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.

The great Internet Explorer 8 controversy

So, the Internet Explorer team has proposed that as of IE8, if you want the latest and greatest features you’ll have to opt-in. (Note: Microsoft have changed their mind.) You can do this by way of an http-header, or using a meta-tag:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />

I can see understand why they’ve chosen this direction. IE6 was absolutely chock-full of bugs, but was left to stagnate for so long that web-developers began to rely on it’s quirks in order to make pages render correctly. Eventually IE7 came along and fixed many of those bugs. Consequently, many pages that were reliant on IE6 bugs broke in IE7. Microsoft don’t want to see that happen again.

The rest of the world doesn’t seem so keen on the idea. The web has gone wild, shouting about the myriad technical problems. Representatives from Mozilla (Firefox/Gecko), Apple (Safari/Webkit) and Opera have all said they don’t like the idea (and won’t be implementing it in their browsers). The big issue that stands out for me isn’t technical at all though. It’s education.

Getting the word out

Somehow, Microsoft need to get the word out to existing web designers and developers. They need to tell newcomers to the industry. They need to let educators know. I’m struggling to see how they’re going to do that. Why?

A quick look around the SitePoint forums reveals that people are still tripping up on using the doctype element to switch between quirks and standards modes (the last attempt at providing backwards compatibility to legacy web pages). They were first introduced with Internet Explorer 5 for Mac the best part of a decade ago. Over the years, every major browser has taken up the technology, countless people have blogged about it, written tutorials on it, put it into knowledge bases, included it in web design books, podcasted it, and people are still struggling to get their heads around it.

I reckon Andy Budd hit the nail on the head:

No matter what great leaps forward the Internet Explorer team make from now on, the majority of developers won’t use them and the majority of users won’t see them. By doing this the Internet Explorer team may have created their own backwater, shot themselves in the foot and left themselves for dead.

Things move quickly on the web

Of course, while I was writing that, the story developed a bit further.

It turns out that using the new HTML5 doctype will trigger the new super-standards-mode in Internet Explorer 8. What’s more, Ian Hickson thinks he knows a way to make an HTML5 compatibility layer for IE7 (see the last paragraph).

My interpretation? Microsoft are trying to make HTML4 and XHTML1 legacy formats (unless you specify otherwise with the X-UA-Compatible header) and push HTML5 as the standard for content going forward. I’ll be very interested to see how all of this plays out.

Lemurs

Katemonkey has gone and rendered everything I’ve written here irrelevant: The “X-UA-Compatible” Controversy — As portrayed by toy lemurs.

Some time later…

Microsoft have decided to do the right thing: IE8 now will use standards-mode by default.

The return of the Prophet

A little over a month ago, I bought some replacement shock bushings for the Cannondale. I took the bike apart only to discover they were the wrong size. GAH! The following day, a replacement for the knackered headset arrived. I took half the old one out, then hit my thumb with a hammer (the moral here being to use the right bloody tool for the job), threw a bit of a strop and gave up for the evening.

It’d been hanging on the work-stand, looking sorry for itself for weeks. Yesterday I finally caved in and finished the job. The bushings are still wonky and I still haven’t adjusted the front mech to allow me to use the granny ring, but it’s bike shaped again. So today I went out for a quick spin up Leckhampton.

All that time off the bike, combined with the excesses of christmas have taken their toll on my fitness. I was painfully slow and my legs were screaming WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!? all the way to the top.

It was worth the pain though, because the descent back home was ace. I wasn’t riding especially well, or pushing the outer limits. Nope, it was just plain mud-splattered, two wheeled fun. I rolled off the top, boosting down the rocky chute, before jumping into the steep trails down to the lime kilns, getting mighty sideways down a new trail near the s-bends, bursting out into the open and flying off the natural rise in the grass before rolling down to the car-park and onwards to the old tramway.

I nearly lost it on the roots at the top (as per usual), before pinning it down the steps, racing through the switch-back, holding it high out of the rut, dropping back in and nearly high-siding into the hedge. It’s a good job I met the smiley lady jogging up the trail where it widens out or it could have been messy. Now, fly off the step and pinball down the rest of the trail.

Fun. My legs hurt.

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.

Zoom

Web accessibility can be hard to get your head around. It’s all very well talking about best practise, but without personal experience it can be very difficult to understand the day-to-day issues people face.

I’m lucky, in that my eyesight is still 20/20. Yet today I ran head-on into a common web accessibility barrier. I got a (diluted) taste of what it’s like to use a screen magnifier to browse the web (like many vision-impaired users).

I was playing on the Wii and when I’d had enough of Super Mario Galaxy for the day, I jumped over to The Internet Channel (or Opera for Wii as us web monkeys know it).

I loaded Google Mail. Alas I have a relatively small television by today’s standards, so the on-screen text was rather small. Thankfully, on the Wii it’s very easy to zoom in on a certain parts of the screen, so I did. I scrolled across to the Labels part of Google Mail and clicked one. Just as you’d expect, it updated the conversations part of the page. No problem.

Well, no problem except for the whole zoomed in bit. Because the site is built using Ajax, there hadn’t been a full-page refresh. It meant I had no way of knowing something had happened elsewhere on the page until I zoomed out again.

Now, Google also offer basic HTML versions of their web applications. These don’t use Ajax, so you get the full-page refresh (and hence you’re aware that the page has changed). That’s one way to solve the problem, but creating separate web applications for different groups of users isn’t always an option.

I’m not saying Ajax is a bad thing — rather pointing out one of it’s side effects. I’m not yet sure how I’d work around the problem (and I’d love to hear suggestions), but it’s certainly food for thought when designing for the web.

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.

Earthed 5

The first four of Alex Rankin’s Earthed mountain bike films have been consistently ace. The fifth in the series is due out in mid-November. Here’s the trailer:

You can pre-order it here.