Friday, March 29, 2013

Giving it some beans.

Good Friday saw Robin, Stuart and myself head up onto the Moor to see if the snow drifts from last week had receded or not. Leaving the sprawling house that Robin calls home, there was some nice singletrack heading north out toward the road, before the usual slog up onto the moor proper.

View across to Arran

The surrounding hills only had small patches of snow, which looked promising, and the pace from Dalry was brisk, the lungs and legs warming up quickly. First off road climb was the steep, usually muddy, quad track up onto kaim hill. The trails were still pretty dry, with just the odd snow drift across the trail to slow down the climb. The usual Kaim game descent back to the road was not as much fun as usual, as this had more pockets of snow than were visible from the road. The worst areas of snow seem to be the west facing slopes, as they have been sheltered from the unusual easterly wind.

This then led us down to tackle the recently cleared kilruskin glen descents, which being in a forest, were clear of snow, running dry and fast. Good stuff. Back up the usual moor road climb again, although I struggled to get going on this climb today, not sure why. The contour round Black hill and the subsequent descent down into fairlie is more open, and was slow going due to the number of deep drifts, but good fun though.

Robins' demo Ibis Mojo

The village inn, Fairlie, has only recently opened back up again, and seems to be getting better all the time. We ended up having a nice sociable lunch, cracking soup and pitta, with the sugar and caffeine from coffee and coke going down well. Stuart is vegan, and there wasn't much that he cold really take, and when he asked the barman if he had any beans, he received a rather blank and puzzled expression!. So much for a healthy vegan diet - 2 rolls with chips and ketchup. The ibis mojo which Robin had as a demo ride was deemed too expensive to be left outside with no lock on, so the owner kindly let us bring it in.

So, all that was left was the horrible full moor climb up and over to Dalry, with me struggling to get the pedals going again. One of those days, hopefully. The singletrack dropping back into Robins' manor was lovely in the other direction, just getting back in time for a quick drive home in time to tuck into one of Maz's lovely homely dinners. Another good day in the shire.

Arrochar alps in the background

 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Cold and very, very dry.

This week saw us riding on Thursday instead of Wednesday, as Maz was working on Wednesday meaning I get to curl up in front of the fire with Maria instead of hitting the trails. Admittedly, after getting out of the car at fencebay near fairlie, I was thinking the fire may have been a better option, as a cold unusual easterly wind was as biting as it was fierce.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, as upwards is the only way to begin at fairlie, Craig and myself went armed with bowsaw and axe, with the intention of removing some of the face height branches that had been slowing us down in previous weeks on the kilruskin descent. We rolled into the carpark a good hour before Robin and Klaus were due, so we had the luxury of some daylight on a nightride, the first since around October time.

After clearing the eye pokers out the way, we descended the lower kilruskin back to the car park to meet the hairy one and the little one. From here on was just our usual fairlie nightride figure-of-eight loop, but two things stood out from the norm. For some bizarre reason, Robin decided to turn up on a fully rigid bike, don't think he'll do that again. The other very, very unusual thing was the state of the trails. Drier than professor of dry at Oxford university. Incredibly, even the section along the top of the estate, which is notoriously minging, was pretty good. I can honestly say, I haven't seen the trails this hard and crisp since 2011. Hopefully a sign of the summer to come.

So, rolling back into the village, we only had time for Craig to wreck a chain, and me to walk his bike back along the main road, while he headed off on my cotic to come back and get me in the car. I was glad to get back into the car, as the wind was making me very cold again due to cooling down whilst walking with Craig's bike.

These weekly night rides with the two big climbs up the moor road are having a noticeable effect on my climbing. Allied to the twice weekly spin classes, I'll be in good order for the summer to come. Sweet.

 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A winters tale. In spring.

No pictures, sadly. I forgot to take my camera to the lakes at the weekend, and I can't for the life of me workout how to link photos from other people's flickr accounts, as Des and Robin both have cracking pictures!. Idiot.

Anyway, another belting weekend of biking in the Lake District, this time with my usual riding amigos, as well as 3 guys from my club Glasgow mountain bike club, Tom, Gavin and Ross. We were planning on meeting at patterdale on the Saturday morning, and decide where to ride from there as the weather was looking ominous.

As usual, we were a bit late. And missed the GMBC guys, so set off on our own, heading up onto high street. Here's the thing, I don't actually recall agreeing on heading up high street, I just bought into following the route Robin had programmed into his GPS. I'm firmly landing the blame of this one at the door of our senior partner. So first off was a leg warming climb on a hardcore track up to hayeswater reservoir, by which point, the surroundings were getting whiter and whiter.

After a few photos, it was bikes up on the shoulder and climbing straight up a steep, grassy and increasingly snowy slope. By the time we reached the Knott, at 700 odd metres, we realised that there wouldn't be much riding done today. To summarise, in the three hours that followed, we probably rode for about 3 minutes. We mainly carried and pushed our bikes through 18 inches of snow and complete whiteout air conditions, right up and over the 2500 feet summit of high raise, and on to the northerly end of high street.

Robin had a wee shaky sugar low moment coming onto the rocky summit of raise, but quickly got some food down, and steadied himself again. That was until his GPS announced that the batteries were low. Queue the wobbly panic voice again!. It's no surprise that when an opportunity presented itself to get off the summit, albeit on a footpath (daft English rule number 273a - no riding on footpaths) we grabbed it with both hands.

It turned out to be a very un-lakes like descent, more like a Scottish moorland trail, narrow, grassy, muddy and as slippery as a libdem under oath. What it did do, was deliver us back to the valley floor, and what followed was ace. The much vaunted Ullswater bridleway. A roller coaster of wee ups and downs, interspersed with rocky chutes, boulder fests and all sorts of technical challenges, both up and down. Unbelievably, by this time, spring had returned, and bathed us in her watery sunlight, even heating our bones a little too.

So, 7 hours later, we were back at the YHA Patterdale, getting showered and ready for the worst meal in history. I must take the blame for this, booking the white lion inn for the 6 of us, as by this time the others had joined us, after having their own troubles - riding the garburn pass in the wrong direction....

The food was so bad, that I won't expand, just don't go there....

After this, Ross decided he was going to live up to the national stereotype of drunken Scotsman abroad, singing, hanging about the village drinking red wine from the bottle and generally enjoying himself in his own way. All while we were tucked up in preparation of another ride the next day.

So up the next morning to a nice not-too-greasy breakfast (bed and breakfast fast for just over £20, you've got to love the old old YHA) and we headed off in a group of six to ride to pooley bridge and back along the trail we did the day before. Great ride. 21 miles, a few of which were on Tarmac, but getting to ride the ullswater bridleway both ways was a joy, and the climb out of pooley bridge post coffee was rewarded with a very, very long and fast descent back down to the edge of the beautiful ullswater again.

Needless to say, after the previous nights high jinx, Ross only managed about an hours riding, before heading back to the hostel. By the time we got back, the half bottle of red wine he had previously left lying on the bridge had gone. We will never know.....

So, even in poor weather, the Lake District once again shows why it is probably my favourite place to cycle. Even if it is in England. I promise not to forget the camera next time as well.

Monday, March 11, 2013

No brakes, gears or baggies.....

Sunday saw my first experience of track cycling, at the superb new Sir Chris Hoy velodrome in the east end of Glasgow. This was a club 'taster' session, organised by one of our club members Iain, and had a good turnout of 18 riders. 5 or 6 of the club members were already accredited, so got to ride out straight away in different formations and at a decent speed.

The rest of us got a bit of a talk from the young track coach, rules and such like, before we were allowed to head onto the track. Track bikes are fixed gear, and don't have any brakes, you just use your legs to slow the pedals down, and the first challenge is getting clipped into the pedals and heading off without any embarrassing tumbles!. First up, we rode in a light blue band, known as the C├┤te d'Azur, basically an entry and exit lane where you can speed up to enter the banking, or where you slow down before getting off.

The first thing you notice is how bloody steep the banking is at either end of the track - 'I'll never get up on that' must go through most folks minds at first, it certainly did in mine. Once you get up to speed though, it's time to get up higher, and then the inevitable overtaking of anyone going slower. When overtaking, you really have to dig in hard as when your going round the outside of someone on the bend, you are going a fair bit further, but the speed gathered at the exit of the banking is very exhilarating. It's physically tough, after 5 minutes, you can feel it, my hamstrings were feeling it, probably due to me not being used to riding in the drops.

So on it went, on and off the track, getting higher and faster each time, until you can ride wherever you want. It is really addictive, if not a little frightening, with the constant thought of how painful a fall at speed would be.

The rule is, if your taster session goes okay, and no one does anything stupid, then you can use it as your first accreditation, of which there are four, before you can ride in the drop in rides, or the race nights. With the first accred done, I'm really keen to get on with the next one, and get some more track time in. It's pretty cheap too, an hour session with bike hire and shoe hire as well was £9. That's great value, hopefully this great venue gets some of the nation off their sofas and on the bike.

 

Friday, March 8, 2013

A change in the weather.

This Wednesday nightride signalled a wee change in the weather, the last 3 weeks settled spring-like conditions disappeared, being replaced by a blustery cold, and the return of the scotch mist. We managed to get the ride in before the rain started, and trails were as dry as they have been since before last summer.

I've met and ridden with a fair few folks from the singletrack forum over the years, and we were joined by another, Oli, a suvverner who is up working at the boatyard in fairlie. We did the usual two big climbs and two descents, but didn't hang about long at the top, as it was bloody wild. Klaus was test riding my Santa Cruz, but I don't think he really got on with it, due to it maybe being too big, not the ideal place to ride it, and the fact that the beardiesinglespeeder doesn't really do full sussers!. Looks like it'll be going on fleabay then.

Another cracking ride up the moor, hopefully we will start getting the upper descents in shortly as well, especially as the clocks to forward soon. All this climbing along with a couple of spin classes a week is definitely starting to show in my biking, and getting the cx bike out on the road will only help. Looking forward to the velodrome on Sunday, but a wee bit anxious too. 30mph, nae brakes, and riding within a couple of inches of other track newbies sounds like a recipe for disaster!. Hopefully I'll get some pics, not me in Lycra though, that'd be too much!. ;-)

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

A wee sunset road spin.

I finally got the rear mech, cassette and chain fitted to my Ridley cx bike today, the parts have been lying waiting since last week, and after fitting them, I was keen to get out and get it going. So, after dinner, I headed out northward, but for some reason my garmin wasn't playing ball, I think I may have filled the memory capacity. Just a short route, must have only been about 15 miles, but had a climb up dundonald hill included. I think the hill is going to be a good training hill for me for the various events I have planned,it's pretty short but tough, and good for a bit of session end intervals.

Back after an hour in time for Maria's bedtime story, and some chill out time before night shift. Fairlie moor tomorrow night, spin on Thursday, and first accreditation at the new sir Chris hoy velodrome coming up on Sunday. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A perfect early spring ride in the Leadhills.

My usual riding buddies, Des and Robin were joined by Klaus, Gavin and myself for the first biggish ride of the year in the Leadhills, above Drumlanrig estate.

The ride starts at Drumlanrig estate with an 8 mile road section before heading onwards and up the mennock pass. It was here that klaus the bearded clown biker suffered a puncture, under the inquisitive eyes of a strangely tame group of herdie sheep.

So after successfully squeezing a 26er tube onto a 29er rim, we were off again, climbing up and over the southern upland way to the highest village in Britain, Wanlockhead. Also one of the bleakest villages, Wanlockhead has a lead mining museum and a cafe, which as usual was bloody shut. Carrying on up to the radar station, the road was still covered in a good 18 inches of snow, so we were glad to turn off onto the much vaunted enterkin pass decent.

I set off first, and perhaps a wee bit quicker than my skill levels allowed, which caught up with me after a few minutes. The trail here is really narrow, a sinuous ribbon which drops away precipitously down into the gorge below. Going over the bars at 20 mph wasn't my best idea, fortunately I managed not to roll all the way to the bottom, but my ribs are really painful as I type this.

 

This is the main decent of the ride, a cracker of a U shaped valley on nice, tightly munched grassy trails thanks to the sheep up there, but with the odd rocky section to catch out the unwary biker. We then headed on further down, crossing and recrossing the Enterkin burn many times, before eventually being spat out on tho the dalveen pass, and a big ring grind back to the cars at the drum.

An hour in the car later, I was back home for a lovely dinner of paella and then lemon drizzle cake from the hands of my good lady, and a bath whilst enjoying the equally good Craig Charles funk and soul show on 6music, and a bottle of erdinger.

Longest ride of the year so far, at over 52k, and a belter to boot. 2013 promise to be a good yin.

 

First solo bivvy

I've been spending a bit of time lately perusing the forum over at bearbones.co.uk, it's amazing to see some of the adventures people have been having in the world of bikepacking, and some of the gear folks have been making for themselves. One post that caught my eye was the 'bivvy a month' thread. As I had missed January, I was trying desperately to fit one in for February.

So, on the 27th (leaving it late as usual!) I headed off at six pm in a freezing fog, unbelievable after the beautiful clear day it had been. First rule of bikepacking. Make sure your camera batteries are fully charged. I failed on this one, riding out of st quivox, I came across a truly inspiring site. Almost up out of the fog, the sky was a gorgeous range of colour, from pure blue, down through pink and yellow of the setting sun, into the grey of the fog. Dancing delightfully over a flooded field, was a juvenile bat, oblivious to my presence, dipping down to the water to drink. Bloody camera batteries.

So, on I went, through Auchincruive and enterkine estates onto stair, a picturesque wee enclave on the banks of the river Ayr. I managed to find a nice wee spot in the woods behind the stair inn (handy, eh?) to bed down. So, tarp and sleep system set up for the night, I managed a couple of pints of blonde bombshell before bed. Once bedded down, I managed to sleep not too badly at all, the only issue being slightly cold tootsies, but I'll sort that for next month.

The recently made coke can stove, courtesy of Andy 'mears' Gourlay, worked a treat in the morning, boiling me more than enough water for my tea and porridge. So, at about 8am, packed up rode home, tired but happy. Roll on next months night under the stars....