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All the gear, no idea

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!

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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!

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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.

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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!

Don’t forget to follow the Stealth Riders Instagram, and if you like this post, subscribe to keep up to date!

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Thanks to Osc, Jason, Adam and Em for the help on making this post!

 

 

 

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The logos have landed

It’s early days here at Stealth Riders, so a lot of things are a work in progress.

However, I’m really happy to say that I now have my logos confirmed! I just wanted to share a quick post to say a huge thanks to Emily @ Luna Studio Ltd for taking the time to come up with a fantastic range of options!

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I’ve been working with Emily and her amazing team in Farnham, Surrey, for around a year now through my day job, and they always provide amazing creative for engaging marketing campaigns, web content and so much more. If you’re looking for anything from branding to web design, campaigns to communication, look no further than Luna, they’re truly superb.

Below are the final designs, which you’ll be seeing a lot more of in the future! Starting off with the main logo:

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As well as this, Stealth Riders will also have a secondary logo with SR initials:

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I hope you like them as much as I do – I’m super stoked to be sharing these with you all and can now look into some official merch for you lovely lot to get your hands on!

It’s been a busy weekend of riding here at Stealth Riders, including a mammoth 32.5 mile hilltop loop around the gorgeous Surrey Hills, so to get the email from Emily @ Luna on an achey legged recovery day was just what I needed! Who says Mondays are bad days!

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St Marthas Church, Surrey Hills

Like what you see? Let me know in the comments below!

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

 

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Get your race face on

I’ve always enjoyed watching the UCI DH/XC racing, Crankworx, Red Bull Rampage and all the rest, but I’ve never really considered entering a race myself. I always thought racing was for either the super gnarly shredders, or pro team riders that have a huge support team, a boatload of sponsors and no day job.

Before now, I’ve also never really considered myself any good on a bike. Sure, for over 15 years I’ve been climbing uphill and rolling back down without wiping out (much!), but I’ve never felt good enough (or confident enough) to compete. Last Summer, things changed a little. I picked up a new, bigger travel bike from the guys at Bird Cycleworks and I started to go on ‘social’ night rides with Swinley Bike Hub (followed by an amazing post ride burger and some banter). I was quite surprised that I could actually keep up with people, although still ended the rides out of breath, shattered and feeling like I needed to improve (albeit with a big grin on my face, hungry for the next night session).

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Night rides = good times!

Since then, I’ve been out almost every Thursday night with the Hub (as well as social rides with mates and monster solo sessions) and I’m feeling fitter than ever. Strava is probably making me look better than I am, but I can climb with less pain and now even pop a little style into my descending. The main thing that’s improved above all else however, is my confidence in my abilities. I mentioned him in my first post, but Tristan Taylor, owner of the Swinley Hub has been instrumental in this confidence boost. I’m generally a bit of a pessimist, but Tris has been ever encouraging. If he didn’t run a bike shop, he’d make a great motivational speaker, I’m sure many others would say the same. So, cheers Tris, I owe you a lot more than you know buddy.

The man, the legend, Tristan Taylor

Downhill racing still seems a bit full on for my style (for now, at least), and Cross Country is just too damn quick for me, so when grass roots Enduro racing series came to the masses a few years back, the opportunity to race got a lot closer to home.

So, I figured ‘why not, what’s the worst that could happen’? I checked out some local races and the Southern Enduro sounded perfect. 4 races over the year, with an amazing choice of categories and organized by a great guy, Scott Fitzgerald. I’ve entered the ‘Masters’ category, although there’s still a niggling thought that perhaps the ‘Fun’ category would have been a better idea for my first venture into racing. It’s too late now though, and as the famous saying goes, ‘go big, or go home’. I plan to go big or go home via A&E.

As a beginner into the race circuit, I thought I’d share some quick tips that I’ve found useful to get me ‘race ready’:

  • Know what type of race you’re doing. How long do you expect to be in the saddle, do you know if the trails will be technical, smooth, jumpy, full of drops and so on? If not, research, try to get an idea of what type of terrain you’ll be racing and get out riding those types of trails.
  • Plan your rides and commit to them. Seriously. Don’t just say ‘I’ll ride tomorrow instead’. Get out when you say you’re going to. If you can get out at least 3 times a week, you’re on the path to podiums.
  • Don’t think of it as training. I’ve personally found if I just go out for a blast, have a laugh and ride, I usually put more effort in. If I think of it as training, it feels more tiring and I won’t have as much fun.. after all, I ride to enjoy myself first and foremost! On race day, the only person I’ll be competing with in my mind, is myself.
  • Hydrate. This is critical. If you’re going out for a ride, make sure you take enough water with you. A small bit of food (banana, energy bar, jelly beans) will help to give you a boost if you start flagging. Don’t overcompensate though; if you’re riding for less than 2 hours, usually water will be enough to get you through.
  • Eat right. Pre ride pasta is a sure-fire way to feel pumped throughout your evening ride, and some porridge (Protip – a spoonful of jam in your porridge is always a winner), will give you a great boost for your morning spin.
  • Homework. You can never learn enough. Look on forums, YouTube, anywhere that will give you hints and tips on how to increase your performance, train most effectively and get race ready. The GMBN (Global Mountain Bike Network) YouTube channel is an incredible resource for this, with short, insightful videos on how to make the most of your riding.

There is of course a whole lot more that you can do to feel prepared for your first race, but hopefully these will help a little. If you’re racing this year, let me know where in the comments below, and good luck!

As for inspiration, two people from the early days have remained consistent heroes of mine in the MTB scene; Rob Warner and his amazing commentary covering the UCI World Cup, and Steve Peat, still shredding the DH runs with the Santa Cruz Syndicate (although 2016 is his last year racing, I’ve no doubt he’ll still be a huge part of the DH world for years to come).

Closer to home, riders such as Sam Reynolds, Brendan Fairclough and Olly Wilkins are really helping to drive awareness for the the UK mountain bike scene. The trio, along with a lot of others have recently built S4P; a progressive Dirt Jump park just a few miles from me. I’ve signed up with B1KE and I’m really looking forward to heading over to see what it’s all about. Reynolds also recently won ‘best trick’ at the 2015 Red Bull Rampage with a Superman over the infamous 72ft Canyon gap. Super impressive, check the video out below:

(Credit: Red Bull Media)

Venturing into the racing world, I’ve no idea how I’ll do. I’ve no doubt still loads to learn, but I’m sure I’ll enjoy the experience and will surely be hungry for more racing heading forward. Next week, I’ll be running through what to take with you on the trails and common questions & answers from beginners. If you’ve got any questions you’d like answered, let me know in the comments!

I’ll also be adding some reviews of the kit I’m using this year shortly, so keep an eye out for these on the ‘reviews‘ page. If you want to have any kit featured, tested and reviewed, get in touch!

For now, this is Stealth Riders out. Be sure to subscribe, sign up to the newsletter or follow me on Instagram to stay up to date!

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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In the beginning, there was Dirt

I’ve had a lot of bikes. Ask anybody that knows me, they’ll probably roll their eyes and agree.

It all started in 1995 as an 11 year old, when a 30 minute film sparked a passion that still excites me 21 years later. This film was called Dirt. Filmed by Pete Tomkins (the original ‘Mr Crud’) and released by Mountain Biking UK, Dirt featured a group of ‘Boyz’ including the legends Rob Warner, Dave Hemming and the late Jason McRoy, shredding their hardtails around the English countryside. Dirt absolutely blew my mind; the laughs and camaraderie, and the sheer balls of what these guys were doing was something I wanted in on. You can reminisce and watch the video below:

I immediately started begging my parents for a bike and they happily obliged by getting me an Emmelle Cheetah. I rode everywhere from that day and started learning how to fix whatever went wrong. I changed to a Diamond Back of some description at some point, and rode those bikes for around a year each, picking up some gnarly scars along the way, all the time staying tuned to the latest news, bikes and up and coming riders.

Once I knew mountain biking was for me, I got what I consider to be my first ‘real’ bike at 13. I can remember it vividly, and it remains to this day my favourite bike as it started it all. It was a 1997 Kona Lava Dome in forest green with yellow decals, dripping with quality kit for a 13 year old kid; we’re talking STX/LX gearing, Kona Scratch ‘n’ Sniff tyres and Mavic rims! I subsequently added some custom components, including yellow Club Roost ‘go faster’ bars and a bright blue X-Lite Kevlar saddle. I rode that bike to destruction, sadly snapping a rear chainstay after years of fun. Kona has always held a special place in my heart since and one day, I will get another Lava Dome frame to hang in my workshop.

 

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Before helmets were cool and curtains were in fashion…

I went on to own two more Konas, a 2002 ‘Chute’ and a 2004 ‘Scab’, both in purple. They were brilliant, but full suspension designs were becoming ever popular, so I picked up a second hand 2003 Specialized Epic comp. The Epic was, as the name suggests, epic. It took me to new levels, really allowing me to push a little harder and knowing I had a bit more of a safety net with some rear squish should anything go wrong, and life got a lot more comfortable.

Over the next few years, I went through a lot of bikes, including a Specialized Enduro, an old Scott Boulder (lovingly referred to as ‘the trolley’, as everything was loose and on the verge of breaking, yet it held its own on countless occasions!), and more recently, 3 Marins, a Cube hardtail, an On-One Carbon 456 and, after a short break due to a slipped disc (protip #1 – inflatable sumo wrestling after a lot of beer hurts), a Canyon Nerve.

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Then one day, a team rider & mechanic from a local company I’d been keeping an eye on called Bird Cycleworks added this photo on Instagram:

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Photo: Tomas Kupstys

It was love at first sight. I immediately booked a demo ride at Swinley Forest and enjoyed every second on a gorgeous neon yellow model. I went back to place my order the week after the demo (protip #2 – take cake when ordering a custom bike.. cyclists love cake), and a few weeks later, I was the proud owner of my current bike, a custom Bird Aeris, oozing with quality parts. 1×11 SRAM gearing, 650b wheels, Rockshox Reverb, Pikes and Monarch and complimented by a range of RaceFace components. I was in heaven. I still am.

I’ve been riding the Aeris since July 2015, with each ride growing my confidence, increasing my speed and widening my smile. I mentioned earlier that my first bike, the Kona Lava Dome was my favourite bike, but the Bird Aeris comes a very close second and is easily the best bike I’ve owned. So much so, I feel the Aeris is deserving of its own post at some point in the near future. The service at Bird is simply incredible too, easily some of the best I’ve ever experienced. Dan, Ben and Dave are always willing to help and their Bird rides are superb fun.

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So this brings me to today. As I write this, tea in hand, the Aeris is freshly cleaned after a brilliant, wet, muddy and cold night ride yesterday with a group of lads organised by the Swinley Bike Hub, a fantastic shop in Bracknell owned by one of the nicest people I’ve met in the MTB world, Tristan Taylor. The hub is based on the Swinley Forest grounds and the team there put a lot of effort into maintaining and building trails (along with Trail Team Swinley, a group of volunteers including myself), organising social events, hiring bikes for both beginners and hardcore enthusiasts, and being all-round good guys (and girls). Well worth a visit if you’re in the area!

I’ll finish up with the main reason for Stealth Riders existing in its current form. This year, I’m competing in my first Enduro race series, the Southern Enduro, with the first round at Milland, Sussex, on April 17. I’m super excited and also rather nervous about heading into the race scene after so many years of being a weekend warrior and enthusiast. I have no idea how I’ll get on, but I’m training hard and hoping for a good result (if that means simply finishing, that’ll do me)! My next post will focus on racing, inspiration and training, so watch this space.

For now though, I’m looking forward to tearing up the trails with some mates this weekend, thinking back to that day 21 years ago, watching Dirt for the first time.

Have a great day, shred hard. I’ll be doing regular posts, product and trail reviews, so subscribe and follow the Stealth Riders Instagram to stay up to date.

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders