The manual, also known as the front wheel lift, is one of the most fundamental skills in mountain biking. It’s the gateway to many other skills but even before you’ve got that far, it can actually help reduce arm fatigue!
Think about it – if you manual over a root, or a series of roots, rocks, down steps, anything you can, you’re giving your arms a momentary rest and allowing the much bigger muscles of your legs to deal with the rough stuff. All those momentary rests will soon add up, leaving you feeling a little fresher and also way radder because of all the manualling you’ve been doing. Sounds pretty good eh!
If that’s not enough to persuade you, what about this: once you can lift your front wheel up using the correct technique, you can step your game up almost immediately by successfully learning to do drop-offs. For both manualling over things on the trail and for doing drop-offs, you don’t need to be able to cruise along on the back wheel for many many metres, you simply need to be able to raise the front wheel using the technique described in the video above.
Be sure to let me know how you get on by leaving a comment on the video!
You may or may not have heard that I decided to create a YouTube channel. Every other Tom, Dick and Harry seems to be doing it at the moment what with lockdown, but luckily my name’s Emily so that should help me stand out from the crowd a little bit.
What’s it all about? It’s about trying to help others get better on their bikes. I go into more detail in this video:
If like me, you find YouTube full of people waffling on for 10 minutes when they could have wrapped it up in about 3, you are going to like my channel!
I endeavour only to include what is actually relevant, allowing you to take just a few minutes of your time to find out how to do something, and then head out to try it. You can even refer back to it whilst you’re out, using the YouTube app on your phone. One of the ideas behind keeping the tutorials as short and as to-the-point as possible is to enable you to do just that.
I’ll be covering subjects such as
– Braking to go faster
– Doing drop-offs
– Riding switchbacks
– Riding steeps
to name just a few.
There’ll be a smattering of more theoretical mechanical/technical type videos too, but please comment on any of the videos to let me know what you’d like to see next!
If you like what you’ve read and/or seen so far, you can subscribe by hitting this subscribe link HERE right now!
I had originally planned to kick off in mid-April with this, which coincided with not being allowed to actually go bike riding here in France thanks to the Covid-19 crisis. So far, I’ve done a few garden-based videos, but will wait now until 11th May (a mere 6 days away at the time of writing) because I want to produce more relevant and useful stuff than random bits in the garden (although I could do a video on how to endo-180-off of 2 pallets/a wall if you want!).
If you’ve just become a subscriber, thank you very much, and see you out there!
If I had an e-bike, I could get two laps done instead of one. With an e-bike I could get to the top more quickly and more easily. I could do a lot more trail scouting in a day with an e-bike. I could do much bigger loops too. I want an e-bike.
Such were my thoughts up until last week, when my boyfriend and I took e-bikes out for a day in the big mountains. But was I right?
The night before I happened to have a chat with a friend on Messenger. I told him my plans. “You’re dead to me” he said, “It’s cheating”. I thought “oh, here we go”, but it turned out that he had tried an e-bike, but he’d decided it wasn’t for him. Fair enough. But his comments were interesting and I was curious to see what I’d make of it. He said that the work/effort of riding up is all part of it. Going up hill easily is just not as good. He also commented that they’re a lot harder to stop going downhill due to the extra weight, and he felt that it was very evident when e-bikes had been used on a trail due to the additional impact/wear/erosion they’d caused.
We’d chosen a route which we’d done two days prior on our regular bikes as we thought it’d provide the best back-to-back comparison. It was a tough climb – about 15kms with 1000m ascent on a steep winding lane which eventually became fire road. The first junction was at a bridge which on our normal bikes had taken 2 hours to reach.
Part-way up our climb to the bridge, there is a hanging valley with a small descent in it. Reaching this on our regular bikes a few days ago had been a bit of a turning point. We felt like we were finally getting somewhere. On the e-bikes, whilst the climb hadn’t been easy, having still had to work hard, breath hard, and maintain a reasonably decent cadence to continue benefiting from the pedal assist, it didn’t seem like it’d been quite as arduous as on the normal bikes. My friend’s comments about the effort all being part of the ride started to resonate with me. I felt a little cheated, “oh wow, I’m here already, that didn’t seem as hard”. But perhaps it wasn’t that it wasn’t a hard climb, it’s just that when it’s difficult you expect it to take ages as well. It just hadn’t. I was oddly a little disappointed.
We hit the next steep section of the climb. All thoughts of being cheated went swiftly out of the window. In order to maintain the right cadence and speed to continue benefiting from the pedal assist, I had to make enough of an effort to need a rest part way up. On my regular bike I’d just been grinding up in first gear, steady away, no rests. Now I was pushing first gear but it seemed I had to maintain a higher cadence. If I rode an e-bike regularly up something like that, I’d get fitter quite quickly. That’s not something I thought I’d say – I’m already pretty fit! It’s not just the necessity to maintain that cadence, it’s also the fact that you know that if you don’t, you might lose the assistance and then you’re stuck with a 25kg lump between your legs.
We tried out what happens with that on another steep section a few minutes later. Turned off the assistance, kept pedalling, turned it back on again. Despite the fact that I was pedalling, my cadence had slowed so much to try and keep the bike going unaided that the motor wasn’t really registering my efforts and took ages to kick back in. I pretty much came to a standstill. Being quite inexperienced (ok, very inexperienced) with e-bikes, I can’t say for certain that lessening my cadence on the earlier climb would definitely have lost me the assistance, but it wasn’t a risk I wanted to take! Avoiding unintentional stopping with a lead weight beneath you is plenty of motivation to keep trying.
We reached the bridge, time check: 1hour – half the time as on our regular bikes, but it’d felt just as hard. Interesting.
Shortly afterwards we embarked upon a push. The bikes had Bosch motors and were equipped with a walk mode. We started walking whilst the bike practically charged off… ah – I’d left it in 2nd or 3rd gear. Oops! Moving it up into first gear helped to solve that but I felt like I was attempting to manhandle a lump up the mountainside. It wasn’t the most fun ever.
When the trail flattened off into a uphill traverse, we hopped back on and gave it a go – it was a pleasant change to be able to tackle something like that, when normally it’d just be a bit too much on a regular bike.
We came to a steep section with the trail zig-zagging up in front of us. Time to stick it in Emtb mode and see what it could do. Well, what I couldn’t do was stay on the trail. The corners were too tight, so I rode straight up. I did what I hate – I cut the corners. It was a moment of mixed emotions – it was cool to have been able to stay on the bike, but I didn’t like the fact that I’d done it by riding straight up, away from the trail. Perhaps that’s a negative against e-bikes. If riding them inadvertently encourages you to leave the trail for an “easier” option, is that ok? I personally don’t think it is.
We paused by a lake for lunch, and I was feeling like there was a big stopwatch hanging over me. In fact, I was feeling the worry of “how far will this battery take me”. We were heading over one col, then we’d come back up and over a second. We hoped to squeeze in a third, but weren’t sure if we’d have the time or battery power to do so.
At this point in the day, I wasn’t totally loving e-bikes. I was quite concerned about getting stranded somewhere with a bike I couldn’t easily move under my own power (well, unless I was going downhill that is!), and I was quite fed up with manhandling it around the place.
As it turned out, that first col was a bit easier to get to after the lake than it looked. Some of it was even rideable (on an e-bike anyway!), and we bumped in to some very friendly Italians who were quite intrigued by our machines. I was happy we’d reached the col as now the assistance could be turned off and the battery power saved.
Our descent wasn’t particularly steep or technical and I wondered what I’d think of it on my own bike which has a slacker head angle, more suspension and most importantly, brakes fitted the right way round. I wasn’t really able to test out my friend’s comments about the bike being harder to stop. I didn’t notice any issues, but I probably wasn’t travelling as fast as if it’d been a bike I’d been accustomed to. The jury’s still out on this, so I’m keen to have another go on some steeper trails and see how I get on.
Our climb back up to the Finestre de Champorcher turned out to be a technical double-track climb. By this time we’d decided not to go for Col Number 3 so battery conservation was out of the window. It was great to be able to ride up slab rocks and through sections littered with baby-heads in Emtb mode, and clear it all. I’d have been walking on my regular bike. It still wasn’t easy, and I lacked technical ability in places, but it was so much nicer than walking. That said, it did bring to the fore that there is a whole other set of skills needed for e-biking – uphill skills. You’re approaching difficult sections that bit faster, and you need to pick your line and set a body position much more quickly than you’re accustomed to. Uphill seated switchbacks were definitely a new challenge!
We finally reached our second col, and descended down the other side to a refuge where we stopped for a coffee and a good old chinwag about the day so far. That descent was a bit more in line with what I usually do. It still didn’t seem that it was hard to slow the bike down nicely, despite the fact that the back tyre was bald. Surely accidental skidding should have been easily achievable, but apparently not!
So far it’d been an interesting day. I thought an e-bike would make everything easier, but it didn’t. We were riding in eco mode to conserve the battery as we wanted to cover some distance. If you do that, riding an e-bike uphill isn’t easier, it’s just quicker. Sure, we tried them in the faster modes, it was almost effortless yes, but that doesn’t interest me. I do want to work on the climbs. It seems there are choices – you either make it easy (and fast), but you’ll lose your range or you make it the same in terms of effort level, but extend your range. The latter is what I’m interested in.
We talked a lot about how to maximise battery life – like making sure the cadence is in a sweet spot where the motor isn’t labouring too much, and keeping the pedal strokes smooth so that the motor is assisting consistently, rather than surging as you stomp on the pedals. It was clear that to do long rides with a lot of climbing, eco mode and careful pedalling would be key. There’d be no blasting in turbo mode, that’s for sure.
We’d thought that e-bikes would make great trail scouting tools, and had a taste of this after leaving the refuge. There was a trail heading off up the hillside, but it was definitely rideable when equipped withan e-bike. “I’m going up here – because I can”, I said, and off we went. It’s as if the bike offered a little bit more freedom to just go and have a look. On a regular bike you’d not want to put the effort in for something that might not be worth it, but on an e-bike just having a quick look was really no big deal. We ended up riding a great trail that brought us back onto our original route a little further down. Later on I experienced another little taste of that freedom when heading off down a singletrack that would spit me out by a river. The steep fire-road climb back out to our original route became a non-issue. I stuck the bike in turbo mode and powered up at about 23km/h in a fraction of the time that I would on my own bike. Is there anyone out there who’ll claim they don’t like freedom?? I did not expect to get that from an e-bike ride!
Could e-bikes replace shuttles? In the spring and autumn where we live in the French alps, the trails are completely free of snow, but there are no lifts running to get to them. Once in a while we’ll sort out an uplift day but otherwise it’s a case of pedal up for 1h30 and ride down for 5 minutes. It’s not a great rate of return. Imagine being able to ride up in 45 minutes, and do that trail, then ride up again and do another trail. And maybe even a third trail on the opposite hillside. What’s the difference in doing that, and taking a shuttle – why isn’t an uplift day seen as cheating? Because it basically is. You’ve not even pedalled whilst ascending in your shuttle van, whereas an e-biker has, even if in one of the fast modes. They’ve still raised their heart rate more than someone sat in a van. Who’s the cheat now?
The other comment my friend had made had basically been about trail sustainability. For me, this ties in to being able to stop or slow down in a controlled manner. I want to know if I can still slow down before corners without skidding. I am a massive advocate of smooth and controlled braking to avoid skidding and I don’t think I’d be happy with a bike which made that impossible to do when riding natural trails. Difficult – yes, in that case I could learn to manage it, but impossible – no. Not for me.
Often cited are concerns about trail damage whilst climbing too. I wonder if there’s a slight issue here: when you’re on an e-bike for the first time with a curious mind, like me, you’re probably looking for these signs. If you’re an e-bike hater, perhaps you’re also looking for these signs. But on your regular bike, do you ever stop to look if you’ve left a mark on the ground? Probably not. Over the years, I have sometimes noticed the tyre marks of other riders ascending steep stuff on regular bikes. It doesn’t matter what sort of bike you’re on, if you put the power down when climbing on soft enough ground, you will leave a mark. Perhaps the difference is that on an e-bike you are likely to do it more frequently.
I believe trail impact can to some extent be put down to rider attitude, both on an e-bike and a regular bike. I don’t think the bike is the sole cause of the problem. By it’s very nature, mountain biking has an impact. We can’t avoid that, but we can try to minimise it by avoiding skidding and by riding corners properly. Give a rider an uplift, and no matter what bike he’s on, he can skid down the trail and cause damage. Using a chairlift, he can do this repeatedly, arguably smashing more laps than someone pedalling up on an e-bike. Granted, this doesn’t apply to climbing as the regular biker just couldn’t climb the singletrack an e-biker could. But there’s nothing to stop that e-biker from laying the power down smoothly, rather than stomping on the pedals. Why not educate people to pedal more smoothly, to ride more sustainably, rather than simply blaming the bike.
Some folk are opposed to e-bikes because they offer the chance to lap trails multiple times, thus increasing the traffic on any given trail and expediting erosion. I can’t deny that, but it leads me to wonder whether you could argue that in remote areas, it’s less of an issue. Compare two scenarios: Living in a densely populated area, where do you go riding? More than likely, to a recognised riding area – whether it’s a trail centre or an unofficial trail network in your local woods. You’ll see other riders there and each individual trail will be ridden many times over. But what if you live in a region where you don’t session the same 5 trails in a small area? Instead you ride up a road for an hour or so, ride down a single trail, ride up again and do a different trail? You’ll probably have been out for 3 hours by this time, but you’ve only ridden two trails. There’s every chance you won’t even see another biker in that time. In this scenario the impact on the trails is clearly less. In order to protect those trails in more densely populated areas, is it feasible to ban e-bikes because their impact is much greater? E-bikes raise a lot of issues, many of which are quite difficult to answer!
At the end of the day, if we’re truly concerned about erosion and trail damage, then it’s important to look at the way we all ride, whatever type of bike we use. Can you genuinely cite erosion as solely an e-bike problem if you’re an uplift-using corner-cutting skidder?? Just sayin’.
I run a mountain bike holiday business, and I’d love to add an e-bike into my trail-scouting tool kit, as long as I feel I can ride it responsibly. Being able to investigate new trails more efficiently – perhaps covering three trail options in a day instead of one – would mean that I can bring the newly discovered trails into my guiding repertoire much more quickly than at present. The most satisfying part of any guide’s job is showing their customers fantastic new trails, and having a tool which helps me continue to be able to do that would be invaluable.
2018 promises to be an exciting summer for cycling fans in Bourg Saint Maurice during July – Le Tour is coming to town!
Be like Wheelie Man: Ride your mountain bike AND watch the Tour de France all at the same time:
*wheelie-ing whilst watching optional 😉
Tuesday 18th July the riders come from Albertville through Beaufort and continue on up to La Rosiere. We’re already planning how to combine some brilliant singletrack riding with cheering on our favourite roadies (which one’s yours?!)!
We’ve got soo many choices, but currently we reckon heading over to La Thuile could be the one!
Just over the border in Italy, La Thuile is part of the Espace St Bernardo area, and is linked to La Rosiere – that’s how close it is. The Tour stage ends in La Rosiere, so what a perfect excuse to head over for a healthy sample of trail goodness, before heading back across to watch the riders finish their day in La Rosiere. Italian loam, coffee and icecream AND the Tour de France? Oooh yes!
If you want to watch the Tour AND ride your mountain bike, this is the perfect opportunity. All you need to do is book a holiday with us for the week commencing Saturday 14 July 2018!
Read all about a week in Les Arcs with us here, or just jump straight in:
Anyone seen the Trippin Fellaz GR5 video? Seen that awesome looking ridgeline near the Col de la Sauce? If not, you’d best have a look:
I was curious as to where it was as the GR5 comes through our valley. It only turns out that the Col de la Sauce is a mere 500m hike-a-bike up the road from Les Arcs! Well, after a short 20 minute drive that is. Needless to say, I think we’ll be heading up there for a little look in the summer. Exciting stuff! I’ve tended to look towards the south for fresh trails, perhaps i need to look more north from time to time.. what else is on the northern door step?!
Either way, we’re going to have to be patient, it’s only January and we’ve already had as much snow as would usually have fallen by the end of March. It could take a while for the high-level trails to be free of snow this year!
It’s quite normal to ride to La Thuile from Bourg Saint Maurice if I’m quite honest. You just take a few lifts from the La Rosiere side and then drop into La Thuile, easy peasy. However, there is another way. One where chairlifts are replaced with a fat chunk of hike-a-bike. Far from civilisation, it’s a proper route in proper mountains, in fact one could call it a proper day out.
The rough plan was to get over a mountain pass (simultaneously crossing the border to Italy), and ride down the other side to La Thuile where we’d catch the chairlift home. That meant we had to be in La Thuile about 4.30 to get the last chair. Without the usual mechanical assistance at the beginning of the day, we’d need an early start. We decided to camp overnight at the start point and hit up a sweet crag for a spot of sport climbing in the sun, before heading back down to where we’d parked the vans to spend the night.
The next morning our friend Stu arrived in his Landrover. We saw him coming but weren’t quick enough to stop him from sailing past the carpark and carrying on up to the Refuge de Ruitor, where the serious adventuring would begin. There’s no phone signal anywhere in the area, and I’d made the error of not being specific about where we’d meet him in the morning. Uh oh! Fortunately he soon came back down and we managed to squeeze 5 bikes in and on the Landy and drove back up to the refuge, saving quite a lot of time and our legs from a fairly steep fireroad climb.
We enjoyed a very nice little flat warm up in the beautiful valley which is home to the refuge, before we embarked upon Hike-a-Bike Part 1: 630m ascent directly to Italy. Leaving the babbling brooks and alpine meadows behind, we got off to a good start, and soon reached a little lake aptly named Lac du Petit (petit meaning small in French). Stu dropped his bike in the lake whilst trying to take a photo. Oh dear! With water gushing out of it, he lifted it onto his back and promptly regretted this hasty move with the ice-cold water now running all down his neck! The next section up to the border took us about another hour, and for some reason I suddenly found it a lot more difficult. I can’t express how glad I was to finally reach the Col du Tachuy!
The view awaiting us was nothing short of incredible. A perfect panorama of Mont Blanc and the Grandes Jorasses right there before our very eyes, clouds just brushing the tops. My struggle up to the col was well worth it just for that and I wished I could have stayed and looked at it for a while.
We were high up enough now that the terrain was a bit moonlike, with the trail snaking off into nothing as it dropped off the Italian side of the col. It was obviously going to be rocky and loose, and fingers crossed good fun too.
It was windy and very cold up there, so we quickly got cracking on the descent. It was as expected, and FUN! As usual, I was loving the blind riding, having to make decisions quickly about the best lines and best way to ride them. There were some parts which were so loose you wondered if you were going to slow enough to make the next corner or go tumbling down a load of spiky looking stones and rocks. That would have been ouchy to the max! It’s just as well the trail was so engaging as otherwise it would have been quite easy to be distracted by some very cool scenery too. There was a lake with a rock island in the middle which I thought was the best thing ever, although I might have been the only one!
Off the french map now, it was time to move to the less detailed Italian version. Partway down another techy section I spotted a trail off to the right and had to call a big halt to Gustav and David who were out in front as it seemed like it could be a good option not to lose too much height before climbing back up to Refugio Diffeyes. If you’ve been to La Thuile and looked across at that big glacier with the massive waterfall coming out of the bottom of it, that’s where the refuge is. Right at the bottom of the glacier. This adventure was ticking two boxes – riding a new route from France to Italy AND going to that glacier. Nice!
Here we are then, Hike-a-Bike Part 2. This wasn’t too bad, and we took around an hour to get to the refuge. We did a bit of via ferrata with the bikes, nothing serious but it added to the adventure! Getting up close to the glacier that I’d seen from so far away so many times was really cool as well – no pun intended!
As it was August, it was quite busy at the Refuge. It was also around about 2 o’clock and we were suddenly on a bit of a mission: we only had about 2.5 hours left to catch the chairlift in La Thuile, and we weren’t done with the hike-a-bike yet!
Swiftly refilling camelbaks, we left the refuge behind to find the traversing trail that would eventually become our final descent. A few minutes later, and a quick gander at the map, and we’re heading onto a rocky descending path.
This trail was “undulating” and involved some more via ferrata. Again, nothing very serious (I’d spent a good bit of google time checking out whether it was passable with bikes beforehand), but still tricky with a bike in tow. Forming a human chain along it, we got the bikes passed forward and continued on our way. With a couple more ascents to go, it was Hike-a-Bike Part 3. At this point I clearly hadn’t had enough to eat cos I got hangry about the fact that I was still going up! We plodded on, time ticking down to lift closing time down in La Thuile…
At last we made it to the final high point, checked the map, stuffed our faces with our dwindling food supplies, checked the time and got going. Starting with some cool rocky techy sections, the trail was super-promising. Until we got to an unrideable rocky section that was. Damn. Just as we were really getting into it! We carried bikes though and set off again – all good for a bit and then we got to a little gap between a couple of rocky outcrops, the trail plunging steeply down in front of us. Taking a peek over the edge, it was definitely not something to try riding! Bikes aloft, we descended the steep zigzags on foot until we could hop back on. More rocks. More scrambling. Hmm… What time is it?!?! Ooooh! Crack on!
The trail was really descending now. Traversing across the hillside, pretty much level with the top of the first chairlift in La Thuile. It was pretty mint to be somewhere that I’d looked across at many times, somewhere that I’d just seen a little line on the map. I’d always thought it looked a bit insane from the other side, but here we were, riding along it and it was actually quite alright. Picking up speed, no one wanted to stop now! Eventually we hit a junction and popped out on the trail which was Stage 1 of EWS La Thuile in 2014. Alriiiiiight! This is a sweeeeet trail! We’d kinda dropped two of our friends, although we could hear them wooping their way down so we knew they were good. Time check… It’s getting tighter! We need to go! Still no sign of the others. Let’s go. They’ll figure out it’s downhill surely?!
We absolutely smashed down to La Thuile, and practically sprinted to the lift pass office. We had 15 minutes to spare before being stranded in Italy! Phew! We got passes for everyone and with just 5 minutes to spare, the two we’d left behind rolled into town, not even a look of concern on their faces! No wonder they were lagging behind, somewhere along the lines they’d not realised we had a bit of a rush on!!
Literally the last people allowed on the lift, we breathed a collective sigh of relief and started making our way back to France, excitedly chattering about how awesome the final trail was! Close calls, big skids, rocks, loam, it’s a minter. I’ve been lucky enough to ride the EWS stage part of it a few times and it’s always a winner. It’s a shame we didn’t have time for Italian coffee and ice cream at the bottom, but the adventure was complete. The trails we’d ridden and the sights we’d seen more than made up for the lack of Italian delights. Yippee!
Remember those three really long blog entries I did about our trip to the Queyras Regional Park? Well, here’s a much shorter version written by a pro! If you’re a Singletrack premium subscriber, there’s every chance you’ve seen it already, but if not here are the pages in image form… sorry for the very low-tech solution, anyone know how to embed pdf files?? Click to enlarge and read away 🙂 Drop us a line if you would like the pdf copy.
Well, it’s been a mint week riding my bike in Engadin St Moritz, with a crew of other bike-loving ladies! We’ve talked about everything from suspension to farting, ridden some great trails, eaten some delicious food, and above all I think we’ve all come away with a whole bunch of new friends.
We were in St Moritz (yes, the famous ski resort in Switzerland) for the second annual Women’s Bike Summit. Last year was good, but if you ask me, this year was even better! We had some great skills sessions, including bike maintenance, suspension set-up, skills coaching, and some behind-the-scences coaching tips and tricks for those of us involved in actually delivering skills coaching.
The weather wasn’t quite so kind to us this time around but we didn’t let it get us down. At least it wasn’t raining! It was just a bit chilly with some snow around up high. We kept warm with a little extra pedalling and some tactical route choices by our guides, who took us down to Poschiavo on the coldest day, known as “Little Italy” for it’s great food, coffee and gelato. It was also quite a bit warmer, and I almost got sunburnt before quickly slapping some sunscreen on.. oopsy!
One of the highlights for me were the photo workshops with Sam Dugon. I took my SLR this year so that I could get involved. I love photography but I have huge swathes of time where I don’t get the camera out, so I always forget what I learnt last time. We were treated to a ride down Val Bever, where the scenery is so amazing that I’m not sure you could actually take a bad photo. We had some good clouds in the sky, not too much harsh sunlight and everyone was wearing bright clothes. British girls may like to moan about manufacturers making things in pink on the various forums, but I can tell you, European girls seem very happy pinking themselves to the max! It isn’t exactly a bad colour to be photographed in either.
We also enjoyed an extremely polished talk on mental training from the very inspiring Anne-Marie Flammersfeld. She is an ultra-trail runner, and the world record holder for the fastest ascent up Kilimanjaro and back. She gave a very interesting talk on the power of the mind, covering things such as focus, relaxation techniques, and how to actually practice mental training. This is something I’ve always been interested in, and it was encouraging to learn that I’m on the right track with the way I use my mind to keep on pushing up tough climbs on the road bike, for example.
Another highlight for me came on the morning of our first day. Specialized Ambassador Maria Frykman had come all the way from Innsbruck, and gave us some valuable information on how to help beginners feel more comfortable and confident riding their bikes. Whilst I don’t often guide beginners, I am really pleased to have been able to take away some very useful tips to help the people I guide to become even better riders.
Above all, I really feel like I got to know some great women this week. Everyone was so happy to be out riding with other like-minded women. There is definitely a different vibe when you have a group of ladies riding together. A collective stoke when someone nails something you know they will have found hard or challenging. A collective sense of achievement when the whole group has finished a tough ride. It seems to me that we tend to expect male riders to nail challenging stuff, and to finish a tough ride, these are norms, and they don’t get any praise for it. I like that within a group of female riders you have these responses. I guess we’re all just wearing our hearts on our sleeves a little more, we’re more vocal about cheering for each other. I could probably chatter on about that for a while without drawing any real conclusions, but instead I shall just say that if you’re a female rider reading this blog, you should really come along to the Women’s Bike Summit next year! You’ll ride in one of the most beautiful places around, learn so much, and make so many new friends! I couldn’t recommend it more.
Thanks to Laura, Daniela and Tina for the group shots just here ^^ 🙂
[You can find the first instalment of this blog here and the second, here]
Day 4 was the day of the first puncture, and it didn’t even happen in anger! Actually, it was a bit of a mystery, a slow leak that seemed to emanate from the valve. Not long into the morning’s 12km climb, Pease and David stopped to try and sort it out. Rob and I continued, wanting to get the climb out of the way before it got really really hot (it was already quite hot after all). Along the way we were passed by some bikers on an uplift. This is only worth mentioning because they were in one of the new 4×4 Pandas, towing a great big bike trailer! Flippin’ brilliant! Ultimate uplift vehicle?? Maybe… if you had two to fit everyone in.
We were on our way up the road towards the Sommet Bucher, seemingly very popular – we saw quite a few other riders, from middle aged folk on aging XC bikes, to more modern enduro style bikes and riders. Pease and David caught us up and we carried on up to a lovely little clearing with a fountain to refill our water bladders and take a well earnt rest. Today’s lunch treat was baked goods from the local boulangerie, and it was difficult to resist eating all of it at once!
After a short while we decided we’d better head on as the weather forecast was suggesting storms later in the day. After a short push, we came to a fun undulating section and a very rideable piece of ever-so-slightly-ascending singletrack to the Col de Fromage. The landscape up there was incredible. All around us were high peaks, and beyond the col in the distance, even more layers of mountains, higher than us – still clad in the tatters of their winter coats. In fact, that is one of the striking things about the Queyras area for me. Up high, you often can see many many mountains. Lined up in rows, ranges stacked one behind the other. That’s quite a contrast to the views I’m used to up in Les Arcs. Here we can only really see one line of mountains at a time, because those behind are obscured by our high peaks.
Second lunch at the Col de Fromage was despatched quickly, and there we met another rider who was coming the same way as us. On a solo mission, he darted off ahead and we only saw him once more after that. We were heading round to the Col des Estronques, and last time David and I did this, we dropped too low and had a lot of extra hike-a-bike. We made sure not to miss the junction this time and traversed round the hillside with only a little pushing. I was pleasantly surprised when all of a sudden we were at the signpost telling us it was only 0.6km to the col. Yippeee!
Just like last time, it was blowing a hoolie at the top, so we didn’t hang around for long. This trail is quite loose and rocky up top and bottom, but with an absolutely fantastic middle section in a larch wood. I have to be honest and say, even on a second ride, that I am not too keen on this descent. If we could just leapfrog straight to the woods and straight to the bottom afterwards, that’d be great. However, I was in the minority as the boys absolutely loved it the whole way down.
We popped out on the road just below St Veran, and now had a pedal up into the village to reach Les Gabelous, our accommodation for the night. The sky was looking more and more ominous but still no rain just yet. I spotted a sign for the gite, but it looked like the pedestrian access, so we kept on going. Reaching a hairpin, we had a moment of uncertainty and were about to roll down when we spotted another sign. At that very moment there was a huge clap of thunder and some very very big hail stones started to fall. Immediately everyone sprinted as hard as they could up the hill and into the garden of the gite, hail getting harder as we did so. Throwing the bikes to the ground, we got indoors as quickly as we could! Talk about absolutely perfect timing. High Fives all round. Another wicked day had come to an end, and our accommodation for the night was brilliant. It was a quaint old place, a bit of a rabbit warren in fact. Full of character, it was quite easy to get lost! Beers were swiftly ordered up, the games collection consulted, and a most competitive game of Uno kept us occupied until dinner. If you’re going to St Veran, I would highly recommend a stay at Les Gabelous.
The next morning we were away early again, as more storms were threatened that afternoon. We had a fair bit of ascent on the cards for today, first 300m to gain on a road, then 500m pushing, followed by another 300m of hike-a-bike. However, this day also promised to be the best day of the trip – the final descent is well renowned, and I for one was keen to see what all the fuss is about.
Getting the pedal out of the way (and passing an old bronze mine – complete with abandoned generators), we were soon on the footpath up to the Col de Chamoussiere. This gentle ascending trail was more of a push than a carry with many short rideable sections. It seemed the week’s activity was catching up with me as my progress was very very steady and the boys were well ahead! Nevertheless, with the beautiful valley and pretty streams to admire, it was a very pleasant morning. Finally reaching the col, an absolutely stunning view awaited. Pease had set the camera up to get all four of us in shot on a small ridgeline with an incredible backdrop. It had been difficult to establish exactly what our next trail would be like because the contour lines on the map were obscured by the scree also drawn on it.. now was the moment of truth!
I explained to the others that we’d shortly be hooking a right to climb back up to the road. At that moment we spotted the refuge d’Agnel in the distance, and someone suggested that actually we may as well go down there for a coffee and ride up the road – it’d be just as easy. A coffee??? OOOOH YES PLEASE!
Now this trail may be one of those marmite trails. I didn’t get the impression the others liked it much, but it was rather stop-start due to sections of snow that needed crossing. That always ruins the flow a bit. I personally thought it was mint, and I’d certainly like to give it another go without the snow. It was a little undulating to start with, with some great rocky techy challenges. The final section down to the refuge was an absolute delight. So fast. So flowy. SO.MUCH.FUN! We were buzzing!
Arriving at 11.45, we had 15 minutes to wait before the refuge opened. Bang on 12, the guardian came out, and we got those coffees ordered. Strong and dark, they got us pepped up for the short road ride to Col d’Agnel. The guardian asked where we’d come from, and when I told him, it turned out that he’d seen us coming down and thought that we were trail runners. Really fast ones. 😉
Col d’Agnel is right on the border between France and Italy, and is the second highest road pass in France (behind Col de l’Iseran, up above Val d’Isere). As you can imagine, there were plenty of cyclists up there taking photos next to the very cool retro border marker. We found ourselves an excellent spot for lunch and tucked into the sandwiches made for us by the ladies at the Gite Les Gabelous. They were delicious! Even so, when I pulled out that bottle of Andalouise sauce I’d been carrying around all week, no one turned it down. YUM YUM YUM!
Lunch with a two-way view
Keeping an eye on the sky, we could see dark storm clouds building, and decided we’d better crack on. The final 300m ascent in the whole trip – YES! Just above Col Vieux, we were stood atop the final descent. We couldn’t even see it all – stretching a long long way down the valley ahead of us, we could only just about make out the trail disappearing off into the distance.
Pretty quickly we found ourselves riding down a trail masquerading as a river. Whoever was in front of me was going quite steadily – perhaps so as not to get too wet and muddy, but there was no avoiding it. I over took and got on with it – after all, more speed = more fun! There were some patches of snow to negotiate, and we just barrelled into them hoping for the best.. All good! We passed two beautiful lakes, so still, perfect reflections of the big clouds above. By now I had Rob ahead of me. Rapid on a bike at the best of times, he was hitting stuff super-fast. Keeping up as best I could, getting a bit loose here and there, it was awesome. Fast fast fast! Past the second lake the trail became better than ever. I can’t even really describe it! We were just going so fast. Remember those times smashing a trail with your friends, everyone whooping and hollering, just having the best time?! It was like that. Smashing turns. Ooooh, a bit of a moment! S’ok, rode it out! YEOWWW!
Many many minutes passed. Much fun was had. But it couldn’t last forever, and with one final jump off a bridge we were done. What a trail! What a week! So many great trails! Beautiful views, tasty food, good beer, what more could you want from a holiday! We will be back! Want to join us? We’re running holiday weeks down here as of September 2017 and we would love to show you some of the best trails we’ve ever ridden: get in touch! firstname.lastname@example.org
[You can find the first instalment of this blog here]
The next morning everyone else at the refuge got their march on at around 8am and we suddenly found ourselves all alone. Feeling like the faffers holding everyone up, we got ourselves outside and eventually left around 9am. The sign post said it was a mere 3.2km to the Col de Péas, our high point for the day. We set off what turned out to be one incredibly beautiful valley. There were a lot of stops: there was a lot of valley to admire. It wasn’t long until we were enjoying lunch at the top, where we met the two young chaps some of us had crashed in front of the day before. It turned out they were heading in a similar direction.
The trail down the other side stretched out before us, and the finger-post said it was a whole 7km to Souliers, our intermediary destination. Oooh.. that’s quite far! After our lake-fail on Day 1, we were dead keen to find a lower lake to cool off in, and as luck would have it, there was one at 1800m. This could be it! It was only a smidgeon off route, so with high hopes we set off. Less rocky than yesterday’s trail, there was some serious speed and flow to be had from this one – it was mint! We passed the old ladies again, and I got another round of applause. After what seemed like quite a while, we came to a junction. Aha… some uphill – well, it was more of a traverse actually. But it did go up hill. What’s the best thing about traverses halfway down massive descents?! It’s the fact that you get a moment to look around you, and really appreciate where you are. We took the opportunity to drink in our surroundings, flopping into the grass for a rest and a dose of the outside world – coming into a pocket of phone signal, Rob and Pease were suddenly bombarded with messages from home after our foray into the back of beyond the day before.
A few minutes later and we were off again, the trail descending swiftly towards a larch wood. I love riding in larch woods! Yippee! This one was great. The trail snaked its way down the hillside, interrupted every-so-often by a switchback. It was so much fun that once we really got started, there was definitely no stopping for any photographs or to see where anyone else was. Rob and I pinned it from top to bottom!
We were now within striking distance of the lake, and with just a little excitement about a swim on this very hot day, we pedalled the 5 minutes round to the appropriately named Lac de la Roue (roue = wheel in French). How disappointing it was to find that it was full of reeds – there’d be no swimming in this one. Foiled again. All the same, it was a lovely spot for second lunch so out came the sweaty cheese, questionable ham, some “team sausage” and a bottle of Heinz Andalouise sauce that I’d been carrying for a couple of days. Yum yum 😀 . Afterwards we returned to Souliers for a coffee. And who should we see when we got there? Yep, the old ladies again! With a wave of greeting we had a quick chat and learnt that they would be staying there for the night. I have to say I was a little sad that we wouldn’t be seeing them again as I’d enjoyed seeing them on our journey so far, sharing mutual “félicitations” for our achievements on the mountain.
Up until now, my background research told me that all of the trails we were to do were rideable, but next it was a jaunt into the unknown. Someone had pointed out a good trail to us, but the access route was simply a possibility… it crossed a scree slope on the map, so how rideable would it be? We smashed down the road for a little while, and quickly discovered that there was no need to worry – someone had made the trail into a great big fireroad! Reaching our final trail, we were rewared with long fast straights interspersed with some very rideable hairpins. Once again there was no stopping – just tooooo much fun! And when we popped out on the road below, we had a great view of the chateau itself. Spot on! Day 2 done and dusted… well apart from the 300m ascent back to Arvieux in the hot hot afternoon sun. Ooosh, that was a horribly sweaty schlep back up the road!
Our gite d’étape this time was Le Teppio. This crazy little house (with some crazy kittens including one who fell off the balcony and amazingly didn’t die) had a trail going right form the garden! How cool was that!
After dinner we hung around looking at local tourist paraphernalia for a bit, and then we noticed that David had disappeared. He wasn’t downstairs and he wasn’t upstairs. Hmm. By now it was dark, so the rest of us got on with going to bed and were just about to turn the lights off when he returned with news of a possible trail to ride the next day – and thus avoid losing some height on the road. I handed him the map and we had a look. He’d found a trail I’d decided against because it had a bit of hike-a-bike in the middle of it and I thought it’d be better to just pedal up the fire-road alternative. Thinking about it though, avoiding a slog up a fire road in the hot sun sounded much better and so guiding duties were momentarily passed to David.
The next morning we got away about 9.30 again, and set off on David’s discovery. There was a little climb to begin with and then we came up to a junction just in front a group of walkers. We’d been about to have a faff, but upon spotting them it was action stations! Go go go! We found ourselves riding along an awesome little balcony trail alongside an old water race. It was an absolutely great start to the morning, warming the legs up nicely just pottering along through the woods until we reached the uphill section.
For an ascent, this little piece of trail was sublime. Not because it was rideable, but because of all the dreams it evoked within us. It was a beautiful wood with the trees spaced just enough for grass to grow bright and strong, and shafts of sunlight to sneak through the branches high above. “Hey, this wood would be awesome to ski down in winter!”, “whoa, check out the flowers!”, “ah man… this’d be awesome to ride down”. It was rideable in places, eminently pushable too, and refreshingly cool in the shade from the sun. It didn’t really take long to reach the high point and we agreed we’d traverse round to meet the fireroad “carefully” so as not to faff putting knee pads on. And so it was, until we got to a set of switchbacks with an incredible view over a big scree field. There’ll be some photos here then! Pease got into position with the camera and we donned our knee pads. Each corner held its own challenge, and I think only Rob successfully negotiated the first one.
Crossing the scree field, we quickly came to the fire road that would lead us up to the Col de Furfande. David and I have done this ascent before. Last time we ended up pushing up the final part because it’s just that bit steeper than even a 30-42T gearing seems best for. I’ve got one of those XT 11-46 cassettes this year, and thought I’d definitely be able to pedal up this time. Wrong! Perhaps it was the extra weight in my bag, or the previous two days catching up with me, but it was definitely more efficient to put one foot in front of the other rather than weakly grinding my way up to the col. On the upside, I found some trail treasure in the form of a neatly folded 50 Swiss Franc note… so neat and fresh that I actually couldn’t believe it was real! David and Rob managed to pedal the whole way – well apart from the bit where they had to push around a couple who had managed to get their small 4×4 stuck in snow (and now partially hanging off the edge of the track) just below the col. Oh dear. Hopefully they got the car back onto the track ok! Pease was a while back but bearing in mind he had a whole bag of camera gear plus his normal stuff, that was quite understandable.
There was a cold wind up on the col so we didn’t dilly dally for long before dropping into the fast and flowing trail round to the Refuge de Furfande, where we’d be stopping to eat.
We really took our time about lunch, this was a holiday after all. Panachés, omelettes, coffees – why rush? In fact, if it wasn’t for the descent awaiting us, maybe we’d never have left. I’d quite happily have stayed admiring that view for a long long time, and I think the guys would have done too.
It was both reluctantly and excitedly that we eventually left – the trail was clearly visible, a serpentine ribbon flowing down the hillside just calling out to be ridden. Once again we were not stopping here for photos – there was much too much fun to be had! Suddenly the trail dropped away more steeply and we were presented with a whole bunch of switchbacks swiping their way backwards and forwards across the hill. Pease slung his backpack off and grabbed the camera – this needed some photos! After a few goes trying to get rad around one corner in particular, we continued. The trail became rocky and exposed, with good line choice absolutely critical – going over the edge here would not be a good idea. It was brilliant! Picking a good line on a moment’s notice is just the best! Perfectly timed, the trail became less steep just as we started feeling like we could do with a rest, and continued more gently now around the hillside. We met another group of walkers and one lady stopped to have a chat with us, telling us proudly that two of the group were 88 years old. Wow! I told her I hoped I’d still be out walking at that age. Privately I thought how nice it was that the walkers in this area seem a lot more open to mountain bikers – friendly and almost welcoming. They’re not bad in the Les Arcs area, but I wouldn’t call them friendly. Just tolerant. The attitude in the Queyras was most refreshing.
Carrying on we finally reached the road for a gentle pedal to Ville-Vieille and our accommodation for the night, Gite Les Astragales. More local beer, and there were games at this one! Tonight’s fun (after an excellent dinner) was a brilliant few rounds of “redneck” Jenga, whatever that is! Some strange new version invented by the boys… just look at that very precarious tower!