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10th March 2013
Bike maintenance

With the trip to see MTB-Spain next week I thought I had better get the SX trail back in working order. I broke the rear mech on 12th August last year and the bike has just sat in the garage since then, only being touched when I cannibalised it for parts for other bikes.

Having ordered various replacement parts over the last few weeks I set about building it back up. The wheels simply needed the downhill tubes and tyres refitting which was the usual struggle but was accomplished without too much difficulty. That was until I took the final build picture to notice that the front tyre was on the wrong way round (no tyre logo's on the front). Oh well, another twenty minutes wrestling with the DH tyre levers and it was sorted.

Next I focused on the Shimano SLX chainset. This has been in place for a number of years and is showing the wear and tear that it has been subject to. I stripped it down before fitting a couple of replacement rings. A good clean of the remaining parts left it looking like new before I refitted it to the bike.

And then the rear mech. This was ripped off in August although it turned out it was just the mech hanger that had broken. A new mech hanger had arrived and was duly fitted but I took the opportunity to replace the X9 SRAM rear mech which has been on the bike since I bought it in 2006. It's not my go to bike but that's a great lifespan for this piece of kit that doesnt get used often but when it does it's for the extreme alpine purposes. A cheaper SRAM X7 rear mech was bought and fitted along with a new chain.

And finally the short stem and 785mm Superstar bars have been on the Prince Albert for the last few months. So I reclaimed them, refitting the grips, shifters and brakes. Whilst I was at it I replaced the gear cable inners and outers which were cracked and worn.

And so the bike was built. A few days later I broke it down to fit into the bike bag for the flight to Spain. What a right royal pain in the arse that is too. Now I remember why I've taken to driving to the Alps. It's so much easier to sling the fully built bike on a bike rack.

Watch out for updates as we fly out to Alicante on Saturday 16th to visit the MTB-Spain crew.

 

Untitled Document

all photos and content copyright of Richard Sear 1999 to 2015

 


16th March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
El Campello, Alicante, Espana

Some might say rather unkindly that Spain is an arid and barren dump and looking at the amount of litter, flytipping and tagging by the graffiti artists that is visible from the road you could be forgiven for believing that.

But to a sun-starved Brit who has been riding in the UK Slop 'n Grime™ since September last year the promise of dry trails and a warm climate is irresistible. But where to ride? It's all a case of knowing where to look and with that in mind a stealth team of riders from DOMTB were spirited out to Alicante for an introductory week to test out a fledgling business aimed at riding, guided, catered MTB holidays with the boys at MTB Spain.

Mark and Ellie met us at the airport & we loaded our bikes & luggage into the transit & trailer before heading out to the villa at El Campello, halfway between Alicante and that resort much loved by boozed up Brits abroad, otherwise known as Benidorm. You wouldn't expect this area to be prime MTB country but there are about nine separate mountain ranges within a short drive from the villa and the team have spent a number of years exploring the trails.

We are introduced to Jay & Martyn and the other two riders invited along for the week, Matt & Adrian as we settle into the villa with an ice-cold beer and a relaxed chat around the pool as we get to know the team before unpacking and building up our bikes in the sun.


17th March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
Cazadores, Reservoir & Castalla trails, Alicante, Espana
Weather: 18°C

Day 1, Sunday

Sunday dawns and we load up the trailer and set off for the Cazadores trail. Well, actually we have a major hitch immediately the van and trailer pulled up the steep drive when the aluminium bar securing the bikes in the trailer snaps as soon as it is put under load and we have to unpack and repack the bikes into the trailer. My 785mm wide bars mean that the SX Trail doesn't fit easily into the trailer and so we load this up in the back of the Transit which becomes it's home for the next week.

After a 30 minute drive we unload at an uninspiring looking Gas station just off a dual carriageway. But that's the advantage of having local guides who know the trails. After a short fireroad climb we get to the trailhead of the Cazadores trail.

The first thing we notice is how dry and rocky the trails are, covered in baby-head sized boulders which shift under you as you descend meaning that even simple looking fireroads require your attention.

A few short singletrack trails lead us to a steep rocky chute which requires a deep breath and committment before riding. We're less than 2 miles into a week's riding and have hardly warmed up yet and this one gets the heart pounding.

But the guides, Jay and Mark, have chosen the trails well and this was just an early tester as the trails got progressively harder and more technical as we move through the week. But that's all in the future for the moment and the rest of the trail flows sweetly with the clay surface baked as hard as concrete by the sun.

It's an overcast day, the only one of the week, but still mild enough to ride in short sleeves and a single layer. We descend into a dried up river bed that has large walls either side of you and left you feeling like you were in a Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western with the banditos about to ambush you eh Gringo??!! But with all the spiky bushes around it's less a case of Fistful of Dollars and more a Fistful of Thorns...

The trail was full of small booters and a number of wooden ramps which had to be picked carefully as many of them hid large doubles with holes dug out behind them. The trail finishes at the local pony club and we stop for a cooling drink before loading up the trailer and heading back to the gas station.

The next trail has a similar start but turns up a massive fireroad climb that has us all pushing and gasping for air before an impressive ride across an exposed mountain top and a steep off-camber descent that left you hoping the shoulder knobs on your tyres would retain their grip.

Back to the trailer and a lift up to ride the Reservoir trail. This is a work in progress and needs a bit more work to link up the start with a nice finish that we heard about but Jay hasn't yet managed to link up. But we finished at an impressive dam followed by a long road climb up from the valley.

As if that wasn't enough for the day we then get shuttled to the top of the Castalla DH trail for two runs down this 2km six-minute trail which features rock gardens, off-camber roots and steep drops.

Back to the villa for a mountain of food prepared by Adrian. A great first day in the saddle.


18th March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
Castalla, Lulu & Onil trails, Alicante,Espana
Weather: 20°C

Day 2, Monday

Out of the villa, van loaded up and a drive up to the Castalla DH trail for a quick leg down. Probably not the ideal start to the day as it's tough tackling it without having warmed up but it's a challenge that we take on manfully.

The Transit shuttles us up to the top again (the Transit & trailer with nine passengers and eight bikes won't make it up the 20% gradient roads so we park up the trailer on the side of the road and get shuttled up four riders and bikes at a time).

This time we head for the 'Lulu' trail (named after another one of Mark's grandchildren). After another fireroad approach this takes us down through one of the longest and steepest rock gardens I have ever ridden before hitting some lovely sweeping singletrack that flows through the trees and on into another steep descent to the fire road where we get clapped and cheered by a watching family group of around 15 adults and children out for a stroll on this Bank Holiday Monday in Spain. Now that wouldn't happen in the Surrey Hills now, would it?

Lots more trails go by with awe-inspiring views of the surrounding mountains and rock formations before dropping into another river bed that we follow for circa 5k before meeting Ellie and the trailer in a supermercado car park in Petrer (which I just notice on Strava is down the road from El Cid. Now I wish I had seen that when I was out there, what a photo opportunity that would be).

After a long lunch consisting of sandwiches for me but a Burger King, fries and shake for most of the rest of the group we head to the Onil trail (pronounced O'Neill by the guides making me think of an Irish folk singer) which starts on a windswept mountain top at 1,000 metres before a 30mph plus descent down a steep fireroad and then onto a narrow boulder strewn path that has us a-hollering and a-whooping with the adrenaline rush before ending up in another isolated car-park in the sleepy town of Onil to be collected by Ellie who if you haven't worked it out already is the designated driver for the week.



19th March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
Font Vella trails, Alicante, Espana
Weather: 21°C

Day 3, Tuesday

Another Bank Holiday in Spain and this time it's Father's Day, what a great idea! We are shuttled up four at a time to the mountain spring head at Font Vella. I'm reverse head-cam'ing a lot of these trails so expect to see lots of extreme close-up footage of my ugly mug and not a lot else when I get around to editing the footage.

Another sweeping fireroad descent before a long fireroad climb sees us overtaken by an old Norwegian couple on a big BMW R5 motorbike trying to cross the mountains on the fireroads. Jay suggests that it's a bit too dangerous for them and they turn around to return the way the came.

Into the descent proper which is steep and technical as we negotiate rock drops, twisting trails and narrow gaps through the trees and thorn covered bushes which snatch at your bars and dump dozens of thorns and scratches on any exposed skin as well as penetrating gloves leaving my knuckles with a mass of thorn splinters that I am still picking out on the plane home on Saturday.

Onto a narrow singletrack trail which has an incongruous plastic water pipe running along it when we happen across an old lady hiker just sitting idly on a big rock in the middle of nowhere. Greetings are exchanged and we push on to more super-fast rocky trails which contain tight switchbacks, massive wheel-sized stepdowns mech-braking boulders all over the trail. There are a number of narrow gaps through the trees that require careful negotiation with my wide bars.

We drop onto the town of Polop and stop at a roadside Tapas bar and as we soak up the 21 degree plus heat we guzzle down Fanta and mountain sausage with fried egg and chips. I'm sure there's plenty of horsemeat and other unknown meat in the chorizo but it tastes delicious although the strong peppery sausage requires mental fortitude and a strong stomach before tackling it.

After lunch we shuttle back to a point roughly halfway along the same trail. Stevo has spotted a road access that avoids the worst part of the climbing and includes all the best descents and we chase each other down the now familiar trail.

But the rocks are taking a toll and I have a few small falls and by the time I get to the bottom my Super Tacky Dual Ply Maxxis Minion and Hi Roller are shredded with many of the shoulder knobs missing. This has a definite impact on the grip and confidence in the tyres for the next few days but I don't have a spare so I ride them almost to the point of destruction.


20th March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
Vivens Left & Centre trails, Alicante, Espana
Weather: 21°C

Day 4, Wednesday

Today sees us riding the much anticipated Vivens trails and yet again it's a start on a bright and sunny but windy mountain top at 1,048 metres above sea level. The wind buffets us as we unload the bikes and fortunately the usual pre-ride faffing is kept to a minimum before we pose for the clichéd MTB photo and set off along yet another fire road approach to the trail where we thankfully get some shelter from the breeze and can feel the sun warm on our backs again.

There are three trail options here, Vivens Left, centre and right and we hit up the left trail first which takes us on an exposed ledge with a steep drop to your side that you try to ignore and focus on keeping to the trail straight ahead.

The rocks are hard cornered here and three riders suffer punctures, but not Steve and I on our dual ply's, it's only those boyos on the single ply tyres that suffer whilst Steve and I ride all week without an issue.

Martyn takes advantage of the break to demonstrate his mountaineering background as he leaps small buildings.

There are tight switchbacks with rock steps, more off-camber rocks and rocky chutes to descend before the run along a flowing river and into Xixona, another sleepy town with shuttered windows, pastel coloured walls and wrought iron balconies.

After refreshments at a small bar it's back up to the mountain top which has warmed up a bit now as we approach midday (what's that about mad dogs and Englishmen? ...and one Welshman) and this time we head for Vivens central trail. There are more steep edges to keep an eye on and an exposed off-camber section that requires pushing across as it really was a case of death if you got it wrong.

This drops down ino the same rocky chutes and river bed as this morning and we head down to another supermarket car-park to meet Ellie and load up for the day.

At least that's what we thought. As we head back to base Jay suggests another easy trail, the White Beast. It's a bit uppy and downy but it's easy and takes us back to the villa or so he says.

Adam, Steve and I are still pumped from the earlier trails and we agree to ride it as the others decide their day is over and head back in the van.

Almost immediately we start to regret it as there's a 200 metre vertical climb over the first 3.5km followed by a short descent and another 100 metres climbing. We really didn't think about the trail name much and would have realised that we had just started a 20km ride with 500 metres or 1,700 feet of ascending to do. Not so bad usually but on a 45lb bike with 2.5 inch dual-ply tyres and DH innner tubes this is quite an undertaking.

Adam was pleased that he had borrowed an open faced helmet from Adrian as he would have really suffered with the full face lid he has been wearing the rest of the week.

But as with all these trails you have to earn the right to enjoy your descents and this time it was worth it. The White Beast is actually a light coloured stone bridleway that twists its way to the sea. But the elements have led to it becoming rutted and challenging as we tear down the twisting descents and skirt around the mountains always watching the sea getting closer and closer before more climbing awaits us.

We finally hit the N322 and see that home is just a short climb up the side of the road before crossing the road bridge and getting back to the villa, exhausted but having loved the whole experience. This is what mountain biking is all about, riding until you drop and yet still wanting more.


21st March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
The Joshua Tree Trail, Alicante, Espana
Weather: 22°C

Day 5, Thursday

Day 5 sees us tackle the Joshua Trail (yet another grandchild) with the much vaunted Rabosenda section, what a great name that is by the way.

Yet another mountaintop start sees us hook up with the best parts of the Lulu trail to tackle the rock garden and fast, narrow singletrack sections again before turning onto a long fireroad section which takes us to Rabosenda.

This is a crazy, steep, exposed trail that sees us skittering down the side of the mountain with the guides strategically placed at a couple of spots to stop us plummeting into the void.

After a breather and more trails we stop for lunch at a place that is overrun by 11 year-old Spanish schoolkids who are fascinated by the crazy English men out on their bikes. Yet more dry and dusty trails see us end up in a desolate spot with only a few paragliders for company beofre the pick up by Ellie and we drive back to the gas station we visited on the first day.

Down the Cazadores trail to the pony club for another pick up and back to the gas station where we stop for a coffee and cake and run into a couple of mullet-haired, lycra dressed Spaniards on their hardtail 29'ers and have a quick chat as they raise their eyebrows when Mark describes where we've been. They really don't do 'aggressive XC' or whatever you want to term it over here.

From the gas station it's an uplift for five of us to the top of a new and as yet unnamed trail. It's fast as fook and as steep as a donhill trail with loose shale, rocks and roots all over it and Steve and I name it 'Loose Goose' in homage to the now defunct trail in the Surrey Hills. No, there's no comparison but it's a great name.

From the bottom we have a longish road ride back to collect the others and then ride Cazadores again where I manage to pick up a bit of wire in my chain from an old fence. This quickly tangles in my cassette and I hear that dreaded crunching sound as my mech wraps itself around the rear axle. I'm gutted, it's only a week old and I curse and scowl at it. But closer examination shows that it's only the mech hanger, again only a week old, but at least it's done it's job and Steve has a replacement in his pack. A five minute repair and we are on our way again, back to the van and finished for the day.


22nd March 2013
Riders: Richard,
Steve & Adam
Vivens Trail, El Campello, Alicante, Espana
Weather: 22°C

Day 6, Friday

The last riding day has come around surprisingly quickly and so we just ride one trail to allow us to pack for the flight home tomorrow. We tackle Vivens centre trail before spending a lazy afternoon in the 22° heat packing our bikes and eating and drinking by the pool.

Summary

So what's my overall impression of MTB Spain then? A lovely bunch of guys who have found an apparent niche in the market. We all know there are other companies that offer guided tours in Spain but none as far as I know in this area.

And the area is key, it's easily accessible from Alicante airport which has flights form all the major British airports and also of course the trails are local. With up to nine different mountain ranges within thirty to forty minutes drive the range and number of trails is huge. We only scratched the surfac eof the trails and Jay is constantly exploring new trails and looking for ways to link them into the existing network. And the trails are great oo. With the use of fireroads to link them therie is boundless singletrack on offer. It's rocky, steep and technical and great fun. A real challenge

The weather is fabulous too. When it's zero degrees and snowing back in dear old Blighty with trails that haven't been dry since September last year it's a revelation to ride dry, dusty trails in single layered short sleeves.

MTB Spain think the ideal dates for holidays would be the Spring and Autumn. Spring certainly feels right given the long wait we have had in Britain for some decent weather. Who woudn't want to pay to flight out to something like this?

 

Untitled Document

all photos and content copyright of Richard Sear 1999 to 2015


31st March 2013
Bike Maintenance

It's a four day Easter weekend and it's cold and dry but only a short road ride with my youngest Ben this week.

After the high of our trip to see MTB Spain last week it was back to earth with a bump as we returned to freezing temperatures and snow on the ground in London.

I only cycle-commuted once this week. Having arrived back in the UK on Saturday afternoon from 20 degree plus Spain to 0 degrees in the UK I felt cold all week and so took a couple of days to acclimatise. On Wednesday I rode to work and instantly regretted it. I was absolutely freezing and a couple of punctures didn't help my mood or help me to warm up. So that was it, back on the train on Thursday. That mileage deficit is growing by the day.

There was maintenance work to do over the weekend. I built up the PA which I had stripped for parts before the Spain trip. I built the SX trail up too as it had lain in the bike bag in the garage where I dumped it on Saturday afternoon. As mentioned in the Spain ride reports both front and rear tyre were totally shredded with loads of shoulder knobs missing from the tread.

So I took the opportunity to buy a Continental 2.2 Rubber Queen which appears to be the tyre everyone is raving about. I don't know as I only gave it the car-park test after re-assembling it but I will let you know how I get on with it and whether it rides as well as everyone claims. I also replaced the rear brake pads on the Avid Juicy 7's. Don#t know what was different about Spain from the French alps but it was nice that an already worn set of pads lasted the week in Spain whereas I was changing pads daily in Les Arcs.

And back to the commuter bike, the Specialized Allez. This is looking tatty after the hard winter and I gave it a quick but not entirely thorough clean before fitting the cadence gizmo and super-strong magnet that replaces the ugly zip-tied standard magnet on the cranks, both of which I had purchased back in January.

And then as I mentioned I took Ben for a quick spin with me on the Allez and him riding the PA with slicked up 700c wheels. He's coming to the Alps with me again this year to follow Le Tour but hasn't ridden for months and it showed. So some more training work for him to do there. The clocks have sprung forward now and so we have the lighter mornings and he should be able to start riding to work too.


 

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all photos and content copyright of Richard Sear 1999 to 2015


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all photos and content copyright of Richard Sear 1999 to 2015

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click to view click to view click to view Steve Neill Big Trev Orange Dave dialled bikes pewter headtube badge Dave and Dave outside LOMAC Dave on Summer Lightning A grinning Trevor Steve (again) Davebus and Neill on Stane Street Jason next to Denbie's vineyard Trevor struggles up the climb Dave followed by Jason on Stane Street Banstead Downs singletrack It was getting dark by the time I got back Richard (that's me!) Surrey Hills logo at the top of Coombe hill Gary dicing with the cars through New Malden Stag party Gary's Giant SCR 2008 model  A cheerful looking Gary part way round Richmond Park speed limits for cyclists! Kingston Gate, Richmond Park view off the side of Headley Heath Bianchi K-Vid carbon forks self-portrait whilst climbing between second and third hairpin on the Zig Zag Road, Box Hill Dave and Mat, the folly, Reigate Hill urban riding, Richard in Ashtead High Street a bit underexposed but a nice shot of the view from the North Downs Way Richard dropping in on Colley Hill No, not the Mediterranean, this is outside LOMAC, Ashtead High Street Richard showing off for the camera Mat and Richard, Stane Street Richard, Headley Heath Mat on Headley Heath Gary with our 'rabbit' in the distance Gary in the dusk Richard Gary chasing the yellow 'rabbit' in the distance Cas Cas Richard 'self-portrait'