Monday, 11 May 2009

Big day out coming up!

Got a trip to Ryvoan bothy followed by a big (70km odd) day out in the Cairngorms planned with my good mate Ali this Friday night and Saturday. It's been ages since we did our last bothy trip and the weather is set to be fantastic.

Ryvoan - Bynack Stables - Fords of Avon -Glen Avon - Inchrory Lodge - Tomintoul - Glen Brown - Abernethy Forest and back to Ryvoan. Can't wait!

And in other news, getting in loads of pre-orders for the guidebook. It should be available come Thursday, so get your pre-order in before the release date to save over 20% on RRP

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Blog mentions, bike meltdown, Trail Centres Guidebook

Our Tour of the Cairngorms got a wee mention on the Minx Girl blog, check it out here.

A few days off the bike this week, so I have just put together a list of stuff needed for the On One Summer season 456. The frame was new last autumn, but a lot of the parts are two years old now and some are very tired

Have run out of Stan's Tubeless Goo £12

2 new chainrings (one knackered, one knackered and bent) £50

New Hollowtech II bottom bracket (doesn't sound healthy) £25

Pedals (absolutely gubbed) £35

Rear mech (springs have gone a bit limp!) £35
was going to buy a new XT shadow, but from Chain Reaction its £56!! SLX will be fine!

Chain £12
past 0.75 on the Park Chain Checker, so will probably mean:

Cassette £35
again was going to go for XT, but since it's now ridiculous money SLX will do

Brake pads £25

Total - over £200 just to get everything running smoothly again. I was thinking about some new forks, probably Pikes and wheels with wider rims to go with my new fondness for massive tyres. These may be on the back burner for a while now though! Still, I have had well over 200 quids worth of fun out of all this gear, so I can hardly complain.

Just got some copies of the acclaimed Mountain Biking Trail centres Guidebook in from V-Graphics. Written by my one time Mountain Mayhem team mate Tom Fenton, it has details on all 67 of the UK's purpose built mountain bike centres.

Available from my ebay shop with free postage and over 15% off RRP. Bargain!

Just in case you need convinced, here is the Bikemagic review

Friday, 1 May 2009

Tour of the Cairngorms

Ran our first Tour of the Cairngorms of 2009 this week. What a superb trip it was. Great riding, some amazing singletrack and fantastic scenery. Really good group of riders made for a fun four days. The On One Summer Season 456 was superb on the technical singletrack too - can't believe what a great bike it is!
Got a wee plug for both my guide book and for Scottish Mountain Bike Guides in the June issue of What MTB mag as well (page 17) which was nice!
Skills Course at Glentress this weekend, will no doubt be mobbed due to the Bank Holiday!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Guidebook is almost here!

This is the cover image of my new guidebook! It's due to hit the shelves in the middle of May priced at £15.95. If you want to be one of the first to get a hold of a copy, and you want to save yourself over 20% in the process, then you can pre-order a copy through my ebay shop. Buy it now and it'll be dispatched while it's still hot from the presses!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Spring is in the air!

We've had a couple of really nice days recently - even got a bit sunburnt on our last skills course at Glentress this weekend. The place was buzzing on Sunday what with the Demo Day, but we headed out on the black route and saw four other riders all day! We stopped quite a bit and had a good look at some of the tricky sections, spending about 4 hours on the trail.

I was riding my On One Summer Season 456, set up with 2 chainrings and a bashguard. Even with the chain as short as possible I was losing it on nearly every rough section on the descents. I think an e13 DRS chainguide may soon be on the shopping list for this bike.

The guided holidays are just about to get underway, with the four day Tour of the Cairngorms near the end of this month. Can't wait!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

First skills course of the year

I ran our first skills course of the year last weekend. We arrived at Glentress on Saturday morning to find everything above the level of the Buzzard's Nest carpark about 4 inches deep in snow and pretty much unrideable. We did what we could on the lower routes, mainly Electric Blue and Falla Brae. By the end of the day, the clients had a good grasp of the basic techniques and their riding was definitely improving, but we needed rideable trails to put all the skills drills they'd been practising to good use.

We decided to keep something in the tank for day 2 and made the decision to finish up early and meet at Mabie the next day. Mabie was snow free and it was looking like a good day weather wise when we arrived on Sunday morning. We spent the first coupe of hours at the skills loop working on drop offs, berms and front wheels lifts. Then it was time to take things to the trails and head out on the red route.

We rode at a leisurely pace stopping to check out difficult sections and allowing the clients to practice their new skills on technical features like rock gardens and roots. Both clients had ridden at Mabie a few times before so were able to identify how they used to ride each section and how much smoother and more confident they had become over the weekend. Their eyes had been opened to the idea of line choice, so rather than following the well worn tyre tracks over all the obstacles they were making good use of the whole trail and taking root sections and boulder fields with much more control.

All in all, a great weekend - two faster, smoother, more confident riders means my job is done and gives a real sense of satisfaction. Thanks for an excellent weekend's riding folks! (And thanks for lunch at the Shed)

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

We're on

Somehow, the Holiday Focus part of our latest newsletter, on our Coast to Coast, made in onto the Off Road News section of the Everyday Cycling website, albeit in a slightly edited form. I knew nothing about it until I got the weekly website stats through last night.

Didn't do the number of hits through to any harm! Fingers crossed for lots more C2C bookings. Looks like I'll have to pay a bit more attention to in future.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Spring cleaning

I am having a bit of a Spring clean over the next few weeks, trying to streamline some of the equipment we don't use and clear out some of the parts from the great big box of spare stuff.

Have a look in our ebay shop for loads of bargain mountain bike and camping bits and pieces.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Mountain Bike Skills Courses: What we do

I got an email a couple of days ago, asking for more info on our skills courses. It occurred to me that they have evolved quite a bit over the last two years, and the info currently on the website maybe doesn't truely reflect what happens.
Anyway, here's the reply I sent, explaining what we do on our skills courses:
"I run two different levels of skills courses - beginner and intermediate. Our website gives an overview of each course. To give a wee bit more info, the beginner courses take place at Glentress and cover all the fundamentals such as bike set up, body position, use of brakes & gears, line choice, basic obstacles (rocks & roots) etc. The aim of the course is to take people with little off road riding experience and have them riding blue graded trail centre trails comfortably by the end ofthe course.The intermediate level course is for more experienced riders. Initially we look at the fundamentals, going 'back to basics' to ensure the basic techniques are solid and to iron out any bad habits which you may have picked up. Then we look at taking those skills to the more technical trails and adding some speed. This course is aimed at those who are maybe already riding red & black graded trails, and are 'surviving' them, but want to ride them faster with more confidence and control. We run these at several locations - Glentress, Wolftrax and the Witches Trails. As we tend to work with small groups the content of each course is tailored to you, so we ask a lot of questions about your goals at the time of booking. Although there is an itinerary described on the website, we rarely stick to it!
Both courses cost £99 per person and run over two days (usually a weekend) from 09.30am to around 4pm. There are set dates on the website, but we can run one for you on any date. If you'd prefer a single day, we can also run a single day session for £65, again on a date of your choice."
Maybe it's time to update the website...

Monday, 2 February 2009

Winter bivvying?

We had a wee holiday in the first week of January, spending a few days in Fort William and then heading over to the Cairngorms for the rest of the week.

We took the dog for a couple of really nice walks in Rothiemurchus Forest and were lucky enough to experience some amazing winter weather. The first day we took a lap of Loch an Eilean. We didn't start until well into the afternoon, and the light was beginning to fade by the time we were about half way round the Loch. It was a beautiful clear evening, and my wife described it as 'walking in Narnia'.

By the time we got near the finish the light had gone, but the moonlight reflecting off the frozen ground showed the way perfectly. Back at the head of the loch the trees opened up and the sky was perfectly clear and beautifully moonlit. It occured to me that this would be a perfect night for a bivvy. Most of my bivvying has been done between the months of March and October, and I tend to head for a bothy for some substatial shelter in the depths of winter. But the seed has been planted...

Back at the car, the temperature guage read -9 degrees, and it dropped to -12 overnight. I should probably invest something a little warmer than my current one season sleeping bag!

More pics here

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Unfinished business in Knoydart

This is a wee story about a trip I made last March to Knoydart on the West Coast. It was without doubt the toughest two days of biking of the year and has lodged itself deeply in my memory. The trip had already stopped going according to plan long before we had even turned a single crank. I blame the hire van, the weather, and the now defunct MTB mag, Maximum Mountain Bike.

The plan had been to drive to Mallaig and catch the train to Glenfinnan. Two days of riding were to bring us back to Mallaig via the Rough Bounds of Knoydart, Sourlies bothy, Bruce Watt’s ferry from Inverie to Tarbert and hopefully some cracking singletrack along the shores of Loch Morar.

Most of the route had been described in a few 10 year old pages torn from the aforementioned publication. The rest looked ok from the map. What could go wrong? We even had intentions of a civilised lunch at the Old Forge in Inverie, the most remote pub on the UK mainland, and the perfect spot to while away the hours waiting for the ferry.

The night before departure Ali had called whilst I was packing. The weather forecast for the West Highlands which he had just downloaded was predicting 70mph gusts of wind and temperatures of -22 degrees with wind chill. I stuffed some long bottoms into my rucksack.

I’d already picked up the hire van, the bike was loaded into the back and I was ready for the off. No backing out now.

At the crack of dawn the next morning I was in the van and on the way. About 5 minutes after the crack of dawn I discovered a small problem with the hire van. It wouldn’t turn right. On the first roundabout on the way to Ali’s house the rear wheels tried to overtake the front. To be fair it was wet and I was giving it some on the empty early morning roads. On the second roundabout it happened again. Fortunately it was mostly left turns to Ali’s house after that.

Four hours to get from Ali’s and onto the train at Mallaig should have been no bother. Factor in a top speed of about 40mph and the right turn problem and we were cutting it fine as we passed through Fort William. Then we hit the road works. The plan was quickly changed to stop at Glenfinnan, and then get the train back from Mallaig at the end of the ride. We figured we had 3 hours from getting off the ferry to ride 15km and meet the last train from Mallaig. Piece of cake.

It was absolutely tipping it down, so we waited for the rain to ease off for about half an hour. When it didn't and we couldn't find any more pointless tasks to do, we gritted our teeth and got on the bikes.

By the time we had ridden 200 yards we were already soaked from the rain and spray coming off the tarmac.

Heading under the Glenfinnan Viaduct (of Harry Potter fame) and up the glen was initially pretty easy thanks to the smooth tarmac which has been laid up to the Lodge house. We branched off onto a nice rocky Landrover track and after a quick sniff around in the bothy at Corryhully, began climbing in earnest up the glen. After saying to each other about the amount of water in the River Finnan we came across a massive ford which was in full spate and looked about waist deep.

Initially we thought we were stuck and would have to turn back before we had barely started, but there was a rickety bridge slightly upstream.

The Landrover track deteriorated as we climbed to the first of four river crossings before the summit of the pass. These were freezing with snowmelt off the surrounding mountains, and the fact that they were fast moving and pretty deep meant spending a lot of time in the water making sure we had a solid footing before taking the next step. The result was blue legs followed by blue everything else as the chilled blood was pumped round our bodies. After four of these crossings we were both pretty cold despite several layers of clothing, but at least we still had some climbing to do to warm us back up!

At the saddle between Sgurr Thuilm and Streap we had a quick "stoppette" in the lee side of a boulder and a bite to eat before heading down the glen towards Glen Dessary. The only problem here was that there was no real path, so we had to push the bikes for 6km over wet boggy ground. Which was fun. I discovered that 5.10’s shoes, while sticking to flat pedals like glue, don’t have much heel grip on steep wet grass, and spent a good percentage of the first kilometre or so on my arse.

We were back on the bikes on the forest road in Glen Dessary and quickly span round to the bothy at A'Chuil for a late lunch stop. Bacon rolls on the camping stove have long been a tradition of my bike rides with Ali, and this was no exception. We left the bothy about 4pm, reckoning that even if we had to walk the last 10km to our overnight stop at Sourlies bothy at the head of Glen Nevis it would only take us 2 hours. Ha!

The initial ride along the forest road and a sandy riverside track was pretty nice, if a bit boggy in places. We came round a corner to find three massive stags on the other side of the river. I don't know who was more surprised that we had come upon them without them hearing us, but we stood and stared at each other for a couple of minutes before they decided they didn't like the look of us and took off.

Then things got a bit tricky. I blame Maximum Mountain Bike for this part of the trip, as they summed up the whole of the next 8km in one short understated sentence in their route description. The track climbed steeply for a couple of hundred metres to the high point of the afternoon, which was basically a huge bog. So more pushing then. In ankle deep bog. Into a headwind. With hail showers. Horizontal ones.

After a couple of kilometres of this, the way ahead narrowed into a cleft between the two mountains on either side. There was a rocky path to follow, but the gusting headwinds, hail and frequent knee deep bogs meant that we were resigned to pushing.

As we pressed on, a general state of fatigue was setting in with both of us, and it was a case of just getting the heads down and grinding it out. In the course of grinding away, the path was becoming less distinct and even though we were both pretty tired and were in a “just keep moving forward” mindset, we knew something wasn’t quite right. Checking the map showed our mistake. We were on the wrong side of the river, and the path was taking us too high. Seven hours in and tiredness was leading to fundamental mistakes, such as not checking the map frequently in complex, unfamiliar terrain. Fortunately we hadn’t gone too far off course, so a quick back track, a steep drop down to the river, another chilly crossing and a slightly precarious clamber up a steep mossy bank saw us back on the right path without losing too much time to the ever decreasing daylight.

Soon we could see the shoreline of Loch Nevis and knew the bothy was just out of sight around the headland. All that remained was to drop down some steep rocky switchbacks, cross a footbridge over the deep river gorge and trudge over the last boggy couple of kilometres to the bothy. The switchbacks looked like they would have been a great technical challenge on a different day, but tiredness, failing light and the 3 inches of water running down them meant we trudged on.

I was glad I had decided to wear my 5.10s and keep the flat pedals on the bike for this trip. I knew Ali’s feet would be suffering in his bike shoes after all the walking. Not much we could do about it now though, so off we went following the well defined grassy track towards the shore. It was after 7pm by this stage, so was to all intends and purposes dark. Its amazing what you can mistake for a bothy in the dark, so after a couple of detours in the direction of big rocks that looked like they might be it, we saw something which we both agreed must be the bothy roof shining in the moonlight.

Over 9 hours after leaving the van, we leaned the bikes on the bothy wall and dived inside, glad to be finally out of the rain and the wind. Our well practiced bothy routine took over: dry clothes on, fire lit, stove fired up all under the power of our headtorches. The next hour and a half involved stuffing as much food and hot coffee down ourselves as we could. Ali found about a teaspoon of whisky left in a bottle on the fireplace. For some reason this only made its way into his coffee and not mine! We retired to our sleeping bags at 9pm and conked out pretty much straight away.

Throughout the night the rain lashed down and the wind howled rattling the roof and generally sounding like it was pretty miserable outside. Cocooned in down jacket, gloves, balaclava and sleeping bag I wasn’t too worried about it, though I did expect our bikes to have blown away in the night. Our plan for the next day was to head over the Man Meadail pass and follow Gleann Meadail into Inverie for that pub lunch and a boat trip back to civilisation.

However, on going for a pee at 6.30 in the morning, it looked like the snowline had dropped to about 300m. We wondered if it was sensible to try to cross Mam Meadail at nearly 600m. We decided probably not. We also reckoned that even if we did get to Inverie in one piece, the chances were that the ferry would be off. Despite being at the sheltered end of Loch Nevis, the water was looking a bit choppy. Of course we didn’t have any signal on our phones, so we couldn’t call Bruce Watt Cruises to find out. The decision was made to knock our original plan on the head and retrace our steps of the day before. So that was another 9 hours of trudging through bogs to look forward to, now with the added bonus of loads of snow. The silver lining was at least the last 10km was going to be a fast descent on good rocky track down Glenfinnan.

After porridge and coffee, we had another coffee and delayed beginning the trudging. We didn’t even bother putting our helmets on, strapping them to our rucksacks we began strolling with our bikes just after 8am. The rocky switchbacks which we clambered down the evening before had become an icy waterfall as we clambered back up them, wondering just how much water would be in the four rivers crossings at the top of Glenfinnan later in the day.

By lunchtime the sun had put in an appearance and we had reached the luxury of the forest road in Glen Dessary. It was a joy to actually get on the bikes for the first time that day and we covered the 7km of hardpacked track in good time to reach the bottom of Gleann Cuirnean with its 6km of boggy walking. Only unlike yesterday this time it was all uphill and the final 200 vertical metres to the summit of the pass was covered in snow.

The 2 hours that it took to do this section were passed in the head down, just keep moving forward style and I don’t really remember much about them. The summit cairn at the high point of the pass was a welcome sight and I seem to have regained conscious thought somewhere around there. We could see the ribbon of rocky Landrover track dropping down into Glenfinnan. The four river crossings had actually dropped a bit since the day before. All the overnight precipitation seemed to be staying on the hillsides as snow, rather than running off them as water.

The final high speed plummet back to the main road at Glenfinnan was fantastic. For a few minutes the two days of tough conditions were forgotten as we skimmed over rocks and drainage channels. I was grateful for my tubeless tyres on a couple of occasions as I slammed the back wheel into one or two of these and felt the tyre hit the rim.

As we trundled along the road back to where the van was parked at Glenfinnan station we mused on the ‘character building’ aspect of the trip. It had been cold, wet and hard work. We didn’t really ride much of the route and in places the bikes were more hindrance than help. It should have been miserable, but still, it’s hard to beat a couple of days in harsh conditions in the middle of nowhere. We also reckoned we deserved a fish supper!

I will have to get back to Knoydart at some point this year. A better weather forecast and an altered route should hopefully unlock the potential of this magnificent part of Scotland

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Welcome to the Scottish Mountain Bike Guides Blog

Welcome to the new Scottish Mountain Bike Guides' blog. My New Years Resolution was to keep a blog for 2009, and since the end of January is fast approaching, I'd better get started!

The idea is that the blog will accompany our monthly newsletter and keep you up to date with what's happening at Scottish Mountain Bike Guides, along with ride reports and other goings on.

As a start to 2009, here's a little review wrapping up the best bits of 2008. Some of these rides where done guiding our clients, some were done as part of research for a new Scottish MTB guidebook I have just finished and some were just for fun.

March: Ali and I went to the 'Rough Bounds' of Knoydart aiming for the Old Forge, the UK's most remote pub, accessible only by boat or miles of boggy wilderness. Snow, flooded tracks and swollen rivers meant we took 10 hours to cover 20 miles and after an overnight stop in Sourlies bothy on the shores of Loch Nevis we beat a retreat without making it to the pub.

April: Took the train from Fort William to Corrour in the middle of Rannoch Moor. A perfect spring day with snow on the mountains and clear blue skies. Eight hours of wilderness riding back to Fort William, with the light slowly fading over the last 2 hours. A beautiful day.

June: Half way across Scotland from Kingussie to the North Sea. Three days of fantastic riding and 2 nights on the soft heather in my bivvy bag. The weather was great - I even got a sun tan! I was travelling as light as possible, so no stove meant no caffeine for 3 days. I lasted 36 hours before the lure of the roadside coffee shop became too much!

August: a great Coast to Coast trip with a small group of clients. I drove the support van all week, but managed to squeeze in a couple of superb rides.

September: The Northern Trail Centres road trip. Six of Scotlands purpose built MTB centres in six days. A great group of riders and a week of constant blue skies. What more can you ask for?

November: Fewer clients means time to concetrate on getting my guidebook finished with a great little roadtrip to the North West Highlands and the Isle of Skye.

I hope 2009 brings everyone as much great riding as 2008 did for me.