The nearest trail centre to home is Llandegla. Thing is I’ve ridden more in the Forest of Dean in the last 12 months than North Wales. Go figure. Back there again today, it was warm and muddy, but the sun was out and I’m glad I took a detour on the way home.
It’s 6.30am, I’ve been awake for an hour and I’m all geared up ready to ride Cwmcarn. It’s been 10 years since I rode here and I’m determined to get some riding in before another day of sitting through talks, drinking and eating too much at a conference. I’d forgotten what Cwmcarn was like but the riding proved that sometimes making an early start is well worth it.
My mate Jamie Carr has a rather cool job. He runs Ride the Alps, a mountain bike adventure company based in the Alps specialising in point to point trips, most famously he is the founder on the Mountain Bike Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt that I rode back in 2006. I later wrote about the Eiger Sanction route which we also runs in the Swiss Alps for Singletrack Magazine.
As the winter industry is evolving in the mountains of Europe, new things are appearing, such as Snow Kiting and Snow Biking. To my mind the latter is a great way for the ski resorts to keep people coming to the mountains particularly as the shoulder seasons get broader as the snow becomes more unpredictable. Jamie has been keen to extend his riding season for some time and now offers riders the opportunity to get out in the mountains on fat bikes. Despite my desire, moving house last year put that on hold in 2016, but I was determined to get on some fatties this year, so planning started in autumn to hook up with some mates on the slopes.
I called on my old mate Dave Hubert. He and I cut our teeth racing with in Guernsey in the early 1990s inspired by watching John Tomac, Missy Giove and others taking part in the Grundig World Cup. I also called in Chris Thorne of 414 Kiting who I have ridden in the Alps with many times, but who notably was my parter in crime for a first European point to point back in 2002 when we rode from Dover to Luzern.
Jamie provided some great guided riding and we discovered that fat bikes don’t care is the snow is rubbish. Or there is no snow. Or it’s raining. Or icy. Or whatever. Turns out fatties just about roll over anything. They are awesome fun and as part of the road ascent up the Col du Joux Plane proved they do go up as well as down, but they are not easy climbing partners. Let’s be honest though any one who heads to the mountains is doing so for the prospect of lots of gravity assisted descending and Jamie has a network of friends all eager to assist in some van uplift driving. Drive to the top, ride your socks off on the way down and find the van waiting at the bottom of the next trip. We even took in some of the World Championship Endure course descent!
Riding was immensely varied from orientation riding in the valley right through to taking on disused ski pistes. If you every wonder what a black run is like on a fat bike the answer is flipping fast! Bum hovering over the rear tyre feathering the brakes and trying not to make any sudden movements, but hilarious fun. The next day the conditions could change, which affected the riding significantly. T massive tyres on the bikes are quite susceptible to changes in snow conditions influencing how much the bikes sank in. We had all sorts from bullet hard riding on top to so soft you were cutting through to the base and sliding on mud. As the heaviest rider in the group by 20kg over the lightest the sinking effect was perhaps a bit more noticeable for me!
The comedy value of the bikes is perhaps best experienced by having a play in some deep snow and drop ins. Turns out fat bikes can fly, staying on and riding out the landing is another matter. It also turns out that snow or not, an over the bar incident when you’ve hit a hidden rut under the snow and stopped instantly is equally painful when 30lbs of snow bike lands on your crashed body. Highlights for me were riding trails I’ve ridden in the height of summer when they are covered in snow. Just brilliant, two wheel slides into berms and sliding the rear end round switchbacks almost speedway style.
I can’t recommend giving fat biking on snow a go enough. Try it!
You won’t find a Ti Cross Deluxe listed on the Independent Fabrication website. It’s not a production model. It’s an invention of my imagination and the desire to create a bike for hacking through winter out of a mountain bike frankensteined to a load of cross bike bits. I am very grateful to both my friends Tim Johnson at Sideways Cycles (the original UK Independent Fabrication Importer) and Simon Barnes (Bike Shak, Altrincham) who did a bit of leg work for me on new bike options and parts.
In the end a fellow IF enthusiast, Jam Price (of Worcester Cycle Centre), parted with one of his fleet which ticked all the boxes. So a raw titanium Deluxe frame set was coupled to a pair of Pace rigid carbon forks with a Green Chris King Headset. An eBay sourced second hand 105 equipped Merida cross bike provided everything except a chainset and pedals. Jam also provided a Chris King based wheel set which will also be destined for this bike eventually once they’re related onto suitable rims.
It’s not light (about 22lbs) but feels totally solid when you put the pedals down and crank out some power. I’m looking forwards to getting some riding in this winter.
I’ve rarely written an end of year summary, but 2016 was important because its was really the year I (psychologically speaking) really started riding again. I got back on the bike in April and gradually ramped up the riding and sustained it for the rest of the year. I found a colleague at work who was like minded and we clocked up a good mix of road and off road routes.
As the year closes Strava tells me I’ve clocked up 96 hours riding, covering 2,145km over 147 rides. That’s not to say every ride was recorded often taking the kids to school in the trailer and picking them up again didn’t get captured but sometimes it did. I don’t care about those not being captured.
Back in November I rode out with an old friend who I know through Singletrack, Alex Leigh. He introduced me to some decent riding and a pre and post ride drinking culture in the blended edge that exists between the Malverns and the Forest of Dean. It was a highlight of the year. Alex also introduced to relive.cc and have occasionally enjoyed looking at some of the recorded routes.
Last year I reduced bike numbers selling my beautiful IF Planet Cross in Aquamarine fade. I rode all my other bikes over the course of the year, the Remedy has needed some love (and still needs the forks servicing) and the Ti Deluxe too. After well over 2,000km the Ti Crown Jewel needed a new chain and the Singlespeed just ploughed on often with the kids in tow. As winter came I knew it was time for a winter hack. After riding the Ti Deluxe a bit, I decided the sensible solution was another Cross Bike.