all the way up the M4 abruptly stopped at the Severn Bridge like some kind of force field running up the river, still, it was dry and warm enough, and a whole lot better than had been forecast the previous few days.
Chris (nursing sore ribs from an impressive OTB at Afan the day before), Bob, Leigh, Buzz and the others all arrived shortly after and we were quickly ensconced in the rather unpleasant smelling uplift van, think damp, mouldering underwear that you forgot in your school kit bag for a term and you’d be getting close.
There really is a plethora of runs here and the first runs down the Blues such as Sixtapod and Melted Welly to find your feet instantly got you in the flow. Poppity Ping, Willy Waver and Terry’s Belly also deserve special mention for fun and flow. In fact they are so well designed, riding them blind at nearly full chat didn’t cause any unnecessary grabbing of brakes or offline moments. This continues all the way down back to the uplift point. These runs aren’t over quickly either, you get a good uninterrupted 5 to 10 minute descents (if you don’t pull over for a rest). Even the red routes are fine to ride hard from the go, but do need to be given some respect, as drops, jumps, rocks, roots and tight steep turns all feature on this grade.
Another positive is the vibe, inevitably you get separated from some of your mates if you’re in a big group, but this just means you get into conversation with other bikers, share some stories, find out the best spots and any warnings of what to expect. I ended up tagging along with a couple of small different groups during the day and perhaps pushed myself more than I would of on my own.
Despite a heavy shower for an hour or so, the trails remained firm and offered good grip (rocks and roots excluded) and boy are these trails lovingly created, almost a form of art in certain places, this is despite what the best typical Welsh weather can throw at it. Don’t get me wrong I’d love to ride this place on a fully dry day, I suspect your rotors would get a bit warmer in those conditions. Don’t bother bringing any food either, the well stocked visitor centre clearly hasn’t heard of the term ‘calorie controlled diet’ and the adjoining bike shop, sells just about everything you might need.
To be honest I think I only ran down two or three of the same downhills all day, you can link several different options at intersecting points and build your confidence up and up to tackle what, at first, may of seemed daunting, into a run that would give the foresighted trail diggers a slightly fuzzy feeling inside of a job well done.
I’ve put up a number of videos on YouTube from the day (see below), please excuse any excited swearing at the end of trails, and I vow to go back soon and do the A470 line better. If you want an alpine fix on British soil, visit here!
There are few facts in life I’m 100% sure on. I mean, beetroot is the devil’s food – clearly that’s one. Wet roots are the enemy, undoubtedly that’s another.
However, one thing I am definitely sure of is I do not and never will, sit in the “downhill-death-defying-ah-a-wet-root-hahahaha-i don’t-care” camp. That is for lunatics, and pro riders. And lunatic pro riders.
Like the awesome Tahnée Seagrave – all round top women’s elite rider, general bike-demon and very importantly – a Transition Bike Rider! So when Miss Seagrave smashed a win in Leogang this year on her new TR11 from the chaps in Bellingham I sat up and noticed just a bit.
Normally when I look at a bike with more than 160mm of front travel my interest tends to wain because downhill rigs are just beyond my bravery level. However those clever people at Transition have released the TR11 to the rest of us mere mortals.
It’s a beast, a carbon framed (9lbs – eek) rock and drop smashing monster with a drip list of bike kit to make the most ardent non-downhill rider have a bit of a “nom nom nom” moment.
And in true Transition fashion, aside from the gorgeous photos of the rig, a launch video is available to grace your eyeballs with. Thanks for the link James.
So Saturday morning, nice and bright and early the “Foam Tour” rolled out of the chalet and headed down road to gather at Landry train station. It was our “Big Day Out”. It was Mont Jovet Day…
The weather was legendary. At 9:00 it was already 20+ degrees and the day was only gonna get warmer. In short order our lovely guides Emily and Ivan from The Inside Line MTB arrived, shortly followed by a double delivery of Coolbus transport, ready to take us on the first part of the adventure.
With such a large group, Emily split us into two smaller pods, one who would ride with her and one with Ivan. With a bit of last minute fettling and a safety briefing / rules of the ride digested (following on from the briefing the night before) and out of the way, we mounted our bikes on the Coolbus trailer and off we went.
How many bikes you got?
So the first stop was at the top of the resort in La Plagne, where we extracted our bikes, kitted up and bid farewell to the Coolbus guys. I’ve never been to La Plagne before (skiing or otherwise) and I have to say it was just a bit weird to be so high in a ski resort that was so totally and utterly shut. Ghost town does not do it justice.
However, we were more focused on the destination than the start, so splitting into our groups, the cranks were turning and we started to climb. Not withstanding an almost immediate mechanical from Malc, we spaced out and immediately dropped down a fairly steep and rooty trail. It was at this moment I totally regretted not bringing my full face with me (advice from Emily) but I have to say, that was the one and only time.
We made it (mostly, except James G) intact to the bottom and took a moment to gather some breath as Emily pointed up, up, up the side of the mountain, where a sliver of a track could be seen snaking into the distance to a pin prick of building stapled to the rock.
“That’s where we’re heading”, Emily quipped, “That’s where the real climb starts”.
This is where the realisation that there is no transport back and if you want to go down, you’ve got to go up hit me. With the phrase “20 to 30 minute hike-a-bike” echoing in my head, it was time to MTFU, go to my “happy place” and start spinning.
At this point temperatures had comfortably nudged over 32 degrees and let me tell you, Oh My God that was a climb I will never forget. Alpine access roads are kind of “straight to the point”, and riding in the baking sun up something that steep for that long made the climb a bit on the “moist” side. Think the climb from Afan Trail center to the top – twice, and you get the picture.
After a couple of brief sweety (thanks Emily) and water stops to gather energy and oxygen we collectively made it to the chalet – start of the climb proper.
Temperatures had now reached a “friendly” 36 degrees and collectively we were sucking water like Spongebob after a vindaloo and I stared up at the flipping near vertical (seemed that way to me) goat track. The 20-30 minute hike a bike bit. Ah. Arse.
This was, well, I’m not sure how to describe it. But with bikes being pushed / carried / dragged taking baby steps in the mounting heat, it has to be up there as one of the most grueling things I’ve done with my bike.
Emily and Ivan were great – geeing us up where they could and leading the way to those of us who needed it.
Stumble. Trip. Stop. Breathe. Push. Work legs dammit. Pick up the bike. Stagger. One step. Another. Stop. Breathe. Swear. Clear the swenge. Do it again. Dear God. I’ve made it. Collapse. Then open your eyes. Oh… My… God. What a view.
Ivan just in frame!
Yeah – knackered
Yep – up there
Grunt, heave.. uhhrgh
Dear God help
Lunch at 2284m
Steve – you’re not smiling
Where’s that flipping chalet?
Snipers on the mountain…
Shade… lovely shade
Pile of Swenge
Knackered from above
We’ve struggled up and over Alpine passes before but heading up to the top of Mont Jovet… this… this was simply stunning. Crumpled in a heap and on top of the world, packs were opened, baguettes demolished and our rapidly diminishing water supply was drained even lower (I had noshed nearly 2 litres by this point). We sat and took it all in and ate lunch at 2284 metres.
“Shall we head down then?” came the cry. Emily and Ivan carefully explained the start of the traverse down to the Mont Jovet refuge where we could refill water (cold and fresh like I’ve never drunk!). They told us what we had to look out for and that it was just a shortish run until we could coffee up before the proper descent began.
We set off in our riding pods again, on oh so sweet and narrow Alpine single track which just clung to the side of the mountain. I was breathing hard at this point, either altitude or adrenaline, or both having its effect. I confess that I only glanced up a couple of times from fixating on the trail but when I did – just holy MOG – so, utterly beautiful.
Following the trail, riding through hairdyer warm wind the refuge loomed like a big coffee shaped block of loveliness. I guess the refuge is run by the locals and it was packed with walkers (there’s a car park.. ahem… but moving on…) and was another welcome spot to get our minds back in order.
Then the descent. More wise words from the Inside Line guys and we pointed our rides down a perfect ribbon of singletrack that disappeared down and down and down. Matt launched the Bebop (we will one day get an edit of this together) as we were so far above the treeline this WAS the perfect place to film and we were off on a two hour descent.
Just keeps giving
Been there. Sweated there
Ride Ride Ride
More trail goodness
Emily and a some South African guy…
Ivan just in frame!
Mountains mountains everywhere
This section for me is mostly a blur if I’m honest. The trail was a cut through a Heidi-esque and perfect mountain side. Drops to the left were steeper than I care to mention in places but I can’t honestly be sure. I’m also not sure I’ve ever concentrated so much on a trail section in my life. Not that it was particularly technical or difficult, mostly because it was just so goddam perfect all I wanted to do was not stuff up what I knew was shaping up to be one of the best riding days I’ve ever had.
Unexpected rocks, narrow sections, deep ruts, loose marbles, marmots and drainage channels. Everything was attention grabbing. Everything was awesome.
As we dropped lower, trees and OH MY GOD switchbacks appeared. How Ivan (who can pull a monster manual by the way…) and Emily got round those I will never know. We, to a man, did not. But the less said about that the better. I think one of the best things, for me, about riding with a guide, and particularly ones as talented on two wheels as Emily and Ivan is watching them (when you can keep up). Their line choice and technique was bloody awesome and although there was definitely no coaching going on, “school was definitely in” on that descent.
The trees got thicker and the brakes got “squealier”. It was at some point as we followed the never ending trail down towards the high villages that I managed to a) melt my front brakes and b) break a couple of spokes.
Down and down and down we dropped, wearying legs offset with a never ending supply of fresh adrenaline as the rounding of the next corner always revealed a view or an obstacle or something to absolutely focus the mind.
We hit another village and another welcome water stop. Some of us thought we were done, but oh no, another set of descents to the valley floor were calling. Then we were down, dear God – how long did that take? But not quite done. Emily and Ivan nudged us along a jaw droppingly beautiful river valley along to Moutiers.
Then after Matt shouted the wonderful cry of “Intermediate Beer” we stopped to survey the damage. Glorious, golden and oh so cold beer. Never have I earned one that much. Not sure I’ve ever enjoyed one that much either. Definitely an “Ice Cold in Alex” moment for me.
After that it was back to the train station and a comedy journey back to Landry for us. We bid farewell to our fantastic guides and somehow managed to drive back up to the chalet.
And then you try to process it all. Still not sure I have. Not sure I actually can. When you ride a bike, there are great days and there are great trails. And then there are THOSE days. The absolutely, could not be better, perfect, perfect days and let me tell you, Mont Jovet was one of those.
So thank you to Inside Line MTB and Emily and Ivan for an amazing day. I have to say, if you are heading to Les Arcs with your bike – and trust me on this – do yourself a massive favour and contact Emily at Inside Line MTB. Go on a big day out (there are other routes) with Emily.
We’ve been back from Les Arcs now for a couple of weeks. I think it’s fair to say I’m into the “post-ride-holiday-with-your-mates-blues” period without a shadow of a doubt.
This is not helped of course by the fact I cannot TFIT tonight due to urgent need to deposit my kids with Grandparents for the start of their summer holidays which involves enjoying the M1 for longer than anyone should have to.
It was however while thinking about that impending pleasure my hastily put together “Woodstock: Top to Bottom” video finished exporting and has been hastily uploaded to YouTube.
This was my last run at Les Arcs when my front brake had pretty much given up the ghost and my front wheel had two questionable and one fully detached spoke but I still managed to have a bucket full of fun on my Scout – which is what its all about for sure.
Woodstock starts at the top of the Vallandry lift and just draws you in from the start. It’s only a blue but by God it’s good fun – from the very top to the very bottom.
So if anyone is asking the question, “Les Arcs, is it any good for MTB” or indeed “should I even go to the Alps”, my one comment is a pure and simple – “oh yes”.