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Surrey Hills MTB

Weather

So Bike Radar recently asked the question “If you could ban weather which would you pick?” which is an excellent question IMHO, and one to occupy an entire Friday at the very least. I mean, we’ve all done it, got kitted up, then looked out of the window at the fat drops bouncing off the ground and… gone and put the kettle, But, I thought, what indeed would I choose?

Of course the correct answer is “None whatsoever just get on your bike and stop moaning” but that did not stop me thinking about MTB “weather” in general.

So how to choose? What are the criteria?

“Simples” methinks – I’ll just come up with a “TFIT Surrey Hills MTB Weather Scale of Truth“. Clearly this is a geographic thingy as I imagine anyone slinging a leg over their steed in Banff in mid-December is likely to face a “different scale of peril” than us down here in mild and nonthreatening Surrey! However, without further ado and in descending level of unpleasantness I present:

The “TFIT Surrey Hills MTB Weather Scale of Truth”

1) Swengemaggedon

One of “those” days. You were sweaty before you got on the bike, 3L Camelback’s worth of water is just not enough. Arguable to hot to work hard on the bike, but you do anyway – because if you stop insects will devour you. You consume extraordinary amounts of beer in the post-ride pub because you are convinced it will help you re-hydrate. It won’t. Any unwashed bike kit smells like the devil’s armpit. Clothing should probably be burnt post-ride as it will be just unspeakably nasty. Falls onto the floor with a noise like a frog exploding. Every head movement results in copious quantities of “weeks old ride-sweat” dripping into your eyes. It burns… IT BURNS…

2) Warm, dusty and dry

What the word “awesome” was invented for. Trails are likely to be hard-packed with not a sign of “mid trail mud” anywhere to spoil flow. You contemplate riding at any point of the day. Sod work, parenting, eating or other people. Your riding dangerously fast and it’s just fantastic on every level. High probability you’ll swallow one small and one “uncomfortably large” bug during the ride. The night’s are light until late and there is no better time to be out. Chance are this is why you ride and also the chances are everyone else in the family would like to come for a “family ride” as well. Leave before they realise you’ve gone. Shhhh…

3) Eeeee, that’s pleasant

I grant you it’s a bit of a “Yorkshire-ism” but you know the feeling. Sun is shining, probably still solidly dry on the trails. You are likely to illicit irritation from your partner by a) riding *just* that bit further than normal b) regaling your partner non-stop with how wonderful your ride was. Highly probable you will have a “smug mountain biker” face on at all times. Only reason for cleaning the bike is if you encounter a “dog bomb” mid trail.

4) Quite nice

Weather still ok, may be a bit cloudy, even the occasional shower is permitted. Mid-trail mud bombs are to be expected. Trails are running well. In certain “non-Surrey” parts of the UK this is when the thermometer gets above freezing. You may well have reached the halcyon stage of single layers of clothing.

5) “Meh”

More of an emotional response than a descriptive word. It’s not warm and it’s not sunny. It’s probably cloudy and probably dribbly. You might instantly regret clothing choice (or lack of it) as soon as you stop pedaling. You hold out eternal optimism that the sun might come out. It won’t. Get over it. RYFB.

6) “Sprinter”

Not quite Spring but also not quite Winter. You’re not prepared yet to abandon the base layer or winter gloves or even jacket. You grudgingly have to clean your bike – AGAIN – despite being sure you could managed a dry ride.

7) “Bitwet” or “Dribbly”

Definitely just a one-word description. The “wet” is not yet all pervasive yet but it is definitely determined. Tyres do a fabulous job of flicking water into your face irrespective of any “bike related protection”. Roots can be dicey.

8) Soggy / Sheeting / Just Bloody Unpleasant

OK. It’s raining. Deal with it.  It’s heavy, persistent and bloody cold. Chances are that is not a bead of sweat you can feel dripping down your back. If you don’t have a cold, you will soon. Usually occurs with varying degrees of wind which make it all the worse. Good chance you’ll have to squeeze your gloves dry at the end of the ride. Pub may not welcome you with open arms. Definitely cold. Did I mention it was cold? It’s cold. You will spend following day looking at summer riding videos to remind you why you do this.

9) Biblical

The rain is falling down, sideways and sometimes up. And it hurts and it’s bloody freezing. Face it, you came riding in a f*cking storm you idiot. Likelihood of being “up to your hubs” in mud of a questionable source is high. The back of your bike (and you) look like you’ve been mud wrestling. Despite showering you will find lumps of mud about your person days later. Often as hard to ride down as it is up. Tyre contact with root will result in instant death. Bike may stop suddenly in deep gloopy pit of mud while you continue into the nearest obstacle. Trees may spontaneously “deposit themselves” onto the trail. Base layer, waterproof and winter gloves fail. Is acceptable to be wearing full length tights. You contemplate digging out a drysuit for the next ride. People look at you like your a lunatic. That’s ok, you are. Pub tends to fall silent with disbelief when you walk in. Partner may change locks while you are out. If you get into the house at all you drain all hot water trying to thaw out.

10) “OhDearGodAlmighty”

Too cold to snow or too much snow. Everything is or will be frozen. Doesn’t matter how many layers you put on, they just don’t work. Chances are suspension, brakes and gears may seize. You are unsure if the crunchy noise is “tyres on ice” or just your knees protesting. You can’t speak. You contemplate peeing yourself just to get some lower body warmth. Rides can go direct to the pub without shame. You contemplate setting fire to a fellow rider just to get some warmth. Counting extremities when you get home is mandatory – particularly for guys. You will ask yourself just why did you come out FFS?

11) Cardiff

Nuff said. Wettest place in the UK apparently. If you ride here you’ve got balls the size of a planet.

 

So do I want to ban any weather. Naah – too many giggles! TFIT tonight anyone?

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Enduro or Enduro (in pink?)

Two versions of the 2018 Enduro lined up in the Walking Bottom Carpark on a perfect windless Thursday evening, basking in 24 degrees with dry trails, that a week before had been slime and gloop for a shakedown ride courtesy of Certini Bike Company in Saltash. A gaggle of eight of us had been lulled to the trail head with the promise of single layered clothing and some ‘lights off’ riding. I had the 29in version in medium 160mm Öhlins RXF 36 fork with RockShox Monarch Plus out back, and Andy on an identical 27in version with 165mm travel.

Monarch shock was a breeze to setup, autosag is pretty good, but does need a little extra pressure, the fork however does require faffage. Without being boring you need to set the ramp up pressure in the lower (that replaces tokens in most other forks) then add air in the upper (as you would do normally). I got it about right, but even with the rebound in it’s fastest position it’s not as quick as I’d like. This might be correctable with more time, but would mean delving into the dark side of internet browsing and finding ten other ‘experts’ with their ideas to try out.

Anyway enough mucking about and losing the daylight we headed up for a favourite loop taking in Pitch Hill, Winterfold and a smattering of Holmbury Hill. Pedalling up was fine, if not enjoyable, it could really do with a longer travel dropper post 125mm doesn’t really cut it nowadays. And with a mind on the terrain coming up I didn’t want the saddle poking up too high. The summit soon arrived with a good smattering of like minded riders looking out across the Surrey Hills in that perfect evening glow.

And down thick and creamy we dove, this always has a mixture of fear and elation combined, you have to fully commit on this trail, steep bumpy gullies and then into some good sized drops, perfect for a long travel bike, and make it we did (with about 10mm of travel left). Big smiles, adrenalin pumping and a big tick to the Enduro. And so onwards, the rest of the ride is a little less hectic, but does take in some fast single track, twisting descents and loamy goodness.

For a very first ride the bike handles very well, you do sit more ‘in the bike’ than my existing steed, as the current trend for longer, lower, slacker prevails. The rear is definitely more burly and requires more effort to flick, front is lively and eager, it grips corners without the front or rear suddenly letting go and it crushes medium sized roots, rocks and debris with impunity.

We had to have a blast down ‘Barry’s’, and although some sections are quite worn it never fails to please and felt that bike carried good speed, and would have been better if I’d timed the pump sections better, I’m sure that would come with more time onboard. And to the pub, where a quick glance at Strava confirmed a number of PB’s. We discussed ornithology, fork pressures and everything in between over a couple of pints and everything was good with the world.

Need to get a demo on the Bird AM9 now!

Some footage below for those that don’t like their retinas.

Steve

strava eve

Rootin’ tootin’ winter tyres

Howdy folks, a couple of weeks ago I was thinking I really need to re-shoe the trusty sled with some winter slop tyres, the Specialized Slaughter on the rear just wasn’t cutting it. Then after a 32 miler with Mark T in the slop and slime of Trail Break’s ‘Turkey Burner’ ride, which took in the delights of Shackleford, Puttenham, Crooksbury, Hankley and the Punchbowl, my burning thighs were either telling me ‘time to ditch the beer and turkey diet of Christmas, or find something that actually propels you forwards in the gloop that has developed during the winter period (see below).

IMG_3781

Some phone calls to my local LBS’s proved fruitless, I would normally put a matching Specialized Butcher or a Purgatory on the rear, a combo I have trusted for a number of years (all in the 29×2.3 Grid flavour). So a few searches later I was presented with a very tempting offer from CycleStore – the Specialized Hillbilly, again with the tougher grid sidewalls (something I consider a must on 29in wheels for stability and non burping) for just £25 each. A pair arrived about three days later, and with minimal effort the old rubber was replaced and set up tubeless – swearing or lubricating wasn’t required to get them on the Easton Heist Rims with a 30mm width. Both front and back were inflated to approx 25psi.

Yee-Haa, off into the great wide open meant a Sunday morning blast up and around Hydons Ball, a good mixture of mud, loam, sand, jumps, berms and roots. Immediately I noticed a higher level of traction, deliberately trying to spin the rear proved difficult, lean the bike over, it all remained sure footed. The wide spaced tread meant any mud cleared easily. Basically I just forgot about how different these tyres were supposed to feel and just got on with enjoying the ride, attacking an off camber corner or grinding up the steep sections of Hydons – all was dealt with, no fuss, no dramas. Quite how draggy they are going to be on tarmac I don’t know yet (or really care) it’s just how long they last. To be honest It feels like I’ve literally rustled these tyres from the supplier, an absolute bargain although I’ll be more than happy to swap back if conditions improve!

Hillbilly1
Setting up tubeless was a breeze
Hillbilly3
Wide spaced knobs (snigger)
Hillbilly2
Cuts well through the West Surrey Mud

Significant Day

So today is a most significant of days – one of the original TFITers, our one and only Mark T has reached his 50th year.

Now I won’t wax lyrical about what a genuinely top dude Mark is – mostly cos he’d hate it – but I have to say as one of the “TFIT originals” who headed out into the Surrey Hills (some would argue to escape the joys of having young children… but I digress) to start the institution that is TFIT – the rest of us are eternally grateful.

I also will not mention OR pay tribute to the special “Mark locations” that are dotted around the Surrey Hills (raising the overall elevation by at least several feet), his multitude of awesome bikes with perfectly setup suspension, uncanny ability to locate “foam parties” at great distance (like some kind of beer soaked homing pigeon), preternatural skill at opening pubs that are firmly shut (for quite serious and sober reasons…), all round appreciation for late night roast beef and of course his ability to crash into “Mark shaped holes” with more style than anyone I know!

So Happy Birthday Mark – have a great one!

20 to 30 minute Hike-a-Bike

So I’m still obsessing about Mont Jovet. It’s getting a bit worrisome to be honest. We are under 3 months from our Les Arcs trip and I simply keep thinking about the phrase “20-30 minute Hike-a-Bike” described on The Inside Line site…

The phrase fills me with a certain amount of dread for two specific reasons:

  1. Many moons ago on the first TFIT Morzine trip a certain Greg LB took us on a “slight trail detour”. That would be a slight trail detour that was straight up (and I mean straight vertically up) the side of a valley in Switzerland. We all made it to the top (and the ride down was simply epic) but Oh my God it nearly killed me.
  2. The ability of anyone who rides a MTB to underestimate the obstacles ahead for the benefit of those who are unaware. You know, it’s the phrases like “Oh it’s all downhill to the pub from here” or “Yeah, just a short easy climb”… only for the horrible truth to be revealed in a bucket full of sweat and usually excessive swearing.

So in preparation for this and because I needed to spend some time fettling my Scout’s suspension I’ve spent quite a lot of this weekend out on my bike including a cheeky old-skool ride up to the PB with Mark T and Bob M.

As we were pushing up a particularly vertiginous climb to the top of the bowl I was talking to Bob about bike carrying (i.e. the 20-30 minute Hike-a-Bike) and he was wondering if there is such a thing as an MTB shoulder strap to make a climb not only hands free but also slightly easier than slinging your steed over your shoulder.

So this morning a quick Googleisation revealed the answer is basically no (unless anyone can enlighten me otherwise?) which I am very surprised about to be honest. I found a bucket load of advice on bodging straps and backpack mounts but none that really came up with an answer. I did however find this extremely enthusiastic video from Dan Milner on Epic TV giving sage advice on hauling your rig the right way. Maybe it’s just a bit of well placed padding with some good technique then? We’ll see.

I also took out the GoPro as it was such a glorious weekend and while filming down Flat out Fun managed to capture me completely stuffing up a corner and eating some dirt. Best thing about a GoPro sometimes is seeing how appalling your line choice and body/bike position is (guilty) just before you hit the floor!

So as penance I thought I’d share this “how not to ride a corner” snippet. What a tool!

Crooksbury on a Smuggler

So it looks like Hoong K and Stephan F had some shenanigans up at Crooksbury Hill this weekend which I thought I’d share.

According to Leigh B this little section is known as the “Whoop Whoops” – which is a deeply appropriate name I think. Still fairly sure I could not find this if my life depended on it though!

Mucking about with the Parrot Bebop

Well, snow or no snow, I decided I needed to cheer myself up yesterday (more on why I needed to be cheered up later this week) and I should probably get the drone that I’ve “accidentally purchased” with Matt W out and to have a go flying it “on the trail” as it were.

The Bebop 2 is a properly funky bit of kit and Matt and I are trying to make sure we are capable of taking this thing out on a ride, without the need for the ride being all about the filming.

Or at least thats the plan!

So to that end, we’ve bought a groovy little Lowenpro bag which takes the drone, two batteries and the props all snuggled up with lovely padding. It’s also small enough to strap to the back of a pack – although I’ve not tried that yet.

The Parrot also has a big chunk “Sky Controller” (the big joysticky thing above) which you attach your phone or tablet into and use to fly it. The Sky Controller is really good and very easy to use, even for a fat fingered goon like me (which is saying something) and it has a massive range extender transmitter thingy on the top so you can fly it over a km away from where you are (not tried that either!).

However, and more realistically for MTB, you can fly the drone just from your mobile – which is what yesterday was all about trying out. So I headed up to the Devil’s Punchbowl and walked down to one of my favourite trails “Flat out Fun”, determined to try some drone camera angles imagining I would be filming some bikes. Take a look at the video below to see the first results.

So, initial conclusions are:

  1. Controlling the drone from the phone is really scary – and much harder than using the Sky Controller. I was totally paranoid about the wireless range between the drone and the phone. Not helped by the fact that the live stream to the phone starts to break up after about 20 metres.
  2. Cold is absolutely no good for battery life – I got just over 15 mins of flight time from each battery
  3. “Buttons are not toys”. If you randomly press things when flying a drone weird things will happen which will totally freak you out. If you want to see what I mean, forward the video to 2.44!
  4. You really do need a good open trail to film BUT the opportunities for awesome camera angles are just brilliant

So the next plan is to try out both the “follow me’ functionality as well as the waypoint flying stuff. I suspect if I’m honest the drone is probably better at flying itself than I will ever be. However, I do need get out on the bike and film some TFITers coming down the same trail – what could possibly go wrong?

Trail Days

Now I’ve got to be honest – nothing quite beats that ‘new bike’ feel.

The joy. The utter pleasure. The all encompassing frisson of slinging your leg over what is always a substantial outlay of cash. It’s awesome. Of course there is always the n+1 rule and a lot of us are blessed with experiencing that joy more than once. Those with n+1 bikes are many.

And then there is Matt W.

Matt is what you could refer to as a ‘frequent renewer of bikes’. Since I’ve known him he’s had 5 (I think) and he’s now moving onto his sixth. Yep, Matt has acquired a new bike and I believe if I have interpreted the ‘bad poetry hints’ on Whatsapp correctly, his new Transition Smuggler will be getting it’s first outing this evening.

It’ll be bling. It’ll be custom. It’ll be a thing of unfeasible beauty. It will without a doubt be 100% Matt. As with all prototypes, details are a little thin on the ground at the moment (I’ve seen the frame but not the finished product) but I will post something here as soon as I can so we can all revel in the creation.

And speaking of new bikes – a few of the TFITers have signed up to the excellent sounding “Trail Days” run by Specialized. It’s a free demo day of the latest and greatest that the chaps from the US have to offer from the Turbo Levo, all-new Enduro, Stumpjumper and Rhyme models.

I am very interested in having a crack at the Stumpjumper – which has always been a personal favourite (until I discovered my Bandit) and riding it on vaguely familiar trails will be awesome. We’re heading to the session at Peaslake on 21st May.

I highly approve of manufacturers showing off their hard work this way – and let’s be honest, it’s always gonna makes that n+1 decision that bit easier to make!

The MVOJ…

…She is a thing of beauty.

So a productive hour or so was spent yesterday afternoon fitting out the MVOJ to receive 18 ( dear God, yes it’s 18) bikes, bags and associated gubbins.

Matt W showed off his construction “skills of perfection” by using a set square in a “It has to be right” kind of way. Well it’s amazing what you can achieve with some pallets and screws is all I can say! However, we do indeed now have a two-tier “love tunnel” in the back of the MVOJ.

Back of fag packet measuring indicates that with front and rear wheels off (and maybe pedals, we will see) we can get 12 bikes on the bottom with the rest going on the top. This leaves plenty of other room for bags to fill in the gaps.

James G however is going the full monty, having apparently converted his YT Capra into a “Minecraft MTB”. Now that’s a thing of beauty Mr G.

image1

Just a reminder to all. Packing the MVOJ starts from 17:00 onwards this Wednesday at Matt’s house. Oh, and I have to say I am extremely impressed with the news that Leigh B and Buz are being dropped in Witley at 2:30pm on Thursday afternoon.

What to do with and hour and a half before the man n’ van leaves Witley? Oh.. yeah… pub…

Oh yeah – weather update – nom, nom, nom:

morzineweather3

 

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