Wednesday, 23 September 2015

UK Gravity Enduro #5 Nat Champs 2015, Dyfi Forest

This weekend past played host to the final round of the season of the UK Gravity Enduro series, doubling as the National Championships, and also, sadly, their final ever round. This race was fairly close to home, and as it happened to be the final ever event, I decided that it would be rude not to attend, having had to cancel my entry the previous year due to an administrative cock-up on my part. UKGE is/was the only national level gravity enduro series, and is regarded as one of the toughest ones going, so I felt that I should at least have some experience of it before there were no more, and I'm glad I did. I had an amazing, albeit hard, weekend. Compared to some of my previous experiences racing gravity enduro, this race was much bigger and more professional than what I'm typically used to, usually being single-day mini events. UKGE is at least one full day of practice and a full day of racing, some people practicing for another day beforehand as well. This was no event to enter light-heartedly.

The Dyfi forest is fairly well regarded as a MTB mecca of sorts, known only to the initiated, being pretty hardcore in terms of both quality and gradient of the trails, and the regular UKGE round here is no exception. There are trails scattered all over the forest (and a big forest it is too), but you really have to earn your turns. Though there are plenty of fire roads to winch up on, each descent is worth around 300m of climbing. Every time. There are no complaints from this writer though, the trails in the Dyfi forest are incredible, it has everything; fast trail centre, super-fast shaley moto ruts, steep rooty tech, and everything in between. A veritable smorgasbord of trails, and the UKGE round used a bit of all of them!

For anyone who has gotten this far and is asking "what on earth is this 'gravity enduro' he keeps banging on about?", please refer to my previous blog post for an explanation. This particular round was approximately 38km in length, with around 1600m of climbing for 5 timed stages. It may not sound like much, but that's a fair amount of climbing, and when you're riding each stage at race-pace, without much break in between aside from the odd queue at the start gates, you'll quickly understand why this race has a reputation for being pretty hardcore.

The views that greeted me at the top of S5 as I walked it on the Friday evening
Welcome to the Dyfi Forest, big and remote.

So into the stages - my memory of these isn't quite so photographic as previous races, mostly because the stages were so long, varied, and I didn't get much chance to practice them!

Stage 1 started off flat, tight and rooty, into a super-fast rutted straight line descent where the name of the game is simply holding the brakes open and mashing the pedals, and into a bottom half that mostly consisted of lovely loamy, rooty turns. A nice bit of natural tech that, despite being a bit rutted and muddy in places, actually gripped really nicely and had a really fun, flowy feel to it. This was my favourite trail of the weekend, an amazing bit of trail.

Stage 2 was the final descent of the Climachx trail, starting after the flat parts were out of the way. For a trail centre descent, it's a lot of fun, flows really nicely, and very fast. There are some funny rocks near the top though, that you approach blind and have some nasty sharp bits on the other side. The rest of the trail consisted of 3 or 4 long straights with some fun jumps/drops and small rocky obstacles, ending with a load of fun, loose switchbacks near the bottom. Some nice inside lines here, if you spotted them in time.

Stage 3 started off on a long fast straight rut, but quickly turned into a tight, rooty mud-fest of a trail. Not enough to stop your wheels turning, but enough to cause a bit of drama for some riders, myself included, in the slippery slop. This dropped away onto a short fire road sprint with some marshalls cheering riders on (thanks girls, much needed after that muddy mess), and back into some really fun rooty tech again. Started off a bit flat, but really flowy if you managed to keep your momentum, and fires riders into some lovely fun corners, the first of which you could absolutely slam into, bottom out all your suspension and come out laughing your head off that anyone could build such a ridiculously fun trail! After the corners, a short flat section spat riders into the final steep rutted section, with some lovely loose, shaley, rooty corners. My approach here was to just take it steady and stay on the bike! A final tight corner dropped riders across the finish line, to be greeted by some friendly folks on a feed station with bars and gels. This was a welcome sight for most racers, as by now we had climbed the best part of 1000m and still had two stages left to go, with the toughest transfer ahead of us!

The transfer from stage 3 to stage 4 wasn't exactly favoured by a lot of racers, it took riders out of the forest and across the moors on a big climb to the top of S4. There was 1hr:45 allocated for it, to give an idea of length. I actually quite enjoyed it, but then maybe I'm a bit of a sadist... There were some incredible views however.  Stage 4 was another natural, steep rooty mud-fest, almost from top to bottom, with a couple of fire-road crossings, and a long pedal/climb in the middle, with a fun bus-stop that must have been about 10ft high and required a good bit of speed to get up!

The transfer to S4 - looking towards the Irish Sea.

Did I mention that it's beautiful here?

Saracen Club.

Stage 5 was the final one of the day, starting high up in a farmer's field and ending in the finish arena/campsite. It was open most of the way down, with some grassy/rocky drops at the top with some nasty compressions, one of which could be doubled up. The general rule for these seemed to be that speed is your friend! After these, some big wide sweeping grassy turns, into a long steep left-hander with a sniper rut at the end that you needed to get into if you wanted to carry any speed without crashing into a fence, a long straight sprint, into a couple of steeper wooded corners, a couple more long grassy corners, one last long flat sprint and riders dropped into the last couple of turns to the finish arena and across the line. Done!

Them's some big transfer times...

I arrived at the race on Friday evening hoping to practice S5 a little, as this was to be used as the seeding run on Saturday afternoon to determine start times for Sunday, and also counted towards overall times. I arrived a little late though - but it turned out a lot of people had spent all of friday practicing! Just before I had gotten there however, it had tipped it down with rain, turning the top of stage 4 from what was a dry, loose trail, into a swampy mud fest that most riders struggled to even ride, let alone race. The decision was taken to take it out of the race, though racers would still have to ride down it to get to the top of S4. I'll be honest, it was a hoot to ride, though I'm not sure I'd want to race it. Weather on the Saturday however was great, sunny all day, though some delays in seeding meant that by the time the Elites came down, the sun had gone down and dew had settled on the grass, leading to some of them crashing and seeding poorly.

Sunday started off good, nice and warm, but half-way through the day the clouds drew in, and it started to rain on and off all day. This made no real difference to most of the stages, none of which would have been particularly dry, even before the Friday downpour, but it meant that S5 was interesting, making the grass pretty slick, and also making the transfer to S4 pretty grim out on the open moors!

It was less nice than it looks here...

Spot the riders?

There's one!

My race didn't go so well either way, I managed to puncture on S2, had a small crash at the top of S4 on a particularly tight corner, and puncture again at the top of S5, though by this point I had gotten a bit fed up of my bad luck, and decided to just ride it down to the finish anyway, which was interesting to say the least.

In terms of kit, I was racing on the Saracen Ariel 151 again, which made a worthy steed and didn't let me down all weekend, or feel at all overwhelmed. The punctures were my own fault really, the bike didn't skip a beat.
I got to try out a couple of bits of camping kit - the Wild Country Coshee 3 tent, a budget lightweight 3-person backpacking tent. Despite it's £140 RRP, it was surprisingly lightweight, and packed down really small (it also fit back in the bag it came out of, which is always nice). More than roomy enough for one for a weekend.
I also used an Exped UL 7LW sleeping mat. I'd only previously used cheaper self-inflating mats, much thinner than these, but with a much larger pack-size. The Exped seriously impressed with its tiny pack size, but large volume once inflated. I tend to get trouble with my back when sleeping on cheaper mats, but this seriously impressed, giving me a nice firm, but well cushioned surface to sleep on. This seems like a great bit of backpacking kit, being nice and lightweight, and very effective! Nothing ruins a weekend like a bad back. None of that to report this weekend - happy days.

My little set-up for the weekend

Anyway, back to the racing.
I won't even mention my result, I did pretty badly, needless to say.

Heading up the Elite podium were:
Matty Stuttard
Sam Shucksmith
Joel Chidley
Robert Williams
Phil Shucksmith

On the women's elite podium were:
Helen Gaskell
Carrie Poole
Claire Bennett
Rebecca Baraona
Traharn Chidley

The rest of the results can be found here

Overall, I had a great weekend, despite several poor race runs. The amazing trails more than made up for it, as did the company and atmosphere of the race. It was certainly a tough weekend, but I'd recommend it to anyone looking to move on from the smaller mini races. Just make sure to do a bit of training, it's not easy!

Have a panorama, because why not?

Monday, 7 September 2015

Welsh Enduro Series number 3 - Penmachno

This weekend saw the third and penultimate round of the Welsh Enduro Series – a series based in North Wales and organised by Borderline Events. They consist of one-day gravity enduro races, typically held on a Sunday. For the uninitiated, gravity enduro is a newly emerging and popular format of racing, whereby racers are timed over several descents (stages). They then have to pedal up the ascent (transfer) to the start of the next stage - similar to downhill racing, but with more pedalling. As such, the best bike for this type of racing is something with around 140-160mm of travel. Races can range from pedally trail-centre type trails, to full-on downhill tracks, this round being the former, and as such, this series is a good entry to the sport, the previous two rounds in the series being held at the Marin Trail and Coed Y Brenin.

The borderline races are a lot of fun, and usually have a broad spectrum of riders. You can usually count on them to be held on trails that can be ridden by most riders, but that doesn’t mean they’re boring! Also, due to the way the timing works, riders choose their own start times, which means people can ride with their friends. All this means that there’s a really relaxed atmosphere, and really takes the pressure off racing – though that doesn’t mean that you can’t turn it on if you have to, and you will! These are part of the reason why I’ve ridden all three rounds of the series so far this year, it’s a massive laugh.

Ready to race!

Having had a bit of a rubbish summer, I wasn’t too hopeful that the weather would hold out for the race, but fortunately, the rain held off all day, with just a bit of cloud cover for the day - that’ll do nicely! Though that didn’t stop Penmachno from being fairly soggy in places, as anyone who knows the trail would reasonably expect. Luckily the trail surface is pretty hard, so it didn’t present many problems, and most of us locals are probably more familiar with it in the wet than the dry!

There was a good crowd!

This was the second ever race to be held at Penmachno, the first being a singular charity-event in October 2014. There was a slight change to the stages used this year – the first stage last year was a pretty relentless pedal-fest, due to one of the better descents being felled at the time - this descent was open for this round, so much to everyone’s relief, it was used instead. The first descent was what’s known as the triple-traverse. It starts off with a narrow ribbon of singletrack that winds it’s way through some open meadow with a few small rocky drops and little corners and spits you onto a fire road. It’s then straight back into a high-speed rocky section and onto some newly re-built trail, thanks to the logging and some top-notch volunteer work. There are some awesome flowy corners, and some whoops that can be doubled up, making a fast section even faster! Up onto the second fire road and into the last section of the traverse, the trail drops down into the trees, into a real high-speed section with some banked corners and lumps that you can boost off and fire off into oblivion! Did I mention that this section is FAST?! Finally there’s a short sharp climb to the stage end.

Second stage was the same as the previous year – two descents combined into one. It starts off a bit slow in some dark woods, a little pedally, but after about a minute of pedalling drops off a little into another high-speed section. This one is a lot of fun, there are a few very shallow corners that can be ridden completely off the brakes if you have the guts! Towards the end of this is where the writer of this blog suffered a pinch flat. After a bit of bodging to remove a stubborn valve stem (I ended up having to use a rock to snap it in half in order to remove it from the rim) and a shot of CO2, I was back running again. The next section was newly built for last year’s enduro, linking two existing sections of trail, meaning it cut out a load of fire road. Mostly big smooth whoops and corners, it made a change to the rocky, natural trails of Penmachno. Say what you like, it made a nice break half way down a stage. The riders were then spat out into the final singletrack section of the stage – a rocky traverse, relatively flat to begin with, but with some tricky rock sections with some big holes to catch riders out. This writer almost had a big stack there in practice! After a short uphill, a big left-hand hairpin fires riders into the final warp-speed straight, where some folk could easily be caught out by some tree stumps and narrow sections of trail. Quick reactions are a must!

One short-ish climb, and riders were at the top of the final stage, the start of which was also new in 2014, and again cuts out a load of fire road. It starts out as fairly flat forest double track with some big whoops – it’s hard work picking up and keeping speed here – into some tabletop jumps and out into the open where there some more whoops, rock features and jumps into two huge man-made berms. The berms are a lot of fun – just stay high and try to stay off the brakes and you can pick up a LOT of exit speed! You’re then fired out over a small jump, over the fire road and into the final singletrack. It starts steep but levels out, round some tight tricky switchbacks and into the last long straight. Not too technical but with a few features to keep riders on their toes, the key here is just to keep pedalling and maintain speed. This section really flows with a bit of speed.

Spot any riders up there?!

During the race, we were testing a couple of bits of kit. The 2015 Saracen Ariel 151, this writer (our shop mechanic)’s new bike; it performed absolutely faultlessly. Penmachno seemed to really suit it. Though it’s not the easiest bike to pedal, it’s certainly not the worst, and does better than many in it’s class. Get it up to speed though and it really shines – super stable at speed, awesome in the air, and smashes corners, it’s actually easier to ride at speed sometimes, though this means you do have to really push it to feel like you’re getting the best out of it. It’s a proper race bike, that’s for sure, and when we’re talking about enduro, I’d call that a hell of an accolade. Enduro bikes need to perform well, be light enough to ride all day, and tough enough to last two or three days of racing! I’d say this bike does all of that and more!

We’re also testing some new SRAM Guide RS brakes. In all honesty, there’s only so much I can say about brakes. When they work as they should, you shouldn’t notice them. With 180mm rotors front and rear, there was as much power as I would expect from a set of modern brakes (if anything a little more, as I’m used to running a 203mm rotor on the front), and I didn’t notice myself cooking them on the long descents. Setup and reach adjust is dead simple, and lever feel is great. No complaints here.

Anyway, enough waffle, onto results.
Yours truly managed to average 11th in Senior over the first and third stages, but the puncture in stage two put me back to 51/54 with an overall of 22:06. Oh well, maybe next time!

Ed Roberts came first in elite, with an overall of 13:59, Phil Roberts took the win in Senior and also fastest time of the day with 13:58! Joe Barnwell won Juniors with 14:23, Andy Weames in Masters with 13:59, Ben Baddeley in Veterans with 15:09, Tegid Humphreys in Grand Veterans with 15:38, and Sian Roberts in the Women’s category with 16:47.

Big thanks go to Mike and Bud for organising another awesome event, the marshalls, medics and all sponsors for putting on another cracking race. If you’ve not tried gravity enduro before, give it a go! The Welsh Enduro Series is a great way to start – put it on your list for 2016!

Quick post-race pub stop. What better?

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Madventure - A micro adventure packed into a single day off

So I don't get too many days off, that can be a problem during the summer holidays with a young family.

This year, in my fifth year in the current shop, I decided to do something about it before the girls get to an age where they don't need me (I hope they always will, but I know there will be a period where they think they don't and that's almost certainly when they will need me most).

So this weeks "madventure" involved bikepacking. The girls were given a couple of dry bags on Monday night and instructions what to pack. I was particularly impressed when I came down to find a bag and a note to me with a checklist of what I had told them to pack, all ticked off and in the bag. Excellent work, kids more organised than me. CHECK!!

I was trying to get out of the shop bang on 5 to start our "madventure", but alas it was not to be. Late phone call with insurance brokers and at the very last minute, a cyclist in need meant that it was gone 6 before I got home. Final packing of the panniers and we were away just after 7. Then a quick phone call to return for the only bag I hadn't packed myself.

A quick stop at the chippy in Brynsiencyn for some Carb-loading and we were soon in Newborough. Pumped up the kids tyres and adjusted the seat heights, then fitted the panniers and tent onto the bike and we were off.

We blasted through the woods, the kids just had their little backpacks I was using the Thule Pack 'n' Pedal Racks on both front and rear and the Thule Adventure Panniers 26 litre on the rear and 16 litre on the front. I packed the Tent a Wild Country Coshee 3 on the deck of the rear carrier, and a rolled up Therm-a-rest on the front. Everything else fitted easily into the panniers, a pair of Exped Synmat UL sleeping mats, a pair of Vango Wilderness Junior sleeping bags, my own lightweight sleeping bag, two drybags with changes of clothes for the kids, a Black Diamond Voyager lantern, compact remote gas stove, double potset, mugs, some dehydrated meals and 4 litres of water in an Ortlieb Water Bag and a small teddy for the benefit of my youngest. It all fitted into the panniers with room to spare and onto the bike with surprising ease and only took a couple of hundred metres to get a feel for the new weight distribution. I was very impressed with the way that the system worked.

We rode through the woods and into darkness, until we reached the clearing that I had identified as our destination. The Wild Country Coshee 3 tent was quick and easy to pitch on my own, although the girls helped with pegging it out and we were soon tucked up inside.

I popped the stove on to make hot chocolate and was soon asked about the "chicken curry" that we were supposed to be having for dinner. I'd assumed that had gone by the by with the chip shop supper, but the girls had other plans. I added boiling water to the expedition foods Chicken Korma and left it to rehydrate. Soon all three of us were tucking into it and it went down very will with both the kids and I.

At around 6 am it started raining, but this didn't disturb the girls, so we slept in until well after 8.

Again I got the stove on and this time we had porridge with maple syrup and porridge with strawberries, both were very tasty, for me the strawberry probably had the edge.

We packed away all our kit and the tent relatively easily and were soon on our way again.

The only downside to wild camping here is that it was pretty much downhill all the way in from where we had parked, so I had to cajole the girls into keeping moving and on more than one occasion was informed that riding uphill "is not fun".  Perhaps we have a future client for Antur Stiniog??

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

An Apolitical Broadcast from Summit to Sea

If you've come across this already then you probably know us, if you haven't please spare a couple of minutes to watch.

It's a serious message, we get what we vote for. That doesn't always mean what we've voted for at the ballot box, but when we shop we vote with our wallets. I understand that times are hard and we all need to get as much "bang for our buck" as we can, but occasionally paying just a little more can have a huge effect. There's plenty of evidence for how tourism can benefit local economies as the money spent recirculates within the community, the same can be true of shopping if you don't just use the "big boys". That doesn't mean you can't shop online, most independents these days have a web presence.

These big corporations don't create as many jobs as a vibrant high street does. Those people working on the high street pay taxes and in turn spend their earnings, which generates more income for the Government to spend on the services we all need. The reason this happens is because the money isn't filtered through overseas corporations levying huge charges for services supplied by offshore divisions that are taken off their bottom line and their subsequent tax liabilities. They turn over vast amounts of money with a minimal number of employees in the UK. Here's an article about ebay's tax affairs last year and don't forget that ebays income is purely commision. It represents around 10% of what was actually sold through ebay UK. All of that achieved with less than 500 UK employees, so where have all those jobs gone that were on the High Street, after all we're a nation of shopkeepers. They're disappearing and what used to pay those people's wages is being siphoned back to shareholders overseas.

We're guilty!! We sell on ebay, but currently, we need to to in order to prop the bricks and mortar business up (the number of ebay orders we get from customers within 15 minutes of our store would amaze you!!). I can promise you we're working hard to reduce our reliance on this side of the business and aim to be ebay free as soon as we possibly can. The same applies to our Amazon store.

Save 50p by buying from an online giant and those jobs slowly dwindle and those businesses die. Then where do you then get that inner tube or chain link that you need in a hurry so you can ride today? Where do you borrow that spraydeck you forgot that ruins your weekend? Where do you borrow that hex wrench that you need as you realise that the pedal has worked loose? The last two are examples where we helped from the last 6 weeks, neither were people who were our "customers", they just happened to be in the area and needed help. Those "free" services (yes, that's what they are) are what you get for buying from an independent, or smaller chain. Not an option with the international big boys. They don't have stores on the High Street, just warehouses with employees on short-term contracts.

We'll make you a promise, our price both in store and on our website will always be at least as cheap as our ebay and Amazon prices and where we can, we'll make them cheaper. It won't happen overnight, we've got over 3,000 products to adjust, but we'll get them there and we'll wean ourselves off the channel sales and put a bit more back into the UK economy rather than sending your money off to Silicone Valley. This isn't meant just as a plea to shop with us, but simply to ask all of you to consider where you spend your money. Thanks for taking the time to read this and watching our 'humorous' video.

Here's one to start with, Park Tool PCS-10 Workstand just £109.00 we believe that's the best price in the UK. More to follow...

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Halloween Hero - Free GoPro

First of all an apology, it's been some time since we last blogged, that's mainly due to trying to keep the business afloat while working pretty much alone for 18 months. Things have stabilised and there are now two of us working full time in the business.

It means that I have a little more time to blog about what we're doing.

If you follow us on facebook, then you'll be aware of our recent Freebie Fridays, we have a special giveaway for the 31st October, a GoPro Hero camera. You get an entry just for liking our page, you can get another three by liking, commenting or sharing the post with the details. BUT you also get an entry for every Ten Pounds you spend with us either in store or through our website (ebay and amazon orders are NOT included). So if you spend £120 with us online, you get another 12 entries into the draw. What's not to like about that (unless you do your shopping through ebay and amazon!)

We'll try and make sure we get back here to update you a little more often now that we're better staffed.

Good luck!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Scorchio and a Rash Decision

After a week of Scorchio paddling on Anglesey and watching so many of you suffering in your winter weight cags (well you did need them in May!!) We've got a summer sizzler deal just for our blog readers.

Simply tell us that you'd like to make a "RASH DECISION" and we'll give you a FREE Peak UK Short Sleeve Rash Vest in red or blue worth £30  when you order a Peak UK Tourlite Shorty cag for £75

Offer valid from now until starts raining on Anglesey again!!

Another thing you may wish to consider adding to your summer paddling wardrobe are the Peak UK Neoskin Shorts, Strides & Pants. Much more comfortable than sitting in wet board shorts and their "sticky bum" stops you from sliding around on the seat. Shorts. 3/4 length and full length options leave you spoilt for choice with these summer best sellers.

Happy Paddling!!

Penmachno Trails Logging ... FYI

Folks, just seen this, be careful out there!!

"The third section of singletrack (Tyddyn Du) on Loop 1 is closed due to felling works. There’s a diversion in place around it so please follow the signs. This also means that there will be the occasional logging lorry on the main forest track – notices have been posted at the relevant trail junctions to remind you to keep an eye/ear out for passing lorries. The works should be completed in a few weeks – we’ll let you know when they’re done. Happy riding!"

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Woah, time flies when you're working your butt off!!

We can't believe it's been nearly three months since we last posted.

In that time we've run a couple more of our very successful & popular demo weekends , we've become a Kokatat stockist, we've expanded our cycle range to include product from Pearl Izumi , Rock ShoxSRAM & Race Face.

We've got some killer deals on the Saracen Ariel 142 & Ariel 161.

We're also offering the Pyranha Burn with a £320 reduction down to just £599, We've not found them cheaper than that ANYWHERE else on the web.

All in all, we've been busy little shopkeepers and Pete has also been training for his "Big Ride" in September.

Busy times!!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Sunny.... but wild

The sun has come out and Saturday saw a number of paddlers around coming out of their winter hibernation. Although a substantial number of these had made me feel like an elderly neighbour or relative by popping in over the winter to check that I hadn't succumbed to the cold over the winter, I'd like to thank them all for their concern and support over what has been a difficult winter for me.

Since lunchtime on Saturday the wind has been building and this morning while delivering a Moken 10 Lite to a caravan park near Porth Dafarch, I was impressed by the amount of swell and the sea state. It would be a bold decision to paddle out from there today.

Sunshine & big waves on Anglesey.

Friday, 22 March 2013

Oh the Irony.... Greenland Roll Classes & Presentation cancelled due to snow

Oh, the irony. It's with regret that due to the current snowfall and it's impact on driving conditions, the Greenland or Bust Simplifying the Roll classes due to be held here this weekend are cancelled, along with the evening presentation on the Greenland Games by Helen Wilson.

Please accept our apologies for the disappointment, but we don't feel it's appropriate to ask anyone to travel in these conditions.


Snow Daze....

And so what should have been the start of spring for us and a busy weekend, bites the dust (snow actually) and the long winter that started at the end of August rolls on for another month. I've just cancelled our first demo weekend of the year as the driving conditions coming into North Wales are very poor.

I'm really hoping that this year is the reverse of last year. This time last year we were enjoying glorious sunshine and light winds, after 2 weeks of that it crapped out for the rest of the summer. I hope that winters last bite will lead us into a spectacular spring followed by a wonderful summer extending into a gentle autumn in mid-october. We really do need the weather to improve to try and boost things.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Simplifying the Roll & the Greenland National Kayak Championships

There's still a couple of spaces left for Saturday afternoon & Sunday morning classes by Helen & Mark on Simplifying the Roll. Then Helen will be giving a presentation at 19:00 on the Greenland National Kayaking Championships.

Don't miss out.