VC Moulin

25 10 2017

A recent article on Endura‘s site sheds some light on the team.

Read about it here.

Pic is Endura’s.


Surviving the Marji Gesick ~ practical elements.

18 10 2017

Can you tell it’s still on my mind?

I have not written up my experiences on my personal blog or on the team blog (Velo Club Moulin) because we are working on an article for an upcoming issue of Cranked magazine. Until then, I have decided to focus a little on how to survive the race. I would *like* to say how to finish the race, but perhaps that would be presumptive. So, I am going to split my thoughts into several posts: practical, physical and mental.

For me, there were several big issues I had to contend with. Firstly, I had to fly (solo) with my bike from the UK to Michigan and as a result, I was somewhat limited in what I could bring by weight allowance.

My bike choice was easy – my Vertigo Cycles Kraken. Fat tyres, good suspension, super reassuring in the technical terrain and comfortable for long rides.

I do not own a full suspension bike, but I would encourage a budding contender to consider using one if it is an option. The trails are highly technical in places and there is so little recovery that anything you can do to reduce getting beaten by the rocks and roots for the best part of 17 or more hours is going to help.

Plus tyres are a win. One thing I did do was bring a spare Maxxis Rekon, despite my limited weight and space. I usually use a lightly treaded tyre on the rear of my bike and rely on the volume to supply traction but I wanted to have a slightly more aggresive option as well as a spare. In future I might use a more robust casing on the rear as I ran a higher pressure than usual, reducing the cush-factor, in order to deal with the sharp rocks. Pine Knob, I’m looking at you.

On the front, I have a Maxxis Highroller II 3.0 and that was perfect. A trimmed tread DHR n the rear would be my choice in future.

Tubeless, naturally. Which takes me, quite neatly, to spares I carry on the ride.

I carried 2 tubes – Bontrager 2.5-2.8 26″ 48mm valve stem (with removable core). This has several benefits: it is a robust tube, the valve is long enough for my deeper section carbon rims and the core being removable potentially allows sealant to be added. The downside? they are relatively heavy at the best part of 280g (iirc). I use Backcountry Research straps (Gristle and Mutherload) to hold these to my saddle and top tube. I also use a Super 8 for a waterproof and some food, but at the last minute did not bring a jacket to the Marji as the weather was so hot.

I used a Revelate Designs Gas Tank Bag to hold food. I saw a *lot* of folk running these top tube bags and I was shocked how few were running a Bentley Components DeWidget to mount this painlessly to their stem ;-)~ .

Food was a matter of Granola bars, Mike n’ Ikes, Smoked Turkey slices, Baby Bell cheese, jerkey, sandwiches and Clif Bars. Pizza slices stashed in the drop bag (more on that later) were not eaten, but were good for insurance.

The community supplied *so* much at various points along the course (thank you!) it was amazing, though of course you cannot count on having access to any one thing at a given time.

I did use a dropper post (9point8) and would not give this up if I was doing the race again. You have to have fun where you can and some of the descents deserve to be railed.

GPS is essential for the race. It is well marked, but as with every big, back country race I have done, if some ornery asshole decides to remove a sign or two, particularly at dusk, you could be stuffed. In my case, I used an eTrex 20 with my iPhone, using Gaia, as a back up. I use lithium batteries in the eTrex and it lasted easily long enough. Gaia would have been absolutely fine, detail wise, but you would want a waterproof case.

I had a Niterider Lumina 1100 on the bars and this is something I would change. My old Minewt was in my drop bag just in case, but I was actually surprised by how much light I needed to use. This was not the length of time, but the lumens. Normally when i night ride *alone*, I use around 200 lumens. This is fine, once your eyes adjust, if no one has brought the stadium light to over power you from behind. However, perhaps due to the density of foliage and vague trail under rocks, leaves and roots in the dusk., I used higher settings for a good while. The battery was *just* enough to get me through but in future I would carry another light on the bike for the latter half of the race.

As for riding kit: Giro Terraduros – lots of hike a bike, Endura riding kit – the best, Oakleys with Transitions lenses for the tree cover and the likelihood of being out in the dark. Wooly warm arm warmers and a windproof gilet. I wore, old worn out lightly padded Giro gloves.

One of the biggest decisions I made was to not use a hydration pack. The race is self supported, with a drop bag accessible at ~70 and ~90 miles with a total distance of around 103-106 miles (I have seen various strava etc figures). I know I can ride a certain distance on a certain amount of fluid in a certain time and at a certain temperature. The forecast for the U.P is generally 60-70°f at this time of year and not too humid. As such, the 3 bottles on my bike (2x26oz and a 24oz) would be good and I had decided to start with a 22oz bottle in my ‘High Above‘ hip pack.

Unfortunately, the weather threw a curveball with 92°f and high humidity after a colossal thunderstorm the previous day. As a result, riders were tending to suck through fluid pretty quickly. This is not quite such an issue if you have a support crew – which numerous racers did – but as a solo, you have to get it where you can.

There is a garage at Lowes accross the freeway that could act as a supply, but it is early in the race distance. I have no doubt there are other, similar, options near enough to the course to allow a detour and re-join.

In Scotland, I tend to use a steripen on long rides to sterilise water I find along the way if I am dubious about the source, which works well and I had this with me for the Marji. Nevertheless, after pre-riding some parts of the course, I found most of the streams in the early part of the race so I did not bring it wth me and instead, relied on provenance. I also knew that as long as I could get to my drop bag I would have more fluid.

In practice, this could have been extremely difficult. The impromptu community and Terrene Tyres aid stations around the South Network trails saw me refilling at least 2 bottles and The Wurst Aid station put on by the awesome Quick Stop Bike Shop crew had me with at least another 2 bottle fills and a bottle of Gatorade chugged. I filled my own bottles from 3 litres of water I had at the drop bag and also had coke and cans of starbucks espresso with milk I had in my bag. In total, I went through 16 24/26oz bottles, a 500ml coke, 2 300ml coffee and 2 bottles of Gatorade. Without the help from the locals, I would have been one desiccated bloke.

I had my tool kit in my hip bag, along with a wee bit of food, a Genuine Innovations pump and tyre anchovy kit, my Dynaplug tyre repair kit (punctures were on my mind, eh?), a wee pot of chamois cream, some Squirt Lube, my iPhone, car keys and a puppy mascot my wee girl made me. I did not carry a camera in the interests of weight saving, but did have some money and some tyre booting material (same thing!).

Because I was a solo visitor to Marquette and the race is uphill from there to Ishpeming (a 35minute drive away) I had to arrange my own transport back. Riding is an option, but another 1.5 hours would be tough after a long day. I was very lucky to meet a constable from the Ishpeming police who let me leave my car at the police station the day before (cycling back through the afore mentioned thunderstorm along the Iron Ore Trail) but that also meant I needed to make my way to the start of the race by bike, with my drop bag. This is only a ~5 mile cycle, but along with the 40 minutes of riding around it took me to locate the police station at the other end in my deranged state, my mileage was a little over the usual race distance. Depending on how you intend to go, this is an important consideration. It is doable, but takes some character and a good alarm clock.

Ok, from a practical standpoint, I think I have covered my thoughts. If you have any specific questions, fire away.

F.B.R.O.T.Y 15: “coach, put me back in the game!”

15 02 2015

A thoroughly enjoyable ‘first big ride of the year’ was nearly thwarted by an unexpected mechanical issue yesterday.

The call came from Marty Savalas to meet at Balmaha and commit to the ‘Mangrunt loop’ in reverse. The route was named many moons ago by Chris ‘Dark’ Savalas the first time we rode the loop on our singlespeed bikes on account of the loud grunting that accompanied our high torque/low speed ascending style. It hurt then and hurts now. Mangrunt is most often ridden early in the year, to shock our legs and lungs back into a 4+ hour ride mode. Winter takes it’s toll on our fitness and, as we get older, it seems more difficult to achieve the lean, mean fighting machine morphology required for our desired summer missions.

This year, as Dark Savalas, Marty Savalas, Davechopoptions and myself took the first tentative pedal strokes towards Conic hill, the steep sided lump on the Highland Boundary Fault, an extra difficulty was added to my efforts: my pedal fell off.

Now, in itself this was a surprise. Admittedly, the XTR trail pedals on the bike have been put to good use for many years, but I had checked them over the night before the ride and felt they were working perfectly. The reason I had checked them so throughly? another set of XTR race pedals had suffered an axle break earlier in the week.

I wasn’t so much angry as bewildered to have my FBROTY stalled by this mechanical issue.

Bidding farewell to the team, I rolled back to the car and, as the sun glinted through the trees, felt a wee bit sorry for myself. I was going to miss a good ride on a cracking day. In short order, I galvanised myself into action: I knew I had a spare set of XTR trail pedals at home – half an hours drive away- and my bike head light was charged. I picked up the spares and returned to Balmaha, whipped the old pedal off and fitted the new ones and hit the trail with an optimistic aim to try and catch the guys or at least follow the same loop. From Conic Hill, Mangrunt meanders through Queen Elizabeth Forrest Park before popping out near Stronachlachar and a return to Balmaha on Loch Lomond side. There are various iterations of the loop through the working forest, often governed by felling and the porridgy mess the trails become as a result of said commercial activity, and by utilising the most direct route, I hoped to save enough time to at least get close to catching up.

It was a humid day, not particularly cold, with the ‘frothed up’ trail adding a degree of resistance to an already substantial amount of climbing early in the ride. Marty explained the freeze/thaw cycle breaks up and raises the surface of the trail before it packs down properly again, later in spring. No doubt, the soft trail adds resistance to wheeled passage.

After an hour or so, it became clear my Thomson dropper post was slipping. I have had this issue ever since I bought the device and have used various greases and friction pastes to mitigate the frustrating, sinking feeling, but with limited success. It was a risk I took in buying Thomson even though functionally the post is very good. Resetting the saddle height and biting off a chunk of flapjack saw me on my way again and soon enough my legs settled into a rhythm. I was aware that I was using the low end of the block more than I thought I should have been and prior to exiting the forrest I was a little concerned over my ability to close the loop. There is no escape option once you have committed though, so I buried the negative thoughts and spun along the road to Inversnaid and the start of the fun trail.

As I readied to climb past the Inversnaid Falls, I was hailed by the team – who were having a break for some food on the Loch edge. Pretty stoked to be back together, we took on the rest of the singletrack along side the Loch shore with weakening legs but broad smiles. It was a good day to be out on the bike!

I think we were all pretty cooked by the time we got back to the cars. Gels were even needed to keep the heavy legs spinning in circles, but there is always a certain satisfaction at completing the first big ride of the year. Here is to the next few months of ever retreating horizons.

So, a few more (terrible) shots and a wee video.

To return, so soon?

12 07 2013

Last week end, as Sunday evening began, I took to the road again and made my way to Bridge of Tilt. Extricating my gear and body from the car as the sun’s light waned, I cinched straps, adjusted my shoes and headed north towards the Gaick Pass. I was pretty bushed and had no idea how far I would get, not least because the sun was relaxing towards the horizon and I only had an LED head torch with me. The aim was to push through the Gaick as far as possible, bivi, and re-supply (namely with water) in Aviemore in the morning. If it was looking like I had enough time, I would head over Macdui, drop to Linn of Dee and then come back along Glen Tilt – basically another stab at the route I had tried to do some weeks ago, but punctuated by a sleep stop.

By 11.45pm I came to the end of Loch an Duin singletrack, which had been a wee bit challenging in the low sun and with a loaded bike. I climbed up onto the end of the estate track from the Louis Vuitton lodge, realising that this was the highest point that was both flat and open to the passage of the wind for miles. I was pooped and as the wind is your friend when there are midge to be downed, I unrolled the sleeping gear, popped open a beer and watched the hills in the gloaming. I’m not sure if Scotland ever gets truly dark at this time of year when you are as far north as I was, but the night was warm, and it took me no time to fall asleep.

At 3am I was awoken by some grouse squawking, perhaps there was a fox around or something, and it took a wee while to go back to sleep. I woke again, soon after, cold, but the vapour barrier sleeping bag liner I had brought to experiment with seemed like overkill, so i just cinched the shoulders of the sleeping bag in, and zipped up the bivi fully. Maybe I should have just got up and started moving because I ended up sleeping in until 7.30am. In addition, I had forgotten my coffee filter. The combination of my slow thought – working out if my midge net would work to filter the grounds in boiling water or melt in the process – and the arrival of the day’s contingent of midge, as well as the distance I needed to cover, got me on the bike within a few minutes.

Curiously, I was 45 minutes slower to Aviemore in total ride time than I had been on the Maul a few weeks ago, reinforcing the impression that I had been shifting it a bit that day, Along with the late start, I did some sums, coming to the conclusion that anything other than returning via Feshie was going to get me home later than required. Somewhat ruefully, I stared up at the inviting summits, nomnommed a bacon roll and headed back to Insh to take a different approach into Feshie. It was clear that the weeks dry weather would be kind to me as I covered the notoriously boggy ground of the Feshie/Geldie watershed area with relative ease on the fat Knards. Unfortunately, I must have represented the highest concentration of blood meal for miles around because there was an unprecedented amount of clegs paying me far too much attention. I nearly broke myself in the 30c heat pushing super hard across the moor land, all the while desperately slapping at the inch long, incisor wielding, nasty bastards as they went for any exposed, and even unexposed, flesh in their quest for blood. In the end, I got 2 bites, but killed 5. I think that was a reasonable score.

As I made my way across the Abhainn Rath, this time with shoes on, a fighter jet passed very low overhead, swooped lower and then west as it turned into Tilt. Amazing!

Soon enough, I was making my way into the glen myself when another came over, totally unannounced until it was directly overhead, so close I could see the pilot in detail, which I don’t mind admitting caused just a wee bit of jittering.

Although there was a headwind again down Tilt, I made good time, closing the loop in pretty much exactly the same amount of (riding) time as I had done the other week. Interesting in some ways, because on the boggy sections in Feshie, I could ride on the Krampus, just, and it was also generally drier than previously, so I made up for being slower in nearly every other section.

It took 2 hours 40 minutes to get to the Abhainn Rath from Aviemore, with the detour at Insh, and I was back to the car 1 hour 40 minutes or so after that. Useful, for future reference. A good day, but unfinished business…