Looking back on a fantastic year of mountain biking as a Cotic ambassador! Here are my highlights…
This time last year I was invited to Cotic HQ in the Peak District to discuss becoming a brand ambassador and having my own Cotic Flare – a 650b trail bike with 130mm travel – to ride for a year.
It was an easy sell, tbh. Cotic are a small, British mountain bike brand who specialise in steel frames. They fight their corner in the world of big mtb brands with a range of bikes that could sit at the top end of any line up, and describe the Flare as ‘a brilliant all round trail bike, with a fleet footed feel, synapse quick handling, crisp climbing, fun descending.’ What’s more, I grew up near The Peaks, I love mtb – and they gave me a very fine lunch that included deep fried onion rings. Not that I was a complete walk over, though. After all, I already owned a not- too-shabby trail bike and I wasn’t going to give it up for a year if what was on offer wasn’t going to be a) as good if not better and b)add a new dimension to my riding. Happily the Flare has risen to the challenge with ease.
The Flare arrived at Adele Towers, Surrey, in early February, neatly squeezed into the back of Cotic’s new van for is journey down the M1. The steel frame is crafted in Reynolds 853, which is exceptionally stiff, robust and durable and can thus be used in thinner dimensions for lightness (hence the bike’s ‘skinny’ appearance). Steel is also used for the seatstays, allowing generous ankle, heel and calf clearance. The droplink suspension layout has titanium pivot fittings, while the swingarm is aluminium to allow the machined parts to fit while enabling stiffness at the back of the bike. And finally, my bike is customised with Joystick carbon bars, WTB 27.5″ carbon wheels and tubeless tyres, a 130mm X-Fusion fork, some gorgeous Hopetech bling and Burgtec pedals that have kept my feet firmly in place whatever the terrain. For the record (and those who think steel bikes are always going to be heavy) I can pick the Flare up with one hand. Also, on hills, I can overtake my friends who ride carbon 29ers (#smug).
Unfortunately and despite being New Bike Day, the trails of The Surrey Hills had never looked more dismal and uninspiring: a fest of sucky mud, wet roots, low cloud and non-existent views. We rode to take a few photos, snacked on sandwiches and coffee, and talked of better weather and future ride plans before waving the team off back up to The Peaks where, if my childhood memories serve me right, the sun never stops shining.
Thankfully on the day of my first event with the Flare – Battle on the Beach in Pembrey, South Wales – the sun was out in full force. BotB is a unique three-lap, 45km race that includes a 15km beach sprint, 15km singletrack through the dunes and 15km of fire road slog into a headwind. It’s a wonderful ride in a beautiful setting, and a great way to test the Flare – and my fitness out. Thankfully we both passed the test!
Our annual girls’ trip to Afan rolled around next: this year four of us rocked up at the Afan Lodge where we enjoyed hearty breakfasts, long rides and big dinners, and inadvertently intimidated the groups of male riders who weren’t expecting to be sharing the bar with a bunch of #radmums on a weekend away. We had a long day in the saddle after Afan Lodge’s local trail legend sent us up the mountain on the ‘scenic route’ – which I interpreted to mean ‘easier’ than the normal slog up hill, but which turned out to be just as steep but twice as long. Nice views though, he wasn’t wrong there.
On the way down The Flare galloped around the trails like a nippy Jack Russell – kept in check by super grippy WTB tyres which resolutely held on while everyone else was commenting on how sketchy the trails were feeling.
Back home in Surrey and Fox held a launch event for its Proframe helmet at the Swinley Forest trail centre. It’s a great piece of kit and testing it out proved to be a brilliant opportunity to ride flat out on familiar trails.
It also turned out to be an opportunity to meet Fox ambassador and Redbull Rampage rider Pierre Edouard Ferry. He was intrigued to hear all about the Cotic, and was more than happy to chat. Also, he is very handsome. So all in all, a great day out!
The Flare is fleet footed, fast and fun and it has given me a lot of confidence on technical terrain – but there is always room for improvement, and with a trip to the Alps on the horizon I headed off for some mountain biking tuition. It’s actually really tricky to over-ride the deep-seated procedural memory that comes from years of riding experience – and so I struggled at first to adapt new technique. However I’m a determined sort so I retired to the woods for many solo rides, sessioning my back-to-basics new skills: looking ahead, using my heel position effectively and sticking my elbows and knees out more (not a technical term). Small things, big difference on the trails though.
Anyway, how about throwing yourself in at the deep end with a bit of Alpine mountain biking fun? A mix of family holiday with flooded valley rides, accidentally riding black runs (punched the air at the end of that one!) and delicious – and very strong – beer at the end of a stunning cross-country ride: we had an amazing week in and around Les Gets.
We visit Dartmoor to ride each year. We have friends who live in the heart of the National Park and we can ride from their door, and return later in the day to eat unfeasibly large amounts of local cheese. Not surprisingly, it’s one of the highlights of the year. The Dartmoor National Park is beyond beautiful and appears untouched and wild – in fact, and in order to keep it unspoilt, it is tightly managed. That means trails are limited but well maintained, and a lot of fun if you like riding over rock-strewn moorlands and hopping over aristan-crafted stone drainage ditches. Its old-school cross-country riding with big hills so leave your long travel bike at home and be prepared to get a little bit lost.
Another favourite day out is the circular ride from Poole via Corfe Castle. It’s true Famous Five adventure stuff (though there were sixteen of us in total), with a trip on a ferry, cream teas, huge climbs and legs-out descents along the cliff tops and down to the sea. In a slight detour from the normal route, some mentioned that the swanky hotel The Pig On The Beach was en-route and so we popped in to ‘just to have a look’: several rounds of drinks and outdoor-cooked, flatbread pizzas later, we made our way back to the ferry, (over) tired and happy.
As you will have realised by now, I’m happiest on long rides with big hills and fun descents, so when I decided to enter Swinley Enduro – the first one I’ve ridden – I did so for the fun and the experience, rather than to get placed. It was one of the friendliest events I’ve ever ridden: the 30 women taking part agreed we’d prefer to start together rather than in age categories, and we moved round the route laughing, chatting, sharing tips and supporting each other. It was a really special atmosphere and (almost!) helped settle my nerves! I also spotted a couple of Cotic riders in the mix too – always good to say hello.
Mostly though, I am enjoying the Flare on the local hills and in the woods. Apologies for the lack of images of me riding there: often there is simply no one on hand to take a picture – perhaps Cotic could add a selfie-button to the 2018 model?
My trip to FINDRA Outdoor Apparel HQ and flagship store in Innerleithen to meet the team behind the brand and local riders left no time to ride, but here’s why I will be returning with my bike!
FINDRA Outdoor Apparel is one of my favourite cycling garment brands. I’ve reviewed the kit before, but this was the first time I had gone ‘behind the scenes’ at brand HQ, where I had been invited to speak about how to deal with fear when mountain biking.
FINDRA was founded by Scottish fashion designer and keen mountain biker Alexandra Feechan because she was aware that there was little available for women who ride to wear. Her subsequent – and award winning – range of top quality tops, beanies, neck and arm warmers stands out for its use of colour and cut. The garments are crafted in merino wool, renown for its warmth, breathability, durability and comfort.
FINDRA also have awesome mtb shorts – not only do they look great, but they’re really durable. I’ve ridden miles in mine (they’re the same as the ones Lee Craigie is wearing in the image above) and they’re still going strong. Findra bobble hats are not only super cute, but also knitted by a real Scottish nana. You don’t get much more authentic than that!
Following on from the brand’s success with mountain bikers, Alex is widening the reach to appeal to adventure loving hikers, horse riders, skiers and boarders. She has enlisted an awe inspiring bunch of brand ambassadors to help spread the word including Emily Chappell and Lee Craigie from The Adventure Syndicate and survival expert Meg Hine, whose book inspired my original post on mountain biking and fear (and which was the reason I was invited up to Scotland to speak).
My flying visit didn’t allow time to ride, but by taking the trip and talking to local riders I met at the talk, I gleaned quite a lot about riding at Glentress and Innerleithen. I look forward to returning, this time with my bike!!
This is what I discovered:
- It’s closer than you think – even when you live in Surrey!
From the Surrey Hills trails where I live and ride, you can fly from Gatwick (half an hour drive) to Edinburgh (an hour and a half flight) and then transfer in an hour to the world famous Glentress Forest trail centre. If all goes to plan, you could have (early) breakfast in Surrey and be on the trails in Scotland by lunchtime!
- Glentress Forest has 60km of trails from green to black level, and you can hire a bike there too – but book ahead, and be warned that smaller sized bikes appear to be quite scarce!!! Innerleithen – six miles down the road – is renown for its downhill riding so you can easily make a weekend of riding in the area.
- There is also lots of reasonably priced local accommodation – I stayed here and it was great, a spa hotel, and something called a ‘Scottish Breakfast’ – no need to ask if that is sufficiently calorific to fuel a morning on the trails.
- No mountain bike ride is complete without a trip to a great café, and there is an awesome one in Innerleithen – No. 1 Peebles Road (almost opposite the FINDRA store!). I will be making their field mushroom and grilled haloumi on toast for the rest of my life. Possibly every day.
- There is a great community of riders here. Those who came out to hear my talk were particularly amazing a) because they sat and listened to me and b) because the discussion that followed was so interesting and in-depth. It was really moving to hear others’ stories of what caused their fear, and how they dealt with it, as well as to hear from confident, competent riders who wanted to encourage others to feel the same.
Finally this from audience member Ruby made the whole trip extra special. She posted it two days after the talk (note: kudos to Ruby for riding some rather damp looking North Shore on her very first ride!!)
Btw, I will be discussing mental health and cycling on a panel at Look Mum No Hands in London on November 7th. If you’re in or near London, do come along! Details here.
Findra Outdoor Apparel is available online and at 83 High Street, Innerleithen, EH44 6HD.
Wet socks, conquering black runs and getting lost: the joys of mountain biking in the Alps.
The irony that a mountain bike riding holiday usually starts by putting your bike into a car isn’t lost on me, but with more and more far flung destinations offering tantalising riding, sometimes these things just have to be done. And so it was – several times this summer – that we shoehorned the family, our luggage, followed by even more mtb luggage, into our ‘its too small, isn’t it?’ car, strapped the bikes onto the roof and set off on holiday.
First off, we managed to convince our teenage family that a holiday in The Alps was just what they needed despite the fact there isn’t a beach. And it might rain. And they don’t like mountain biking. And they’d need to travel for ten hours with a couple of bike wheels nudging the back of their heads. As not everyone wanted to ride, we divided our time between walking in the mountains, eating, swimming in the local lake, eating, shopping at the market, eating, sneaking out for an occasional mountain bike ride while they were otherwise occupied, and then more eating. Turns out The Alps can tick almost every single holiday box with aplomb (and no one mentioned the lack of beach, so we’ll let that one go). Everyone wants to go back next year.
Here’s a brief need-to-know summary of our riding adventures there:
It’s a mountain area so the weather is changeable. If it rains a lot – as it did on the first day we were there – the lifts are closed. Even in July. We rode the valley instead, which turned out to be slightly more challenging than we anticipated as the river was bursting its banks. At a couple of points the water was so fast moving and deep that we had to remove our shoes, throw them to the other side, then pass the bikes over one by one. So, take spare socks.
When the lifts are open (which they were for the rest of the week), you may find yourself using one that requires hanging your bike on the outside via the front wheel. If you value your bike, this is possibly the most stressful part of the whole holiday.
The trail maps:
Some of the trail maps are a bit hit and miss…Here’s what happened when we chose to an ride classed as XC (and which looked long and flowy on the map.) We took the lift to the top of the mountain and followed the XC trail from there. Although it was pretty straight forward to ride(we saw just the one rider dripping with blood after a fall) it certainly wasn’t suitable for the unfit (luckily not a problem for us).
When we came to a café on the mountain side we decided to stop for a coffee before descending. “I wonder how they get the food up here?” I pondered. We soon found out – the xc descent marked on the map turned out to be a road. A third of the way down it, we agreed that we hadn’t come all this way with mountain bikes to do a road ride, so we rode back up again (mid travel trail bikes – they are a wonderful, versatile thing), and followed the trail back to the lift. Now we were faced with two options – the lift, or a black run. The black run won.
The black run:
Everyone who knew me and who had ridden here before said I’d be fine so long as I stuck to the red trails. Had I known I was going to ride a black run, I would have perhaps have skipped on the nice relaxing coffee at the top and practisced deep breathing instead. But thet trail turned out to be a beautifully built berm fest, much like the trails I’d ridden in Wales or even at Swinley had the earth tipped on its axis to make them eye wateringly steep. There were jumps too, of course, though each one was easy to spot and had a rollable option next to it.
Having faith in the trail builder is always good for confidence and I was soon swooping and whooping my way down. I punched the air when I reached the bottom. It was the highlight of the week – and, like I said, further proof that a mid travel trail bike is a wonderful, versatile thing.
…And being a bit nosey:
On the last day I followed a zig zag road up from the village, just to see where it went. I’d said I would be about 20 minutes and didn’t take any water. An hour later I was still doing the ‘I’ll just see what’s round the next corner’ climb. Just as I was going to turn back, the road turned into a trail, and curiosity really got the better of me – I was on a mtb after all. So I kept going until I got to a natural spring – now in the middle of nowhere. A sign indicated that the trail went to the next peak, probably a 45 minute ride but good sense prevailed as another rider appeared, coming back down the trail, and I decided to follow him back down the valley (safety in numbers, even though we never actually spoke to each other). I’m not one for turning back though – so I’ve earmarked that little ride for next year’s trip.
Beaches, sunshine – and every type of trail you can think of (except mountains!).
The Cami de Cavalls is a 185km ancient path that follows the Menorcan coastline (so closely that at some points you’re almost in the sea). You can hike, run or horse ride around it (it was originally designed for defence and was patrolled by soldiers on Menorquin horses), or you can ride a mountain bike.
It is an extraordinary trail featuring gullies, rocks (so many rocks), valleys, wetlands, sandy coves, short, steep rocky climbs and – what goes up etc. – steep drops. It is also a constantly changing landscape: Menorca has been declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and you experience almost every Ecosystem in the Mediterranean world as you ride. So, you are riding boulder strewn headlands one minute, then rooty trails, sandy beaches and board walks the next.
We took four days to do our trip and everyday was an adventure mostly centred around a) staying on the bikes and b) staying on the trails, most of which are pretty remote. However get yourself to civilisation and Menorcans are super friendly and always happy to point you in the right direction or help out. A special mention for the restaurant owner (and mountain biker) who put in a call to the bike hire shop for us when a tubeless tyre, several inner tubes, mobile reception and our ability to master mountain bike terminology in Spanish all failed. Restored by good will, coffee and new inner tubes, we were soon back on our bikes again.
We wish we had taken longer to ride the trail as there are so many sights to see – we all wanted to shop in beautiful Ciutadella, for instance (I am so going back there, and next time in a more glamourous outfit) – and beautiful beaches to enjoy and often we just didn’t have time to stop. We did prioritise skinny dipping in the sea though – it is beyond inviting when you’re two hours into a ride in full sunshine (note – we visited in October and the riding temperature was perfect).
There are no mountains – but there is one great big climb. Part of the coast is unsuitable for bikes and so the trail took us inland. We were warned that it was an uphill slog though compared to some of the rockier sections of coast we found it quite easy: certainly there are longer and harder climbs at home in Surrey (yes, really). Just goes to show how your skills are built according to what you’re used to riding. Note though – this is mountain bike territory only: I love this sign!!!
No holiday is complete without a souvenir, and we all came home with lovely thigh bruises having lost arguments with tricky rocky sections. Having had post-fall elbow surgery six months ago I count myself pretty lucky that it was only my thigh got a battering. I also got a lovely set of pedal bruises up the back of one leg thanks to the sections where I had to carry/push/climb the bike over rocky ledges and steps that my inner Rachel Atherton couldn’t quite rise to the challenge of.
Our trip was booked via specialists Cami de cavils 360 . They arranged our accommodation, bike hire – full sus Trek 29ers (so glad I didn’t take my own as its bike-batteringly rough terrain), provided a thorough briefing, map and Garmin, booked accommodation, moved our bags each day and were very nice to us.
We’d ticked the accommodation box marked ‘comfort’ – a good move, as we stayed in some quite lovely hotels. I particularly appreciated the one that had a spa within ten metres of my bedroom door. I tested it out (purely in the name of research, of course) and can happily report that is just what you need after a dusty, hot day on a mountain bike.
Exercise makes you very hungry indeed so we made good use of each hotel’s self service breakfast and dinner buffets, and ate at beachside bars at lunchtime. There are fewer of these than you might expect – Menorca is largely ‘unspoilt’ – but they were all good.
This is one beautiful island with some amazing riding. Visit soon.