As the seasons ebb and flow.

24 09 2016

It is Autumn now. The daylight is retreating and the ground is becoming waterlogged and thick with fallen leaves.

I wanted to head towards the coast, for some reason. Lacking imagination for more interesting challenges, I took the Vertigo fatty, temporarily shod with plus wheels, to the Ardgarten loop.

It is not a particularly challenging loop, though the initial climb. westwards, followed by the climb up Glen Croe will keep your legs honest.

The trail over the Duke’s Pass is singletrack and at times offers a bit of challenge, particularly if it is as slimy on the rocks as I found it, but the views west are what took me there.

I probably ought to type something about my further exploration of plus tyres, as the fatty has allowed me to get time with a 27.5×4.5 a full 27.5×3 (on the rear) and 29×3 front and 27.5×3 rear. With interbike showing upcoming plus tyres from Maxxis that are on the knobblier end of the spectrum, *and* the growing 27.5×2.6 segment (which may well fit more 29″ bike rear ends), it is an exciting time.

Cost : reward.

29 08 2016

The circuit of Ben Alder is one of those ‘classic’ Scottish mtb routes. Kenny Wilson has a version as does Phil McKane.

The route typically starts at Dalwhinnie, tracking alongside Loch Ericht, until Ben Alder lodge, before climbing towards Loch Pattack and then Culra Bothy, which is now closed due to asbestos.

If you read any blogs or reports on tackling the route, it is rare that the side of Loch Ericht is utilised. Riders typically swing around the west side of Ben Alder, anti-clockwise, on the excellent Bealach Dubh singletrack, then descend Bealach Cumhainn to Ben Alder Cottage and then ascend, by means of steep, grassy, H.A.B, to the Bealach Beithe. The trail recommences alongside the Loch a’Bhealaich Bheithe, nestled under the east facing cliffs of Ben Alder, before dropping beside the Allt a Bhealach Beinnback, to Culra Bothy .

A different approach is to ride in from Loch Rannoch, climbing from Tigh an Uillt, into the Grampians cutting west then north to the southern tip of Loch Ericht, bog trotting to Ben Alder Cottage, then ascending north-west to the Bealach Cumhainn, then to Bealach Dubh.

Here, you stop, catch your breath as you take in the stunning view north, before descending to Culra under the watchful gaze of Sgor Iutharn and the impressive Lancet Edge.

From Culra, you can skirt Loch Pattack and it’s rickety bridge (if you ride it like I did, west to east, beware the ladder dismount) and drop on good quality estate track to Ben Alder Lodge. Then there is the simple matter of returning to Ben Alder Cottage via the loch side singletrack.

About that.

It’s hard going. I rode around 80% of it, but it is very rough in a low but sharp amplitude sort of way.

Then there is the sting in the tail.

On reading about the loch side trail, the ‘free style’ section around An Dun, which looks sternly down on Ben Alder Cottage, was something of a concern. The gate entry and exit are the least of your worries – they do not permit passage of a bike, you have to get your steed over the deer fence. It is the slippery, broken rock and loose grass and heather poised over substantial drops that give you the heeby jeebies. Indeed, about a third of the way around, I slipped, sliding towards a painful looking fall, before grabbing a handful of heather that arrested me and my bike mid calamity.

The cost of doing the route this way is high: the boggy section south of Ben Alder Cottage must be traveresed twice, the ascent to Bealach Cumhainn would be better as a descent and the loch side trail is hard going. However, the reward is the endless, peerless singletrack through Bealach Dubh and the hoot of a descent to Culra. It went on for ever.

Stats and kit notes.

The route, including 8km or so alongside Loch Rannoch to and fro, took me 7.30. I would class it as a strenuous route, not to be taken lightly with iffy weather. I think it would be best to miss the Loch Ericht trail back and try and put together a bigger loop, out by Dalwhinnie, perhaps returning to Pitlochry and making it a 2 dayer, or even to Feshie and back through the Gaick or Minigaig.

I rode my Vertigo cycles hardtail and the 120mm of suspension was welcome, but I think plus tyres would have aided the sections of boggy riding and perhaps allowed a little more comfort on the Loch Ericht singletrack.

I carried a 2L bladder and a water bottle and slaked my thirst at several of the gushing streams that pour down into the Loch when I ran short.

I used the Gaia GPS app on my phone for navigation, downloading the map as there is no signal in the area and it worked perfectly, yet again.

Two riders had completed this same route ahead of me. I was a little surprised about that as the ‘traditional’ route is used frequently. Goes to show…

Glen Tilt.

20 08 2016

The route from Old Bridge of Tilt, around the great lump of the Beinn a’Ghlo mountains is somewhat of a Scottish classic. On a good day, the views, wildlife and trails deliver a microcosm of all that is best in Highland mountain biking.

The Monzie road starts the route with a stiff climb until Loch Moraig is reached. From here, land rover track takes you to Shinagag, then the Girnaig Burn must be forded. The trail has been improved and soon, access to the back of the Beinn a’Ghlo range of Munros will be fast.

For me on this day, the sun was shining, so I did not mind getting my feet wet.

Climbing through the purple heather was glorious and the singletrack trail to Glen Fernate was easy to negotiate on the fat tyres. The land rover track down to the ruin of Ruigh Chuilein, close to Loch Loch and the imposing cliffs above is fast and the low pressure tyres were welcome to tame the loose rocky terrain.

At Daldhu, climbing is the name of the game onwards and upwards to the re-known, pink, stone walls of the remotest hunting lodge in Scotland – Fealar Lodge.

On occasion, I have found rows of deer heads draining their crimson juice here, but today there were just the usual assortment of yapping dogs.

The initial portion of the singletrack descent down to Glen Tilt was boggier than usual – again, the fatties earned their keep after having been dragged up the climb before.

Soon enough, the trail dries and becomes loose and rocky down to the River Tilt and another hop-scotch on the rocks.

Descending Glen Tilt, alongside the river Tilt, is often interrupted by fast jets: they drop low in to the glen and the noise will make you jump out of your skin as they scream overhead at barely 90 meters altitude.

Despite the head wind, it was slightly disappointing to be back at the car. This loop is always beautiful and in 4 short hours, you can enjoy all the solitude the hills have to offer.

Old man strength.

8 08 2016

A write up of the Wilderness 101 is here, on the team site.

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11 07 2016

In response to my last post, today’s ride was not all about miles covered.

I headed to the Trossachs and rode past Ben Ledi, on the national cycle route 7, to Balquhidder, then on to Lochearnhead and up Glen Ogle.

So far, a little repetitive, I admit. The headwind, however, did give the ol’ gammons a good work out as I climbed on the old rail line.

Once at the Falls of Dochart, the plan was to whip round Loch Tay and climb up to Ben Lawers. I was hoping to have enough time to get up and over the top to see what the trail was like after the summit, but I was unsure if the weather would play nice, or the low cloud and mizzle would make it a little pointless. The last time I was up there, a squall of snow made life pretty interesting.

The MWIS suggested wind would be a factor as I got higher and may be strong enough to impede progress. So it goes with summer in Scotland.

I made pretty quick time up the initial climb, before turning off and hop-scotching over the rocky, eroded trail then the tight rock armoured switchbacks up Beinn Ghlas.

Sure enough, as I hit 900m above sea level or so, the wind decided it wanted to play. The cloud banks were rolling over Meall Corranaich, and up from Coire Odhar, before enveloping the top of Beinn Ghlas and presumably Ben Lawers, beyond.

With the concept of an unimpeded view unlikely and the wind making the H.A.B a bit of a pain, I turned tail and made short work of the decent, before a rotor scorching drop to Loch Tay and a return pretty much the way I came out.

It felt good to get up a proper hill and take on the rocky decent. A fine response to feeling a little stagnation!

Got to’s and want to’s…

10 07 2016

Life is full of challenges: sometimes you have to accept the got to’s rather than enjoying the want to’s.

The last few rides have been in the 70 mile or so bracket, played out under rain and grey skies.

Not the preparation I want, but it’s what I’ve got. There has not been sufficient time and the weather hasn’t played ball to allow the kind of long, dusty rides in challenging terrain, under cerulean skies.

So, I have covered the same ground repeatedly and just kept ticking over the miles. I am not confident that a NUE race is going to be pretty, but thems the breaks.


10 07 2016

Wow. The floodgates seemed to open for a bit there.

I had decided to strip out a rim, rebuild it into a different hub, with a view to using a 29+ tyre on the front of my most ‘xc’ bike.

Maul came into being some years ago, when I still used to race xc and 6 to 12 hour races. It was as close to a pure xc race bike as I will ever likely get. Light, fast and stripped down. Sean nailed the geo to provide comfort and laser fast handling.

It was built prior to ‘plus’ tyres and neither the fork nor the short rear triangle have room for the bigger meats, but recently, I have begun to struggle to ride anything else. For me, they offer more comfort, control and speed in nearly all situations.

As a result, I wanted to put a plus sized tyre on the front of Maul, in the knowledge that I like the ‘mullet’ set up, with a normal 29er in the rear.

The niner fork *just* clears a plus tyre, but it isn’t enough for muddy conditions, so I went for an Enve fork. this has 85mm or so of clearance and also has an interesting dropout ‘chip’ giving the option of 52 or 44mm of offset. Otherwise, it will keep the geometry pretty much where it needs to be with a very slight lift at the front.

I built the wheel 2x right 3x left with robust DT Swiss comp spokes (I wanted it to be stiff and opted for this pattern as the spoke lengths worked out perfectly as well) and used a minimal strip of tubeless tape before inflating a Maxxis Chronicle and dropped it into the frame.

I also needed to replace the drivechain, opting for a shimano 11-42 block to give my old-man legs some respite and realised the brakes needed new pads and a bleed as well.

While I was about it, I replaced the saddle that had been sagging a little to the left, a comfortable perch that had reached the end of the trail.

It has been a while since I needed to do so much work on a bike, but I guess it has served me well – needing precious little wrenching for many years now.

With the fork set up in the long offset, the front end is very light steering and the fat tyre soaks up the knocks. Overall, I like it a lot – but it does need more grip on the front tyre to fully take advantage of the slightly longer front centre and increased offset. Until the new crop of more aggressive 29+ tyres become available, I may put it in the shorter offset position and see how that works.

However, it is now ready for the next few years of trails and maybe even some races…