Thursday, 30 July 2009

Verbier Summits Alpine Adventure: Part 1

Being half way between an Undergrad and that shuffle towards (or at least a slight step around) the real world when I start a PhD I thought now was a good opportunity of taking a gap month. I am signed up for an intensive 4 week paragliding course with Verbier-Summits out in Verbier in the Swiss Alpes, I also have the Cotic Simple with me to explore the fantastic trials potential the Alpes always has on offer.

Day 1:

First off the accommodation here is total luxury, not the usual 10 sweaty men shoe horned into a single room that I have come to expect from alpine adventures. The Chalet is fantastic it has great views loads of room to sit around and chill out and an amazing chef Nat who has been conjuring up some outstanding food.

Day 1 was ground school, Marcus and Reeve were instructing us out on the baby slope to explain the basics of the kit and get us momentarily off the ground. This turned out to be a solid day of lumping gear up a hill as we made small runs inflating the glider legging it and pulling in some brake to generate the lift required to leave our legs momentarily dangling uselessly in mid air. I ended up with a couple of nice moments properly off the ground. Martin and Aiden also started the course with me, me and Aiden have had no previous experience on a glider, luckily we all got to grips with it pretty quickly as the first serious flight was planned for day 2.

The bike came out in the evening, Verbier has so much potential. Here are a few shots of some lines right outside the chalet. Having not done trials or really much street riding in about 5 years my timing and precision are disgustingly out but the raw power and concepts have not deteriorated too badly. The next few weeks should be a sharp re-learning curve as my ability catches up with the ideas and lines I know I used to be able to hit!

Day 2:

Leaving the chalet early we were driven to the top of the mountain for a brutal initiation into the world of paragliding. The launch site was Les Ruinettes at an altitude of 2170m, the proposed landing site was at Champsec at the bottom of the valley and at an altitude of just 930m. Serious nerves were building on the way up and whilst setting up the canopy.

The first experience of real flight was remarkably fast and graceful, my first flight was with Mike on the tandem. A paraglider smoothly lifts you into the air in a far more sedate fashion than with a kite. Kites rip you from the ground with brutal acceleration, this was a far more relaxing experience that is until the ground drops rapidly away and all that is left is to trust the laws of physics keeping the canopy in the air and Mikes skills as a pilot. The tandem initiation was both good and bad, with nothing to do on the take off there was nothing to distract the mind and I really did feel very exposed and scared by the situation. Once given the controls I was more relaxed, it was a totally amazing experience. As Mike said at the bottom "oh god we have a giggler!" Mike put me through a few semi stalls and some dives, the forces going through your body are phenomenal, it is like a roller coaster, super intense but completely dependent on the will of the pilot.

The afternoon took me to my first solo flight, again from Les Ruinettes. This was a totally different build up. The experience was much like the start of a race there was all the anticipation and fear that comes before the clock counts down but once the call was made to go all fears were suppressed and moved to the back of my mind as I got on my race face. The launch and flight were all carried out with that blind focus and complete concentration that blocks all other thoughts. It was actually a very relaxing experience and in some ways a bit of an anticlimax. I was expecting a massive buzz but as a first initiation goes it was far tamer than my initial experiences kiting and maybe even surfing. The landing itself was stunning, I landed on the valley floor with the sun going down and have to say was very mellowed out by the experience. In a similar way to surfing there was none of the crazy over energetic buzz that you get from a nuts day on the bike instead this really subdued chilled out and relaxed mindset was created by the flight.

Day 3:

We managed two top to bottoms. The first was from the highest take off used by the boys at an altitude 2400m. The views from here are absolutely epic. The launch looks straight down the valley and tapers off really quickly requiring full commitment to leave the ground safely. A set of high tension power lines lie below the take off so getting it right really did feel very critical. The launch went well and we were starting to really explore how to control the glider. The gliders are incredibly responsive just by leaning. Hanging out the side of the harness despite being incredibly unnerving produced some really nice turns. 2nd flight of the day we were exploring stalling the glider and letting it surge in front accelerating us forward in the process. This felt amazing and as the tasks were becoming more dynamic the whole flying experience was surprisingly becoming far less daunting.

We went up the hill to watch Mike take a young kid for a tandem flight and it was amazing, he took off and flew straight into lift shooting up above us and cruising the ridge for ages, the sky was really hazy and the blurred peaks in the distance was totally stunning. The evening was finished off with Raclette, a traditional Swiss dish of melted cheese potatoes meat and gherkins. The cheese was melted by an open fire, by far the best Raclette I have had.

Day 4:

Flying from Croix de Coer in the morning we had to pull "Big-Ears" which requires deliberately collapsing the tips of the glider to increase the sink rate if you need to get out of the sky in a hurry. Apparently this also increases the pressure in the cells of the glider making it more stable but it felt decidedly dodgy!! The afternoon was spent with a few lectures on meteorology and a quick blast on the bike. Pedaling out of the garage as the guys loaded up the van my chain fell off sending me over the bars, a typical totally embarrassing crash! Found some cool rocks though and got a nice touch hop line nailed, confidence in my slow bike handling skills is slowly starting to get back towards where it should be.

Photos by Simon Vacher

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Friday, 24 July 2009

Sneak Peak - Kali Ad

The guys at Bullet Distribution have put together this ad for their line of Kali helmets and El Gallo components. The ad will be running in MBUK next month and features the pic of me and the BFe taken a few months back by Rob Hinds up at CwmCarn. They are bringing in some really cool looking gear, check it out at or even better pop in to Wheelies in Swansea to see these shiny new parts in the flesh!

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Monday, 20 July 2009

Slacking Around

This is the latest game, Slacklining. It turns out 20 meters of webbing and 3 caribiners can be loads of fun. Slacklining is seriously addictive, it is easy enough to get hooked on but at the same time dam near impossible! There are kids on the web doing backflips and landing back on the line, this stuff is nuts. We found this amazing place on the Gower to rig up the line, the old military tower and deserted beach was a slightly eerie but a really cool place to have a session.

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Rickman Mountain Boards

Rickman boards
have diversified and we now have big wheeled mountainboards joining the quiver. I have just finished 10 new decks, 5 are short 195cm decks the other 5 are a longer 100cm variety. This follows on from 2 prototypes that have recieved some serious testing, both have survived a good hammering. The frst one has been bashed around by me on the kite for a year now and it is holding up really well. The latest prototype has had really good comments from local riders, Ben has been using it down at the centre and the feedback coming back about the board has been great. Final build specs are still to be determined but the parts will be picked to produce an awesome riding board at a decent price.

The boards will be available through BRD mountain board centre out on the Gower. This place is amazing, the location is stunning right by the sea and next to Woebly Castle. Ben who runs the place has some really big ideas, I am really excited about how the centre is going to develop. It should become an amazing place for both bikes and boards over the next few years.

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Wednesday, 8 July 2009

"Like a supermodel wearing fake tan"

Cy posted this comment from Tim Cokayne up on the Cotic website last week

"New Cotic Soul frame arrived this morning. The builders tea colour is really nice. Skinny and light like a supermodel wearing fake tan."

I think this is a brilliant description, my simple goes further having had all the useful, practical ideas and concepts stripped away to leave the raw basics. Like a true blonde there is nothing too complicated about her. The beautiful tan colour further enhances her lines and she is incredibly elegant. I particularly like the lack of clutter on the bars and the streamlined look provided by the rigid forks.

I had her on the scales and she comes in at just over 24lbs which I dont think is too shabby. Light weight trials bikes rock in at under 20lbs but the Simple still has some rider comforts like a useable seat/seatpost and a fairly sturdy build. As a comparison the Simple frame is over a pound lighter than the steel Pashley 26MhZ trials specific frame and really not a lot heavier than the Alu trials frames on the market. In terms of dieting weight could be lost on the cranks and bashguard, moving to smaller disks and a skinnier set of rubber on the front. The bars at the moment are Spank DH ones that also put a lot of pressure on the scales.

I was having a bit of a play with some bamboo canes earlier and these couple of extra pounds dont hold the Simple back. The bike will still happily jump over a pole set at handlebar height which is just shy of a meter off the ground. Trials probably wasnt in Cy's original brief when designing this frame however its got really nice geometry and for a lanky rider like me it is a good size to really chuck around. Quality materials and engineering have kept the weight down and also gives me confidence that it will be able to handle this style of riding.

Anyway more importantly heres a quick vid of the bike in action:

Cotic Simple - Playing with Bamboo: Bar height sidehop from Rob Rickman on Vimeo.

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Dinglespeed update - Toolless gear change

Using DMR chain tugs allows toolless gear changes. I was a bit worried about having to carry a spanner in order to adjust the chain tugs so that the gear could be changed. The DMR tugs however allow the wheel to slip forward slightly when the QR is undone. The QR head sits in a cup in the tug, this pulls the wheel back when the QR is tight. The amount of movement allows the chain tension to be reduced enough to flip the gear. To change gear all that is needed is a quick undo of the QR flick the chain across and then close the QR. This works perfectly, both gears are well tensioned using this method and have that beautiful direct singlespeed feeling, result!

Heres a vid of a gear change in action, exciting stuff!!

Cotic Simple - Dinglespeed - Toolless gear change from Rob Rickman on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Redhill NPS 4X and National Champs

Picture courtesy of Dave Thomason.

Redhill hosted another round of the national series and the 4X National Championships this weekend. As racing goes this was probably one of the best events I have been part of. The track was brilliant, perfectly manicured and with tons of line options that allowed some tight and exciting racing. The riders I think have really stepped it up a level. In my opinion the 4X scene is really thriving at the moment. turn out for events is really high and in Senior there are now a large number of riders that when on form can be contending for the top spots and who are putting in some highly fought battles out on the track.

Saturday was NPS day, the track was the standard Redhill track finishing with the flat out grassy left hander. Off the start there is a small start straight that funnels into a tight left hander. The straight gives no chance to spread out and so this corner determines what position you enter the next straight. The next section of track is fast, really wide and has 3 main lines. Loads of moves were made here, when ridden well the two outer lines allowed a stack of momentum to be built up and riders were using this to nip up on the race leaders. Morgan, the local boy, took this to extremes coming up behind Keeny shouting "surprise" as he did so, Keeny fell over due to the shock of this experience. the left hander following this had a high and a low line. Moves were made going both ways the top line being less risky but the main rat run while the bottom line when nailed could be really quick. Loose dusty corners lead into a sprint towards the massive table and the final grass corner. Will Evans was making some great passes down here with a move that looked a lot like slip streaming in motor racing. He would charge out of the corner tightly on the guys tail pull to the side on the table and sneak past over the table and round the outside of the grass, a very stylish move that he pulled off a few times on some very quick riders.

Motos were really fun I managed three seconds and a third. My quarter went well and I made the semis. It then all went wrong I literally forgot how to ride and hung up everything in my semi ending up positioned 8th overall in Senior.

The big race was the champs on the Sunday. This race uses the UCI format that is used in worldcup events. Senior and Elite riders are all mashed in together and have one individual timed qualifying run that leads in to straight knock out rounds. The qualification determines who you are lined up against in the knockout. The track was also altered to include a tricky grass chicane and an extra 180 degree hairpin into the finish.

The qualification is a totally different game and was really good fun. Line choices had to be made based on speed as to those that were easy to defend mixing up the tactics a bit. My qualification run was good despite getting lost in the chicane and making a mash up of my gear changes that I had been working hard on in practice. 46.3 seconds left me qualifying in 19th place. I was in the last 4 to go down and we could see a massive rain cloud blowing in, spots of rain could be felt as I was on the gate so the incentive was to get down before the grass corner received a soaking. Mop Head put in an absolutely storming run qualifying 11th, not bad for his first champs.

Between qualis and the heats the other categories raced motos as usual, it was great to be able to actually sit down and watch the action for a change. Mop was leading the crowds with some enthusiastic cheering creating a great atmosphere. Mid motos the showers came in a couple of torrential downpours completely changed the dry dusty track and made the grass insanely slippery as riders were going down all over the place. Some tough deliberations occurred over tyre choice. In the end I went for the Bonty "Jones wet X" which are skinny xc spikes and were getting some good reviews from other riders. Once changed the sun came back out and everything was rapidly drying up, it felt like an F1 race with riders struggling to decide on tyres and tactics.

First knockout round I was up against AJ and Will Evans, this didn't help my chances. I was kind of hoping Will would get a bit excited and fall over in the grass which I saw him do a couple of times earlier in practice. I had a good gate up with them into the first corner but was on the outside and got pushed out and was then behind for the rest of the run. No one fell over so that was my chances of getting through gone.

The weather caused a few major upsets allowing some of the senior riders to break through into the quarters and semis, they were representing the underdogs in this comp and put up a really good fight. Both Gareth and Scruby went through making it to the B finals, Mop Head just missed out on his chance slipping a pedal right at the finish.

As the A final lined up on the gate a massively aggressive shower came through thoroughly lubricating the track. This did not slow down the pace, the guys were absolutely hauling, Beaumont was in the lead, Will was flying up behind everyone and looking like he was ready to fly past on the left hander but wiped out leaving Duncan Ferris and Lee White left to battle it out. Beaumont took the win followed by Ferris and then White.

It was a great weekend and great to see the scene in such great form, hopefully 4X is on the way up and next year will be bigger and better. The quality of the track this weekend was absolutely first class so props have to go to Neil and the FoD boys for putting so much work into this place.

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Monday, 6 July 2009

Dinglespeeding the Simple

The parts I have been waiting on have arrived, the Simple is finally able be ridden hard. The tugs hold the wheel solidly in position so the issues with sliding under heavy pedaling have been resolved. More excitingly a 26t chainring has now been fitted alongside the 32t and an extra sprocket has been added at the back making this a true dinglespeed (double-singlespeed for those not in the know). the Simmple now has 2 gear ratios (26:23 and 32:16) to play with that both run the same chain length. This means that with a quick manual flick of the chain I go from a snappy light trials gear to an XC/BMX/sprint kind of gear. The 2 ratios are about perfect for their intended use. If I had more flexibility in available chain rings for the front I would probably go for a slightly harder trials gear but mainly because I have always liked to stomp a higher than average gear for trials type stuff. The big gear is mint for charging about on. These pictures were sneaked in between a couple of rather aggressive showers, hopefully this crazy weather stops soon so I can have a proper play! I still need to cut down the steerer tube and source a more elegantly sized bash ring but otherwise this bike is more or less there.

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