As a man, I am unadshamedly happy when I get my hands on a new gadget, thingamajig, whotsit, doodger (call it what you will). In this case, and with a mind to being fully prepared for our Alpine trip (now less than 60 hours away) I decided to try and get hold of a set of master link pliers. We all know what a ball ache it can be, sat trailside trying to free up a stuck masterlink, either your own, or a comrade in need. I hate seeing grown men cry, and carrying tissues in the pack just isn’t practical.
I had seen something that had caught my eye in one of the MTB magazines and with a little searching found a company called Bike School Asia which were selling the doodar above. I did have some trepidation when the PayPal confirmation was in Singapore Dollars, which equated to £11, and even more so when I recieved an email from Bike School Asia saying they would ‘let me know’ how much postage was going to be. I had no such qualms when a well written email from them said it was on it’s way and that there would be no charge for postage!
It is truly simplicity itself, it’s a definite ‘Ronseal’ type of product. It feels sturdy, isn’t heavier than any other set of tyre levers, and at a push I recon you could eat your dinner with them.
10 days to go. TEN days to go. Spank me with a haddock it’s only ten tiny days to go!
Ahem. Can you tell I’m a bit excited? Maybe.
Anyway, yes, next week the TFIT massive are off once again to the Alps for some concentrated shenanigans of the two-wheeled variety and I’m very pleased to report that my Transition Scout has been lovingly prepped, polished and fettled to within an inch of it’s life.
Aside from the Hope V4 brakes I fitted earlier this year (which I am massively loving), the latest pre-Alpine fettlage has been a bit left field but the first impressions are really good – it’s all gone a bit oval down in the Surrey Hills for me.
Yep, I’m trying out a 34 tooth oval AbsoluteBlack RaceFace chainring which is… is… well, it’s a total punt to be honest. As a potential upgrade, an oval chaining was about as far off my radar of “things to do to my bike” as it possible. I mean round is good. Round is normal. Round.. is round!
BUT, following on from a lengthy chat (we love a LBC) with Matt down at MB Cyclery as to the potential merits (and pitfalls to be fair) of an oval chainring, I’ve taken the plunge. I’m gonna give it a bit more time before I draw my absolute conclusion but I have to say – my overall impression so far is very positive. Does it feel weird? No. Do you notice the action? No (unless you look at it). Does it help you get a bit more power down? Well, yes, I think it does. The other benefit I guess it that I’ve gone up from a 32t to a 34t with no noticeable difference.
I’m also talking a set of 3 spokes per side per wheel for my Hope Techs this year. As per normal I’m hoping not to need them but previous form tells me that at some point over our trip I’ll have an argument with a “marble” or two and I want to be able to attempt a repair without having to bail and go find a bike shop.
Aside from that I’ve finally installed my now tyre related “weapons of choice”, namely Specialized Butcher and Purgatory Grids (thanks Andy T) front and back respectively. These are now my standard Alpine tyres of choice, being super grippy in the dust.
Oh yeah. AND I’ve been buying GoPro mounts. I and my bike are a one-man camera rig. Clearly this appeals to my inner narcissist but my logic is sound I promise. Come August I am determined not to be watching only endless “Chest-cam” and “rear helmet-cam” footage on a permanent loop.
So we now have:
Parrot Bebop 2 (new frame, repaired and ready to rock)
Bell Super 2r Top Helmet Cam forwards and backwards
Bell Super 2r Side Helmet Cam
Ass Cam (courtesy of a kEdge seatr rail)
Big Bar / Fork Cam (with an oversized GoPro mount)
And, Narwhal cam. Or as I like to call it, “idiot who has zip tied a selfie stick to his helmet” cam.
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 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.
So the TFITers are down from the final run, ending very appropriately at the bottom of Woodstock, possibly our favourite run of the trip. Yes, the Foam Tour 2017 has drawn to a close.
I’m glad to report everyone is in one piece – our bikes somewhat less so, but that’s to be expected after a weekend of big mountains and equally big descents.
I’m still trying to process the weekend (and the reality of another epic delay getting back from Geneva airport), however, I guess the big question is, “is MTB in Les Arcs worth it?”
Well, to put it simply, I can confirm that is an emphatic, unequivocal, massive YES.
Les Arcs is awesome. Different to Morzine / Les Gets in many ways and better in others. Personally I think the trails lean towards a bit more ‘real world’. They are rougher than we are used to (Marbles… they are everywhere) but I think all the better for it.
We’ve rode a checklist of the trails, Woodstock, Marsupalami, Le Tranks, Yellow Stone and of course the simply-epic-best-big-day-out-I’ve-ever-had on the Mont Jovet descent with Emily and Evan from The Inside Line MTB (more on that to come at a later date) and have all left with some stupidly wide grins.
The trails did not disappoint. They were technical in places and challenging in others but also felt very “familiar” to a UK trail rider. The major benefit to my mind though was there were no MTB super highways (like Morzine!) and 90% less braking bumps (yayyyy).
The most surprising thing of all though was just how quiet it was. Les Arcs is definitely not as popular a resort to head to and is all the better for it. Even on the Saturday (official opening day) we were blessed with VERY empty trails and VERY quiet lifts. Which was simply fantastic!
I’d recommend you get up to the higher trails if you can and weather permitting. The trails are very worth it and the views are simply stunning.
We stayed at an awesome chalet in Peisey (note: a great place to use as a base) and our a brilliant host (John – who has some new chalets through Icebreaker Chalets for riding and skiing as of next year) who fed us to within an inch of our lives.
Are there any downsides of MTB in Les Arcs? Not many, but I would recommend anyone heading out to take plenty of spares for your traditional MTB consumables (brake pads, mech hangers, spokes, bleed kits) as bike shops offering repairs were surprisingly a bit thin on the ground. I’d also very much recommend that you have some form of transport there as well – it does come in handy. If you’ve broken something I advise you head to Bourg St Maurice or to Moutiers.
Now that we’re back the TFITers are collectively and feverishly editing some footage together and I hope to get some videos up here soon so we can do some “show and tell”.
I think on balance Les Arcs has not fully woken up to the potential of MTB in the summer and unlike Morzine / Les Gets is high enough to still routinely get awesome winters so it’s not as important.
However, don’t let that put you off, it is 100% worth a visit and we WILL be heading back!