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!
I love technical singletrack. The Cass Lagoon loop near Arthurs Pass delivers many hours of technical riding and is a favourite of mine. I last rode the loop a couple of years ago, so having a Friday off work was the perfect opportunity to get up there and enjoy it.
Leaving the car at the Cass river there was a 30 min warmup on the road before the climbing began. Onto the track with lovely beech forest singletrack, a little pine forest and then out into the tussocks on the tops with fantastic views while trudging through bogs.
First lunch on Lagoon saddle in the sunshine while surveying the valley dropping towards Hamilton Hut and the fantastic vistas towards the main divide. The technical riding starts from the get go with a few board-walks into bogs leading into rooty challenging beech forest singletrack.
After a while the track pops out into river bed for short sections before diving back into the forest singletrack.
Almost 5 hours into the mission and we were relaxing in the luxurious Hamilton Hilton and eating 3rd lunch. A snooze in the sunshine seemed extraordinarily inviting but the lure of good singletrack got us back on the bikes and heading for Cass Saddle.
A couple of km of grassy flats in the sunshine before heading back into the forest. The singletrack here is mostly rideable as it slowly climbs towards the saddle.
Towards the saddle the track gets a lot steeper and it is a short sharp climb to get to the Cass saddle. Once on the saddle there are fantastic views down the Cass valley and sweet sweet singletrack beckoning.
I had too much fun riding the singletrack on the way out to take any photos. Any tiredness after 8 hours was soon forgotten as we swooped through flowing trails. There was some impressive avalanche damage on the way down the valley. Avalanches had flattened a few sections of forest and obliterated where the tracks were. 9 hours after starting we were back at the car with big grins on our faces. The loop is an outback technical singletrack fix that I have promised myself I will do at least once a year!
Super busy at the moment and so it was great to get away to Nelson for 3 days. A Thursday evening mission from Chch to Nelson got me there by 11pm and ready for a nice easy start the next day. Having never ridden the Rameka track I decided it was time I had a look and while there I could check out the new Canan Downs mountain bike tracks as well.
Rameka is through a lovely piece of forest with technical roots and rocks. Pretty flat for quite a ways but it would be a great introduction to South Island forest riding.
Canan Downs loop. I only did the Northern half of the loop. Someone has put a lot of effort into building the track, and maybe I hit it at the wrong time, but to me it really seemed like a lot of effort for little reward. The soil where the track has been benched has eroded away leaving clumps of grass sticking up leading to a real speed sucking surface. In other areas the track has been graveled, but is not really burmed leading to a fast surface that you are unable to corner fast on, and they have put plenty of corners in the tracks!
Some photos of the track features I liked.
On the Saturday Charlie, Dugall and I headed into Mt Starveall from the Aniseed Valley. The ride up to the Hackett Hut was well known to me and from there we kept going up the same stream. The track eventually reaches a ridge up on Mt Starveall at about 1300m or so. This took about 5 hours of bike carrying and pushing, mostly in the pouring rain. The track back down is fantastic. Many roots and rocks and good gradient for most of the way down. Many technical challenges as is to be expected with a rough track like this that was never designed for mountain biking… I took a couple of photos at the start of the day and then left my camera in a waterproof bag for the rest of the day. All my brand new Ground Effect kit was looking a bit more worn in and mud covered at the end of the day! I would like to go back one day, and perhaps get a helicopter drop at the top…
Sunday was a loop I had done before. We parked at the Maitai Dam and rode up the newly finished track that goes to Coppermine Saddle. There were heaps of people coming down the track, having climbed up the Dun Mountain Walkway to do the loop. People of all ages and abilities including one man who I would estimate at about 60 years old who was coming down the trail on an entry level hardtail with quite skinny slick tyres… Anyway, the new track is a good consistent climb and a great way to connect to Sunshine and then Peaking Ridge via Copppermine and Dun Mountain walkway. Sunshine and Peaking ridge were great fun as always. Super rooty and pumpy up on Sunshine with much more speed and flow on Peaking. They are great pieces of track to put a smile on your face!
Someone had the bright idea that doing the descent from Mt Oxford in the dark would be fun. It is about 1200m of descent, much of it on very fun beech forest trails!! 5 intrepid lads were keen and headed out one fine Saturday.
We set off up the hill. Weather at the bottom was very balmy for mid may and I was dripping with sweat on the way up the first part of the hill in shorts and a T-shirt.
As always the first half hour or so is rideable on and off. The lower part of the track was quite boggy, but once into the beech forest it was quite nice and there was plenty of traction. As you climb it gets a whole lot steeper and before long the easiest way up the hill is to put your bike on your back.
A little over an hour after starting you usually pop out of the trees and into the scrub. The views over the plains and foothills of Canterbury are superb. Once out of the trees it was not so warm and there was a fair bit of wind gusting. Layers and hats started appearing on the boys!
Pads and extra layers were put on at the top. The wind was howling and it was freezing. We decided that hanging around on the top was a very silly idea and bolted off down the hill towards the forested ridge!
By the time I was halfway down the ridge my hands were frozen (I grabbed the wrong gloves by accident) and braking felt like trying to operate a couple of blocks of ice against my brake levers. Trying to stay upright against the blustery cross wind made it extremely difficult to stay on the narrow piece of track and a number of off-piste excursions were taken! I was extremely glad to get into the forest and the shelter of the trees. This is also where the track starts to get really fun, ducking and diving between trees, over rooty and loamy soil. I was even glad to see the first uphill, as trudging up this with my bike on my shoulder bought a whole lot of warmth back to my body!
One fun (but quite wet this trip) flowing downhill section, and another sharp up, and then we were on our way down through the trees illuminating our own little world of track. If anything the night lights make the trail look smoother, and I was easily able to see everything I needed to be able to ride it well. A little bit of moisture made the surface unpredictable in places, but it was super fun. Every time we stopped there were huge stupid grins on all our faces. We could easily see the lights of Oxford and Christchurch twinkling through the trees and the moon at about 3/4ers was a constant companion above us.
Once off the ridge there was a bit of a mud plug to get back to the van. Plenty of slippery mucky goodness, along with a few mishaps including a full body mud splat! Back in the van and quickly home to food and beer. Damn fine way to spend a Saturday evening!!
Lovely autumn day for a Craigieburn with Phil and Axel. Perfect weather, great company and fantastic trails!! Forest trails were fast and flowy, Hogsback was a bit greasy in places!!
Yesterday I escaped from work a little early to head out for a ride. The evenings have started to get dark earlier, and so this seemed like the last chance to do an out of town evening ride without having to use lights. Riding up the mountain it was cool but still. The views out over the Canterbury plains were fantastic in the evening light.
Along the ridge and into the forest. Having ridden out near here on Saturday with very dry tracks I had thought this track would be dry and have lots of traction, but I had somehow forgotten about the 2 days of rain that came through!! The track was very skaty, and I was wishing I had lugged the super tacky tires up instead of the normal trail tyres. There are a few undulations in the forest to get over to a ridge that heads down into the valley, and the track starts out with some reasonably fast and flowy sections and gets steeper and more technical as you head on down.
Basically the grin factor is good at the start and keeps getting better on the way down. Skating around on the rocks and roots was good fun and we still managed to ride all but one uber steep chute. We eventually popped out into the creek at the bottom. The boys doing their “hard done by old miners pose”
From here the track sidles above the creek for a couple of km. There are some interesting bits to ride and quite a bit of carry/pushing up bits. The track climbs quite high above the creek with a steep drop off the side of the narrow trails, leading to someone naming this bit of track “The Suicidal Sidle”. It was getting pretty dim by the time we scooted off the sidle and the last 10 min of riding through the forest it was getting hard to pick out trail features but we made it through without needing lights which was great!
A very fun evening of bike riding!
So back here https://mountainbikingzane.wordpress.com/2009/06/20/wide-handlebars-good/ I ended up with a set of 750mm wide handlebars on my 5 Spot. I really like this width for riding technical trails as the extra leverage of wider bars gives great control of the front wheel through rough terrain. I find this width works really well on purpose built mountain bike tracks or tracks that are out in the open, but if you get onto trails in forest that were not specifically built for mountain bikes there are often squeeze points between trees and this is when the wide bars become a liability. These sort of trails are my favourite as they often provide many good technical riding challenges simply because they were never designed with a mountain bike in mind. With the 750mm bars I was finding I was having to slow down too much for some gaps, and there were other pinch points that I was unable to ride and so I decided to go back down to a 711mm bar. I bought a new set of the Easton Haven alloy bars and put them on my bike. 711mm seems to be a good compromise between having bars wide enough for good control and being able to thread through the trees on the tracks I love.
The 750mm bars were absolutely fine on the purpose built mountain bike tracks through forest, as purpose built tracks clear the vegetation back on either side of the track to allow bikes to pass easily. I do really like 750mm as a handlebar width, but because of where I ride I have gone to the slightly narrower 711 mm to get through the trees.
If the terrain allows you can actually “slalom” wide handlebars through gaps in trees that the bars would not fit front on. To do this you basically ride up to the gap and quickly push one side of the handlebar through, and then quickly lean the bike over to the side you just pushed through allowing the other side of the bar to fit through the gap. This technique works fine when the terrain is reasonably flat and there is not a tight switchback on the approach to the gap, but with many of the squeeze points I was trying to fit through being in the middle of a steep drop or halfway through a tight switchback I was not always able to use this technique.
Another technique that can be used is to manual or wheelie through the gap and simply turn the bars enough that they will fit through (dont turn the bars so much that the wheel wont fit tho!!). Again, this technique works in places that the terrain allows and if you have good skills!!
I really like the feel of the Easton Haven alloy bars. The 9 Deg bend and 5 deg upsweep feel good and the 20mm rise is what I wanted for my riding position. I considered going for the Easton Haven Carbon bar, but my budget and my slight fear of carbon handlebar failure made me decide on the alloy bar. My only complaint with the Haven bars is that I got them in the Magnesium colour, and man are they shiny!! If it is sunny out you definitely need sun glasses on to keep the glare off your bars out of your eyes!!