Its been a while since I went up Blowhard. I remember it being pretty damn good fun last time and so when an evening mission was planned to go ride it I was keen. Away and out of town and battling the cross winds on the plains to get out to Oxford. A quick stop for essentials such as beer and chocolate and we were soon getting on our bikes at the bottom of the track.
No such thing as a warm up, we were soon sweating our way up the track on a perfectly warm and windless summer evening. Definitely a stark contrast to the Mt Grey gale we rode on Sunday! The track up follows a ridge and has endless steep pinches followed by rideable flat or slightly down sections. As you climb the steeps get steeper and rockier until you end up having to walk, but even these ups are interspaced with fun little downhills and plenty of riding up the hill.
Once you get up to the ridge there are many open sections and again it steps up and down as you climb towards Mt Richardson. There were fantastic views out over the plains, Lees Valley and the other foothills. With the sun low in the sky we kept moving towards the top.
A couple of hours and we were on the top watching the sun set over the Southern Alps. Food in mouths and lights were put on the bikes.
The trails on the way up look like plenty of fun going the other way and we were all keen to hit them up and have some fun! Along the top ridge there are some fast wide open sections interspaced with tight forest sections and rocky/rooty trails. We were soon zooming down the trails only really needing the lights for the forest sections. The tracks are super fun to descend with twisting chutes that act like berms to throw you around the corners.
Once we had traversed the top ridge and started dropping back down towards the van the fun started in earnest. The trail is chunky and rocky and has been water eroded over time leading to very amusing corners with chutes and lots of rocks and ledges to pop off. Further down the trail turns into a choss pile of steep rocky loose baby heads which had Laurence giggling uncontrollably at me managing to stay upright on a bike which was heading every which way and all over the trail underneath me. We made it down somehow managing to keep just within the limit of out of control and loving every second of it.
Some fast 4wd track sections soon had us back at the van finding the beer and food. Blowhard is a fantastically fun piece of trail that does not get ridden anywhere near as much as it should!
On another note, my new Mavic Alpine XLs have now been on a couple of rides and I am finding them good. Stiff on the bike and very comfortable to walk in. There is some pressure on the top of my foot just in front of the ankle from the metal buckle where the velcro strap folds back, but I think this is likely to disappear as the shoe wears in. I have only had short walks carrying the bike so far but I think they are feeling promising for a much longer walk. I will report back once I have done a carry of over an hour up a hill. At least the Blowhard track managed to get a bunch of mud and dirt on them. The white colour is on the way to being covered up!
Finding shoes that are good for both riding my bike as well as walking up hills has been a bit of a challenge for the last few years. I had a pair of trusty Lake 165s that did well for a few years before the stitching went and while they were ok with a good grippy vibram sole, a reasonably comfortable upper for walking and a stiff enough sole that did not flex on the pedals I wanted something better.
I tried a pair of the Pearl Izumi X-Alps. They certainly look like they are built for what I want but I have been pretty disappointed with them. The upper fabric tears easily, the heel cup design gives me terrible blisters every time I walk up a hill and the soles are too flexy and give me sore feet on long downhills. Also having a ratchet on the side of the shoe is a silly idea if using the shoe for walking or blasting down technical trails. I hit the ratchet on a rock on about my 4th ride and busted it off the side of the shoe. A bit of ingenuity had it reattached but things like slippery rocky river crossing bash the ratchets into the side of my foot.
I was looking at the Shimano MT71 shoes, or even the Shimano MT91 boots, but did not want something as big and clunky as a boot, and the shoe did not look aggressive enough for my taste.
I finally decided on getting a pair of the 2012 Mavic Alpine XL shoes. While they look a bit gay with all the white on them at least they have a decent amount of tread on the sole and look like they were designed to be good on the bike and walking up hills.
I have had them out for one decent ride, but have not yet walked up a hill carrying my bike. First impressions of them are good. The sole seems stiff when clipped into the pedals but comfortable walking around. The cleat is recessed enough that it does not touch the ground on the flat. The heel cup holds onto my heel very well and I am unable to get my heel to rise out of the cup which is great. There seems to be plenty of room to wiggle my toes in the toe box while the lace and strap system holds the shoe fast on my foot. My foot has no “float” inside the shoe unlike some other shoes I have.
I do intend to wander up a hill in them sometime soon and I will report back with my findings, but so far I am impressed with them!
Ok, first ride/walk impressions here https://mountainbikingzane.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/evening-blowhard/