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Les Arcs MTB: Woodstock

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”.

 

Shall we go ride in Les Arcs then?

Wooooohooooo.

Finally, we’re here. It’s been a long old wait but today, this most halcyon of days, it’s time to kick off “The Foam Tour 2017”.

After a successful “LAVOJ packing” last night at Matt W’s, the LAVOJ is now winging its way through France and the remainder of the TFITers are counting the seconds.

So, all I can say is, check your passport is in your bag for the 15th time and see you at the Star at 14.30 sharp.

And finally, a “Happy Birthday” to both Mark T and Malcolm W, well done to Stephan F for organising this year’s trip and have a good drive to the D brothers. We’ll see you on the flipside.

If I get time (and I’m not too inebriated) I’ll write an update while we’re on the ground about how my Transition Scout and perhaps Mark’s G13 is handling the Alps.

Retail Therapy: Alps ready Transition Scout

I am a tool.

27 Days until we hit Les Arcs for the “Foam Tour 2017” and I managed to bugger my knee during last night’s TFIT. And the most annoying thing about doing that? I did it just dismounting from the bike onto some uneven ground – no failed “6 foot gap jump” for me – oh no, I just have to get of my bloody bike! The net result of this awesome skill? I’ve hyperextended my knee.

Not the end of the world I know, but deeply annoying (and highly painful to boot). Also annoying because I’m supposed to rest it for four weeks and I must…

… avoid the activity which caused the injury in the first place, particularly if that is a sport…

Right. Yeah, that’s gonna happen – not.

Anyway, knee related shenanigans aside (and not forgetting a massive thanks for all TFIT attendees who put up with my moaning last night!) I’ve consoled myself with a bit of retail therapy today and some minor pre-Alps preparation for my Transition Scout today and I have to say, she’s looking ready and raring to go.

The “enhancements” are fairly minor if I’m honest – I’ve fitted a Specialized Butcher Grid and Purgatory Grid front and back respectively and they are looking good. I do like Spesh tyres and the grids did sterling service last year in Morzine. So aside from new brake pads (which I’ll fit a week or so before we go) I’m basically done on the bike front – benefits of having a new bike I guess!

I also took the opportunity to replace a slightly faulty tubeless valve and replenish my tubeless goo (technical term). Although in a slight departure from my normal choice of Stans, I’ve gone for Seal “Endurance Tubeless Sealant” and I have to say I rather impressed.

Seal’s goo spreads around the tyre nicely and certainly helped with the “tubeless-frantic-pump-of-misery” that if you run tubeless you’ll know all about, by sealing any small gaps before the tyre was fully seated. Very, very impressed with it so far. Although top tip – it dries really quickly on a newly laid warm paving slab. Which makes your significant other really cross. And they shout at you. And you have to clean it up…

I’ve also invested in a very overdue new pair of riding shoes. I’ve gone for Specialized 2FO which despite their quite narrow looking design are extremely comfy for someone with freakishly wide feet like me. I’ve not taken them out for a ride yet but they are very stiff, supportive and have well placed toe protection. And they have red bits on them. Red bits are important.

The last bit of retail therapy was a new pair of riding shorts – Endura MT500s which are great, roomy and comfortable and not bazillions of pounds either. Certainly not when compared the £90 Fox shorts I “briefly” picked up earlier.

So there, I’m done (with the exception of some new knee/elbow pads maybe), the Scout is ready and I cannot get through the next 27 days quickly enough!

 

Les Arcs MTB 2017: So what MTB do you take to the Alps?

The Alps. They are beautiful, they are awesome, they are total-and-utter-shit-grin-inducing-fun.

They can also be bloody scary!

Particularly if like me (and I suspect most normal riders) you spend 99% of your time on local trails which, with the best will in the world, are mostly ‘hilly’ rather than ‘mountainous’.

I can still remember my first Alpine (Morzine) MTB adventure and the feeling of total joy when we all got to the end unscathed. Tim W and I exchanged a look at the bottom of the last run and exhaled in simultaneous relief. How in the name of holy bananas, we had thought, that had been managed was an utter mystery, because if I’m honest the kit we rode and the skills we had were frankly not up to the job!

I for example did Morzine 1 on my Giant XTC 26er – that would be Giant’s super light, short travel, narrow bar sporting XC bike with precious little suspension up front – dear God.

However to put that in perspective, Andy C did it (and another subsequent trip) on a RIGID On-One HARDTAIL! But he’s not human, so that’s to be expected.

Anyway, enough reminiscing – in 30 days (yep, that’s one calendar month chaps!) the TFITers are wheels down in Les Arcs for “The Foam Tour” 2017 and with this incontrovertible fact in mind I thought I’d take stock of the steeds we’ll be taking with us this year and also the kit they run. If you are Alps bound for the first time this year and are wondering what it is everyone else rides, hopefully this will help.

Bikes and Suspension

Our bikes, they are many and they are varied. We have MTBs from Transition, Specialized, Mojo/Nicolai, Whyte, BMC, YT Industries and Orange. They are all awesome in their own way and the kit they dangle does the deed week-in, week-out for our normal rides. But they are, in essence ‘trail’ or ‘Enduro’ focussed (whatever that actually means) bikes and not downhill monsters by any definition.

As per normal we are taking the usual “Cove” of Transitions. This year we have a 50/50 split of David D and Matt W on the Transition Smuggler with me and Bob M on the Transition Scout. The Smugglers have 140mm travel up front (up from the stock 130mm) via a Rockshox Lyric and a Rockshox Pike with 115mm at the back coming from Rockshox Monarchs. The Transition Scouts have 150mm Pikes at the pointy end and 125mm from a Monarchs at the back.

Mark T will be unleashing his Mojo/Nicolai Geometron on the mountains this year which is just a mostly terrifying concept. After having been “rudely unseated” from his Spesh Stumpy last year it should be an interesting ride for him. Mark’s Transformer Geometron (although this is subject to change – or rather it depends which button he presses or something) will be running 130mm at the back and 150mm at the front provided by Fox Float X Evolution and Fox Float 36.

Stephan F will be back on his Specialized Stumpy FSR with “enhanced tail end bounce” – after having riding a couple of donor 29ers during his ‘chainstay-gate’ episode, Steve has upgraded his rear to run a 130mm Rockshox Monarch RCS Plus in conjunction with his 140mm Rockshox Pike at the front.

James G will be back on his YT Capra with it’s “monster / more than capable” suspension, 170mm front and 165mm back provided by a Rockshox Lyric and a Rockshox Monarch plus. Arguably the most ‘Enduro’ of the bikes we ride, James’ steed is very much at home sprinting down the side of the most vertiginous Alpine mountain.

Malcolm W will be back for the second time on his Whyte T-129 with a crazy maniacal grin on his face no doubt. Malc rides the shortest travel of the TFIT 29ers with the Whyte equipped with 120mm from a Fox 34 Float at the front and Fox at the rear but that was no hindrance to his enjoyment in last year’s trip.

Andy T on the Carbon 27.5 Stumpjumper,  RockShox Pike 150mm, Fox CTD 140mm and complete with the SWAT opening to hold beer, pasties and painkillers (and some would say a small nuclear power plant to make him ride that fast…)

Both Tim, Tig and Craig will be on their trusted Orange 5 Pro 26ers. As Orange say, if aint broke, it don’t need fixing. Nimble and solid, trail absorption comes from 140mm Fox at the front and rear.

Lastly Andy C will be back on his now very familiar BMC Trailfox riding like a proper hooligan once again no doubt, enjoying the benefits of suspension like no other mortal man has deserved (having ridden the Alps three times on a rigid forked single speed On-One!). Bounce is provided from a Rockshox Pike RCT3 160mm up front and a 150mm Crane Creek DB Inline at the back.

Tyres

Best post-ride pub topic ever? Possibly true, but whereas Rockshox seem to be winning out in the suspension of choice at the moment for TFIT rides, tyres, well let’s just say the choices are many (and ever evolving – I suspect there may be edits here):

  • Specialized Butcher Grid front and back for both me and Bob M
  • Specialized Butcher Grid front and Slaughter back for Stephan F and Matt W
  • Maxxis High Roller front and Maxis Minion SS rear for James G
  • Maxxis Minion SS front and Forekaster rear for Mark T
  • Maxxis Ardent EXO up front and Ardent Race rear for David D
  • Malc, Bob, Tim, Tig, Craig, Andy T, Andy C I have no idea – but they will be tyres. Probably

Brakes

“There are many MTB brakes, but this one is mine…”

The variety in brake choice is less varied here but the requirement is the same – good stoppers with a reluctance to fade under descents of up to and indeed over an hour! It still amazes me how those pokey little brakes from Shimano, SRAM, et al actually manage it, but they do. That said I will never forget being behind David D in Morzine as the “stopper-pots” boiled on his Gary Fisher. Hysterical (with hindsight) and terrifying in equal measure!

The brake choices for the TFITers are pretty much uniformly Shimano XT, with one set of Zee’s, James G’s SRAM Guide RSC 4 pots, Matt W and Tim W running Hopes and rotor sizes ranging from 180 mm up to 200 mm.

Helmets

To full-face or not to full-face – that is indeed the question! Most of us (I suspect because we are all so devilishly handsome – *cough*) will be opting for full-face lids just because you’re in the Alps and it’s fundamentally a good idea. Bob has recently purchased the latest incarnation of the Bell’s Super helmet, the Bell Super 3R which looks cracking and feels lighter than the Super 2Rs.

Bell Super 3R/2R converts include David, me, Matt, Mark, Andy C, Steve F, Andy T, James, Bob and Malcolm with chinguards “very much” attached. Craig and Tig have their proper full-face lids and Tim is the last of us hard enough to brave the trails with his normal helmet. Cos he’s hard. And a bit mad…

 

So there you have it – a variety of kit on a variety of bikes with an extreme variety of riders. In summary it seems that Rockshox are the mostly favoured of forks and shocks, with 140mm or more travel the norm up front but a wider variety of shock travel to suit the individual bikes geometry.

It will be interesting, once again, to see how our very much “trail” focused bikes hold up in the Alps. We’ve come close but they’ve not yet been overfaced in Morzine/Les Gets/Chatel (yet) but what about on the back-country trails of Les Arcs? Only time will tell.

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!

Steve F’s Special Dance

I will not explain that post title any further. You kind of had to be there to witness it first hand.

However, I’m very much still laughing.

Anyway – twas another excellent TFIT last night out to Hascombe and back around the White Horse for a bit of Hascombr joy n’ giggles. And a well done to Carl for his second TFIT as well as sharing driving duties with David D!

The trails were mostly dry (if you exclude the large muddy bits that I managed to find with fair regularity) and as we start heading towards “CLOCK CHANGE DAY” things are firming up quite nicely down here in the wilds of Surrey.

Mr F had his replacement chainstay installed on his Spesh FSR and I was enjoying my last ride on Bob M’s Scout before mine is built hopefully next week.

To that end, look what the Rockshox faeries have provided. Yep it’s all going a bit 150mm Pike up front on the Scout. Not much more travel but just a ‘bit’ more. It’s well within the bounds of acceptability for the Scout (so say Transition) so we’ll see what it feels like when I get on the trails.

Aside from giving me a bit more bounce the Pike is slightly lighter than my Fox Float Kashima 140s, not by much I think, but every little helps as they say. And not that this matters, except it does, they match the Rockshox shock on the back of the Scout frame! Yum…

Transition Bandit: Gone, but not forgotten

It’s a sad day today. I’m saying goodbye to a dear and beloved friend…. *sniff*… my Transition Bandit. Yeah, today is “wrappy up da frame” and send down to the lovely guys at Windwave ready for my new Transition Scout replacement.

Ah, I will miss my Bandit so very much but I’m content that even though she’s going back to the great “Bellingham, WA in the sky” while she’s been with me it’s been one hell of a ride.

My Bandit, bless every inch of her “awesome redness”, was without a doubt the best bike I’ve owned (so far). It’s taken me safely me down trails I never thought I could, and unseated me on more than one occasion just to put me in my place!

She’s made me look good when I was riding bad just as much as it made made me look bad when I thought I was riding great. She taught me I “could” just let go of the brakes and trust the bike when I thought I couldn’t and showed me I could have just as much fun in a bike park as I could on my local trails. Simply an infinitely better bike than I could ever be as a rider.

 

I guess if the definition of a great bike is “how wide is your post-ride smile” (and I ask you, is there any other?) then I know that even though I will have a tear in my eye when I seal that box tonight, I can tell you it will be more than compensated by the size of the smiles at the memories.

RIP Chris G’s Transition Bandit 650b: 2014 -2017

Transition Scout versus Transition Bandit

So last night was an excellent TFIT. PR’s tumbled. Marbles were smashed. Oh yeah, and we got wet rather disappointingly.

At the moment I’m still “sans-Bandit” as my beasty sulks with it’s knackered Revolution TBC rear wheel but after three offers of bikes namely Matt W’s Transition Covert and Mark T’s Nicolai Helius and Bob M’s Transition Scout. I was spoiled for choice! In the end I plumped for Bob’s Transition Scout – mostly because I’ve never ridden it before in anger but also I figured it would be similar to my Bandit, so I was intrigued to see how it handled. Dave D penned some wise words on the Scout when he rode it a while ago which were rattling around my head as we rode.

If you’ve a short attention span, the conclusion is I very much like the Scout. Very much. I think it is a well sorted trail basher.

To me it feels very Bandit-esque. Tight, nimble and as with all the ‘new geometry’ bikes I had a spin on, the Scout wants you “in the attack position with your weight forward”. If I was in the market for a new steed this would be a definite contender.

I think the Pike 36s that Bob has is a great piece of kit but I suspect needs to dedicated TLC to get it setup exactly right. The pressure, rebound and sag need to be right and I reckon if you got it setup to a “Mark T type standard” it would float you over the nastiest of roots or rocks with ease. I was also very pleased to be riding a bike with Hope Enduros on it which I enjoyed enormously. But I could definitely feel the tubes in the wheel structure when things got a little quicker. I will definitely be running mine tubeless.

I didn’t feel quite as “in the bike” on the Scout as I do on my Bandit but that’s to be expected. Again with the necessary adjustments and a day of fine tuning I would be happy as Larry on it (whoever Larry is).

So, which do I prefer? Obviously my Bandit because it’s what I’m used to but the Scout is a VERY close second. I think the Scout is an capable and awesome bike. Which ever way I look at it, both are infinitely more capable than I am.

Lastly, good luck to all the TFITers who are racing the Enduro event this weekend!

Scouting the Scout

Bob very kindly offered his new Transition Scout for a ride. I know that Bob is somewhat torn between that familiar feeling of his Orange, vs a degree of uncertainty on his new steed.

I really looked forward to seeing what the change in the suspension felt like on the latest range from Transition. Bob’s kit is top notch, Carbon Renthal gatepost bar at 740mm, xt brakes on 180 rotors, and the new xt 1×10 (with expander cog). Bouncy bits included the Pike RCT3 150 (reduced to 140?) and the Monarch RT3 shock with 125mm. Rolling stock was the Maxxis High roller 27.5 x 2.30, and reverb stealth.

I did a regular route up to Holmbury – a roady bit with some climbs, down Yougurt pots and BKB. The first thing I noticed was the shock in pedal mode almost completely eliminates any pedal bob (Not Pedal Bob!). I could never achieve this on the fox RP3. It felt really solid. I had a real suprise on the climbs, when half way up the long drag to Holmbury, I glanced down to see I was 3 cogs away from the highest gear (the smallest on the cassette). This was an ongoing issue, I found the top gear was not really enough for the fast bits, and I never got anywhere near the expander – which I did try at one point, and it almost turned the bike into a static trainer! Could certainly go from the 32t upfront to a 34t, but, that’s personal preference.

Another area I struggled with, was the long bar on a medium stem (I didn’t measure it), and the saddle reasonably slammed back. This made for a long reach. My two issues with this is it restricts your breathing, because you feel crouched over, and secondly, if you recall that skills course with the Jedi – we practiced those turns- a right hand turn had you extend the right arm straight, left arm bent, with the outside foot down. I struggled to get this position because my arm was already stretched on the wide bar, and the only way to solve it was to shift right forward in the frame.

I had a shaky run down yougurts, getting to grips with the 27.5’s. The high rollers are excellent on the gloopy runs – a bit draggy – but a great Morzine tire. I really felt like you could point and shoot, and the bike just took it all. Before running BKB, I dumped 100 bar out of the shock. Down from 320 to 220! This took the sag down to 30%, and gave a much less chatter. I felt encouraged to try and jump off everything is sight (almost to my peril!). I was never going to PR anything, BKB is fairly cut up at the moment, but much fun was had. As hard as I tried, I got nowhere near bottoming out on either end. Some measurement showed I used 118 mm of travel up front, so some pressure fettling there could also help. These new fork and ‘big can’ shocks really do need some extreme experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t think that setting sag and forget is applicable these days.

My overall impression was the suspension platform is much more solid and stable than the Bandit. The Scout responded really well to being pushed in the turns and pops. My ongoing niggle with Transition bikes continues around getting the saddle out the way, as with the Bandit – a 150mm dropper would help. Cable noise from the internal routing was also very noticeable, a google search showed some trick with cable ties to help reduce the clatter, especially with the new XT 1×10 which is outstanding. Bob’s got a cracking bike – my niggles are largely down to personal preference, with one exception – all that weight shedding bling – and Bob still runs tubes. It’s so last year Bob. Huge thanks for letting me take it out!

 

Transition Scout
Transition Scout

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