Archive for the 'Friends' Category

Val d’Isere, Baby!

Dave, off-piste

Nine of us went to Val d’Isere and spent a week having fun in blizzards, blazing sunshine, powder and pubs. Sadly we had to come back. You’ll find more photos on Flickr.

Voodoo people

Let’s rewind a few weeks. My Cannondale was unridable (everything was falling off of it), my Cove was just plain unsafe (and still is) and there was no way in hell I was going to ride cross-country on the 222. Thankfully Tim came to my aid and lent me his old Voodoo hardtail for a couple of rides.

Now, going by my current set of bikes, I really ought to hate it. They’ve all got long-travel forks, short stems and slack geometry. Not the Voodoo though. It’s an old-school XC missile: Steep angles, short travel forks and a long stem. It’s completely wrong for me.

And yet it’s so very, very right. Remember how I called it a missile? I wasn’t exaggerating. Point at a climb and you can’t help but attack it. It’s a joy on the singletrack too, so light, agile, flickable and always urging you to go faster. It’s got that indefinable feeling of rightness. Really, it’s only when the trail becomes completely torn up and rough that it can’t cope — every bike has it’s limitations. I didn’t want to give it back, that’s for sure.

Fast-forward back to today. The Cannondale is back on it’s wheels. I set off up the road and wound the forks down to their shortest travel setting for the long opening climb. Normally I’d wind them right back up at the first sniff of a descent but they stayed short-travel today. Clearly that Voodoo has had an effect.

I tore through the tight singletrack, loving the steeper head-angle and pumping it over the roots instead of letting the forks do all the work. I hauled it up those long fire-road drags, glad of the lower front-end. I pinned it through those fast corners, loving the stability that comes with a lower bottom-bracket (even if it meant I kept clouting my pedals on tree-stumps).

In fact it was a good 20-odd miles before I wound them back up again. Even then it was only because I ran into Charlie and G-Dog — they dragged me up for a quick play on the downhill tracks.

Finishing up with old tramway was fantastic as always. I don’t think i’ll never tire of going full-tilt down those rooty steps at the end of a ride. Coming home to a nice cup of tea and basking in that post-ride glow is always nice, too.

Réunion

The time had come. No turning back now. I was set for a front row start in a race format I had never entered before. There were 160 riders all starting at the same time on a 50-minute downhill.

Andrew “Needles” Neethling looks back on Megavalanche Réunion Island.

Ah, Megavalanche. It’s one of those events that most people see as complete insanity. The organisers plot an hour-or-so long route from the top of a mountain to the bottom. It’s off-road for the most part, taking in the most challenging downhill terrain they can find along with a few nasty climbs for good measure. With the course all marked out, they ferry hundreds of mountain bikers to the top and get them all to race to the bottom. At the same time. Cue carnage.

Needles took fourth spot on his first attempt, finishing behind Nico Voullioz (the best downhill racer of all time), Remy Absalon (former winner of the event) and Rene Wildhaber (winner of Megavalanche Alpe D’huez this summer). Not bad going.

Far more importantly though, our own Garry Higgins and Charlie Williams were flying the flag for local team The Hills Have Eyes. Charlie finished 46th overall, beating mountain bike legend (and new friend) Eric Carter in the process. Meanwhile, Garry grabbed his second Mega podium this year, finishing third in Masters II (he took the Masters III win in Alpe d’Huez). Very nice work lads.

The full results are up on the Avalanche Trophy site.

The chase

It’s the middle of the night. It’s cold; I can see my breath on the air. Yet here we are, deep in the forest, cutting a swathe through the blanket of leaves. The three of us, lights burning away the darkness, tyres slicing through the singletrack.

We reach the shrine and stop for a breather. The trails are fun from here on down. Garry pedals off into the dark, followed by Brett. I ride down after them, with nothing but the the noise and the glowing red beacons on their backs to follow. The trail soon cleaves in two, Garry going to the right, Brett and myself the left. Brett loses the path within three corners and slows in a cloud of branches, leaves and swearing. I spy G’s lights through the darkness and set a course for where I think he’s heading.

I’d never do this during the day. I can’t see the dangers now though, so I just straight line it, ragged as hell.

I’m really moving now, leaves and twigs cracking below me, ducking and diving through the overhanging branches. WHOA! Hop the front wheel over the fallen tree and let the back of the bike clatter through. Really must learn some technique one of these days. Not now though, I’m gaining on Garry.

BOOSH! I’m back on the trail! Keep it going, stay with him, up here, around the tree, dive down, now pedal like a bastard. Pump through the dip, then hard left, then ARGH! I’M BLIND! Brett and his powerful lights are coming in on a collision course. I’m not having that though, a couple of extra pedal strokes and I get in ahead of him. I’m right on G’s tail now.

WAHEY! His back wheel steps out on a root, but he carries it off as if nothing’s happened. I hit the same root, and the same thing happens. Keep it loose, no problem.

Next corner, Garry cuts in tight and he’s through, smooth as silk. I can take it tighter though. Lean it in, get off the brakes and BOOSH! High-side! The back wheel catches a root, leaps sideways and tries to overtake the front. Garry disappears off into the dark. Brett cuts inside and is past. I’m left jumping awkwardly across the trail, straddling the bike.

The chase is lost.

Next time, G-Dog. Next time.

Pushing the envelope

Reading Khoi Vinh’s Passing on Periodicals made me stop, put down the Mac and pick up the latest copy of Dirt magazine. I spent most of the evening engrossed in it. One article, Jumpers for Goalposts, got me thinking.

It got me thinking about fitness. It got me thinking about fun. It reminded me that the best days are the ones where you push the envelope that little bit further than usual.

A couple of weeks ago I was out riding with friends in the French and Swiss Alps (the pictures are on Flickr). I’d just spent a day getting angry with myself and my inability to pilot my bike down the various parts of Chatel’s bike park at any sort of pace. I’m never the fastest in the group but this was just ridiculous. It was especially frustrating because just a day earlier I’d been riding out of my skin. I’d lost my self-belief somewhere.

Anton, Charlie, Nick, Garry and myself

The following morning, we got up bright and early and hooked up with the long lost Nick Maher, who took us to a little known trail somewhere near Morzine (nope, not telling). The day started out much like the last. I had no confidence in the bike and more importantly, no confidence in myself. I just couldn’t do it.

I was riding the whole thing at a snail’s pace already, but I got to one bit and just stalled. It’s a big, steep, diving left hander and I was just plain scared of it. The really steep stuff has always been my nemesis. I was on the verge of walking down it, but something inside me said “Nope, you’re going to do this one”. Besides, my mates were all waiting around the next corner.

So I forced myself to ride it. It was slow and it was ugly, but I proved to myself I could do it.

Chatting to Garry about it on the lift back up there helped. Put your weight on the outside pedal and lean the bike into the corner. Oh, and stay off the brakes as much as you can. It all sounds so very simple, but putting it into practise was pretty bloody scary. Nonetheless, it worked. A few more of the evil hairpins and it was starting to come more easily. A couple more runs and I was even beginning to flow down them.

Nick, killing it

Of course, that was just one of the challenges awaiting me. I won’t even get started on the wildly off-camber corners, crazy chutes, rock gardens, drops, gnarled roots, north shore and so on. I learnt a lot that day. The sense of satisfaction I got from being able to ride it all was huge.

Just a day later, I had to go through the same thing in a very wet, foggy Verbier. I started to get angry with myself again, but then I thought back. “Come on Olly. You were riding harder stuff yesterday.”

So I bloody well rode it. It was a real challenge just getting down some of it at all. And you know what? That made it really good fun.

Hyde Park Calling

Tim and I drove down to Lai’s flat in London on Saturday morning. After faffing around for a while, we jumped on the magic 137 bus which took us straight to Hyde Park. We bought slightly limp burgers, then wandered in through the gates to Hyde Park Calling. We sat on the Pepsi inflatable sofas and relaxed in the sun until the music started.

Rushmore opened proceedings on the Pepsi stage. They were great — clearly enjoying their moment. Their biggest cheer came when they covered the theme to The Littlest Hobo. Their bassist apparently has three nipples. Tim had to go one better with four.

That done, we wandered around to the main stage and there we stayed. First up were Forever Like Red. They didn’t seem to want to be there. Pity really — the music is alright, a less polished Muse if you will.

Next up were Ghosts, who were definitely up for it: Don’t be at all surprised if they’re the next big thing. They were a great act, really whipping the crowd up. I’ve since grabbed a copy of their album “The World is Outside” — it’s really bloody good.

I can’t really say the same about The Feeling‘s first album. It’s nice enough I guess, but it just didn’t float my boat. As a live act though, they’re an entirely different proposition. Who knew they could rock out like that? They played the same songs, but they were both louder and heavier. Consider my mind well and truly changed.

I didn’t think I’d ever get to see Crowded House, but they recently reformed. Bonus! They were just as polished as you’d expect and they really seemed to be having fun on stage. They started out with all the classics, which really got the crowd going, before moving onto their new material. Sadly we didn’t get to hear much of that: They brought the weather with them (sorry).

The skies darkened ominously and then the rains came. Not just a light shower – we’d had a few of those already. This was a full on monsoon. Up went a sea of umbrellas but we were all drenched already. It didn’t dampen anyone’s enthusiasm at all; Hyde Park just turned into a great big rainy party. Crowded House tried to play on, but the rain got so hard they had to give up.

Somewhere in the excitement Tim managed to give himself Mallet Finger, which wasn’t altogether clever. It’s only a minor injury, but it’ll keep him off his bike for at least six weeks, which is rubbish.

Last up was Peter Gabriel, complete with his Ming the Merciless goatee. He started off slowly, doing some of his more atmospheric numbers. I wasn’t wildly impressed with those to be honest (it didn’t help that I didn’t know them), but the man is a great showman and kept the crowd going. He finished off with a few hits that I did know, Steam and Sledgehammer being the ones that spring to mind. They were a great way to finish the day.

And with that it was all over. We wandered out of the park, leaving behind a sea of mud and abandoned Tuborg beer cups. We jumped back on the magic 137 bus and rode it back to Battersea, where we dined in a small Thai restaurant. the food was hot in every sense and was exactly what we needed after the drenching we got earlier.

A big shout out to the randoms we befriended – Sam, Kate and Anca (If I’ve remembered correctly), and a very big thank-you to Tim and Lai for putting me up at their flat and taking me out for a yummy Dim Sum lunch on Sunday. I’ve put some cameraphone pics up on Flickr.

@media Europe 2007

It was @media Europe 2007 last week and for me it was the best yet. Patrick and his team of merry oompa-loompas put on a great show.

The presentations were fantastic this year. Particular highlights for me were those from Richard Ishida, Jon Hicks and Dan Webb. I took a lot of good stuff away from each of them.

It was also a privilege to see Molly E. Holzschlag (who recently announced her retirement from the conference circuit), Joe Clarke (who announced his retirement from Web Accessibility) and Håkon Wium Lie, who showed off the $100 Laptop.

Outside the presentation halls, it was great to catch up with old friends again and lovely to meet new people. Hopefully I’ll see you all again soon. It was only slightly weird when the bouncer at Metra told me he’d voted for the Threadless tee I was wearing.

I was beginning to feel a bit down about the whole web thing, so it’s really good to leave @media feeling enthused, inspired and full of fresh knowledge. Big thanks to everyone who made it what it was and here’s to the next one!
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Shattered

Our local bike shop must love us. We can whinge about how they’ve never got anything useful in stock until the cows come home. But then Brett goes in there and buys himself a shiny new Cannondale Prophet (all the best people have them) and Stubacca lays down his hard earned for a GT iDrive 5 (in a fetching 80’s Honda Civic style metallic brown). They’ve got to be rubbing their hands together with glee.

What’s more, Owen (not that one) had gone out and got himself the mother of all hangovers (not from the bike shop though). What better excuse for us all to go out and play?

So we draged the bikes out, and after some extended faffing, set off. We spent the best part of six hours out there, riding through everything from blazing sunshine to howling gales and snow flurries. We grovelled up big hills and burned down twisting singletrack. We even stopped at the pub for a nice cup of tea.

We did about this many miles (I’m holding my hands about as far apart as they’ll go), so I’ve got that tired but satisfied glow this evening.

Biking rocks. Nuff said.