Author Archives: james m

SSEC 2011

I've just returned to the green isle from a whistle stop tour of Europe, including: Denmark, Germany and Belgium. Several thousand road miles then, and many petrol station snacks (best in Germany), an array of strong beers (I recommend 'Maredsous Abbaye') and a plethora of hipsters (Copenhagen is rather trendy). I was on a search for the soul of mountain biking that I suspected lay somewhere in a sunny field within Europe, and also to race in the highly prestigious, incredibly un-serious Single Speed European Championship..

Single Speed mountain bikes are exactly as the title suggests – mountain bikes (MTB's) with one gear only. Why, you may ask, would a MTB be devolved into something far less functional than the multi-geared workhorse that the last two decades has crafted it into? The answer, I'm afraid, is not a simple one.

People’s reasons for riding and racing Single Speeds vary from a desire for simplicity, through to a lust for something entirely impractical – sense of humour needed. Pitch up at a Single Speed European Champs (SSEC's) and you will absolutely not find racing snakes warming up on exercise bikes.. OH no, at an SSEC outing you are far more likely to find a man wearing nothing more than a nappy, a 6ft lady sporting stripes and affro, or even a team of Morphs, than you are to come across an obsessive racer.

Possibly, no, definitely, the most fun I've had racing my bike for quite some time, I'll remember this one and its fabulous location for many years to come. As for the after party, well, I'm doing my best to erase those memories! Only kidding - what a great bunch of people having some good old fashioned fun.

The soul of my sport does survive and prosper then.

The Single Speed European Champions 2011 are: Gemma Frier from Scotland and Julien Conan from France – well done to ‘em.

In 2012 the event will be hosted by the aforementioned Morphs in the south of France – and you can certainly count me in!

Oh, and there's still time to enter the World Champs in Ireland this August – http://www.sswc2011.ie/

Thank you to Bruno for organising such a great weekend’s racing, to Kingdom Bike (Chris and Nick) for forcing me out of my downhill habit, and to Riders Refuge, Bike Dirty and howies, of course.. Cheers!

Basque and Beyond

A little while back the Kingdom Bikes boss, Chris, invited me along on a trip around most of the north of Spain. From the Basque Country, through the Asturias, a short stay in Hicksville and finishing with a whistle-stop tour of Madrid, I can safely say that I now know a lot more about the geography – the stunning mountains and green pastures, of the region.

Chris was not only in the Pais Vasco “In search of ETA”, but also to make a film about his bike, the Vendetta, and to test out his new frame. Predictably, this test quickly became more about a trail of discovery than a bike riding trip and we found ourselves immersed in local culture at a slower pace of life.

We spent most of our time in the Basque being lost, as for some reason known only to the Basque natives there are absolutely no maps available for the area around the sizeable town we briefly inhabited. Alas, with a certain amount of sweat and hiking we eventually made it to the highest peak in the area and found a sweet, flowing singletrack back to the exact spot we had parked up. All in all a perfect bike ride.

The remainder of our time was spent being lost around the Picos de Europa and a neighbouring Natural Park – one of the most incredible mountain ranges I have been to and my re-discovering of the sheer scale and diversity of Spain was certainly very humbling. Those mountains are fierce and unforgiving and I will be back, that is for sure - I have been inspired.

Look out for the film of our tour of the Lost North some time soon (...ish).

Thanks to Chris, howies, Riders Refuge, BOS/R53 and Bike Dirty for helping me out..

Las Ramblas

  • Posted by james m
  • 21 February 2011

I’ve just been staying in Las Ramblas, Barcelona for a couple of weeks whilst working on the GSM World Mobile Congress…

My first visit to Barcelona and I was more than a little bit gutted that my BMX wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, but going somewhere without a bike for once did give me a chance to trot around the city on foot and therefore actually take in my surroundings a little, for once.

I had heard all the scare stories about muggings, pickpockets, drugs etc around Las Ramblas, and I can’t deny that all were present, but there are police kicking around and leaving the door prepared meant that I didn’t feel particularly intimidated at any time during my stay. The one man that did try to rob me was very polite about it, and he walked into a tree so I had the last laugh anyway.

Don’t walk alone at night, don’t fill your pockets with valuables and don’t talk to the friendly strangers and you can have a very good time indeed exploring the ancient alleyways, shops and bars of this intriguing district of an architecturally fascinating city full of old world wonders and new school fashionistas. The smoking ban has somehow finally reached Spain too so popping into a pub for a look-see no longer dictates a smoke-screen battle and an engraining scent.

Just below our apartment there were two really good bookshops with speakers most nights, several typically Spanish bars where tapas flowed (unfortunately not freely) and the streets sprawled onwards for a seeming eternity. It took me a whole week before I stopped getting lost on my way home everyday.

I’m back to Barcelona in a weeks time to de-construct everything that myself and the 1,500 other contractors just put up for the GSM show, fortunately the firm that I’m working for will be re-using all their materials, but it really shocked me to see how much has gone into the show that will undoubtedly be put to waste come the take-down. I suppose shows like this are happening all over the world all the time, and certainly aid the economic flow and the progression of The Human Brand™. Lets just hope that the people in charge are thinking resourcefully.

Something Familiar

  • Posted by james m
  • 31 January 2011

With increasing summer resorts, bike parks and relaxed access rights creating an ever growing abundance of riding opportunity across Europe, a mountain biker’s lifestyle is fast becoming close to that of the surfer bum. Large groups of lads and ladies can be spotted all across the continent piling out of beat up vans, piecing together rickety bikes and enjoying each and every venue along the way.

Of course there is more to it than just the sport itself; the people to meet along the way, the places, the views and the ordeals all make the sport bums lifestyle adventurous, fulfilling and therefore enticing. It’s always nice to see something unfamiliar and curious.

This searching could go on forever and ever, which, personally, I can’t see any particular problems with. Yet having recently been cooped up in an entirely non-exotic location in the UK, I have come to realise that sometimes more familiar surroundings could do with a closer look too.

The British riding scene has grown rapidly and from strength to strength over the last few years. With weekly uplift services running across the country, multiple races taking place every weekend and trail centres popping up all over the shop, there is a lifetimes worth of riding to be explored right here on this island. With more investment in mountain biking to come, there has never been a better time to be a mountain biker in Britain.

Last weekend whilst riding at one of the newest downhill venues in Wales, Nant Gwtheyrn, we were treated not only to a superb and demanding track with excellent facilities, but also gifted a stunning sunset across the Westerly cliffs. I think a good sunset can be measured on how long a crowd can be rendered speechless, in this instance there was silence until the last of the light was out. We certainly aren’t lacking in good countryside either then.

Another Super Nice place right here in Britain and I can’t wait to be back and racing the first BDS (British Downhill Series) race. Be there 20th March if you fancy visiting an unfamiliar venue with an interesting history, seeing some of the worlds best riders hurling themselves down the steep hillside and particularly if you like a silence-inducing view every once in a while.

www.britishdownhillseries.com

Thank you very much to SRE, BOS, Riders Refuge, Kingdom Bike and of course howies.

Some Small Spaces

  • Posted by james m
  • 23 December 2010

This past week I have been evading the snow and cold and instead touring around some of Andalusia’s smaller pockets of mountain biking, whilst attempting to avoid heat stroke in shorts and t-shirt and sipping ice cold beers... Well not quite but the sun shone for the whole week.

Travel has been in a very small van. I slept a night in the small room at my sisters house, 1 night in a small cave, 2 nights on a small floor space in the corner of a small apartment and 1 night in a small bed in a hut.

And I saw a full size man in a very small car.

That man was Jason Wolfe who we (myself and Rowan Sorrell) bumped into just after arrival, and kindly let us stay in his amazing Malaga apartment in the central Plaza, our only night of luxury in the week (I slept on a large sofa)!

We spent a day riding the trails near the city whilst awaiting Mark Huskisson [of Reset films], ate pizza and supped a few Alhambra Verde’s (best beer anywhere), then the next morning we trundled out of the city and into the hills for a week of filming in El Chorro (beautiful), Granada (freeeeezing) and up into Bubion (backward) and La Alpujarra where I lived for 3 years doing a guiding job.

Nice to see nothing much changes in Spain – they certainly have the right idea down there. Tostadas, café solo and the great Spanish work ethic (..work..? ¿Qué?) certainly lured us in a bit more than Mark probably would have liked, but we got some great days filming in the end and had a fun time doing so.

Here’s to Spain and life at a slower pace.

Feliz Navidad!

56 MPH

  • Posted by james m
  • 6 December 2010

56 Miles Per Hour is a speed that I am very familiar with. The top speed of my old van (on the flat, on a good day), apparently great for the old fuel consumption (important to someone with fists as tight as mine), and a figure that I once again became very familiar with this past summer.

This was my favourite roadtrip of 2010, perhaps the most memorable ever; a 2 week trek around Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Many thousand miles of tarmac, several Elk spottings and a great crew of 5 equally grubby bike riders.. All at 56MPH in a 1976 VW camper.

We trundled up to the Maxi Avalanche race in Are (Sweden) - an incredible part of the world and the craziest bike race I have ever been in! Racing started on a lunar landscape, plummeted through the high pastures and finished by pounding through the rock infested singletrack of the lower slopes, all bar to bar with several hundred other hooligans.

howies’ winter 2009 catalogue claimed Sweden as ‘Super Nice’. Believe me, the words are true! Inspired by the countryside, the cool wheels and the nutty racing, I'll be back for more in 2011 no doubt about it.

For a little flashback to summer and to sign yourself up for one of the best mountain bike races on the planet, check out: www.avalanchecup.com.

Thanks to the MaxiAvalanche organisers for putting on such a great event and helping us get the van started.. And HI5! to Riders Refuge, Kingdom Bike, Shinny Racing and of course howies.

Photo by Chris@kingdombike.com

Up The Beat

  • Posted by james m
  • 30 November 2010

Bumbling around bike races, mountain resorts, trail centres and holiday companies, you get to meet some folk... Some wonderful, some weird, some good, some not so good.

One of those people that I have met on my little jaunts around is Jay Bharadia, a mountain biker, musician, teacher and a wonderfully good person.

Jay is an outstanding guy, a man who seems to permanently buzz, loving every second of every road trip, every bike ride and every day. Jay smiles a lot, his smile infectious as his enthusiasm.

Music isn’t my forte, I wish I had some sort of talent there, but unfortunately I completely suck! Jay on the other hand has shaped this electronic album together, its beats featuring on several upcoming bike films, its flow and friendliness encompassing all that makes the man.

Have a look, play the music and forget about the work that you are trying to avoid doing, drift away and imagine bikes, trees and mountains.

iron horse by Jay Bharadia

Cheers Jay, howies, Riders Refuge, Kingdom Bike and Shinny Racing, you legends.

King of Projects/Welsh Road Trips

  • Posted by james m
  • 15 November 2010

Last year over several of the finest beers to come out of the Alps (anyone that has been to Morzine will know the beer, good enough to keep quiet about), my friend Chris and I started to muse the idea of starting a bike company “to serve the needs of real bike riders.”

Chris may have had a few post-ride ales, yet somehow he stayed true to his word. Myself on the other hand, well I have no recollection of the conversation, only the words that Chris poked at me when he was being pro-active and putting things together.

Fortunately, I was allowed in on this project after all, and for a little while now I have been attempting to refine one of the frames to as close to perfection as possible. That process has involved mainly putting pedals on the bike and going out riding, if I’m to be honest.

But that’s all good according to the ‘boss’, and last month Chris even took me and my friend Al Stock on a road trip around some of North and Mid Wales’ finest testing grounds. This is a little vid that Chris made during the trip, almost lost forever after he left his shiny, expensive laptop in a car park in Betws! Oops. Turns out folk are pretty trustworthy round those parts anyhow.

Here’s to the last sunshine seen in Wales before the green country plunged into darkness for another few months.

Thank you kindly to howies, Riders Refuge, Kingdom Bike and Shinny Racing for covering my back at all times..

Find – The Mountain Bike Film

  • Posted by james m
  • 9 November 2010

Adventures are never ending, bike rides forever commencing.

Earlier this year I travelled to Tenerife with Dirt mag and Rowan Sorrell, bike rider, traveller and crafter of some of the finest bike trails Wales (and beyond) has ever seen.

I moved to Morzine in the Alps just after I turned 16 – I had a job cleaning bogs courtesy of a family friend – and at that time I entered mountain bike utopia. I was young and certainly naïve, but was fortunately well mentored by a good bunch of folk from all over the world.

One of those was Rowan, who I met on the hill one day and he showed me how a bike can be ridden with unbelievable style and grace – I can still remember being in awe of all the whips, tables and drifts that he pulled out in the space of one run, and all the more, how much fun Rowan was having.

Well, that was one day out of a summer that shaped the rest of my life, and now I continue to enjoy bikes and travel as much as ever, and it is so good to see that Rowan still shares that passion.

‘Find’ is a mountain bike film by Mark Huskisson, who joined us on the trip exploring Tenerife. Marks incredible filming skills along with his shared passion for bikes have come together in this film and captured, for me, the essence of it all. Not a high action, huckin’, flippin’ and spinnin’ freeride film, but rather the opposite – a calming, uplifting, motivating bicycle adventure captured.

This is the teaser, and those are Rowans voice and skills at the start. A real treat.

Film teaser by Mark Huskisson of Reset Films.

For making all my adventures possible, thank you to howies, Riders Refuge, Kingdom Bike and Shinny Racing. Here’s to many more.

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