Howdy y’all. So I’ve got a ton of great stuff to write up about and bring to you, including some rad demos of bikes, some cool edits and some great trail reports. However, I’ve also been working on something else. Something big. Something that’s taking up a huge amount of time, but I’m confident it’ll be worth it in the end. It’s time to share a little bit about that, as I’ve been super slack with posts lately!
Firstly, the look of Stealth Riders. That lovely image you’ve seen above is one of the awesome new logos, which I’m super stoked about. I’ve got a fair few different designs in the works, which will come into play soon… I’ll reveal more on that when I can. Huge thanks to the designer and good mate @_jamjams. He usually creates unbelievably good geometric artwork of R&B, Hip Hop and Sports stars, which are well worth a look at! I’ll be hanging a commission in the mancave soon. Here’s a look at some of the range, I’d love to know your thoughts.
The new logos are (in my absolutely non-biased opinion), epic! What I love is that the mountains are made from the ‘S’ and the ‘R’, so it just ties in nicely and looks smooth, sleek and stylish. The original logo has been around for over a year now and it’s time to evolve. Along with the new logos, I’m also redesigning the website from the ground up. I’m switching platforms, refining the content and making it more user friendly for everybody (hopefully myself included!).
Excitingly, I’m also looking to offer some dope merch, so you can help represent Stealth Riders when out on the trail on having that post-ride pint. It’s early days, but I’ve been working on some designs and I’m nearly happy with some of them! I want to make things perfect, as that’s what you, fellow Stealth Rider, deserves. There are by no means final designs, but hell, you deserve a look at early concepts:
The current logo will still be in play for a few weeks at least whilst I finalise the new website and merch, so it’s just a teaser of what’s coming for now!
Anyway, it’s just a short post to let you know I’m still here, busy in the background, working away to make things look insane. As the weather has been so nice too, I’ve also been out on the bike in a big way. Whenever I’m not staring at a screen, I’m out on the bike with some top people, progressing at a crazy pace. Here’s a little edit of a recent local ride to show some radness including a sick 360 from Tito:
I’ve also been scoping my local trails a lot more lately, trying to learn the fastest lines to be able to keep up with the Fleet MTB mob. There’s some quick lads for sure, all of whom are absolute legends, so there’s always some superb banter. If you look for #bantacrew on Instagram, you’ll see some of their posts.
Evening rides have been stunning lately, with roasting weather and beautiful views, along with cows hogging the ultra loamy trails.
So now you know what’s going on… loads of exciting shizz, basically! I can’t wait to share the new stuff with you as it all happens. I best get back to slaving over the new website! Until then…. STAY STOKED. STAY STEALTH.
Swinley Forest is home to some great trails and the team at Swinley Bike Hub arrange some incredible events too. The #Swinduro, the recent Fox Proframe demo day, regular night rides and BBQ’s, to name a few. From May 5-7, it was no different and I got to channel my inner Gwin… YT Industries had come to town on their ‘Rolling Circus’ tour; a global showcase of the YT demo fleet of Jeffsys, Capras and the Tues.
Of the 10 European stops, 3 were in the UK and I was stoked when I heard one of the venues was Swinley. I booked the day off work immediately with the intention of rocking up and trying all 4 models on the day.
The 5th came around and due to an X-Ray appointment in the morning, I didn’t arrive at Swinley until around 10.30. Boo. By this time, the queue was pretty beastly due to the huge demand of trying out the models from the direct sell German brand, so I chatted with a few of the crowd and then went for a ride on some other bikes in the hope the queue would die down.
Sadly, although the queues did quieten down in the afternoon, I didn’t get the chance to try either of the Jeffsys or the Capra which was a shame, but the vibe on the day was superb; chilled beats, smiling riders, an ever tasty BBQ and the hub had some great products on sale from Fox and Dakine (two of my favourite riding brands), so I was kept entertained even when off the bike.
If you know Swinley, you’ll know that, whilst a brilliant trail centre with something to cater for everyone, a downhill venue it is not. That meant the 2016 UCI World Cup winning Tues was not in as high demand as the trail and enduro bikes. So, Swinley team rider Michael Wilson and I had a chat and before we knew it, we were picking up some jaw-dropping, super stealthy carbon Tues models; Michael took the large £2,870 CF, with Rockshox Boxxer and Kage shock, whilst I took a new for 2017 XL sized, £3,380 CF Pro, equipped with Fox 40 and X2 shock. At 6’1″, the XL felt perfect.
I should add at this point, I have never ridden a downhill bike, so immediately I was impressed by the ultra plush seemingly endless travel… and that’s just taking the bike for a quick warm up around the green trail (possibly the most overkill bike for a green trail ever!).
The CF Pro is dripping with choice components. From the E*Thirteen LG1+ wheelset, cranks and cassette (7 speed, 9-21 ratio), the stealthy carbon frame (203mm front and 208mm rear travel), carbon Renthal fatbars and Integra 35 stem, this bike felt absolutely indestructible, whilst also being a thing of beauty. Impressively, the CF Tues weighs in at a very modest 35lbs too! Super slack angles, 650b wheels (we’re still waiting to see if 29″ DH is the next big thing… roll on Fort Bill) ensured that the bike is planted, grippy and railed. All in all, quality kit, quality looks and all at a quality price.
Measurements wise, the XL has a top tube of 647mm with a reach of 470mm. Chainstays remain the same across the size range at 435mm, as does the head angle at an ultra slack 63.5 deg. With a wheelbase of 1258mm, it’s around 60mm longer than my Aeris, so nothing too drastic which helped me adjust to the bike very quickly.
Although the bike was light for what it is, it’s hardly the right bike to ride uphill (duhhhh…). Conveniently however, Tristan had hired a Toyota Hilux for the weekend… so, Michael and I hopped in the back and were treated to a VIP experience; Swinley Forests inaugural shuttle service!
It was a bit of a surreal experience, getting driven to the top of a trail in style – Michael ran a live Facebook video to document the experience, which was a great laugh!
We got to the top of Blue 14 and tried a couple of runs on the DH monsters. Simply put… they flew. I know this trail very well and feel I know every bump, rut and hole. On the Tues, it was like riding on an F1 track.. buttery smooth once again, but great fun too! After a few runs of the trail, we headed to the woods to mess about on a hidden drop, which has a few lines of varying size. Here’s a little clip of Michael and I doing what I think may be my biggest drop to date:
I was stoked to have hit that line, as I love the feeling you get when you know you’re progressing. Big thanks to Michael too for the encouragement. We headed back after a brilliant little session on the Tues models for a burger and a catch up. All in all, a top day, even if the queues were rather long, which did leave a few hopeful testers a little frustrated.
The Tues feels like an insane bike and something I would love to own. However, it is absolutely overkill for anything I am likely to ride for now, although would be a good laugh at places like Bike Park Wales or Forest of Dean. I’ll admit, I am still tempted by a downhill bike to add to the stable though, and I don’t think I’d go wrong with a Tues CF. After all, if it’s good enough for Aaron Gwin, surely it’s good enough for little old me! Again, it’s a thing of beauty to look at, especially in the gloriously stealthy Pro guise, with full black everything! Perfect for Stealth Riders worldwide!
Whilst I was disappointed with not being able to ride the Jeffsy models and the Capra, overall, the Rolling Circus was a great event. Tris and the team ensured it was superbly organised and the YT guys were awesome, helping with any queries, getting you set up on the demo bikes and also offering out some mega tasty beer (thanks to Kia at the hub, I got to sample a fair few of these!).
The tireless efforts that the team, shop staff and ambassadors put in to ensure everybody has a good time is, at times, unreal. They always manage to take a huge event and make it incredibly personal, as though you’re one of the team or an old mate catching up for a chat. It’s hard to explain, but their ethos is about getting rad. You don’t have to be the best or the fastest, you just need to have a great time. That is Swinley summed up.
Back to the bike quickly, the YT Tues is a formidable bit of kit, capable of much more than I am. However, if you like your trails rocky as fook, rutted to hell and steep as a cliffside, this is absolutely the bike for you. I hate the term, but the ‘cockpit’ looks sooooo nice too. The little touches such as the placement of graphics helps remind you that you’re riding a world class downhill bike, guaranteed to leave you smiling for hours after every single ride.
It’s no wonder YT are gaining more and more market dominance year on year. Their formula of producing killer looking, flawlessly performing bikes and matching them with some of the best riders in the world is working very well and YT bikes are becoming the machine of choice for a massive amount of riders globally. The Rolling Circus has only just begun, so by the time they’ve finished the world tour, there will no doubt be thousands of happy new members of the YT Mob, ready to shred their local trails with a massive grin.
YT, and Swinley, thank you for having me and treating me like a VIP on the day. I felt truly humbled and incredibly grateful, you’re all amazing. I’ll sum the event up by stealing YT’s tagline: GOOD TIMES.
So I recently tested the new Bird Aeris One20 and the review is here. Once I handed that back, I was given the bigger, burlier brother, the One45 and went to the Surrey Hills to put it through its paces. Simply put, at the end of the day, I didn’t want to give this bike back.
Before I get too carried away, let’s talk about the bike. At 6’1” and 87kg, I currently ride a large original (now retro?) Aeris, but opted for the ML (medium long) version of the new bike. The reason for this is due to an increased top tube length (630mm) and wheelbase (1230mm), effectively sitting me in a similar position to my current ride. Measurements are below, these can also be found on the Bird website:
The demo bike came with 150mm RockShox Yari forks and a metric Deluxe RT3 shock with 145mm travel. I ran the suspension at 30% and 20% sag respectively, opting for a slightly stiffer rear for the terrain I was heading to. Like the One20, it was equipped with SRAM GX 1×11 drivetrain and guide r brakes. The wheels were slightly wider DT Swiss M1700’s, with the same Maxxis DHF/HR2 combo I tried the day before. This time though, I ran the rear at 23psi and the front at 20psi. Again, a mighty Mudhugger Shorty was on standby to keep any mud and slop from my face.
The weight was around 30lbs, so a like for like with my current bike and this was evident the second I sat on the bike; I felt instantly at ease with it. The bike has been totally redesigned around metric sizing and boost spacing, but it felt familiar, which is a huge plus when you only have a day to form an opinion!
It was another cold Winters day, so the ground was frozen with some iced over areas to contend with. I set out and after what is usually a brutal climb out of the Walking Bottom car park up a super steep 13-15% incline, I still had air in my lungs; this bike genuinely climbs like a hardtail with zero feeling of pedal bob… from then, I knew it was going to be a fun day out. I hit Proper Bo to get the measure of the bike and the power was instant. Snaking through the small turns and ruts, the small double and drop on this trail felt like nothing.
Due to it’s steep seat tube angle (440mm), the One45 felt long and slack when attacking the descents but put the saddle up for a killer climb and it shortens up, allowing you to really put the power down and stomp uphill in record time. It’s like Optimus Prime’s wet dream, a transformer of epic proportions.
I figured it was time to try a bigger trail. Thick & Creamy on Pitch Hill had a hold over me this time last year with its 2 sizeable drops and a crazily steep, tight chute as the entrance. I’d nailed it a few months back, but on the One45, I breezed through and it genuinely made the drops there feel like I was hopping off a kerb. The landings were so smooth and the bike soaked up everything with more to give. Granted it’s not carbon, but when the One45 is released in March with its ultra-stiff chassis and tidy design (and bottle cage mounts!), it may have Nomads and Capras squirming a little uncomfortably in their seats.
Thick & Creamy done, I gave Thicker & Creamier a go next. Another crazy steep entrance gives way to loamy turns and fast bombholes. However, there was a monster puddle in one of these, which I tried riding around, only to eat dirt. After a nice soft landing and a little chuckle to myself, I was back up and finished the end of the run with its nice step up before leading out to the road and a nice climb back to the top.
The Surrey Hills is great, too, with an abundance of trails and friendly riders. I bumped into a film crew from Fly Creative and a guy called Phil, chatted to them for a while, then saw Joe Williams of Physio 1 to 1. Check him out here if you’re in need of a top class physio! Here’s a couple of close ups:
Taking so many pictures, riding like a bat out of hell and laughing like a mental case made me hungry, so I set my sights for the Peaslake village store, via the renovated Captain Clunk. When I say renovated, I mean ruined. It’s been tamed down massively and wasn’t anywhere near as challenging as it once was. A huge shame, but there’s still a vast network of trails to keep every level of rider entertained.
Whilst I was tucking into a red velvet cupcake and slurping coffee to refuel courtesy of the ever lovely ladies at the store, a few Trek staffers rocked up on some of their 2017 demo models, so we had a chat about the Aeris and their Remedy and EX models before I set off for round 2 and my old favourites on Holmbury Hill; Yoghurt Pots and Barry knows best.
Consistently, the One45 climbed like a trooper, making light work of the Radnor Road climb. With sore legs, I hammered through Yoghurts as best as I could and then flew down BKB as if I had sprouted wings. I did pick up some PR’s earlier in the day (including climbs), which is testament to the bike. The Surrey Hills is a place I’ve been riding for so long and riding this bike breathed new life into very familiar trails, rejuvenating my love for some that had become a little stale over the years.
Massive thanks to Bird for the demo. The One45 drops in March and you can pre-order yours here. As with the One20, a huge range of sizing and a fully custom bike builder means there will be an Aeris One45 for you. Colours are delightful too; lime green, the tangerine orange model I tested and my favourite of course; stealth black. Frame prices start from a wallet friendly £900, so this is set to be another outstanding value for money machine.
I absolutely love my current Aeris and I’m sure it’ll go on for a long time yet. However, when it’s time to change, the One45 will be at the top of my list. The One20 is superb, but from the second I slung my leg over the One45, I felt at home; one with nature and metal, with nothing but zen thoughts of shredding epic trails in my mind.
I’ve been trying to pick out a flaw or a negative point, but after sleeping on it, I honestly have nothing bad to say about this bike. To sum it up, imagine if you will, that Hercules and Icarus had a baby. Their lovechild would be an Aeris One45. Immensely strong, stiff and solid, yet light as a feather when climbing and faster than me at an all you can eat buffet.
It’s a most welcome addition to their line up and is simply an outstanding successor to the Mk1 and Mk1.5 Aeris models.
The Aeris is dead; long live the Aeris.
Ian @ Stealth Riders
Note – This is my own review and all opinions are mine. I was not paid or asked to do this, I just wanted to share my views in the hope it may help you out if you’re in the market for a new bike. The ride I did can be seen on Relive right here. I’ve also included a video full of sketchy riding, crap angles and a little stack from my day out:
Winter riding. It’s a very difficult thing to drag yourself from a warm, cosy bed at 7.30am on a weekend when you can hear the sound of rain hitting your bedroom window. Your snooze button suddenly becomes your best friend and your bed sheets seem to soften a thousand fold, as if you’re wrapped up in the carcass of a Tauntaun on the ice planet Hoth. Still, you’ve made plans to meet your mates (who, coincidentally, have suddenly come down with man-flu or he-bola), so like an Olympic weightlifter you gurn and throw yourself out into the cold of the real, duvet-less world.
A shower and a super strong coffee later, you’re dressed, your gear is in the car and you’re on your way to your favourite riding spot to see your mates and tear up the trails. You know you’ll end up covered in mud and soaked through, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be grinning like an idiot at the end of the ride. To that measure, I figure I’d do a post on Winter riding tips that I’ve found helpful over the years.
Preparation is key
As above, you’re more likely to sleep in a little more on cold, dark mornings, so pack your bag and sort your kit out the night before. Remember to take a spare set of clothes for the return journey home, unless you want to feel like you’ve rolled through a field of fresh fertiliser. Your car and significant other will thank you for this.
I always carry a bit of kit with me (see my post here on what I carry). In the winter, cheap sandwich bags are a lifesaver. Pack all of your tools and spares into a couple of bags and it ensures rust free tools and dry bandages, should you need them. It’s also good to pop your phone/keys and any cash in one for that extra level of protection.
Waterproof up, son
A no brainer if the rain is coming down or if you know there will be mud and standing water. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve sharted after a night on the curry within the first 10 minutes of your ride. I’ve recently picked up a Madison Roam jacket and some Tenn Protean Waterproof shorts (My POC Flow shorts do a great job in the meantime, but are by no means waterproof). Add in a set of Sealskinz socks and hopefully the only dampness on your body will be your own. Granted, waterproof gear is less breathable so you will heat up faster, but I know what I’d prefer out of the options.
Waterproofs alone won’t keep you away from the worst of it. At a minimum, a front mudguard is essential for winter rides. I swear by the Mudhugger products, having tried a lot of different ones in my time. The Mudhugger shorty is my current guard, which does a stellar job of keeping the mud from my eyes. A good set of clear glasses or goggles are a great shout too however, as there will always be a chance of the guard not catching everything.
Squish is good. Muddy, wet trails prefer lower pressures. As you search for every last piece of grip available in the slop, reducing the pressures in your tyres will allow you to dig in that little bit more where it’s needed, allowing you to get your drift on and destroy your PR’s. The downside is your bike will roll slower. Coupled with the muddy trails, this is never fun, but the upside of this is your fitness will increase at a much faster rate when riding through the winter.
A huge difference between staying railed or hugging trees is tyre choice. A mud tyre on the front and a well gripping, mud clearing tyre on the rear is a no brainer in the winter. My personal recommendation is a Maxxis Shorty 2.3” up front, and a Maxxis High Roller 2 2.3” at the rear. I run between 17-20psi in the front and 19-22 psi in the rear, depending on the conditions of the trails. However, another great option is a Schwalbe Magic Mary / Hans Dampf combo, which is also grippy as hell. It’s your call, but you won’t get very far with semi slicks in the winter (trust me, I’ve tried….).
It’s next to godliness apparently, although I’d reserve that spot for some tacos and a cold beer. Anyway, get yourself a mobile pressure washer or even a pump sprayer and take it with you along with a small bit of wet lube for your drivetrain. Post ride, hose the bike (and yourself) down, it’ll make life easier in the long run and keep that beautiful bike of yours running for longer. I use a simple, £10 pump sprayer from Homebase, although if you want to spend a little more (I’ll be investing soon), a Mobi is a great shout.
In terms of riding, you’ll have your own styles. I find taking a little weight off the front of the bike on the singletrack is helpful, but then try to pump the front to dig the tyres in around the corners. Always be on the look out for sniper roots too; those little bastards hide under leaves and mud, ready to take you down at any second. Also, always mind your GoPro (and make sure it’s recording for when you have the inevitable bail in the slop!):
Hopefully these help – I’ve been practising what I preach with some ultra-boggy rides over the Surrey Hills, Fleet and Swinley Forest over the past few weeks with some brilliant people and, thanks to the right setups, I’ve interestingly been getting some better times on trails in the winter than in the summer! Get outside, get riding and get smiling; your body will thank you and you can at least get away with a cheeky pint post ride… you’ve definitely earned it for riding through the worst of the weather!
Life has been a little bit hectic lately with no signs of slowing down, but I am back in the zone with keeping Stealthriders.com running smoothly and providing more regular blogs and reviews. I am, however, going to stop sending the monthly newsletter out for now, instead focusing on a quarterly update.
Update – If you want to read the version on Wideopenmag.co.uk, you can do so here!
The dust has settled and the ground nesting birds have now retaken the forest. The inaugural Swinley Forest Enduro is now over, and what an incredible event it was. Before I get started, I wanted to give a massive shout out to Swinley Bike Hub main man Tristan Taylor for organising such a brutally enjoyable event, as well as the riders, marshals, spectators and sponsors, who ensured the day was one to remember for all the right reasons. From strangers, new faces, old and new mates, it was awesome to see you all!
The Swinley Forest Enduro (or Swinduro as it was known on the day), consisted of 7 timed stages between a minute and 7 minutes long, with a loop of around 20km on the day including transitions. As these are some of my local trails and the fact I’ve been on the Hub night rides for the past year gave me some idea of which trails were going to make up the stages; I knew there would be some timed climbing, which suited me well. Having a home advantage also made the fact that there would be no practise much easier for me, as I knew the trails, and knew them well. It had pissed it down the day before, which meant the trails would be tacky and grippy; my Bird Aeris with Maxxis Shorty/Minion SS combo was going to love it.
I turned up nice and early to get signed in, get my race card (#116) and catch up with a bunch of mates that were there on the day. This one really felt like a social gathering with the amount of familiar faces. The MTB world is a small one; a community of like-minded shredders all up for a laugh and a healthy dose of competition.
Categories were called, with Masters setting off at 10am. I rolled off the start line and headed to stage 1. It started from Blue 3, which consists of some massively flowy berms cascading down the side of a hill, then a sharp right into Blue 16 (Helter Skelter); a monster of a climb on the best of days, but knowing you were being timed upped the ante massively. Blue 16 finished with a few small jumps and another set of flowing berms. By the end of stage one I was busted; it was definitely a good stage to get warmed up on!
Stage 2 was an off-piste affair through what’s known as New England. Tight corners, rooted sections and a neat little sprint to the finish. Although my legs still felt a bit battered from stage 1, I got through pretty quickly and sped on to stage 3, which was the killer for me on the day. Starting by Blue 5 (Stickler), riders went down the old route and through off camber roots and tight trails for what felt like forever, before coming to a small double drop just before the finish line. A few unfortunate riders had a crash here, but I luckily sailed through.
Stage 4; Red 15, one of my favourite marked trails at Swinley. We lined up and put the power down through fast turns, big berms and a cheeky double, before rattling through some roots and smashing past the finish. Bosh.
Stage 5 was a quick run through one of the red sections of the Labyrinth area which has many names; ‘Berminator’, ‘Bermasaurus’, or on Strava, ‘Does my berm look big in this?’ As you can guess, it was a constant bermfest, tightly sweeping through the forest with a few jumps thrown in for good measure. This was the preface for stage 6, and after climbing back up K2 (affectionately named because it’s a bitch to ride up!), we queued up for the longest stage of the day; the old Deerstalker trail into the winding roots that make up the Labyrinth. The old Deerstalker started with a small drop that I got wrong and had to put a foot down, but the rest flowed without an issue. I managed to catch up to the rider in front of me, which gave me some confidence that my times may be alright! Stage 6 over and I, along with many other riders, collapsed on the floor to get our breath back after a lung-busting 6(ish) minutes of hammering the pedals through this stage.
Almost over, stage 7 beckoned and I headed towards the final hurdle; my favourite blue graded trail, blue 14. It started with a blast through the woods, pumping anywhere and everywhere I could to conserve energy before a short uphill and into the downhill section; 2 hips to send, then a bunch of fast flowing berms to the finish. Swinley regular Lynn was at the bottom of the run, catching some great shots of haggard riders, so naturally I had to pose like a knob.
Race over, back to the race village to hand in the timing chips. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when it said I was sitting in 10th place of 33 finishers… holy balls! I knew it wouldn’t stay that way, but that still made me smile massively. All said and done, I ended up in 16th from 58 finishers in the Masters category, which I was immensely stoked about, that’s top 20 which is by far my best result so far!
All in all, the climbing was tough when against the clock, but this added an additional challenge to the course and I loved every second of it (I’m one of those weirdos that loves a climb, thanks to my old XC days) and the loop was put together so well by the team. I’m already looking forward to the 2017 event and will be seeking a top 10 there for sure.
Bird Cycleworks had another successful day, with Francie Arthur taking 1st in Women’s, Charles Griffith taking 1st in U18’s and Chris Doney taking 2nd in Elites. Local rider Mark Hemmings took 2nd in Vets too, representing the Stealth black Aeris crew… top job my man! The full results are here, with photos available on Roots & Rain here. You can see an overview of the race circuit on Relive.cc here.
It’s well worth mentioning the race village again too; chilled tunes and a hog roast from Pig & Rig made for a super relaxed atmosphere, allowing for all riders to catch up and chat about their results, bike setups and general shit-chat. The Marin stand was great too; I picked up a neat pint glass and mudguard and even met a quality little tortoise! One thing was evident; the amount of smiles and laughs proved that this was definitely an event to remember, and I, like many others, finished the day in high spirits. Here’s a little slideshow of some snaps I got through the day:
After the podium presentations, a few mates and I headed back out for a 7 mile leg stretcher and to session a little drop we’d found on the previous night ride, which was a good laugh (Thanks to Vlad for the vid below). Heading home after, I was all smiles, listening to some tunes up loud. Arriving home, there was a giant pizza waiting for me, which I reckon was thoroughly deserved.
No time to rest for Stealth Riders, as the final round of the Southern Enduro is fast approaching on the 18th September… time to put the power down and do what I can to finish my first series on a high note. Swinduro, you were awesome, thank you for having me.
If you’re here for a cake recipe, sorry to disappoint. I do make a killer cheesecake, but we’ll save that for another time. No, this is about keeping things fresh.
When you’ve been riding for many years, monotony can set in. With me, it’s a rare occurrence thankfully, but it does happen and I’m sure it has happened to you at some point too. Following a pretty painful crash and a subsequent lower than hoped placing at my last race in the Southern Enduro, it wasn’t just my body that took a knock, my confidence did too, which had me digging for the takeaway menus and bailing on rides.
So, what’s the best way to get out of the slump, and get back riding with a smile? For me, it’s about mixing it up. Here’s a few options that I’ve found help me, they may help you too. Have a read, put the Dominos menu down and hit the trails.
Ride solo? Join a group – I used to ride solo all of the time. A lot of friends stopped riding, and I got super blasé about it, riding the same old place, slowly bumbling around the trails, occasionally saying hello to another rider. I then started going out on group rides with Swinley Bike Hub, which were great. Social rides, great laughs and new friends that share the passion. If you ride solo, try heading out with a group… you might just like it.
Night rides – Life is busy, we know this. On the weekends, you may have other commitments, so night rides are a fantastic way to ride your local trails with a twist. Lines seem tighter, trees come out of nowhere and you really find yourself focusing more on getting each section nailed perfectly. If you’re going out on a night ride however, it’s always good to go with somebody, or at least let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. IceDot is a great option too; if you do have an off, IceDot can sense no movement and hard impacts and send an alert to your emergency contact. A small spend for extremely valuable peace of mind.
Explore somewhere new – The same trails become monotonous. Try a new route on your local trails, search for off-piste trails, or try somewhere completely new. Better yet, speak to the locals… we’re all a friendly bunch in the cycling world. Last weekend, my riding buddy Oscar and I got chatting to a local rider over the Surrey Hills… somewhere we’ve been riding for years. He was kind enough to show us some trails we had no idea existed, and in the sloppy conditions, it was absolute hilarity. Dave, if you’re reading this; thank you my man, you were a hero that day.
Enter a race – Challenge yourself. You may be a weekend warrior or trail centre junkie, but how do you fare against your peers? For me, racing was never something I considered until this year. I thought I was pretty quick, but riding the first 2 stages in the Southern Enduro this year has shown me otherwise! Granted, I’d have taken 10th and 14th respectively in the Fun category, but I’m happy propping up the bottom of the Masters, it’s pushing me to develop as a rider, so that next year, I can hunt for better results.
Of course, there are so many races to choose from; Enduro, Downhill, XC, the list goes on and there really is something for everyone with grass roots racing becoming ever more popular. Sign up, have a go, have a laugh. The atmosphere at a race venue with 200+ likeminded people is superb.
Charity rides & Adventures – I’ve only done a few charity rides as I hate begging people for money, but if you’re comfortable in doing so, it can be an incredible experience. The London to Brighton for example (and it’s off road cousin) are fantastic ways of testing your stamina and endurance, and are sure to put a smile on your face. With so many charities existing, I’m sure you could all think of at least one you’d like to help out. Plus, not only are you making a difference to your chosen charity, you’re getting fit at the same time.
Adventure rides are something on my list. I’d love to get a big Bergen, pack it out and ride. Destination unknown, heading out to the wilderness and exploring some of the country you can’t see by car. Luckily, in the UK we don’t need to worry about bears or mountain lions, just the occasional cow, and perhaps an angry rambler or two.
Treat yourself – It’s called retail therapy for a reason. Shopping can be extremely therapeutic. From crank boots to carbon, treating yourself to something new is a great way to put a smile on your face. It’ll also make you want to try the new bit of kit out. Fresh goggles, a fancy new Ohlins fork, or even a new energy gel. I’m not endorsing overspending, of course. Only spend within your means!
Set a goal – 1k, 10k, 100k. Day, month, year. It doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a goal, you’ll strive to succeed. There’s no point in being unrealistic of course, as this can demotivate. I’ve set a personal goal of 1000 off-road miles this year (well on the way at 573 miles as I type this), and completing all 4 rounds of my race series. Goals are great, set one, and smash it. You’ve got this.
Strava – The competitive aspect of trying to beat not only your own PR’s on your favourite segments, but your mates, too. It’s similar to setting a goal, but throws your buddies into the mix. What’s great is you can follow pro/elite riders in your area and try to get as close to their times as possible (if you beat them, then well done you!). I’m lucky that a lot of great UK pros ride the same trails I do, so it’s always a laugh to try. I’m a long way behind them, if you were wondering.
With any luck, this has been helpful and you now want to ride. Just typing it, I’m smiling thinking about the upcoming weekend ride, exploring the Surrey Hills some more with mates. So now it’s over to you. Be great, hit that shit hard and make sure you end the ride grinning like an idiot… it’s why we do it, after all.
As you may know by now, I’m racing in the Southern Enduro this year, with the first round at a closely guarded location in Milland, West Sussex on April 17th. A few weeks ago the event organiser, Scott Fitzgerald, put a message on various social media sites asking for volunteers for a dig day. I signed up without hesitation. Firstly, as we all know; no dig, no ride. I wanted to get involved more in the background, helping to shape the trails I’ll be racing on. Secondly, I figured it’d be good to get the lay of the land to truly understand what I’d let myself in for.
What I didn’t know when I signed up to dig, was that Scott had planned to invite volunteers back for a pre-race test to check the finished product out and to help bed the trails in.
Sunday, 3rd April rolls around and I’m in the car heading down the A3 blasting some questionable music (those that know me, know my music taste is eclectic… and that’s putting it kindly!). I arrived in Milland to meet Laurence, Sam and a few of the other volunteers that I met on the dig day and we waited for the rest to arrive; more volunteers, event organisers and some headline sponsors, including the guys from Bird Cycleworks; Dan, Dave, Josh and Tomas.
Once everybody had arrived, we set off on a small ride to the venue and immediately headed up the transition to stage 1. It had rained the night before, so the transition was super muddy, slippery and all round hideous, which I thought would be the shape of things to come. How wrong I was. I won’t give too much away, but anybody entered into this is in for a real treat!
We got to stage 1 and buzzed down through a mix of tight, loose, loamy singletrack and some nicely packed rollers to end the stage. Stage 1 was easily the flattest of the 4 stages, with a lot of pedalling required. Hopefully the miles I’ve been putting in over the past few months will pay dividends on this one!
Heading back up the transition to stage 2, I was feeling stoked – my first enduro stage completed (albeit slowly) and I was still in one piece! This isn’t going to be too hard… yeah right. Stage 2 began immediately with a drop into a tight berm, with super loose, off camber switchbacks making up most of the stage. It was like riding on a slip & slide, drifting, holding on for dear life. This was my kind of stage though.. loose, technical and flowy. Great stuff. It’s worth adding at this stage that the first practise runs were at a gentle pace to scope the trails and pick my lines for the second runs.
Another sloppy ride up the transition to stage 3. This is the stage I helped shape on the dig day, but I only saw the bottom of it. Once again, the loam was fresh and the berms were loose. I was sauntering down the stage approaching a road gap and was so busy focusing on that, I totally missed the drop before it and went sketchy into a berm, wiping out in an instant. No biggie. Dust yourself off, get back on and ride. Stage 3 ended with some insanely tight singletrack through a coppice and a nice little jump into the finish, which was great fun. Here’s how not to ride a bike:
Back up for the final climb to stage 4. The final stage was short, fast and flowy, with some amazing rollers, doubles and high, tight off camber turns the left me giggling like a child, leading to a sprint finish through a field to the end. Cracking stuff, time to do it all again!
The second practise runs were much better. I’d scoped my lines and approached with more speed, although my front tyre always wanted to go a different direction to the rest of my bike. Tyre choice will be invaluable on the 17th. Most importantly, I remained on the bike throughout all stages on the second attempts, which gave me a huge confidence boost. The day wrapped up with a nice cold pint of Guinness at the local pub and some post-ride banter.. perfect!
The pre-race testing was more valuable than I could have ever imagined. I thought I was progressing well with fitness and, going into the day, I felt I was pretty fast on the bike. How wrong I was! Some of the guys there made me realise that I have a long way to go, with not much time remaining. I’ve got the speed, but technique requires a lot of work if I don’t want to be in the bottom of the pack. I know for sure I’ll not be standing on any podiums on the day (barring any miracles!), and currently feel like the middle of the table will be a great result.
Two weeks to go until the big day, the actual timed race. It’s time to put the miles in, work on my sprints and, most importantly my technique, especially on off camber switchbacks and drops. Will I do well? Will I suck with more force than the latest Dyson? Who knows. What I do know, is that I am super excited to head back to Milland, to give the first round my absolute best. Mind over matter, it’s time to smash the Southern Enduro and give it my all.
Lastly, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to Scott for inviting me back, and also to him and the whole team at QECP Collective, fellow volunteers, diggers and anybody else invoved in the Southern Enduro – the venue is amazing and if the other rounds shape up like Milland, this is going to be one hell of an Enduro series!
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It’s Easter Sunday, I’ve consumed my body weight in chocolate and it’s been raining all weekend. The weather hasn’t stopped me tearing up the trails, hopefully you’ve been out as well. There’s a saying in the Mountain Bike world; there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad gear.
On this note, I thought a post for beginners would perhaps be useful. I’ve been riding a lot with people new to the sport and riders getting back into the sport after a few years out, so they’re either absolute beginners, or technology has changed enough for questions to be asked. Some of the questions that have come up are frequently asked, so with any luck, this may help you if you’re looking to get into MTB, or if you’ve had a few years out!
Really, everything can be summed up by watching this video by the guys at IFHT:
But, to help out a bit more, some common Q&A’s are below:
What type of bike should I get?
This is a rather personal choice and depends what type of riding you want to do. If you plan on getting driven to the top of a mountain and riding down, you should look at Downhill (DH), or possibly Freeride (FR) bikes. If you’d rather be doing some super long distance singletrack, a Cross Country (XC) bike may be up your street. However, for the trail centre riders and weekend warriors, a Trail, All Mountain or Enduro bike will more often than not be the best weapon of choice. Full suspension, with 140-160mm of travel and slack head angles, 1x gearing and a dropper post seems to be today’s standard. The best thing you can do is research and ask your local bike shop (LBS) if you’re unsure.
Size is important too – again, your LBS will be able to help here, but be sure to check Geometry charts carefully if you’re buying online.
What should I take with me when I ride?
Again, personal preference here, but below is what I take with me on my usual rides. Most importantly, (after a bike of course) are a helmet and a huge smile; the rest is optional!
On the body – Helmet, cycling specific shorts and jersey, full finger gloves, kneepads and flat soled shoes (Five Tens are awesome) are my go to kit. Not pictured are socks and a padded liner short to keep your undercarriage comfy!
In the bag – Bandage, alcohol wipe and surgical tape make for a very basic first aid kit. Powerlink, chain tool, allen/hex key set and a small multi tool, Energy bar, tablets (to pop in your water – bladder not pictured) or gel and a spare tube, tyre lever and pump (not pictured) are great to have. Zip ties and electrical tape are useful for ‘bodge’ fixes to get you home in a squeeze.
Bottle or bladder?
Bladder.. what? Simply, it’s a plastic reservoir with a drinking tube that fits snugly in your backpack. Most hydration packs will come with one, and they’re fantastic. I usually take a bladder filled with 1.5-2 litres of water in my backpack, as I can keep everything together and secure. For smaller rides, a water bottle would be fine, but I would personally always recommend a bladder for anything over 2 hours. Some good companies to look at are CamelBak, Osprey and Evoc.
Where to buy a bike from?
These days, the internet is full of bike sites, with massive sales to attract business. Direct sale sites (Such as Bird Cycleworks, Canyon and YT) are really starting to take a serious chunk of the online market, as they cut out the middle man (physical shops), which allow them to offer incredible bikes for incredible prices. The only downside is that the service will more often than not be through email and phone. Luckily, Bird are local to me and really do offer some of the absolute best service in the industry.
Local Bike Shops are also a great place to buy from, as you can get some very personalised service and the aftersales is usually very impressive. Brilliant Bikes in Chobham, or Swinley Bike Hub, for example. The benefit of a Local Bike Shop is that you’ll usually be able to demo the bike properly, to allow you to get a feel for how it rides.
I tend to avoid chain stores, purely because they work on volume, which means the service can be a lot worse (I am generalising here!). If you are set on a bike from a chain store, please check everything is tightened properly for your own sake.. from experience, loose bolts can cause major problems to your bike and you! You can expect the test ride to be in a car park, if you’re lucky.
What should I upgrade first?
You don’t have to upgrade anything, just ride and enjoy it! That said, a lot of companies will stock lower specification pedals, handlebars, stems and saddles, to allow them to offer higher end gearing, wheels or suspension.
If you’re adamant on changing parts, shop around and know what you want. Pedals can make a huge difference, Shimano Saints or DMR Vaults (if you’re riding with flat pedals) are both outstanding (M530 or XT Trail pedals if you’re clipping in are both superb). Stems and bars are a personal choice, but for trail riding, generally the wider the bar and the shorter the stem, the more fun you’ll have. Charge make some extremely comfortable saddles on a budget, with their award winning ‘Spoon’ available for around £25 (or less if you shop around)!
Should I service myself?
If you have the space to do so, absolutely. The more you learn, the better. If you have a mechanical issue when you’re out riding, you may just be able to get yourself home if you spend the time to learn some basic maintenance. In the Winter months, the main thing is keeping the bike clean, lubricated and rust free.. look after your bike and it’ll look after you. I personally use Muc Off products, although Hope, Pedros and Fenwicks also make some great cleaning gear.
In terms of servicing, Park Tools not only do the best tools, they have an amazing resource of information online, or YouTube is your friend here! It all else fails, go to your LBS and ask if you can watch what they do to fix your bike. Most mechanics shouldn’t mind, as cyclists love to talk bike to anybody willing to listen (even if that’s their poor wife that couldn’t care less about cycling… sorry Emily!)
With any luck, this has helped you out at least a little. If you’d like any questions answered, leave a comment below!
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