Friday, 17 December 2010

Gothenburg: future forward?

Sitting in the window of Cigarren, the life of Gothenburg walks past you across the energetic square of Jantorget as if you’re watching it on a widescreen tv. You put your thick espresso to one side, rest your chin on your palm and watch unfeasibly well-dressed Swedes stride past, disembark at the tram terminal or cycle lazily into their futures, unperturbed by the juddering in their arms brought on by the cobbled nature of the paving. Cigarren, with its sparse furnishing and simple colour palette – brown - is a masculine cafe. To the left of the bar is a floor to ceiling humidor with cigars lying in reverently stacked boxes. Connoisseurs take their chosen item out to smoke on the patio where they have a ringside view of the day, wrapping themselves up in the blankets provided to protect against the autumn chill. The minutes pass by unhurriedly.


Gothenburg has all the ingredients for being a bleak, frontier city. It sits on the southwest coast of Sweden, at the mouth of the Gota river, equidistant from Copenhagen and Oslo. This mighty waterway cleaves through the centre of Gothenburg, tying the city inextricably with trade and industry (Volvo and Ericsson have factories in the area), a strategically important maritime hub that’s been conquered, changed hands, torn down and rebuilt frequently since its founding in1621. Chunks of the centuries are scattered around the city, the historical ages slotting together like a rubix cube. The Dutch left the canals; the Scottish the Chalmers University of Technology and the distinctive rolling ’r’ in the dialect (Gothenburg is pronounced ‘yerrrteberra’ by locals).

Walking the streets of Haga you would be forgiven for disregarding this hard working past. The area is hailed as the arty, bohemian heart of the city with pastel coloured two-storey buildings lining its three main, cobbled arteries. In truth it embraces bohemia in a very refined, very Cath Kidson, very Swedish kind of way, vintage hat stores and jewellery shops mixing with chilled-out cafes. The Swedes have a phrase: ‘ska vi fika?’ which translates loosely into English as: ‘shall we have a coffee break?’ with fika able to function as both a verb and a noun. It’s a heartily embraced cultural tradition, as far away from a mad dash to Starbucks as is possible while still clutching a steaming cup of coffee. Fika involves friends, a pause in the day, pastries and a sense that the dirty business of working for a living isn’t half as important as a snug gathering in a warmly lit café corner. Gothenburg does fika well. Stepping into Cafe Kringlan on Haga Nygatan is like getting a big hug from a slightly overweight farmer’s wife clad in head-to-toe Prada. It is immaculate in its cosiness, its cinnamon buns beautifully laid out on the counter, its latte a swirling work of art. To the left of Cafe Kringlan is Le Petit Cafe, a coffee shop so sweet as to cause all natural teeth to fall out instantly on entry. To the right at the other end of Haga Nygata is the University of Gothenburg, its diametrically opposed buildings – one stone, imposing and grand, the other glass, modern and brutal – ably representing the city’s split personality; stolid, industrial, historic on one hand, eager, embracing and futuristic on the other. Students duck in and out of the cafes in Haga in packs, filling the rooms alternately with earnest talk and loud laughter.


Butik Kubik inhabits a slightly grittier part of town known as the ‘long streets’ or Langgatan. Here pastels are swapped for grand brownstones, an edgier atmosphere displayed in the tattoo parlours and punk shops which have taken residence. ‘People used to avoid this street – Tredje Langgatan - and walk down the main one,’ says Anna Saltzman, her sewing machine whirring as she talks in the chaotic explosion of clothes which is Butik Kubik. ‘But that’s changing now and this area is up and coming. The rents are low so younger, creative people are able to afford it.’ Her store, which sells handmade clothes and jewellery sits next to Dirty Records, the smell of dusty, eclectic LPs mixing with the aroma of coffee from the integrated cafe. It’s everything a record shop should be – scuffed lino, piles of obscure albums, a man with an impossibly large quiff sitting behind the front desk. Across the street is Cafe (and gallery) och Konsthantverk, all Sixties –style wallpaper, multicoloured lights and huge cushions. These diverse establishments sit easily together, Gothenburg a city so relaxed as hardly to be in the mood for a turf war.
‘Oh for sure, it’s a little big town,’ says Annika Larsson who edits ilovegothenburg.se. ‘Gothenburg people are so happy and open. And it’s definitely a city in development. It has a nickname – Little London – because of the arts scene, fashion, music. People here are trying to make the city bigger.’ If you add up all the obvious factors –five Michelin starred restaurants, 54 art galleries, 20 museums, one-off clothes shops - Gothenburg is well on its way to doing that. But away from the bright lights and trendy shops of Avenyn, the revamped centrepiece of the city’s new confidence which inspires universal grimaces from locals, there is a shy charm which is captivating. Head out to Majorna, the residential district which borders the large green space of Slottsskogparken, and busy roads give way first to Soviet-style apartments and then to robust avenues, filled with art bookshops, criss-crossed by tramlines and lined with trees. Men in overalls and gumboots step into Cafe Skogan on Mariaplan, a hearty smell of steam and grease mixing with the salty Gothenburg air when they open the door. Further on, on the wide open Mariagatan, Cafe Marmelad greets with huge pots of geraniums, its red and white check floor and chunky mugs creating a warm, homely atmosphere. The edgy art scene is still there – the gallery Oro, housed in a warehouse on Karl Johansgatan hosts parties as legendary as its exhibitions of contemporary art – but it wouldn’t be very Swedish if it shouted about it.


Bar Kino (pronounced ‘schino’) on Linne sits in the basement of an old school which has been converted into an art house cinema – Hagabion. It’s a beautiful nightspot harking back to Prohibition speakeasies with a piano, low lighting and black and white flooring. It’s difficult to imagine as you sip red wine and talk about the 2011 Gothenburg Film Festival which kicks off in January, that this is the same city which made its name as the forefront of the melodic death metal scene, a genre of music which inspires admirers and detractors in equal measure. But the coexistence passes without comment and as Gothenburg gradually removes the overalls of its industrial past, it’s revealing itself to be a surprising cultural herald of the future, one coffee at a time.

I stayed at the boutique Avalon Hotel - www.avalon.se  - which I would happily recommend. As you walk down the corridor you trigger something which sounds like fairy chimes. Makes you feel like Tinkerbell is following. The single room I had was a fair enough size with a floor to ceiling window as one wall and a wet room to shower in. Centrally located it's perfectly placed to get your early morning fika fix.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The snow is here, so let's be nice yeah?

So it has dumped it down in Chamonix, officially kicking off the season. Here's a little something to get you on your skis and feeling good about the world rather than destroying it with your sport.

Can skiing ever be completely eco-friendly? Unlikely. But if you’re keen to reduce your carbon footprint while still get your powder fix, here are some ways to do it.

See? Snowboarders can be green. Ripping it in Keystone, Colorado. Photo: Tom Humpage


WHERE TO STAY
ISRA ECO CHALET –  Chamonix Mont Blanc, France www.israecochalet.com
Described as a place of deep healing and relaxation, this beautiful five-star chalet with views on Mont Blanc was conceived using Feng Shui to harness the area’s natural energy. Heating is by solar power and for every group which stays the owners plant a tree in Scotland via the Trees for Life charity. 

CHALET CHATELETAbondance, Portes du Soleil, France www.chalet-chatelet.com
Built from scratch by Anglo-French couple Suzie and Pascal, Chalet Chatelet takes ‘leave no trace’ seriously. Insulation is provided by lambs wool, cork and hemp packed into the logs which make up the walls, heating is via solar panels and wood-burning stoves. The excellent cooking uses organic and local produce and even the crockery is handmade around the Portes du Soleil area.

LA SOURCE  – Samoens, France www.greenalpinechalet.com
Once a 19th Century farm, La Source is now a boutique, design-led yoga and adventure lodge which embraces the idea of sustainability and personal development. It could be a modern day hippy commune but is far too hip to succumb entirely – the wood-fired hot tub being a great example of luxury meeting environmental awareness head on.

WHITE PODLes Cerniers, Switzerland www.whitepod.com
Not so much accommodation as an entire resort located above the gorgeous village of Les Cerniers. The resort comprises of 15 futuristic dome-like pods surrounding a central chalet which houses a restaurant and spa. The pods sit at 1700m and have access to 7km of piste, the whole atmosphere being one of cosy wilderness camping rather than Jagerbombs at 4am.

TIMBERLINE LODGEMount Hood, Oregon www.timberlinelodge.com
In June Timberline Lodge became the first ski resort in the world to receive third-party recognition of its eco-credentials through Sustainable Travel International’s Sustainable Tourism Eco-certification Programme (STEP.) Some of the initiatives it was commended for included its work with the Forestry Service, its energy reduction plan and its employee-led ‘Green Team.’

KICKING HORSE RIVER LODGEGolden, British Columbia, Canada www.khrl.com
Celebrating its fifth birthday this year, and located in the small and uncommercial but powder-heavy resort of Kicking Horse, the KHRL is an absolute find.  Geothermal technology is used to heat the building, reducing C)2 emissions by 77%. The owners revel in the spectacular natural environment which is on their doorstep and encourage guests to do the same – not hard when supping a beer from the gigantic outside deck after a day riding powder up to your knees.

WHERE TO GO
If you want to check out the green credentials of a resort before booking, the Ski Club of Great Britain have an excellent resource on their website www.skiclub.co.uk. They list resorts from Austria to Australia looking at their green programmes, recycling initiatives and traffic reduction ideas. Currently coming out top is the North American resort of Aspen.

WHAT TO DO
If you want to tread lightly once you’re in resort, ditch the downhill skiing with all those chairlifts and opt instead for ski touring or snowshoeing. Dream Guides (www.dream-guides.com) run day and multi-day ski tours in France, Italy and Switzerland where clients use ‘skins’ on their skis to move up cols, accessing areas unattainable on tradition skis. If your skiing isn’t good enough to cope with hours of off piste try snowshoeing with Icicle Mountaineering which runs week-long courses in the Chamonix Valley (www.icicle-mountaineering.ltd.uk). 

GET INVOLVED
Eco Expo (www.eco-expo.org) is a new exhibition/ conference which launched last year in Chamonix, France and is due for its second installment in April 2011. As well as talks by environmental experts and enthusiasts on how to reduce the carbon footprints of both skiers and businesses, the event also hosts organic food and wine tasting, a clothes swap and gig sessions by local musicians.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Gothenburg, Sweden top five





'No wait, I think I have a death metal version of Britney Spears here somewhere,' said Hampus. And there in one sentence is Gothenburg or Goteborg in its Swedish spelling. The home of the melodic death metal scene, an industrial and maritime hub (Volvo and Ericsson have centres near the city) yet also sweet, the locals are hilariously good-looking and the city is becoming a surprising cultural herald. Got a weekend spare? Here's where to go.

1) Cafe Kringlan, Haga Nygatan 13, 413 01 Göteborg
Even when the staff are having a bad day (and they had two when I was there. Not because I was there I hope ... )the food and coffee more than make up for it. Massive cinnamon buns which were delicious and superb latte. Quiet in the early morning but soon packs out with students heading up to the University of Gothenburg which sits at the end of Haga Nygata. Kringlan has a cosy, farmhouse-style interior in shades of floral green with low lighting. You could sit here until you are bored of reading that same page of the intensely intellectual novel over and over and over again.

2) Bitter bar, Linnegatan 59, 402 33 Göteborg
Extremely, unashamedly (maybe because it doesn't realise) cheesy bar. So bad it's awesome. A homage to the ratpack with their pictures everywhere and a fake fire burning on one wall. But the rum choice is huge and superb and it's well worth a visit for that alone.

3) Bar Kino, Linnegatan 21 413 04 Göteborg
Sitting underneath the art house cinema of Hagabion, this bar is a gorgeous modern speakeasy without the illict actions but a lot of the feel. A piano sits in the corner demanding someone to let loose, and low lighting combined with the black and white check floor makes for a groovy, downtempo, funky atmosphere.

4) Bar Italia, Prinsgatan 7
No way is this the best coffee in Gothenburg despite what fans may tell you! But it has a blue vespa stuck to the wall and frankly that swings it into this list for me. The espresso is thick and wonderful and the modish Italian furniture spot on for that Roman feel. Crowded every single time I went in but then standing up and necking strong coffee is what Italy is all about so that even goes in its favour.

5) Soppkaffe, Karl Johansgatan
This place is way out from both Haga and Linne, the two hipster parts of town but for its homely, local, lack of style it is a superb place to chill. Big windows, Gothic mirrors, huge velvet sofas and cute little red-check tableclothed tables just begging to house a first date for two shy 17-year-olds on a budget. Plus it's warm and smells of food which in chilly, windy Goteborg is a plus. Oh and the latte was pretty unique with quite a nutty flavour. Whether that was intentional or not I'd rather not know.

And in terms of places to stay, you could do a lot worse than the boutique Avalon hotel. Although the best part could easily be said to be the walk-in shower, glass bottomed swimming pool which hangs over the edge of the building, or the inclusive, huge breakfast. but no. The best bit is the sound of fairy magic as you walk down the corridor. Think Tinkerbell. Superb.

Oh. And here's that death metal Britney.

www.goteborg.com

Monday, 25 October 2010

Rave on Snow, Saalbach, Austria

You can also read this story here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/oct/23/rave-on-snow-festival-music-skiing-austria


It was 4am when I cracked.  David Hasselhoff was walking towards me in his red Baywatch shorts, chatting with a giant rabbit. This was too much. Scrambling backwards through the heaving Karma club I leapt out into the freezing Austrian morning, babbling incoherently about drowning cottontails.
But where to go? For this was Rave on Snow – a 48 hour dance event which had mischievously turned the dainty and cobbled ski resort of Saalbach into an electronic music mecca.  Seventy DJ’s had taken over the town square, a lift station and even the local school – nine venues in total, the intimate and off-beat nature of each one contributing to the feeling of it being an illicit party rather than a commercialized venture.  In every direction German, Austrian and Swiss partygoers were bounding around like gleeful gremlins, racing between venues gripping cans of Red Bull, oblivious to the snow settling gently on their shoulders. By 10am that snow would transform itself into the kind of powder a person gets up early for. Ah the irony.
‘But there’s no time for snowboarding!’ yelled one confused punter, blond in the way only Dutch teenagers can be. ‘We’re here for the music.’

More fool her I thought six hours later as I clipped into my skis and shot off from the top of the Schattberg X-Press on red run five,  my already strained vision struggling to see a route obliterated by cloud. It was early December but Saalbach was enjoying its third year in a row of superb opening season snow. The resort – together with neighbouring base Hinterglemm - is nicknamed the ‘Skicircus’ because the towns sit in a ring of mountains, 200km of pistes offering powder runs, sweeping corduroy, freestyle parks and technical blacks. This particular circus clown could have been on a World Cup descent for all it mattered, lack of sleep and far, far too much caffeine mixing darkly with calf deep powder. The lifty working the absolutely deserted Schattberg Sprinter which takes skiers over to pistes leading into Hinterglemm, benevolently suggested trying one of the 40 mountain restaurants before proceeding any further. This I obediently did, clinging wildly to my skis as the Westgipfelhutte loomed out of the gloom. ‘I demand a radler and schnitzel,’ I heard a booming voice say. Curses, it was mine. Retreating into a corner I polished off the amazingly good food and began to feel more confident of my legs, of my ability to hold my poles in hands that didn’t shake. But then I heard it. A faint but persistent beat was seeping through the clouds.
Photo: Tom Humpage www.numero97.co.uk
DJ Paul Kalkbrenner was beginning his set at 2020 metres, controlling the decks at the top of the Schattberg gondola. It was noon. The game was on again. The scene was like something out of a twisted fairytale. People dressed as tigers and bears were lolloping around, penguins bopped, a giant lizard made its way slowly through the crowd and day-glo beanies graced the heads of impossibly beautiful girls wearing aviators despite the heavy snow falling. Everybody was dancing,  hopping from foot to foot as steaming cups of gluwein spilled left and right in time with the beat. And sweet gods what was this? David Hasselhoff again, dancing on the roof of the lift station, only this time I was able to see that it wasn’t actually the Baywatch star, but a very brave soul wearing swimming shorts - in minus10 degrees.
Some people were tempted by the deep powder on routes 2a and 4a and they were chased down the runs by empty beer bottles. Getting off the returning chairlift was carnage. Bodies piled on bodies, coordination lost in fits of giggles and yelps. When Pascal Feds took over the decks I decided it was time to make my way down, opting to ski (hey, it’s a black run and I’ve not slept – what could possibly go wrong?) only to be greeted after the third corner by the sight of three naked men sliding down the steep slope on their stomachs.
Rave on Snow started 17 years ago when  German Thomas Kleutgen wanted a crazy weekend in the snow with his friends. ‘We wanted  a bit of boarding and partying  -we honestly never thought it would grow to be this big,’ he said. ‘It’s basically the ultimate pre-Christmas party, it kicks off the season.’ You know your office Christmas party? Rave on Snow is better. The event may be big in Germany and Austria but its reputation has yet to spread very far beyond those borders so although it can boast world-class music acts, at its core it remains a fun, giddy and exuberant party among mates.
After even more schnitzel at the gloriously Austrian Kohlmastubbe restaurant where I watched a man try to lift a glass the size of his torso filled with beer (was nothing in this town normal?) I made my way to the Dorfplatz – the outdoor arena which served as ground zero for all things Rave on Snow –  at 9pm in time to catch Andre Galluzi’s set, a bonanza of lights, crazy inflatables and a lot of ice which made dancing a skill indeed.
Photo: Tom Humpage www.numero97.co.uk
The crowd were going nuts, people careening across the frozen dance floor like spilt marbles. This was not a time to hold back I told myself as I leapt into the fray, the heavy beat picking me up and sweeping me into the early hours of the morning via Dan Drastic’s funky tunes in the Taverne  and the superb Johnny D at Saalbach’s converted school (sorry kids.) Just when it dawned on me I was sporting three beanies and none of them were mine, I concluded it was time to take my leave and lurched out into the snow.
At 8am, as I left for the station, the party was still going strong. People were dancing outside the Castello club as Domenico D’Agnelli wrapped up proceedings. One of the rascals was wearing my beanie.

Rave on Snow (raveonsnow.partysan.net) is on 10-11 December this year. Two nights' B&B accommodation plus festival pass costs €149. Seven nights' accommodation, ski pass and festival pass is €435. Booked separately, a two-day pass costs €60; the four-star Hotel Kohlmais (kohlmais.at) has doubles from €90 a night. Train travel from London to Salzburg costs £231 return with Rail Europe (raileurope.co.uk)

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Snowboarders on bikes

You'd have thought they'd have the legs for it ...
Cute video with the Oakley girls riding from London to Paris for the Lavender Trust - Jenny Jones rocking the boob tube bike top look.



Would have been nice to see something a bit more like this:

Friday, 8 October 2010

Once upon a time I went to Canada ...

Here's the write up in this month's Singletrack.



Two links missed off the article (that's what happens when you run out of time and leave the info box to be written by the photographer ... ) which definitely need flagging up: Shaums March's riding coaching - madmarchracing.com and Cumberland's awesome MTB guiding company - Island Mountain Rides

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I do believe I'm hard enough

It felled Lance Armstrong. Marco Pantani conquered it in 33 minutes. 'But it's a Haute Categorie!' exclaimed my friend Cosima. 'That means it's hard.'
Certainly its reputation via Google was immense. But there's a lot of bluster in cycling. A lot of posturing. A lot of people who think 'I ride bikes' means nothing more than popping to the shops. And ultimately, the Col de Joux Plane was just another hill. I like hills.
I left the car in Morzine and rode up to Les Gets then down and along to Samoens, the 11km sweep from Taninges to the base of the climb, a lesson in how to create a road that rides fast.
The Col, often closed completely in winter, was clearly signposted but was beautifully empty, a smooth curve of tarmac winding through tiny hamlets and fields of cows. Sweat gathered on the tip of my nose before plummeting onto the crossbar, the heat unseasonable for early October. At 8km there was a spiteful increase in the incline. Not for long, but enough for the lungs to break out of their comfort zone. Then up ahead I saw them. A couple - man and woman. Or rather: bait. I have a tendency to keep my pace steady even when the gradient changes, a tactic that when employed on long rides can put you well ahead of other riders. But I'm learning to sprint and these two were enough for a try. At 10km I dropped the hammer. Lungs filled and emptied rapidly. Head down, elbows out trying to give as much space to my chest as possible. My legs began to pound from the hip - you ever get that when you're racing hard? Your thighs become pistons, the power they control fully engaged. Two corners and the couple were still in sight. Four and I'd dropped them.
'Bravo! Vous gagnez!' You win! yelled a descending rider.
The road continues to climb after the Joux Plane - not for long, but just so you know, then it's a screaming descent through wood into Morzine where the Coupe de Coeur bar and it's terrace doused in sunshine offered the perfect end of ride bevvy.
Lance? Where are you?

Saturday, 2 October 2010

I know I should really grow up

But I laugh every time I pass this sign.
Who knew learning French could be so exciting?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Where have all the role models gone?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2010/sep/30/alberto-contador-positive-test

But then, if you want cycling to be a show, if you want to watch men perform the impossible on crucifying cols surely you can't expect them not to?
Besides they're all on it right?
But newsflash: IT'S CHEATING. I'm all in favour of making roadies more rock 'n roll (props to Mr Schleck for his drunk and disorderly) but come on chaps. Incidentally how many female pros get suspended for doping? Must look into this.
Man. Can't help but feel disappointed as another great crashes.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

One for the road

I was in Chamonix back in March, faceplanting my way down the Valley Blanche (well hell folks! You try and do it on park skis ... ) and after one large plunder down a slope the Ski Club rep Ken who had joined our group, nonchalantly sat me down in the middle of a serac field and handed over a hot Thermos filled with ginger and honey tea. Ye gods that perked me up. Since then I've been a Thermos fan, now proudly owning two - one for my own backpack and a larger one for picnics with friends. Natch. Yesterday, overcome with the pressure of work I decided to fill the little Thermos (hey, I'm new in town and it's cold. No picnics just yet) and go for a hike up to Le Lac Blanc. I'm pretty new to epic hiking and I'm still at the stage where I get it all wrong. Lovely windproof jacket? Check. Wearing it? nope. Etc etc etc. Furthermore I don't own any suitable trousers despite my mum kindly proferring her beige Craghoppers. These will not do. I'm a firm believer in combining fashion with practicality. So I always end up hiking in my Carhartt jeans - good for the first hour, not so effective thereafter.
Starting from just below the Col de Montets it was a four hour round trip which started by turning you away from the valley and had you heading towards Switzerland but then which spun you back round by virtue of a path that began to resemble a tight corkscrew drilling its way into the sky. It skirted below the Aigulles Rouges and from then on the views were amazing. Lavancher bowl, Mer de Glace, Glacier d'Argentier - the whole valley and its legends on display. The path turned to ice on the patches where the sun was blocked and my boots sunk into the first snow of winter:


On arrival at the lake after a series of ladders and wooden steps I cracked open the Thermos, unwrapped a Bounty (yes I'm old school) and got stuck in. In August people had been swimming there but despite the dominance of the surroundings it was not the time to hang around. There was a bite in the air. Not a big slap around the face cold, more like a gentle poke, winter flexing its muscles. It's that temperature that makes autumn so exciting and expectant.
Yippee.
I'm off to buy some trousers.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Teton Ice park getting ready for another season

If you're finding yourself Stateside this winter - or indeed if you're already Stateside (damn you)- then you may  want to consider a detour through Teton National Park which sits proudly in the top lefthand corner or Wyoming. The scenery in the park is absolutely awesome and worth a trip anyway (can we recommend coming in over Togwotee Pass please?)

But since last year the park has also played host to the Aerial Boundaries ice wall which is getting ready to open for 2010/2011. Last season it was dogged with insurance controversy over who could and who couldn't use it but it seems like this has been cleared up a tad. You can see a gallery of images of the wall here to get you in the mood. Essentially it's 40ft manmade wall of ice - perfect for learning and practising on, and the backdrop is pretty special too. And when you're done there, hop over for a little ski at Jackson Hole. Your options from the UK are to fly straight to JH via Dallas with American Airlines or head to Denver on BA (do you dare?) hit up Breckenridge and drive on from there.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Where have all the people gone?



It's inter-season in Chamonix. This is the period of the year when the sun has gone but the snow has yet to arrive. Everyone who lives in the valley disappears on holiday, or off to their mates' weddings and the pavements are given over to toads and slugs. Ever trodden on a toad when running in the dark? Locals who stay love it because the colours are amazing apparently although a permanent shroud has covered the peaks for the last three days, rendering colour something for the imagination rather than the eyes.
The last time I was in Chamonix for more than a week I had a friend, Sara, who I think about quite a lot still despite a decade passing since we last spoke. Mainly because I can't remember why we lost touch and also because she said that she loved the Alps because they made popping out for a stamp an epic experience. Last night I went to post a letter and the cloud cleared for a second long enough to see the Drus briefly. It was a good day after all.
But a period of 'hunkering down' is upon me I feel. Bikes to ride, trails to run, pilates to go to. I've found Alpine Yoga run by the super enthusiastic Kelly Aikins (the bendiest woman in the world?) which means I can get practice in before the planned yoga and cycling course we're doing with Sweaty Betty Soho. I have also managed to secure a free kettle and toaster from the friendly valley folk meaning my new favourite pre-ride breakfast of Nutella on toast can carry on unhindered by oven grills which burn stuff. A lot.
Worth a mention too is Le Delice in Les Houches (not to be confused with a gentleman's - ha - club somewhere else in France) run by the very lovely Kate. Only she has now shut for a month. Last night I was greeted with a sign on the door that said: 'Shut. Ha ha ha.' I totally respect that girl's style.
It was necessary last night however, to watch Seasons in order to get psyched on MTBing again. And also because Sara at Flow is enjoying her 'inter-season' by riding in Whistler and I'm not ashamed to admit I envy her to a level I didn't think possible. I cannot wait until downhilling in Europe is as big as Canada and Morzine has no choice but to keep its lifts open through September. The Bellevue Bike Park here in Chamonix has improved from two years ago but its closing weekend was a washout. But the Shandro section as always got me in the mood for riding in the wet. Without him I would be a complete fairweather MTBer - clean mud off my bike for an hour? No. I don't think so. Damnit.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!

While I am sat in a rain sodden Chamonix there are a few thoughts that have been keeping my spirits high.
1) Saving up for summer in Whistler next year
2) New ski pants
3) Fixing the axle on my Norco
But none of them, nay none, can compare with the lovely thought of Interbike in Vegas next year. Bikes, gambling, sequins.
Except someone deemed it acceptable to move Interbike to Anaheim in 2011 instead. Anaheim. Near Los Angeles but a seven hour drive from Vegas. Ye Gods! Every day the bike industry kills me just a little bit more.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Ow.

Snapped crank.
Broken foot.

S.F.B. (Insert expletive)

Which means less of this during the Pantanissima next weekend for me:


 And more of this:

The burger. Not the bikini. (But I couldn't resist. It was the gold lame that got me.)
But seeing as I'll be near Cicli Tonti which is the best bike shop in the world, probably some of this:

Boo hiss bah humbug. Unless the arnica I've been slathering all over my foot actually does something ...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Big Dog, Big Dog, Bog Dog!

Oh yeah! It all kicks off at 1pm. The Brighton Big Dog that is. I have absolutely no intention of posting any photos as I'll either be riding my bike or stuffing my face with cake. Or riding and stuffing at the same time. But seeing as I tend to suffer my most horrific bike crashes when cycling in a straight line on a route furnished with absolutely no obstacles whatsoever, that may not be a good idea.
And chickas, look at this ...
 OhmygodI'minlove because you could totally wear this on a bike. It's from the new Sweaty Betty range and frankly makes cycling down to Brighton in the rain a joyous experience as I mull over all the dance moves I will pull off while wearing this. Actually if I could pull off a Matt Hunter in Seasons skid wearing this and a pair of baggies I could die a happy lady.

Actually I want a dog called Hunter. No honestly. And do you see how seamlessly that tied up this post by going full circle? Skill.

Friday, 13 August 2010

And then it happened


It was a number of things really. First it was the dawning realisation that I actually only feel peace when I'm on my bike and yet I hate riding my bike in London (pot holes, dickheads, bad lycra, day glo.)
Then it was hanging out in Whistler and Squamish where people have awesome trails right on their doorsteps.
Then I went on my annual summer trip to Chamonix, this time to write a story on climbing Mont Blanc with the very professional Mont Blanc Guides, followed by a week of riding in Morzine with Sam at More Mountain and Sara at Flow.
Then it was the writing of a piece for the paper a couple of weeks ago where I was described by my lovely editor Andy as an 'adventure writer.'
And then it happened. The penny dropped and I figured: well hell, if I'm an adventure writer, I better go have me some adventures. Ones slightly more taxing than circling Ditchling wondering where on god's earth the bloody beacon is.
So Chamonix here I come.
And this blog will morph slightly from one dealing solely with bikes and the sometimes infuriatingly pedantic, cliquey and just plain silly bike industry (and I'm sure France is this and more) to one covering some of the other things I love as well.
Because we all know, deep down, it's not about the bike.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Could somebody ...

... be doing with bending their elbows a little bit?
Still, lovely to see the brilliance that is Aston Hill in the sun. And to see a crafty piece of boardwalk cutting off that little ass of a final corner on the route that always, always, always (except for a few times) catches my elbow. Oh, how ironic.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Things I have learnt from riding in Whistler


1) The Canadian word 'intermediate' roughly translates into England English as: 'WOAH! Holy f**k! Are you insane?!'
2) Being able to clear jumps on Crank It Up, does not automatically mean you can clear jumps on A Line, unless landing on your face counts as an official landing.
3) Elbow pads look rubbish but tucking and rolling without them stings a bit.
4) Whiskey Jack accommodation at Whistler Creek is pretty freakin amazing value for money. Book through Hotels.com and get an entire house for $80 a night.
5) The Evil Revolt is one of the only times when day-glo looks awesome. Pretty awesome.
6) It is not necessary to try and show off in front of Thomas Vanderham. He is better than you.
7) The Lift Coffee Company does the best sausage rolls on the entire planet. I know this to be fact as I have relatives in Scunthorpe and they live for sausage rolls up there. 4369 Main Street, Whistler.
8) Kona Stinky's are absolute pish. Norco A Line's are actually pretty damn good.
9) Spreading my knees could finally be the key to getting on in life. On the bike people! Jeez.
10) Large black crash pads around cable car poles are not actually black bears, despite their resemblance when going mach 10. Either way, it's best to continue with the turn as initiated rather than lose concentration for a split second. I refer you back to number 3.

I actually think Whistler is the best place on earth. Maybe. Bit expensive.

p.s. that's not me in the photo. Yet.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Helibiking in Scotland with Peaty, Hans and Danny. Oh. Yes.

Y'all seen this video? It's by Reset Films of the first ever heli-bike expedition extravaganza whoop da do da in the UK.
Props to Euan at HandI, looks like a blast.

HandI Adventures - Hans Rey, Steve Peat, Danny MacAskill from ResetFilms.co.uk on Vimeo.
Lovely soundtrack by Gomez - good choice boys! Get Myself Arrested. What a tune. That's not the song in the video but I'm just saying.

Oh and I've just got back from  an epic trip to BC. I know, I know. Life is tough. Blogs to follow once the bruises have healed as there is so much riding outside of Whistler. Who'd have thought it?

Sunday, 13 June 2010

You can't tell from this picture ...


... but the road riding in this area of Spain is completely kick ass! No seriously bear with me. Ok so the hotels aren't really equipped to deal with cyclists and frankly eating chorizo at 9pm isn't the kind of carb loading I had in mind. And if we're honest, the smell of manure can hamper performance a tad. BUT. The roads are AMAZING, no cars, smooth asphalt, nice climbs (nothing too brutal so you could seriously hoon it) and I'd imagine nice weather. But I can't confirm that.

Also this place: Villa Maria, in Fuentes de Bejar is awesome. Run by Liz and Javier it smacks of Cuba circa 1970, they offer museli as well as toast in the mornings and the rooms are just lush. Having said that it is in a really rather ugly little town, next to an even uglier town, nestled in the middle of sweet fanny adams nothing except great roads.

Untapped potential people, untapped potentail. Who's game?

Friday, 11 June 2010

The rain in Spain ...

... like, totally falls wherever I appear to be riding.
Apart from in this picture:


So I get accused now and again, mainly by my mother, of being so into bikes that she can never now go riding with me as I'd completely kick her ass. This is true. I would. If we were racing. But I decided to prove to my beloved mother, what gave me life, that I can remember how to have fun and tour on a bike too. It's the journey after all. So we've come out to Spain to do a piece on a cycle tour from Avila to Salamanca staying in Casa Rurals along the way. When we got to the start point the temperature was 32 degrees. Since we started riding it has plummeted to 13 and is raining. Constantly. It's day three and I have so far drunk my body weight in rioja at least three times. Which makes kicking her ass very difficult. Especially on the world's worst touring bikes. I'm sorry but front suspension MTB on the road? With seized up front suspension? Not good. Why oh why didn't I bring my own bike?

When the sun does come out it is beautiful - the Gredos mountains were our first outing and we leave Candelario today, after a stay in the rustic cobbled town. So far the massive highlight has to be mum telling every man she meets: 'you're the Juan that I juant.' Englsih language is a rare commodity here so we've emerged unscathed from that each time.

But it's all good being on a tour again. And you really are away from the tourist trail here, following the Roman Via de la Plata. It's a cultural challenge alright. Thank god they have Snickers.

www.awayfromthecrowds.com

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Letting a picture tell the story

I was going to write a blog on the Nove Colli. All 130km of it (yes, yes I did the short version), the Barboto which really is a wave of concrete and pulling out a sprint finish when I could no longer feel my legs. I was going to write about 30 degree heat, crazy Italians and how much I love racing in Italy where people actually say 'scusa' before overtaking you. I could have talked for ages about getting the racing buzz again and reeling in my bait.

But then the increasingly talented Tom Humpage sent me this picture of the final strait:
 And after that I didn't really have anything to say as I think this image is stunning. You can feel the heat, the slow motion of that final surge of energy, the crowds screaming; the head-down-don't-stop pounding, muscles releasing that last bit of power, minds focused. And all the time the Italian blossom falls. Now that's racing.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Life before bikes

My four-year-old nephew Max has a bike but doesn't ride it yet the bugger. Prefers his micro scooter (which is freakin difficult to ride peops! There's a tree on St Mary's Avenue with a mould of my face in it ... )But I love Max anyway. You know why? Because when he's at nursery he writes stories like this:

Sea Creature Story by Max
There was a big whale on land and the flies came to eat him and he started to smell. When anyone went to the beach they went back home because they didn't like the smell.
The octopus was in the water and a big wave came. A wave took him out of the water. The whale and the octopus both smelled. All the other creatures were in the water. A dolphin was stung by a Portugese man of war jellyfish.
The shark ate the eel and then all the other sea creatures died and there was only a baby whale left.
The End.


Now I may be wrong but with that kind of killer instinct and total disregard for life, we are looking at the next Tour winner.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Why being a teenager is bad


Photo: Tom Humpage

"It's a bit like sex when you're 15,' commented Larry with the kind of dry humour you would never normally associate with a Canadian. But it was difficult to deny it (obviously I never had sex when I was 15 but we all know what lithe male cyclists get up to.) We had cycled 65km in the Italian sun chasing down our guide Paulo who was riven with fear that he may miss this particular stage of the Giro di Italia and thus was riding at around mach 10. We arrived on a corner near some town which noone got the name of because we couldn't read it with so much sweat in our eyes. We stood for 20 minutes cooking. We waited. We were sworn at for not buying a pink t-shirt for 10 euros (I'm sorry but it doesn't matter how fit you are, noone can wear Giro pink and rock it. Noone. Fact.)Then the lead pack went through: zoom, zoom, zoom. Then some cars went past with wheels on the top - love those. Then the peloton went past. I scream at Bradley Wiggins but he had his iPod in. Or his mission control earphones. Whatever. Then another Team Sky person flew past and I yelled bravo at them. And then it was over. All that anticipation for 30 seconds of screaming. And whereas marathon runners smile deliriously at you, pro racers don't give back, they just fly on past. Quel point? At least at the Tour you get free pens and pointy foam fingers.
Then we chased Paulo for another 40km as he cycled riven with fear that he may miss lunch.
There is more to this story: soon you'll get to hear how I raced in the Nove Colli and came 38th out of all the women. I have yet to find out how many women actually raced but I'm praying it wasn't 39. Pretty sure if I'd shaved my legs before hand I could have inched up to the 37th spot. Obvs.
p.s. we are staying at the Belvedere Bike Hotel in Riccione. Seriously cannot recommend it enough. You will come away a much better cyclist. Or fatter. Depends which Italian passion you embrace with the most vigor.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Ah. Feeling a bit like a loser

Rainy day in London. Flaked out of going for a ride, citing 'knee problems' (no seriously but they're probably not that problematic.) Ah but you know - cycling for an hour and a half in the rain just to get out of London to start cycling can get a bit tedious sometimes. So I gravitated to the computer and found this video. Liz Hatch, riding in California. In the sun. Looking good. Riding great. Kicking ass.

Now I feel like a big wussy wuss wuss. There's a reason you plod around the London back streets day in day out. It's so that when the sun shines and you find yourself in some place inspiring, you've got the legs to make the most of it. Must. Try. Harder.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Dirtgirls rides again

Sara from Flowmtb has sent this over which should get any girls who like getting dirty into the mood for a week of shredding (love that word) in Morzine.

Flowmtb’s Dirtgirls is going into its fifth year of girl only biking trips in the Alps, with a Dirtgirls riders week running on the 14-21 August.

The week is aimed at regular bikers who want a holiday riding great trails with other women, and getting some coaching along the way. Jo, a fully qualified French guide and instructor who coached the 2009 Dirtgirls (and the French youth DH team) will be running the skills sessions. Mountain girl Ulrika will be guiding again this week. Not only is she fast on a bike but she can tell you the name of every flower, tree and animal you pass.

Flowmtb owner Sara will be riding each day too, and original Dirtgirl coach and DH racer Emily Horridge should be along on some rides too. Expect a mixture of short coaching sessions on trails, and long days out on the amazing Alpine singletrack.

Accommodation is in Chalet Snion, a beautiful newly renovated Chalet with a large sun terrace for relaxing on and a sauna to ease your aching muscles. Dirtgirls return from riding to a freshly baked cake or cookies. Evenings are spent relaxing with a glass of wine and a hearty three course meal or hitting the local bars. In male dominated Morzine, Dirtgirls always make an impression! (Now you're talking - Pedalfeet)

Minx, will be supporting the dirtgirls weeks for the fifth year in a row. This year Minx will not only be providing end of week prizes but is offering all 2010 dirtgirls a discount on pre-trip purchases so they can get ready to hit the trails in style!

COSTS: 775 euros (650 pounds). Lift pass and transfers from Geneva airport are included as well as food, accommodation and guiding.

DATES: 14-21 August

Find out more at www.flowmtb.com or by calling Sara on 020 8123 5654 or +33(0)688101757.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Ricky Adam photo

While flicking through last month's photo issue of Dig BMX magazine (which was a very pleasant way to pass an hour), I saw this picture by photographer Ricky Adam. A phenomena happened to me which generally only happens when I see bikes and lace leggings. 'Ye gods! I have to have that.' So I called Ricky up and he very kindly printed it off for me for not a great deal of money.



It is now hanging on my workshop wall. I urge you to check out his website: rickyadamphoto.com because his photos are a hugely inspiring break from the 'epic landscape with some bloke hooning round a corner' shots us MTBers know and of course, love.

Just have your cheque book handy.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Interview: Petra 'kick-ass very politely' Wiltshire


‘How old?!’ That was the response of La Humpage when he ate Petra Wiltshire’s dust in Morzine last year. It’s a tough break for a kick ass mountain biker to get razzed by a 39-year-old chick. But he did. And once you get over the shock of a woman who was then pushing 40 hooning it down a mountain better than most youngsters you have to hand it to her – she’s an amazing rider. And more importantly in an industry which always focuses on the up and coming talent, she’s an inspiration.

‘I still love racing and any form of competition,’ grins Petra. ‘I do think twice about crazy lines and jumps now as it seems to take longer to get up when I crash. I normally forget my age when I get on the start line though and under goggles, body armour and helmets we all appear the same age. I don’t think I’m too old though and hope to carry on riding for at least the foreseeable future. If the mind and body are willing then why not?’

She goes on: ‘I am still riding bikes because I simply love it and the freedom it brings. Any sort of physical activity keeps me sane.I need to being doing something all the time and cannot imagine a day when I cannot. I will be racing zimmers or wheelchairs in the care home somewhere one day!’

It’s not hard to believe, especially when you take into account the huge medal haul behind her. Petra started racing downhill in her late twenties, when most elite racers (bar Steve Peat) are thinking of retirement. She still has her pro elite license. Hanging in her wardrobe are three World Championship jerseys, two European Championship jerseys and too many National Championship titles to count. She is also one of the few British MTBers to hold a World, European and National titles in one season. What do you mean you’ve hardly heard of her? Petra is diplomatic: ‘The media is inevitably going to aim at the younger market. Who wants to see a grey haired wrinkly racing down a mountain? I don’t mind getting minimal personal coverage, but would love to get more coverage for all my sponsors who have supported me over the years.’

Those sponsors today are Scott, Mule Bar, Sram, Buff and Maxxis. ‘I have been very, very lucky,’ she says modestly. Or just very, very good because frankly that’s an impressive collection of brands for someone who did her last World Cup three years ago. The focus these days is enduro DH – Maxi and Mega avalanche for a start as well as the Euro enduro series. Petra also does coaching – she’s worked with Jess Stone in the past and in the winter months coaches ski from her base in the Swiss resort of Champery with Freeride Company.

Petra doesn’t get caught up in the bollocks of mountain biking. She’s friendly, down the line, and pretty darn cool. When I asked her what the most important she ever learnt on a bike, the answer came back deadpan: ‘Learn which one is the front brake.’ The she followed it up with: ‘No actually it was something my dad said – at the end of the day, it’s only a pushbike. It’s easy to lose sight of this fact. Whether it cost £10,000 or £5o it essentially does the same thing. Sometimes people get blinded by technology and lose sight of the fact that a bike gets you outside and gets you happy.’

Yeah, yeah. The one reason why you should love Petra? Or at least be inspired? This quote: ‘I am an in it or bin it kind of animal. And I don’t climb with finesse, I’m all arms.’

There is hope for me yet.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Friday, 16 April 2010

Best of British



There are some things Yorkshire does well: the Black Sheep Brewery, Climbing Works rock climbing centre in Sheffield and the Town Street Tavern in Horsforth (just don’t buy the Jungle Juice.) And then there are things Yorkshire does very well – one of those being cross country mountain biking which is lucky because on 24 April the UCI Cross Country World Cup / kicks off in Dalby Forest near Pickering next weekend. It’s the first time in a decade England has hosted a leg of the World Cup (there are nine in total) and sees the best mountain bikers from across the globe compete on the 6.5km course. It sits in an area just under one square mile making it pretty spectator friendly. But if you fancy a slightly larger challenge than balancing your Clif Bar and Lucozade on your knees as you watch, you still have time to sign up for the Dalby Dare which is taking place during the weekend. It’s a public mass participation race which sees riders cycle a timed lap of the World Cup course under race conditions before plunging off onto some of Dalby’s other excellent trails. Think you’re hard enough?

Crossing the border into Scotland, Fort William will once again be the setting for the UK instalment of the Downhill World Cup event on 5 and 6 June. This race is legend with some of mountain biking’s greatest moments being played out on the course (par example - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CiXh2bJ3SXk). It’s also a great opportunity to get to grips with the trails of the Nevis range which open on 10May so aspiring gravity gods can test their skills on the ‘Off Beat Downhill’ run before the pros descend on the area. And it doesn’t have to be all about extreme mountain biking. Last year the Nevis red run opened, a 5.5km route accessed by gondola, becoming an immediate hit with its intermediate-friendly planning. Two words: midge nets.

Over in Ireland, 22 August sees the inaugural Sky Ride Etape Hibernia kick off in County Clare, starting and finishing in the town of Ennis. The road challenge is 84 miles long and open to anyone aged 18 to 80 (which probably seems quite restrictive if you’ve ever ridden in the Alps and been overtaken by a 94-year-old on the Col de la Croix Fer.) Particpants have around six hours to complete the course which traces the beautiful west coast for a large part – let’s hope the sea winds are kind. For a taste of the off-road riding in Ireland, check out Break the Cycle

a good-looking mountain bike film, shot for the most part in the Mourne Mountain area around Rostrevor but spots in the north – including Belfast and the north Antrim coast also get a look in. It throws a spotlight on a country often overlooked when it comes to documenting fantastic riding. If you feel like investigating further, download a copy of January's MBR which has a feature on the Emerald Isle or talk to First Tracks Guiding who run mountain bike courses in County Down and County Armagh. If you want to ride on location then you can book accommodation with Rostrevor Holidays.

And finally into Wales where the Tour of Pembrokeshire is back for its third year. Sportives such as this have become extremely popular in the last few years with great routes springing up around the country. The ToP offers three distance choices – depending on your fitness you can sign up for a 63, 84 or 117-mile route. Each one starts and finishes in Saundersfoot and takes in an ample portion of the Pembrokeshire coast. Cycling traffic free roads in the area is possible without a gruelling 117-mile race though. Sustrans’ Brunel Trail runs from Neyland Marina (opposite Pembroke Dock) up to Johnston and is a gentle four-mile trip following the Cleddau estuay. You may not earn a huge post-ride pasta feast but you will be able to soak up the atmosphere of the ToP without busting a lung in the process.

I'm still alive!

But only just. I'm in the Cairngorms with handiadventures.co.uk. They're killing me. The riding is good but don't ever let Euan take you for a walk. Tall tales coming in a bit. First I have to battle with an ash cloud.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Peaty writes

Nice coffee table book:



Beats Living etc. anyway. Which would benefit from an article on how to hang three bikes from a wall in a bright and funky manner.

You can buy it from stevepeat.com

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Mountain biking with Jenny Copnall


Jenny proving high saddles don't necessarily mean you're a loser. Photo: Tom Humpage

Just before I'm due to meet up with Jenny Copnall, five time national cross country mountain bike champion and my coach for the next two hours, I inhale a bacon sandwich and a strong coffee. Then I warm up by donning a full-face helmet and taking my downhill bike out for a quick descent in the mud. By the time Jenny pedals into the car park of Aston Hill bike park in the Chilterns she has already been cycling for 90 minutes in a strong headwind. She looks fresh as a daisy. I look like early man.

'I think we need to work on finesse,' says Jenny diplomatically.

Jenny retired from professional racing in January 2010 after a career which saw her ride with both the Gary Fisher-Subaru and Motorex-Bianchi teams. She now has her own coaching academy offering race consultancy, skills and fitness coaching. I was keen to see whether she could she turn me – an enthusiastic downhiller who rarely arrives at the top of a climb with a smile on her face – into a cross country whippet. Or at the very least give me some skills which would help me avoid trees.

'I'd say one of the most important things in cross country is to look up the trail,' says Jenny. In mountain biking you go where you are looking and the further ahead you can see, the more time you have to react to obstacles.' Rarely have I employed this technique on technical climbs, tending to focus on that small piece of trail in front of my wheel and consequently flailing over any root or rock in my way. A quick shoulder check on tight corners however, and my body is already off in the right direction; forcing myself to look up the trail on a climb, allows me to anticipate a rooty section so I'm powering over it before I have a chance to put a foot down. So far so good. Who knew it could be so simple?

Jenny's expertise lies in endurance and marathon racing, winning the national marathon championship title in 2006. In other words, she knows a thing or two about pacing. 'It's so important to have an objective assessment of your own abilities,' she says. 'So many people go off cross country because they get this wrong, throw everything they have at a route in the first half hour and it hurts.' One of the easiest ways to pace yourself is your line choice. I'm confident I have this in the bag – shoulder checking like crazy - until Jenny points out I picked what is known as 'the lemming line.' 'It's the one everyone takes, because they see the tyre tracks and just follow it. But actually it would have been a lot less work for you – and a lot less steep - to have gone wide on that corner and come in off the top. Be a bit imaginative and conserve your energy.' Downhill riding forces an explosion of energy over a very short time period – a five minute track is considered pretty epic. So it's interesting to learn tactically when to hold back and when to go quick in cross country in order to last the course. Needless to say Jenny leaves me for dust. Or mud. Must try harder.

One thing you notice within five minutes of riding with Jenny is how good she is at manhandling her bike. Despite her feminine sizing, she is in complete control. 'A lot of people I start coaching, just sit on the bike and get carried along. But your mountain bike needs to become an extension of you and you need to really throw your weight around,' she says. If you look at downhillers like Steve Peat, you'll see how much he changes his weight distribution over the course of the run. I found this quite tricky at certain points on the cross country route due to my saddle height. In downhill this would be very low; in XC it sits pretty much hip height meaning you have to move that much more to get your weight back or to weight a particular side of the bike. In the mud of Aston Hill it was pretty crucial to get to grips with this sharpish. The back end of my bike did wash out on one corner but as I was going uphill (how is that possible?) and Jenny didn't see I don't think it counts.

There's no doubt my riding benefited from Jenny's coaching – a few tweaks here and there have made it slicker and more efficient. On top of that her enthusiasm for XC – honed over 17 years of racing – is pretty infectious. 'I love being outdoors on my bike, it's my main driving force,' she enthuses. 'It's a way of proving you can achieve stuff if you put your mind to it, which has a lot of benefits off the bike too.' Now that's something XC and DH riders can all agree on. On that note, flats or clip-ins … ?

jennycopnall.com

This piece also appeared on the Guardian's bike blog. But the subbing was a bit weird.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Is this the best blag ever?!

There's an interview on the Singletrack site right now with Nigel Page, manager for the Chain Reaction team. It's a bit long but if you read it you will come across this story which anyone who has ever flown to Mega with their DH rig on Ryanair will appreciate and possibly crown as the best blag ever:

'Finally, can you tell us one of your famous excess baggage stories?

Well, this is certainly an area where my stress levels max out! Some of the excess baggage charges I have talked and argued my way around have been ridiculous, but when you arrive at check-in with 150 plus excess kilos you can imagine some of the charges. If I had agreed to pay the charges that the airlines tried to charge us last year going to and from South Africa we would have paid an about an extra £15,000. I managed to blag my way out of paying about £12K going out there, but on the way home the check-in lady was having none of it. The usual happened, the rest of the team left me to it, more out of embarrassment than anything else, but I had tried everything I knew from my blagging book and still I had to pay the excess of 125 excess kilos at £30 per kilo, otherwise we were not getting our stuff checked in. So off I went with the credit card to the payments desk with a bill for £3750 for excess baggage. I was stressed out massively, thinking about our team budget after just the first race, and I thought there has got to be a way around this. So as I queued up I thought I would try one last idea and got out my pen and put a point between the 2 and the 5 so my ticket said 12.5 instead of 125 excess kilos. I thought “This is going to be dodgy…” and as I approached the payment desk I noticed the guy had a Liverpool FC tie on, so quickly changing into my bessy scouse accent before I handed over the ticket, I asked him if he had ever been to watch the reds at Anfield? We had a quick chat about the Pool before he took my ticket and frowned at it and asked: “Is that 12.5 Kilos?”I said “Yeah mate” Obviously sh*tting it, as they don’t normally put on point 5. He said, “OK, I will just charge you for 12 kilos.” So I paid my £360 instead of £3750 and returned to the check-in desk with my stamped paid receipt just praying the lady didn’t check the amount I had paid. She handed me our tickets and told us to hurry up so we didn’t miss our flight. We all rushed off with my heart rate at about 170 until we sat on the plane! Then I thought ‘I bet the bloody plane will be too heavy to take off now and I’m going to be responsible for killing everyone!’


Check out the rest of the interview here

Tom shoots for Superco. Wahoo!

So back when were in Chicago in February we also hot footed it to Rays MTB park in Cleveland for Rays Angels weekend and two days of skewering my abdomen on my handlebars. Bearing children? Not for me!
Anyway, while there Tom hooked up with Dylan Bibbins who is a really smooth rider for Superco bikes (great hand built jump bikes from the US of A) and got some shots in. One is now on their homepage. Get in!
Some Crabbies ginger ale to celebrate methinks.

You can check out some of Tom's other MTB photography here although the site is being updated with some amazing shots that aren't on it yet. Be patient my little cherubs.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

When bad clothes ...

... happen to good riders.


More Mountain Biking >>

Look mum!

My mate Sam who used to work as the peanut butter fuelled mechanic at 'Sigma Sports world of top-end cycling joy in Kingston' (yes, that's it actual name), is in the process of opening his very own cycle workshop and cafe in Old Street, London town. This man knows bikes. And coffee. Which basically means his gaff is the place to be.

Due to open by April unless Sam finds himself racing up the Col de la Croix Fer like a whippet. As he has been known to do.

Check out details here: www.lookmumnohands.com

So, so proud.

Some little cycling stars in a sky filled with cycling tosh

Ordway, Colorado is a peaceful town, prone to rather robust winds. Depending on which way you cycle you're either going to find it really easy, or incredibly difficult to enter. But nestled in a back street is the perfect person to kick off this blog about cycle travel's unsung heroes. Gillian Hoggard was named a 'trail angel' back in 2006 by the Adventure Cycling Association for the free and welcoming accommodation she offered to cyclists riding the Transamerica trail across the United States. Her little oasis of homegrown veg and cute flowers in a land of sand and brush was burnt to the ground in 2008 making this section of trail rather bleak. But she's now back in action and is confident she'll be ready to host by the spring. Or in her words: 'I have two lads here who are putting in good efforts to make it so … ' Get on your bike, head to Ordway and ask for Gillian. An old school method that works every time.

Moving eastwards we come across the Great Lakes area of North America – probably not the first place you think of when it comes to cycling owing to the vast quantities of water housed there. But if you like your riding kitsch and a little bit quaint you could do a lot worse than head to Mackinac Island which sits between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Cars are banned from Mackinac meaning transportation is by cycle, foot or horse drawn carriage only. But while the tourists take to the Victorian-era streets on gentle pushbikes, the 3.8 miles squared island also harbours some good singletrack. Hire a bike at Ryba'son Lake Shore Road close to the ferry terminal for £28 for the day and set off inland. You can pick up a map from the Tourist Bureau or download one here. Access to the island is by ferry between April and October.

And on the subject of mountain biking we move from an island to Ireland. By now you must have heard of Break the Cycle
It is a film by graphic designer Andy Yoong which not only documents downhill riding in Ireland but shoots it on the backdrop of some of amazing scenery. A lot of the movie was shot in Mourne Mountain area around Rostrevor but spots in the north – including Belfast and the north Antrim coast also get a look in. It throws a spotlight on a country often overlooked when it comes to documenting fantastic riding. If you feel like investigating further, download a copy of January's MBR which has a feature on the Emerald Isle or talk to First Tracks Guiding who run mountain bike courses in County Down and County Armagh. If you want to ride on location then you can book accommodation with Rostrevor Holidays

Away from the mud and onto the easier to ride surface of tarmac and we head into the French Alps. No, not THOSE Alps, but the ones you probably haven't associated with fantastic road riding yet. Velo Vercors is a holiday company in the Rhone Alps set up by ex-racer Roger Dunne and his wife Teresa. Based in St Jean-en-Royans the landscape on offer is that of deep valley gorges and grassy plateaus. With Roger at the helm the daily rides on offer can be tailored to clients needs and if you want to ride 120km with a 3000 metres of ascent, you can. The bonus is the roads are very quiet so the only sound you'll hear is your own gasping breath.

Speaking of tarmac, there's a lot of it in London. Which is why The Trax is a pretty cool concept. It's a new cycle club for riders up in Tottenham and north London and focusses on all off-road disciplines including BMX, dirt jumping and downhill. It's based in Lordship Recreation Ground and organises race days, trips out to the Surrey Hills, skills sessions and youth meets. It's unlikely it will challenge the ever-growing track scene in the capital but is a nice slant on urban riding anyway.

And finally to a place more often associated with surfing than cycling. Despite being only 50 miles across, Kauai in the Hawaiian islands has a developing road riding scene which is gaining fans among the off-road fraternity. “Why is cycling on Kauai so good?” says professional mountain biker Joanna Petterson “Well let's just say I like picking avocado from a tree on my ride, the mountain climbs and ending my ride by jumping into the ocean and catching a few waves.” Triathlete Stacy Ricciardi runs a boot camp on the island, primarily for female cyclists, offering lengthy but friendly training rides around the island, often finishing for breakfast in the town of Kilauea. So while the mountain biking may be technical and slippery, the road riding is beautiful and ends with pancakes. You can contact Stacy by email: bootcampbystacy@hawaii.rr.com

Friday, 19 March 2010

Sometimes you just have to go: respect

Straight from the Black Run joy of race day last weekend, Aston Hill is hosting another cool event on 23 March (yes folks, that's a Tuesday) where Brian Bartlett who invented the Bartlett tendon will be riding with some of the first British users of the device. It's a prosthetic limb which allows people who have lost their leg above the knee to kick ass on DH rigs. And probably other stuff too but let's not forget we're here for the DH people.



The event is being hosted by Pace Rehabilitation and no, the video wasn't shot at Aston Hill. Couldn't you tell?

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http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/green-living-blog/2010/mar/19/cambridge-women-bikes

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Tracy Moseley gets all fit.

I mean like, she rocks right? Properly rocks.
My fitness regime involes watching people do their fitness regimes.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Best MTB films ever?

Ok so this little piece took me about a day to research. Well, I had my top five within about 15 minutes but I had to research for hours just to make sure. Obvs.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/mar/08/mountain-biking-youtube-video?page=all
Anyone got any better suggestions? Of course you have!

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Nice new website

No not mine. But I just came across this one: www.jab-ride.co.uk about all things mountain bike down in the South East. Blah, blah the south isn't all there is to England and London isn't the only place in the world I know, I know, I get it. But the lads behind this seem pretty passionate about bikes. Plus they tweeted this pic of the new pump track at Esher Shore due to open in April, so they're worth bigging up in my book.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Cocktails and mud

Right so let's get the important news out the way first: last night I watched the whole of Cocktail! The whole thing! Not just the first two thirds, but I saw it to the end. Oh yes. Can't believe the Aussie dude killed himself, as if a life of reckless abandon shouldn't be endorsed. Der. But other than that, wonderful. All Eighties and terrible hair (I had mine cut in Chicago. Big mistake. I now look like Brian May.) Met this dude Ken who runs the bar at the fantastic Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland and he said there exists a roster of films which you just have to see through to the end: Shawshank (obvs), Grease, Big etc etc and now Cocktail. Unfortunately after a lot of consideration I have decided that BMX Bandits does not belong on this list. But I had to watch it through three times before I came to this conclusion, very early this morning.

I decided to spend over four hours in front of the TV in order to round off a particularly sedentary weekend which saw me sit in the van all the way up to north Wales for the Caersws uplift weekend organised by Mike at Borderline events, and back again. Although first we went to Moelfre which is even further north than Caersws because Tom, while very good at taking pictures, is very shite at using Google maps. (side note – as I write this I am eating spinach which tastes like bacon. It may be off.) Here's what the road to Moelfre looks like:

Yes. It's raining. By the time we got to Caersws the mud was axle deep. It looked like this: So deep I was forced to mull over the point at which my trainers would stop being waterproof. Nike Airforce One high tops: pretty goddam waterproof I'm happy to report. Hooked up with Jess Stone who was making like Sam Hill, throwing the bike sideways and letting off the brakes. She is stoked to be riding the World Cup and it's really inspiring to see. Her ambition, skill and competitiveness herald good tidings (touchwood.) In Tom's words: 'Blimey, she likes going fast.' In my words: “get the hell away from me you're covered in s**t. Ooooh can I do your nails?' I did:



I can safely report mud is not my forte despite Jess's claims that it was really sticky. Yeah right. I stuck in the van. Then to the pub for beer and mash. We left her in a room with 24 men and no showers and hoofed it back to London via Gloucester. Props must go to Steve and his dad Norm for being rad, providing a gazebo and hack sawing my seatpost.

Dear lord am I excited about the coming season!

p.s. Oh and in reference to this blog, the ever-sparkly and brilliant Debbie at Minx sent me this link. If ever there was a good reason for elastic waistbands on baggies …