One of the advantages of my job (computerery related shenanigans) is every now and then I get to play with a bit of software or service that is, well, a bit cool.
And so it was recently that I’ve been playing with Apple Motion, a “Final Cut Pro-esque” thing for creating effects (specifically motion graphics). Of course, when playing with said offering from Apple I immediately seized the opportunity and threw together a video based on last year’s Alpine adventure using a template from VideoHive.
Seeing as this is a blog about MTB I am no gonna review the software or service here – suffice to say if a buffoon like me can use it, anyone can.
However to mark less than 50 days until wheels down for the “Gingerbread Tour” I thought I’d post the video here.
MTB brakes. Important? Yes. Something else that I was able to obsess about? You know it!
As with tyre choice (and indeed any other primary component choice I guess), getting it right is important at any point of the year but the warmer the days get and the drier the trails, the more getting your choice right can impact on your summer.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been been let down by my brake choice in the past but I also confess – I do like Shimano brakes.
I’ve had SLX and two different sets of XTs and these have always performed flawlessly in the Surrey Hills BUT have tended to put their tail between their legs and ran to mum when they saw their first Alp. This has now happened to me on my last three Alps visits.
I’ve dabbled with increased rotor sizes, swapped pad compound for the appropriate conditions and have become a dab hand at bleeding Shimano bakes.
I even tried braking less. That sort of worked but may have aged me by about a decade…!
And although all of these things have made small performance gains, not one Shimano set has ever made a full Alps trip or indeed, as happened recently, a full day at Bike Park Wales.
So this year I’ve vowed to do all I can to address this and have fitted, what the TFITers regard, as the de facto brake for all occasions.
These have been beautifully fitted by the guys down at MB Cycles in Haslemere and I’m pleased to report a brief test ride yesterday was as drama-less as it’s possible to be. I’m VERY pleased to report that the brakes did not throw me into the nearest tree when I looked at the levers and the response from squeezing the lever is not wooden, or harsh (two complaints I’ve heard previously).
Hope in the field
Red is important
Indeed if I had to pick a phrase to describe the Hope brakes, it would be “smooth, assured and insistent”. So take that internet – in your face.
Clearly with the trails being 89.7 pure Surrey slop with the rest made up of snow and dog bombs, this is not the time of year to gauge just how effective an upgrade this will be or indeed to try to understand what the advantages of floating rotors are versus standard ones.
However, so far I can say I am very happy with the Hopes. The proof will indeed be in the riding and we’ll see how these puppies handle La Plagne, Les Arcs and Tigne in the summer.
Despite the fact that I am in possession of some “hot off the press industry type spy shots” sent to me by a like minded sole which concern some genuinely innovative future mtb frame designs… I have promised I will not talk about it.
I just won’t…
I ALSO cannot talk about the type of bike that the “individual who came by the above information” has recently acquired. Mostly cos that would sort of give the game away.
So I just can’t…
And despite the fact this is the one and only genuine scoop I am ever likely to get in my life, a promise made to a mate is more important.
So moving on…
Anyway, to make myself feel better and because I’ve fundamentally got nothing to say in this blog post but mostly because the TFITers expressed a desire to see it – I thought I’d share a video for one of this summer’s “Gingerbread Tour” destinations – Tigne.
No-one has ridden there but if the little nugget below is anything to go by, oh yeah baby – bring it on!
So the best kept secret in Mountain Biking for 2018 is officially out.
The best decisions are often made in haste, you know, no time to think. No analysis. No chin stroking. No faffing. There you go – bosh. And so it was, while David D (who has been sporting a Gingerbread man on the back of his Bell for nigh on two years now) was on yet another foreign adventure, in the pre-ride TFIT preamble this year’s trip was duly named.
And so it is with great pleasure I would like to share yet another bit of Mr F’s superb creativity in announcing “The TFIT Gingerbread Tour of 2018” artwork – supplies are limited – first come first served!
Am also very glad to see this year’s logo is 100% less “meat and two veg” than last years…
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!)
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…
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”.