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 … ?

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:

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:

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?



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.
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: 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 …