Friday, 30 November 2012

Out of November into Winter.

Uh oh, could this be the start of a 'big' winter à la winter 2010! Ski-ing head says hope so - work head says hope not. 
Progress is fantastic on the trails; we've got five digger teams working away and the poor old hand squad are frantically raking, hand finishing, compacting and tidying, desperately trying to keep up with the diggers putting out a thousand meters a week! They are doing a great job, as I keep telling them the diggers may form up the trail, but it's the hand squad that 'tweak' it to make it a fun ride. 
And fun it is, the red has now got it's own unique character and we've all been riding it (including the digger driver who's building it) to get into work of a morning. Tight n twisty, sort of 'Welsh' in places (think narrow full bench cut on a steep sideslope), lovely ASDUG - none of you're 'kitty litter' surfaced aggregate slidiness. 
The Blue can be summed up in one word 'swoopy' you'll see what I mean when you ride it, sort of like a bobsleigh run stroke roller coaster ride. But it is blue so no deliberate jumps on it, however, if you try hard and you know the trail there are jump opportunities to be had. 
I think it's pretty rad for a blue. 
So now it's frosty and we've had our first flakes of winter, this will slow us down, but if we can just keep to my ok'ish winter estimates things should be workable, however, if it 'dumps' it'll be game over. 
Best check me skis then....

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Into the Darkness

A quick mid-month update. The clocks have gone back, we are in a deep dark forest and the lights went on at 3!
Head torches needed to get off the hill and winter kit now being carried - just in case...

Friday, 2 November 2012

November Glenlivet Update

Quick update on Octobers work; basically, all's going well.
We've had a few snowy scares, where everyone stands still, looks up at the falling snowflakes and silently thinks oh f*ck.....
But it's come to nothing and it's not yet cold enough to break out the thermal long johns, winter boots and snow tyres.
Bet it is by the time this post is read.
The red is shaping up as a nice shade of red; narrow, twisty, tight in the trees and sustained i.e lots of singletrack unbroken by road sections. Great for riders, damned tricky to build though.
The blue - pictured above, is shaping up to be a cracking ride; very fast and flowy, with loads of potential 'air' opportunities if you want them, but no prob's if you don't.
The last 10 days have seen the digger driver get his head around berms - and he has admirably. Luckily the ground conditions are great, allowing us to just keep digging for more and more material as we need it - and we do - current tonnage on the last berm is nearly 200 tonnes! (and it's not finished)
More diggers means monthly meterage is well up, 3000m done in October alone, which sounds impassive, but theres still 14 000m to go!
I really hope it's a useless ski season.....

Monday, 22 October 2012

Monday mornings eh! Love them.

The lads checking the 'flow' - essential.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Red turns 'red'....

At last we're off the open hill - which was nice, but not that exciting for a red, and into the more interesting terrain in the woods, mix in some rocks and the red grade is now being earned.
I'm happy about this.
The blue is fine, it's rolling out in a nice 'flowy' way, weaving through trees, gently undulating along and opening out every now and again into lovely views across to the Cairngorms. But the red just wasn't red enough for my tastes: the open hill was lovely for the start of the journey - especially to take in the views as reward for the inevitable long climb (sorry, but a good red needs a good climb), but lacked 'teeth'.
Well that's all sorted now that we're onto steeper ground.
With sideslope, good material and some of our precious rocks we set about mixing it up a bit with a Golspie/Caddon Bank sort of a mix - bit jumpy, bit rocky and all rideable whether you've taken your bravery pills or just in the mood to keep your wheels on the ground.
Obviously we had to check it - me representing the MAMIL, the lads representing the more 'rad' and jumpy crowd.
Everyone happy.
Next, tight n twisty bit coming up - good for me, bad for digger drivers!

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Ewen Beaton R.I.P.

The August blog, one I’d rather not be writing. 

I have always used this blog to provide an insight into my world of being a full-time mountain bike trail designer. To many people it might appear to be a dream job for a mountain biker, for those in the know, they will know that most of the time it can be planning, designing, number crunching and endless rounds of meetings where we talk about trail building, but nothing ever appears to be done. 

The best bit, obviously, is the building of new trails, and the teams I work with. All the teams I use these days are not only hand picked for their abilities, but also for their attitude to building trails. Trail building isn’t about just another job, it’s about producing something that you know will be used by kids, families, first time riders, enthusiasts and making sure all of them go away with a grin, and because of this I like teams who appreciate what we’re trying to achieve.

My team at the moment is one of the nicest I like to use, they are obviously good at what they do, they can work comfortably on any ground in any conditions, they have all the relevant machinery and, like me, they are family men and passionate mountain bikers. 
We think alike, we talk about the same things and we work together in the rain, snow, mud and the days when it’s dark by three. So to lose one of the team in such tragic recent circumstances has been a terrible shock. 

Ewen Beaton and his two young sons tragically died in a boating accident whilst enjoying a sunny Sunday at Gairloch up on the north west coast. 

If you’ve ridden at Aonach Mhor, Golspie, Learnie, Laggan, Forres or the Logging Way in Rothiemurchus you will have enjoyed some of Ewens handiwork. He and I had raked, shovelled and dragged a wacker plate or man handled rocks on all these trails, in all sorts of weather. Like me he was a good husband and a devoted father to two young boys, so most Monday mornings were spent catching up on what we had done family wise over the weekend. He was good craik to have around, never put out by the task in hand or moaning when we were faced with yet another huge berm to try and compact. 

The project we are on at the moment, was a huge exciting contract to land, with miles of lovely singletrack to build and Ewen was graduating from the hand tools to building trail with the digger. I had scoped out an exciting rock section for him to build, we had just selected the rocks and I know he was really looking forward to actually being at the sharp end. 
For us, the project will continue, with new faces to integrate into the team and the day to day challenges of building trails as winter approaches. 

But for his wife, Jo, who has lost this good man and her two young sons, the world will never carry on as before. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Here we go, here we go, here we go!

Ok, it's been a while since my last blog, but July slipped by waiting for planning permission, so it was a great month filled with family holidays and taking care of other clients - sorry I'll be busy for quite a while....
But at last we have the green light to go and the diggers are on the ground, the sound of chainsaws are buzzing through the air and I'm getting use to long hours and proper hard grafting. Lovely.
We've started on the 'red' route first, it's high and exposed and being local we're aware of how hard winters can be in these parts. The cutters are deep in the woods clearing the densest parts of the forest ready for the other diggers and even with the narrowest of corridors we can squeeze a digger through, there's still an awful lot of trees to fell.
The views are incredible and the red trail is developing really nicely; narrow, fast and flowy and with the rocks arriving soon we will be getting into building the first of many rock sections - bliss.
Anyhoo, I'll keep the updates coming as we go along and all I could hope for now is a lovely Indian Summer and mild winter.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Very steep, very long, very interesting.
The Red route at Glenlivet is now flagged; stats at the mo' look like 6.5k of continuous downhill single track. Well there is a teeny weeny 10m climb at one point
So far managed to tick off all the features that people had been asking for: drop-offs, berms, fast and flowy, tight and tricky, rocky bits (hard and not so hard?), pedally bits (thank you), Laggan-esque, Golspie-esque, Innerleithen-esque (now you're just getting silly)
Only problem is there's thousands of trees in the way and we'll have to ship in hundreds of tonnes of rock to tricky positions, hmmm.
Next week, map drawing, some extra 'links' flagging, an important meeting with the planners and would love to find an extra 500m to equal the Golspie 'longest single track downhill' tag....

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Glenlivet Flagging

Flag, flag, flag, approximately 1500 of them down so far.
My first full week of flagging the routes at Glenlivet has been my time to really get to know what the ground can offer. So far, I've discovered some excellent terrain varying from quite steep exciting sideslopes to more open gentle gradients, superb viewpoints, heavily wooded areas and areas of more open big mature Larch (good digging ground)
All in all the ground is excellent and so far thoughts are leading me to a Blue that will be unique in it's amount of single track and length of downhill sections, a trail that really will take the riders on a journey, with easy single track climbs interspersed with big views and long sustained flowy downhills that weave through the forest like a natural track rather than feeling like a manmade motorway in a wide cleared corridor.
Of course there'll be lumps, bumps and berms, but it won't be a feature laden artificial feeling trail, rather it'll feel like you've just discovered miles of fantastic secret single track.
I'm excited just walking it, can't wait to get to get busy with the red flags next week!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

The start of Summer

Yowsers what a finish to May! Scorching weather, the end of the 'lurgy', a big fat new trail building project and a lovely new camera.
Not too shabby.
The heat wave was bliss, lots of garden, river, loch time with the family, bbq's, outside DIY, beautiful sunrises and long evenings of golden light. The only downside was the lingering 'lurgy' that I have been suffering for several weeks now, really knocked any form of strenuous activity on the head - oh, I tried, but the results were days of tiredness and prolonged bouts of violent coughing up green phglem (lovely).
Eventually I decided to go and bother the doc and after various blood tests and stuff, a hearty dose of penicillins finest and various steroidy type things I now seem to be out of the other side of it and raring to go. It's gonna be a long way back to 'proper' fitness, but I quite enjoy climbing that ladder!
Workwise. Yahoo. I landed the contract to design and build the new trail centre for the Crown Estates at Glenlivet, 20k of singletrack. Bliss.
Now, much as I love the whole jumpy, bermy, pump track, fun park type thing, my heart lies in miles of old fashioned, twisty, turny, narrow, singletrack, ideally with a few rocks thrown in and some nice trees to weave through. Well thats just what Glenlivets going to get. I think the market is still there for this style of trail rather than jump laden 'motorways' in big wide corridors. Nowt wrong with them, it's just that theres a huge number of riders who just enjoy a good old single track blast.
The team is made up of experienced trail building, bike riding digger drivers and I'm so looking forward to working with these guys - they are not just good contractors, but just real nice people to share the 'craik' with.
My design-ery side of the project has already kicked off with the inevitable chewing the fat with local users and businesses, doodling on maps and general immersing myself in the build environment. All going well the diggers will move in during early June and work will last the rest of the year (hoping for no early snow....)
The only downside is turning down some really nice clients who needed my services sooner rather than later, but big trail builds like this are few and far between these days.
So, new camera time. After much thought I realised that the DSLR was hardly ever used for just being out and about with the family and the iPhone, good as it is, isn't real any good for bright sunny use - try looking at that screen to compose on a snowfield!
I hummed and haa'd over various reviews, tests, flickr images and users blogs and ended up with the Fuji x100.
Now, this camera is decidedly 'left-field' when it comes to modern point-and-shoot compact cameras, being old fashioned in looks, having a fixed prime lens, manual controls, slow auto focus and generally devoid of all the usual bells and whistles a modern compact can offer. But, and heres the clincher, get it right and the image quality is stellar, like better than the big Nikon.
The files this produces are soooo clean and sharp even way up to iso 3200 (that's getting a bit geeky now, I'll stop using terms like iso)
The out of the camera jpegs are outstanding, in some cases even better than post processed RAW's - oops getting geeky again.
Actually, in case any camera type people are reading this and have read dodgy reviews of this camera, here's the real world low down.

  • with the latest firmware and a fast sd card there have been no lock ups
  • yes the menus are fiddly, but no worse than some
  • the +- ev control wheel isn't as loose as to be a problem
  • the battery can do a full days shooting (carry a spare anyway)
  • the focus although not super fast is fine and suitable for the type of pics I use it for

But you get the drift - I love this wee camera and for those of you that know me on FB or Flickr will testify, all I've been posting for the week I've owned it now are endless black and white pics. Mainly because the camera shoots b&w jpegs that are gorgeous, but also because it's just so addictive to use. It's small, unobtrusive, silent in use and is so less 'in your face' than a hulking great big Nikon.
Velvia film profile
ISO 3200
b&w jpeg

It'll never be a sports fast action camera, but for this apprentice shooter who is still learning the basics of capturing a good image - composition, framing, light, etc, it's perfect and just what I was looking for.
I'll try and keep Glenlivet build updates coming regularly.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Winter Part II

What a strange old Spring! Spring for me means getting in some post winter trail maintenance work, meeting new clients as the financial year rolls over into new budgets and logging some longer road rides.
Now add to this - skiing!
We've had an unprecedented amount of Spring snowfall which is a huge surprise after Cairngorm effectively 'closed down' for skiing in late February!
So, as local season pass owners, we have been getting up the hill to ski at every opportunity to finally make the passes worthwhile. The kids have come on hugely, with number 1 son shredding around the whole mountain and his wee brother now confidently cruising the blues - happy days.
Meanwhile, on the one day a week which the missus and I are kid free, we selfishly ditched work, grabbed our off-piste kit and headed out of the ski area for a wee ski tour.
Amazing cover in the mountains, with huge long uninterrupted runs followed by some relaxed skinning back up (June loved the fact that I'm full of the cold, as she found my subdued climbing pace much more to her liking!)
As for the bloody 'lurgy', it's been lingering for ages now, with any 'proper' exercise reducing me to fits of coughing and much tiredness. Tried antibiotics, to no avail, so I'm just having to let it run it's course and slowly feel my fitness ebb away, ok for mucking about on the mtb, but no racing this summer....
Workwise - after an enjoyable spell of hand maintenance at Laggan Wolftrax (nothing makes me happier than tending trails)  I'm back in the office doing lots of consultancy work which I can't really say too much about, but there are some very interesting things in the pipeline, hopefully know more come the next blog update.
Anyhoo as I type there been yet more fresh snow up on the hill, so as 'proper' exercise is off the menu I might head up the hill for my post keyboard bashing reward.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

April Busy-ness

So you go and tart up your mtb with lots of new bits, then get really busy with work, to the point that you're too tired to ride - that's not right.
But the end of the financial year period is always pretty mental as clients have to spend the money by that deadline. So me and the team knuckled down to 7 til 7 days and fairly ripped throughout the latest project up above Perth in the Deuchny Woods.
A great wee project, building on the already well liked trail, meeting the mad keen local dh'ers and enjoying ground conditions far better than I'm used to. Only downside is that it will be used the minute we're off it, and without rain to bed the surface down, there will inevitably be some movement of the bone dry surfacing - ho hum, nowt a little volunteer day with rakes and a wacker plate won't fix.
So Easter hols and two weeks with the family, here there and everywhere, knackered!
Bike has been in the wars, having lost a fight with some heather, which ripped off the rear mech and caused a lot of expensive damage, but it needed a new drivetrain anyway....
As I type - mid April, the weather has turned wintery here again, with Cairngorm once again good for skiing, so many distractions!
But, lots to do in the office catching up with admin, projects to price and clients to keep happy.

Monday, 5 March 2012

New bike bits; courtesy of Lindsay at Basecamp Bikes and David at Bothy Bikes.

As I mentioned in my last blog, I felt the Tallboy was being hindered by it's old Reba quick release forks, long stem and saddle waaay up in the air all the time.
So the Tallboy has had a make-over.
First off forks; in discussion with David, we found out that the Rockshox 29er forks are not yet being imported by Fisher, I have never felt the love for Fox forks, so not a great choice, but he was keen for me to demo the new Marzocchi micro 44Ti 29er fork, air with Ti spring, 120mm, tapered steerer, QR15, 4lb 3 oz  (as measured on the kitchen scales!) a Bomber on my bike - surely not!
Next up was sorting out the new higher front end (the forks are 30mm longer than the old Reba 100's) so I plumped for some rather 'blingy' Niner carbon flat bars in a whopping 710mm (well - whopping for me) the zero rise compared to the old Easton risers instantly lost 25mm of height, so hands back down to 'normal' height with one 5mm spacer moved.
The final change was at last going for an adjustable height seat post, the Rockshox Reverb. I had been put off by the idea of a sloppy seat (no sniggering) but decided having the ability to drop the saddle was more important for my riding 'skills' or should that be 'skilz'...
Oh,  and during all this make-over phase I discovered the Tallboys suspension bearings were shot and really needed replacing - which was nicely done by Fraser and David at Bothy (I never doubted you could do it - honest!) This was after nearly two years of year round hard riding.
Forks plugged in easy, with the steerer left long as it's a demo, cables all long enough to take the wider bars and once I 'd studied the on-line video, fitting the Reverb was no problem. The hose cutting and bleed procedure is pretty straight forward, but the Tallboy's remote cable guides were too narrow to take the hydraulic hose (duh) so some very careful Dremmel work soon had them bored out for a neat and tidy cable routing.
First ride was up to Badaguish xc course; an old favourite, ideal for testing new bits on tight, twisty, rooty, steep, rocky trail.
The long climb in which starts on a fire road, allowed me to feel the difference straight away in two things; one, the saddle could now be kept at full 'roadie' height (I usually run it 10mm lower) which felt much nicer allowing full leg extension, and second, the rebuilt rear end instantly felt smoother, there even being a noticeable difference on just the rough fire road.
As the climb progressed onto the single track section of the climb, it was all lock-outs off, ready for the roots and rocks. Wow! No real need to steer, on what is quite a 'techy' wee piece, just sit and spin, the suspension just smoothing out all the roots and rocks in it's path. Far less effort used. The same went for the rest of the single track all the way up to the trails high point, no need to micro manage the previously twitchy front end, just look further ahead, pedal smoothly and let the stronger, longer and more supple suspension smooth away all the little problems. The wider bars, which I thought might be a nuisance on the climb were actually better, allowing a wider stronger upper body pull.
So high point reached, take piccie and time to see if all the new bits would make a difference on the downs.
They did.
Big time.
Oh yeah.
Why have I been ignoring wide bars, short stems, longer travel, plush bolt through forks and uppy-downy seat posts as something too heavy and not really necessary for my lycra clad ways?
Where to start? Well the stiffer (less flexy) forks, the bolt through lowers and the shorter stronger stem clamping the wider bars resulted in being able to put the wheel. Just. There. No wishy washy understeery going round corners, rather a stuff it in, lean it over, dig it in, get spat out in a new direction kinda cornering. Lots of out loud moto style barrrppp noises.  I had worried about the 30mm longer fork ruining the Tallboys sharp single track steering, but it felt better, more stable at speed, more 'leanable', more precise (I know some of that goes down to the bolt through and stiffer steering set up). Then there's the obvious benefit of nigh on 120mm travel on a 29er with a big fat tubeless Nevegal up front, like squish through anything in the way.
The forks run at low pressure, 40psi for my 11 stone and have the delicious quality of being plush on the small hits, yet not 'blowing' throughout the travel on the bigger, faster hits. The compression side of things is nicely handled and the air chamber can also be adjusted - bigger chamber more linear, smaller chamber more progressive, I left it wide open. The forks set at 25% sag saw virtually the full travel after a blast (or two) down Laggan Wolftrax's black trail and that's not bad for a fork not fully fiddled with or bedded in. Rebound is all you need from very fast to treacle slow, I run them fairly fast, but not 'boingy'.
The lock off lever does it's job, with the lock off tuneable from solid to moving only if a bump is hit (as opposed to bobbing when out of the saddle) kind of like a Fox Terralogic or RS floodgate.
I'm no free rider, in terms of ability or weight (!) so the forks aren't going to be pushed to the max', but they were confidence inspiring enough to be ridden off rocky drop-offs that normally make me think twice (especially that cheeky wee one on the lower Lairig Ghru!) with no landing wobbles or 'diving', certainly 32mm stanchions seem burly enough for me.
The Reverb was as big a revelation as going 29er, or full sus, or discs. Obviously dropping the saddle all the way for steep rock chutes or jumps makes life easier and more fun, but it's the ability to remotely fine tune the height down just an inch or two for more easily throwing the bike around on tight and twisty singletrack that is the big benefit for this xc rider. Weight wise it is 200gms heavier than the Thomson Masterpiece post it's replaced, but the benefit in riding speed easily offsets this.
So all in all, I am riding faster on the techy stuff, enjoying it more and feeling more relaxed going into sections that would previously have had me grabbing the brakes and tip toeing down.
I will put some more hours into the forks to see how they bed in, then should really back to back test them with the RS Revelation and the appropriate Fox's, problem is I don't really want to take them off!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ok, bit of a gap since the last post, but I lost one partly saved draft (oops) and what with Christmas, New Year, etc, etc. So, well into the New Year and still no real skiing on Cairngorm, huge difference to the last few years, where the snow has been deep and the skiing has been extraordinarily good. It's much colder now though (early Feb') and there is the faintest chance we might get some cold continental airflows coming over, so fingers crossed for all us frustrated skiers.
But, the lack of skiing has allowed me to do what all other cyclists do at this time of year - namely getting the base miles in. Jeez, I've not done base miles in years a) because I'd rather ski and b) because I find them sooo tedious! Don't get me wrong I was brought up on a diet of long cold wet winter rides with the likes of the Dundee Wheelers, Forfar CC and other associated hard road men. Saturdays were 2 - 3 hrs and Sundays were 5hrs plus, with 'centuries' a regular occurrence. The craik was sharp and cruel, with the old hands keeping us young'uns right and as the winter wore on and everyone got fitter the banter tailed off and the social atmosphere changed into the harder pace of the chain gang going 'through and off'.
But, up here in the frozen (snowless) north, what with my work patterns, fewer riders and busy family weekends, most of my rides are solo affairs at strange times of the day and the only companion is the iPod. Very occasionally I'll hook up with another off work dad and it's incredible how company can make the hours fly by and anyway the colder wetter and windier the rides the better it is for mental toughness!
I'm also really loving the mtb at the moment, concentrating on simply enjoying the local trails and trying to go faster on the downhill bits. I think the Tallboy is an awesome bike for our Highland trails, but I would really like to try and explore it's limits more with an 'uppy-downy' seat post and a set of stiffer bolt through forks to cut down on the front end flex of the five year old quick release Rebas. I think the bike is way more capable than my abilities.
I'd like to do a few races this year, but I'll probably only do ones that are quite close and don't require several hours driving, so I can't be too fussy, mtb would be nice, but road might have to figure as well.
Work has been a mixture of office based planning for a spring job and hands on trail maintenance down at Laggan Wolftrax - mostly tree clearing after the recent storms.
I need to put a wee bit of time into developing my photography skilz (see what I did there) but I did get a few hours with a talented young downhiller recently, which resulted in one or two ok pics, still lots to learn, but I thoroughly enjoyed working with this rider and he didn't mind my 'can you just do that again' requests!
Anyhoo, a 3 hour road ride planned tomorrow and if the battle of the weather fronts turns out for the best then the next blog might be full of skiing talk and how I'm just not getting out on my bike...