Mike Hopkins :: Bralorne BC

May 16 2013
Source: Never Stop Exploring

Last Summer Mike Hopkins spent 10 days in the backcountry outside Bralorne BC exploring first descents and sick new lines in addition to testing some of the 2013 Mountain Bike line for The North Face...

It’s been way too long! No excuses. First up, what happened to summer?! Some how September snuck in the mix and I’m not sure about you, but I’m not so happy about it. Summer’s been treating me too well, making me not all that interested in the winter months that stand on the doorstep. Perpetual summer bring it on!

The answer to waltzing away from a Crankworks early lies in one magical little word…Bralorne.  For months I have been working on a Project alongside The North Face and Sherpas Cinema, and on August 17 it was time to put that plan into motion.  I packed the truck, prepared for 8 days of camping, and made my way to Kamloops to pick up the other athlete who would be saddling up for this adventure.  While putting this project together, it was suggested that we  bring along another rider so I wouldn’t be standing atop these massive lines fearing for life itself all by my lonesome.  And so, I made the natural choice and brought along someone I had never met.  The type of riding we were exposing ourselves to on this trip is not for the fella that moisturises his hands of a daily basis.  I made the selection off what I had learned on the internet (not always the best way of making a decision, but in this case it was dead on) and after hitching up a couple ATV’s I picked up Matty Miles and we made way of the mountains.

On the Eastern edge of the Coast Mountains lies layers of peaks seemingly undecided in which direction to reach. Some tower skyward, others have given way to gravity and pressures of time, beginning their slow top-down degradation.  This tectonic playground is home to one of mountain biking’s most exciting environments.  It is one of the only places that truly blurs the lines between skiing and riding a bike.  We traded the confides of trails for steep open faces and tight coulouirs of rock.  There is only one way I can put it into perspective… It’s what Alaska is to Skiing, but for Biking.  The goal of this project was explore the uncharted potential of the area, and chalk up a few first descents.  And oh buddy, did we accomplish our goal.  I could write a novel about this trip but I won’t.  I am just going to dangle the carrot. Having Sherpas Cinema, the most talented production team in the game covering all the angles, and Blake Jorgensen capturing each turn of the excursion moment by moment, it would be rude for me to lay all the details of the trip in a spoiler blog.  The film and imagery we captured even blows my mind so I figured we better do it justice with a proper release.    Although you have read this far so instead of leaving you so the least I can do is give you a couple insightful tasters…

Insanely Beautiful Landscape, Float Planes, Snow, Alpine Base Camp, scaling sketchy rock walls with Bikes, fastest moments ever on a bike (and my back brake was fully locked), Helicopters, 2500 ft. first descents, escaping lightening stroms, flipping quads, bush whacking, Snow Roads, Breakfast laps, carving, roosting, countless “High-Fives”, close calls, Gnarly drop-ins, epic sunsets, the most scenic bathroom of all time, feeling like a pioneer, wicked crew … Trip of a Lifetime!!  The Carrot has officially been dangled.

Huge Thanks to Everyone who saw this trip through, especially The North Face, Sherpas Cinema, Blake, Matty… insanely stoked!

Willow’s Wisdom on the Rocks: Getting back on the bike after a baby

May 16 2012
Source: Single Track

Editor’s Note: Two-time Mountain bike World Championships bronze medalist Willow Rockwell’s weekly column, Willow’s Wisdom on the Rocks, is devoted to providing the best advice the web has to offer for female mountain bikers. Her wisdom from the top of the sport is aimed at empowering readers to meet and surpass their own goals on the bike. Check in every Wednesday for more wisdom from Willow. 

Let me be clear. Having a baby is a BIG deal. Huge. You will never do anything more intense or more spiritually powerful in your life. Birth is an initiation to the Goddess Mysteries like nothing else.

Let yourself ease back into everything, because you will never again have this time back with your precious baby. Let yourself bond. Let yourself feel the hugeness of what you both just went through. Ask for help, be patient with yourself, your partner and your baby.

Help at home means quicker recovery

You will need help. The best advice I can offer is to hire someone for the first week. You will be so thankful! They can do the laundry, the dishes and the shopping. If you are lucky, maybe even a little cooking. You will not want to do this, I promise you! You partner is going to be as tired as you are, so please let someone help you! Be careful with relatives and visitors in the first week. All too often it is more of a drain than a help.

Help your body bounce back

Walk. Walk a lot. I was so pumped full of IV fluid I was twice as puffy after baby as I was before. Not a pretty sight. The good news is, your body is amazing. You WILL recover.

I used Brook Burke’s post-baby body wrap. It helps the uterus go back into place and decreases swelling from the trauma. Yes, I said trauma. Also, she has four kids and is still a swimsuit model, so that sold me right there.

Start with fundamentals

You need to take it really easy for two weeks. Do those Kegels!

After two weeks, check in with yourself and take it up a notch or two if you are ready. I started doing yoga and post-natal pilates at home. You can find good routines online or purchase a couple videos. I love Sadie Nardini for yoga. In fact, her yoga is so core-centric, it could take the place of pilates as well.

You should not do typical situps for about two months as the rectus abdominis needs to reconnect.

Ease back into exercise

At five weeks I took out the skate skis and I felt great. I did not go hard, however. I just enjoyed nature and moving my body!

I also started doing Tracy Anderson exercise videos. I love her workouts. They are about 30 minutes long, and target all your accessory muscles. She helps you get all tight and tiny again.

On that note, do not freak out about fitting into your jeans. Eat and do moderate exercise and LOVE your baby. It will all work out in it’s own time.

Be kind to your lady bits

As for getting on the bike, I could not even look at a bike seat until 8 weeks. My rule was “if I can’t have sex, then I am not riding my bike”. Honestly, even at 8 weeks it was not very pleasant. Neither sex nor biking, that is. Everyone is different, but my point is you need patience, and lots of it.

Do it for the right reasons

At about 10 weeks, I really started to feel like ME again. I was pushing myself far too hard trying to return to the World Cup, but once I retired, everything started to fall into place. Now I LOVE my bike again. It is something I GET to do, rather than something I HAVE to do. Every moment on the trail is pure freedom.

If you give yourself enough time to recover, you will thank yourself for it. Your partner and baby will thank you, too. Don’t rush the process, let it evolve naturally. Before you know it your legs will feel light and fresh and you will be squeezing into those jeans.

Enjoy! You are now a Goddess!

Willow Rockwell is a woman in transition. As a professional mountain bike racer, she won two Bronze Medals at the Mountain bike World Championships (2009, 2010) and led the World Cup in 2010 for a brief time before finally finishing second in the series. Poised to conquer the world and win an Olympic medal, she discovered she was pregnant in the Spring of 2011. She chose to devote herself to her unborn daughter and left the sport behind. During her pregnancy she wrote a memoir titled “My Wheels Gave Me Wings.” It chronicles her difficult childhood, her near self destruction, and her path to healing and self acceptance. In 2012 she attempted a comeback to the sport, but discovered that the warrior who would “fight to the death” had died within her. It was time to lay down the sword and be a warrioress for truth and light. It was time for new adventures. She is now re-discovering and re-inventing herself as a mother, a wife and a goddess woman. She hopes to inspire others to heal their deepest wounds, and to re-emerge as a powerful being full of self expression.Willow writes regular columns for Singletrack.com, is enrolled in a Sacred Sexuality course, loves all things feminine and beautiful and still loves to ride her bike.

Quick Look: The North Face takes on Mountain Biking

March 29 2012
Source: Single Track
The North Face has been in the outdoor equipment game for almost 50 years, still it makes the bike snob in me raise an eyebrow at the idea of a company that has become known for its fleece jackets entering the cycling world. While The North Face is no stranger to outdoor sports, one can worry that they may not “get cycling.” The inescapable snobbery of cyclists has kept this line unnoticed since its launch at Interbike. Though, one may think that transitioning into mountain biking may be an easier egg to crack than road racing, especially with The North Face’s depth of available fabrics and an already existing hydration pack line. The North Face line offers quality materials at an entry level price. This is especially true with Indylite and Shifter jackets. They are both made of a water resistant material, packable, and under $175. The other highlight to the line is the hydration packs. The Torrent 4, 8, and 12 hydration packs are versatile. After spending two- to four-hour days with the Torrent 12 I am rather impressed with its design, and at $120 it’s at a very competitive price point. All three of the hydration packs come with reservoirs from Source Outdoor. On all Torrent models, The North Face uses the Source WLP reservoir which has a unique doughnut shape, intended to relieve a bit of pressure from the spine. It is a unique design for sure, but unfortunately it does make it a bit difficult to fill the reservoir.   Going back to the aforementioned jackets, the Indylite and the Shifter, they could make a useful addition to any mountain biker’s pack as they can be stored easily and would come in handy should the weather take a turn for the worse. The Indylite fits much more like a XC piece while the Shifter is a bit baggier and clearly aimed at the all-mountain rider. Both pack down very small. One bonus to the Shifter is its helmet compatible hood. Should you be bombing a trail, racing to get back to the car, keeping the trail slop from being thrown into the back of your helmet can make a big difference in warmth. The North Face shorts are basic, though more useful than the average trail short. They resemble The North Face’s hiking and outdoor shorts, but give the added benefits of zippered vents and classic front and rear pockets. The Silicate short are a bit more baggy and longer than the Chizno short. The Silicate have zippered pockets and no venting, making them a bit more of an all mountain rider’s short, and the Chizno an XC piece. The removable chamois liners are nothing special, but at $85 the buyer is getting a durable short that can be worn to the pub on a warm afternoon, or wear your favorite bibs under them for a long day in the woods. The target rider of The North Face line will be the person who wants subtle clothing without any large logos or bright designs. The clothing is simple and could double as outdoor gear as well as mountain biking wear. The price points of the line are very competitive and it’s clear that The North Face knows how to make a durable, affordable piece.

It was bound to happen sooner or later

September 26 2011
Source: Bike Radar
Some folks say a broken collarbone is a rite of passage for a cyclist, and I'm now a member of the club. But guess what: this place sucks. The entertainment is shoddy, the couches are lumpy, the food is mushy and something smells. I want out – ASAP. You might remember that I broke my hand last October, and like last year, I was again racing my cyclo-cross bike on a beautiful Colorado fall day. But the circumstances were a little different this time around – I went for a pass through a dust-over-hardpack chicane and my front wheel shot out from beneath me. No time to brace myself, no time to react. In retrospect it was foolish, wholly avoidable, and I've no one to blame but myself. (Seriously, though, I'm not usually terrible at this! Had two good seasons followed by a couple of bad races. Really.) The worst part? I actually heard the thing snap. Luckily, I was able to load my bike back onto my car (manual transmission, naturally) and the hospital wasn't far away. Not only that, I actually had enough time after checking in at reception to head home and change into street clothes (quite proud of myself for being able to get my new BikeRadar kit off without the aid of scissors) so at least I didn’t have to mill about looking like a kid in Underoos. And the quick 600mg of ibuprofen out of our medicine cabinet didn't hurt, either. Fast-forward another hour and yep, definitely broken. Pretty well displaced, too. I won't be able to see an orthopod (hi Dr Koch, it's me again) until Monday but I'm hoping he recommends surgery for a speedier recovery. In the meantime, many thanks to the friendly Saturday staff at Boulder Community Hospital urgent care: Dr Kosta, nurse Carol and X-ray tech Philippa. On the positive side, I'm now the proud owner of a fetching navy blue sling and a fresh prescription for Percocet, plus I conveniently had bought myself a couple of new short-sleeved button-down shirts a few days ago – apparently in subconscious preparation for just such an event. To be continued…

Could a better cycling video game save US couch potatoes?

August 26 2011
Source: Bike Radar

As I noted in a past blog post, the annual video game trade show – the Electronic Entertainment Expo or E3 – is much like Interbike. The attitude is relaxed and a bit more laid back than serious “work” trade shows. Many of the attendees are in shorts, and I’ll say it again, there is a certain smell in the air.

There are notable differences, the biggest being the word “big.” Many video games are big and frankly out of shape. This isn’t to say that there aren’t gamers who like to cycle, as well as cyclists who like to play video games. There is no doubt an overlap.

As a long time cyclist and long time video gamer I see a missed opportunity here. A few years ago two interesting things happened in the world of video games. The first were music games; they hit it big, allowing players to live out their rock and roll fantasies in the living room. The other 'big' thing was “motion control” became integrated into games; first with the Nintendo Wii and more recently with the Sony PlayStation 3 and Microsoft Xbox 360. This coincided with a new genre of games built around fitness.

The truth is that the games have been only marginally successful. Much of this is because they’re just not that compelling, and you really can’t get all that fit with games. I think I’m as close to an authority on this as anyone.

Then a strange thing happened at his year’s E3. I ran into an old friend, Andy McNamara, editor in chief of Game Informer. Andy looked… well surprising fit, and a bit tan. The latter was surprising because I usually expect to see Andy have a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other, and he’s based in Minneapolis and is editor in chief of the biggest gaming magazine on the planet.

In other words, Andy was a hardcore gamer.

So I asked what the heck he'd been doing. His response, “what drives a man who lives, eats, and sleeps video games to wake up one day and turn his life around and get fit? Hell of a question.”

He explained that his wife and he had cruisers that they used in Minneapolis to get around town. The result was that he soon quit smoking, cut back on the drinking and even put down the controller. “We love the mobility and scenery of getting out and about, but we soon discovered that we needed more fire power to explore all the nooks and crannies of the Minneapolis bike ‘highway’ as I like to call it,” says McNamara.

“After we moved up to road bikes, I was instantly hooked. And the thing that hooked me was the challenge to myself," he said. "As a longtime game player, I appreciated the internal struggle to try and get better. I think of it as trying to beat that really hard last level in your favorite game. And of course, the nerd in me fell in love with bike computers too. Tracking and comparing data online, was like playing an RPG with me as the star.”

Andy says he’ll never win a race, but that the competition to get better, faster, and stronger is one of the biggest games he has played in his life. “As I approach 40, this game rewards me with a heaping helping of ‘extra lives,” he said.

So the question is why can’t other games experience this desire to get fit. You can now learn to play a real guitar via a video game – and while you probably won’t get good enough to go on tour, no one is expecting the games to do the same thing with fitness.

The truth is that there have been interactive programs built around exercise bikes, but Andy agrees that part of the problem with these is that they aren’t that compelling or interesting. “About the closest thing to a bicycling video game in my opinion are trainers like [Computrainer] or Tacx that offer simple virtual rides," he said. "Could there be a really great video game trainer game? Without a doubt, but I think we are still a number of years away from that reality.”

Currently, companies such as Saris and Elite have trainers that are linked to video and vary resistance based on the terrain shown in a video. But that’s not really a game.  These come up short because they are too much like simulations – not that simulations can’t be popular. But what is missing is the challenge.

Of course there is one issue of cost, but with a trainer type of device any bike could suddenly be used in a virtual Tour de France. Imagine how much fun it would be to try to challenges such as climbing Mont Ventoux, or sprinting to the finish against Mark Cavendish.  

But maybe I’m just fantasizing. Even Andy, a fellow gamer/cyclist says it will be a long time. “As a biker and a gamer, I can't think how even a multi-million dollar game design could compare with the simple fun of any bike and the open road - a game can just never compete with that,” he said.

And I agree, so instead of creating a better video game, maybe more gamers should put down the controllers and give the open road a try.

The best mountain bike upgrades bar none

July 28 2011
Source: Bike Radar
A wider bar and shorter stem can make a huge difference to the feel of your mountain bike Our Ghost AMR test bike feels a lot more aggressive with its new steering and rubber - in fact, sometimes we have to remind ourselves it's only got 120mm of travel Point One Racing's Split-Second [70] stem isn't cheap, and cutting your fork steerer to fit is a nerve-wracking business, but it makes for much snappier steering. Of course, cheaper options are available Continental Mountain King II tyres offer a good balance of volume, traction and weight Continental Mountain King II Continental Mountain King II One of the most common questions that crops up on the BikeRadar forum is ‘what’s the first thing I should upgrade on my new mountain bike?’. This prompts all kinds of responses. Wheels are often mentioned, due to the belief that rotational weight has a bigger effect on a bike’s handling than static weight. In reality, the difference between these two types of weight is negligible, at least in the context of cycling. What does have more of an impact is unsprung weight – wheels, tyres, inner tubes, axles and suspension fork lowers. Excess weight in this area can hamper your bike's suspension performance, and therefore handling. However, wheels are an expensive upgrade, especially if you've just forked out for a new bike, and there are other areas where a smaller outlay will bring you big performance benefits. Suspension forks and/or rear shocks tend to crop up in upgrade discussions, as budget units tend to be heavy and poorly controlled, but replacing these can be very expensive and a bit of a minefield for the uninitiated. When it comes to cheaper options, people will generally mention things like lighter quick-release skewers – okay, the latest carbon/titanium/alloy options may look bling but a semi-enclosed Shimano QR still offers just about the best performance – and talk about titanium bolts – fine if you’re a sponsored racer and get them for free, but a good way of blowing lots of cash for minimal weight savings for the rest of us. Take control So what’s the answer? Saving weight isn't the be-all and end-all. Rider weight is so much higher than bike weight that saving a few grams here and there makes very little difference, and even if you manage to save a few pounds, it's only on the climbs that you'll really notice the change. Comfort and performance upgrades will make a much more significant difference. An uncomfortable saddle should always be the first thing to go – although make sure you do a few long rides first, because seats that feel hard for the first couple of miles often bed in a bit and/or provide excellent support on longer jaunts. Some companies such as WTB now offer demo programmes where you can try out different perches. After that, the first things we tend to swap on bikes that come in for testing are handlebars, stems and tyres. Most mountain bikes come equipped for cross-country riding or, at the budget end of the market, a mix of on- and off-road riding. That means a narrow handlebar (saves weight and gives a beginner-friendly upright ride position), long stem (puts weight over the front of the bike for improved climbing, at the expense of some downhill confidence) and either semi-slick or low-tread tyres (roll fast on road or dry trails but don't grip well in corners or mud). If you plan on tackling more technical terrain, a shorter stem, wider bar and grippier tyres will make a big difference. A stubby stem will speed up your steering and help you get your weight back on steep downhills. The length you choose should depend on what type of riding you're into – 80/90mm should be fine for trail/cross-country where there's a fair bit of climbing (any shorter and it can be difficult to get enough weight over the front wheel on climbs), while those intending to spend more time heading downhill than up can get away with something shorter. A wider bar, meanwhile, will give you more control – compared to a narrower pipe, you need to move your hands further to turn the front wheel by the same amount. Many riders say it also aids breathing while climbing, as your arms are further apart and thus not restricting your chest. Don't go too wide for your height though – anything over 700mm will make a difference, and unless you're over 6ft and into pretty radical riding, 800mm will be overkill. Also bear in mind that if you tend to ride tight, tree-infested trails, a narrower bar may be easier. Think about your grips, too – different shapes, sizes and rubber compounds suit different shaped hands and riding styles. Lock-on collars add security, but the grips often have a stiff plastic core, so many riders still swear by traditional all-rubber grips and use wire or hairspray to make sure they don't slide off. Sticky dilemna Next on the list should be tyres. Even if your bike came with 'name brand' (Maxxis/Schwalbe/Continental/WTB/etc.) rubber, the tyres may well be plasticky OEM ones (cheaper versions made to be sold with full bikes) rather than more grippy aftermarket ones. Beware of this when buying upgrade tyres online, too – if a price seems too good to be true, it may well be an OEM product. What tyre you go for depends on what type of riding you'll be doing (downhill/all-mountain/cross-country), what the terrain's like where you'll be riding (rocky/dusty/muddy) and what your priorities are when it comes to durability and grip – in general, the more durable a tyre, the less grippy it is. Don't buy a tyre just because it's light or you're likely to be plagued by punctures and unpredictable losses of traction. Tyre volume and pressure can also make a big difference. We've just swapped the bar, stem and tyres on one of our long-term test rigs, Ghost's AMR 7500, and this has transformed an already fun bike into a trail-taming beast. Before, it felt a little nervous on more full-on terrain due to its 670mm bar, 100mm stem and 2.25in Schwalbe Nobby Nic tyres, which had a tendency to lose grip without warning in corners. We've stuck on a pair of 2.4in Continental Mountain King IIs for testing, and they've made a big difference – much more predictable, and the extra volume (although Conti tyres come up smaller than Schwalbe ones for the same size) adds traction and comfort, at the expense of some rolling speed. Up front, we've gone for a 70mm stem and a 760mm wide, low-rise bar, which we've cut down to about 730mm. You don't need to spend a fortune to get a similar effect. The Point One Racing Split-Second stem and Blackspire 768 riser bar seen here would set you back over £150, but if you're on a budget, something like Outland's D31 Eight – just £40 for a 685mm bar, 50mm stem and lock-on grips! – will still make a huge difference to your riding. Why not give it a try? Check out our Bikes & Gear sections for loads of reviews of stems, bars and tyres. You can follow BikeRadar on Twitter at twitter.com/bikeradar and on Facebook at facebook.com/BikeRadar.

National XC Champs from Around the World

July 20 2011
Source: Single Track

Pendrel, Plaxton Perfect at Canadian Nats

July 19 2011
Source: Single Track

2011 Breckenridge 100 Results

July 19 2011
Source: Single Track

Lazer helmets-Rapha Gentlemen’s ride

July 10 2011
Source: Bike Radar

1 day, 100 miles, 10,000 vertical feet of climbing in the name of both serious challenge and adventure were what Christopher Smith and Mike Pederson of Lazer helmets envisioned when they put together their 2nd annual ‘Lazer Gentlemen’s’ Ride’, which was bolstered by Rapha’s presence and took place the Saturday after Lifeboat Events 2011 Press Camp in Deer Valley, Utah.

The route through Utah Wasatch Mountains made for a serious challenge to our group’s ‘average’ fitness level both due to elevation gain, dirt roads, route finding and treacherous descending.

The actual stats came quite close, especially on the latter goal of challenge and adventure — as the 15 rider group was quickly whittled in the first 30km when a nasty 6mile/3,300ft (10km/1,000m) descent caused the failure one rider’s carbon clincher wheels, both front and rear. The failure sent her careening into a ditch at close to 40mph; she left the ride via ambulance with three cracked vertebra, while three of her teammates left to be by her side in the hospital.

Not the type of adventure we were looking for; the site of the ride's first and only crash

In the end, five make it to the finish of the ride, which totaled almost exactly 100 miles (160km) ridden over 6hr 35min (total time over 9hrs) and 9,588ft (2,922m) of climbing.

Made it, sort of, the ride officially ended at Contender Cycles, but we still had to ride 4k to the hotel

It’s rides like this that serve as reminder to why we pedal a bicycle for the experience and challenge; they also remind me that every cyclist needs a good yearly challenge like the one Lazer and Rapha put together in Utah.

There are many ways to make it happen. You might seek out a gran fondo (in our country or Europe) or a ride like this past April’s Paris Roubaix Challenge or something domestic like the Colorado Roubaix might suit your sense of adventure and budget. Or you might just sit down with a map (digital or analog) and plot out a route to ride with your buddies on some random weekend.

The tools we have at our disposal make it easier and safer to take on this type of challenge. Your Garmin 800 can offer you turn-by-turn directions and you can find a ride to up load to it on Garmin Connect or Strava.

Rapha's Lewis, requested to only be photographed in black and white or sepia (kidding)

But the point is to get out there and ride, preferably all day, till you’re legs turn to jello or some other substance with no structure; then once you’re sufficiently broken down ride yourself home.

Rides like these like big tires with puncture resistant belts, compact cranks and nice comfy saddles. They don’t discriminate between carbon and metal; Dura Ace Di2 or 105, and yes, leave those carbon clinchers at home.

They’ll re acquaint you with what’s important — being out there on the bike — and amaze you as to how good a gas station slurpee or hot dog can taste once well within your own personal pain cave.

Looks may be deceiving: Lewis ate this mid-ride           

I entered my own personal pain cave in Little Cottonwood Canyon on the way to the Snowbird and Alta ski areas. The 10mile ascent broke me down, drained my bottles and left me in a world of hurt that just barely saw me survive the climb. Of course, it was nothing a Butterfinger, Gatorade, and pop couldn’t take care of at the top.

In the end, our ride ended as everyone of these should, with all of the remaining participants so blown out they’re too tired to talk, yet still hammering each other through the final miles for one reason — to simply be done with it.

A self-portrait in suffering, by Derrick Lewis

It’ll be a good story, whether you drink a PBR or a Westmalle afterward; I went with the Modelo — because we all know that Mexican food has no rival after a ride like ours.

Monkeys, helicopters and editing hell in Åre, Sweden

July 8 2011
Source: Bike Radar

In this day and age, every monkey has a digital camera and can fill up Facebook album after Facebook album with binary bollocks. So it was about time that an actual monkey started shooting photographs. No doubt this week you've giggled and guffawed at the cheeky macaque monkey that took a wonderful photo of itself. But it begs an important question. If a creature that throws its own 'brown eggs' around for fun and probably doesn't even have a Twitter account can take a photo that good, then what's the point of the art and trade of photography?

Well, the difference is luck. I'm willing to bet a date with a rhino that that monkey couldn't cross-process some Ilford 500 film without mouth-boinking a frog, let alone produce and compile a five-minute slideshow of great photographs. Anybody can get lucky with a shot but it takes an exceptional photographer to be able to compile five minutes' worth of top quality photographs. I'm talking full-page, spread-eagle printed on decent stock quality, not POD shite. Well that's the challenge that's ahead of our five professional photographers at the Scandinavian Photo Challenge here in Åre, Sweden. Last night they finished shooting and today they're all locked away in dark rooms editing (not the Ilford 500 kind) while Åre is bathed in sunshine and summer heat.

For three days the five teams have been doing 12-hour days in the mountains trying to get all the "nuggs" and "bangers", as well as arty lifestyle shots, that will help them put together a five-minute slideshow. There's been a variety of approaches to it, judging from what I've seen. Some have made a plan and stuck to it, while other teams have used the age old wild and lively approach. I've been scooting around the mountain to try to get a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the slideshows. By Wednesday night, all of the teams and shooters looked exhausted (except maybe the shooter and rider who looked positively lively as they propped up Dahlbom bar until they were kicked out at closing time). Three days might not seem much, and to many people shooting photographs sounds like an easy gig, but the 30-yard stare and disheveled appearance of many teams says otherwise. If you spoke to any of these riders right now and dared utter the words, "one more time please", you might end up getting a kick in the shins with a flooded gumboot.

Mattias Fredriksson is a wizard who doesn't leave things to chance. I'm pretty sure he's been planning and plotting his show carefully for a little while. Mattias is at the top of the photography game and has experience of the photo challenges format (he won the first Whistler Crankworx Deep Summer Photo Challenge in 2009) so I'm intrigued to see what he's got. When I saw him yesterday he looked very happy and lively, so that must mean he's ticked all the boxes on his to-do list.

Markus Gerber had his remote controlled helicopter camera flown in for the competition. When the weather was good he had his camera buzzing above some of the trails and I'm intrigued to see what this tool can bring to the table. The helicopter has a Sony NEX camera mounted underneath it and Markus controls all the vital camera functions from the ground using a large remote control master desk which has a screen that shows him what the camera is seeing in real time. Even more impressive is that the helicopter flies itself. Once Markus has found the spot for the helicopter he ‘parks’ it in the air and it keeps itself in that spot using GPS.

I haven’t been able to catch up with Team Norway at all. They're a mysterious bunch who've had a very lowkey approach to the days of shooting. Which I figure must mean they were too busy working up on the mountains. I'm intrigued to see what they have, for sure.

Camilla Stoddart has been trying to buy my vote by giving me beer and inviting me to join the rest of her team in the sauna but I laid down the law and told her I couldn't be bought. However, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially when it comes in a 500ml can. Camilla says she's really nervous but I think that's been good because she'll no doubt present a beautiful show come Friday night. One of the other photographers, Grant Robinson, came up to her and acted all fanboy because he's a huge fan of her work. Talking of Grant Robinson, he's named his team 'Monkey and the Woos' which brings us full circle to the start of this story.

Today at 1pm all five teams have to hand in their completed slideshows. I have a feeling there will be some frantic last-minute edits happening as late as 12.30pm and there will also be some sighs of relief. However, the nerves will start afresh at 8.30pm when the hall will start filling up with the audience and the public showing begins. If you're near Åre, please drop in for a full night of entertainment. For now, check out the latest image gallery by Simon Sjoren.

Fog, mud and 24-hour daylight in Are, Sweden

July 7 2011
Source: Bike Radar

Every year some of the world's most talented mountain bike photographers and riders get together in Åre, Sweden for the Scandinavian Photo Challenge. This year's head judge is the UK's Seb Kemp, who's put together an image gallery showing some of the action so far. Over to Seb...

Here's a slideshow of the first few days at the Scandinavian Photo Challenge presented by Nikon. The teams – consisting of one photographer and four world-class riders – each get three days to shoot, followed by two days of editing a slideshow that will presented during a huge party on Friday, and judged by a jury of media professionals.

To further spice things up, the teams this year have to look outside the bikepark to include all-mountain and cross-country riding in their slideshows, to complement the freeride imagery.

The 2011 roster is made up by five highly talented bike photographers from all over the world, each with a different style and approach to bike photography:

Mattias Fredriksson, Sweden – www.mattiasfredriksson.com Markus Greber, Germany – www.markusgreber.com Kristoffer Kippernes, Norway – www.kippernesfoto.no Grant Robinson, Canada/UK – www.grantrobinson.com Camilla Stoddart, UK/New Zealand – www.camillastoddartphotography.com

Riders include Darcy Turenne, Linus Sjöholm, John Alm Högman, Rob Jauch, Richard Cunynghame, Hannah Barnes and Henrik Kippernes, to name but a few.

As head judge, my duties include riding my bike as and when I want, drinking coffee, eating cake and occasionally seeing how the teams are getting on. I've been following the teams around trying to get some behind-the-scenes stories and just observe how they work, but it's been hard finding them in the fog. Today I caught up with Markus Greber's team and nosed around their setup.

I bumped into various riders/shooters throughout the day and everyone is looking tired but upbeat from non-stop shooting. Usually these things are from sun-up till sundown but as the sun doesn't go down here in Are at this time of the year it means they're running non-stop. It's a marathon for the whole team and they're only halfway there. I did see Grant's team last night too. Grant has got his team making him dinner and feeding him chocolate milk at all hours.

If you happen to be in Are, Sweden this week then make sure you come along to the big showing on Friday night – 8.30pm at the Holiday Club Arena in town. Big show, big lights, big screens, big booze-up afterwards. Also, the riding here is fantastic. See you in the Hyddan for the best cake ever...

Tern: A new folding bike brand takes flight

July 2 2011
Source: Bike Radar

There's a buzz in the air, with an expectation of something a bit different. Maybe it’s the stifling heat and humidity, or maybe it’s the fraught bus ride we've just endured, where the driver took us on a circuitous tour of backstreet Taipei and must have broken every law in the book (except speeding). Either way, there's a feeling of anticipation.

We're ushered into a once-derelict warehouse, now restored internally as a venue and art space. In front of us, there's a giant screen and black stage. We have no idea what's being launched but we know it involves ‘Son of Dahon’ Joshua Hon. We've already spent two days in his company; he looked relaxed, excited and happy.

No-one is giving the game (or the name) away, though one of the European PR crew is sporting a tiny, bird-shaped silver badge. Origami in style, this links into a folding bike brand. He looks sheepish and has been rumbled, though it gets us nowhere – I didn’t bring my Ladybird Book of Birds with me.

The lights darken, and out comes Josh himself, wearing a headset microphone and a big, beaming smile. He talks with confidence about heritage, history and the future, about commuting, sustainable transport and the need to evolve the niche. He almost doesn't say the ‘D’ word (Dahon). He does eventually mention the ‘T’ word, and there's a bold graphic of that 'origami bird’.

Tern, the name of a migratory bird, in fact, the longest flying migratory bird. Tern, now also the latest bike brand out there, only eight months in conception and with a span of 22 models in production, all folders. Then the video kicks in, with a strong bird ident. We see commuters, roads, paths, gorgeous people enjoying an urban lifestyle aboard a Tern, sweeping lines, aesthetics and small wheels. The bikes look amazing, but this is soft focus, aspirational ‘car advert’ fluff. We want bikes, not managed content.

Tern vice-president Joshua Hon with the new Verve

Next up is Matt Davis, the North American director of sales and marketing guy we've got to know over the past few days, equally excited, committed and passionate. He explains some of the technicalities – the hinge manufacturing, the design process – and he too oozes Tern. These guys have had to hold back on the brand name and now their passion spews forth into the world. Apparently it's all in the ride.

So begins the ‘fashion show’, with modern ‘pumping choons’ and deep bass to add to the mix. As the curtains draw back we see bikes ridden by male and female models, stunt riders and the Finnish designer himself Joakim Uimonen, all in 'city slicker' and 'commuter' poses. The look is fantastic: bold colours, simple flowing lines and strong identities.

The first fold we see is a proud one: the designer takes all of three seconds to convert his Verge into its folded form. Obviously he's practised this but it's a slick and efficient operation nonetheless. Impressive. Even more impressive is the fold back to a bike: positive, simple and intuitive – watch out London Nocturne 2012! Then off he rides. No adjustment, cable management or stowing of parts – it's all there.

There's something more than just ‘commuter bikes’ on show here, and Josh Hon sums this up eloquently using the phrase, “Bikes which fold, not folding bikes”. The Tern team appear on stage together, a tight group of passionate, globally sourced people, predominantly from within the Dahon stable, they take the applause but know this is where the hard work begins: turning designs, production samples and an ethos into a global bike company.

Apparently, it's all in the ride. So, enduring the stifling heat and humidity, the gathered journalists mount up and go for a ride, a two-hour mixture of urban, canal towpath and traffic avoidance; a pretty good test. There's a real mixture of Terns to choose from – 20, 24 or 26in wheels, with derailleur gearing or Shimano Alfine/two-speed hub gears, and a choice of V-brakes, discs or coaster brakes.

Tern's bikes have some neat features, like integrated headlights powered by dynamo hubs

Folding bikes tend to have a lazy nature, with a feeling of disconnectedness between the front and rear wheels when you put the power down. To address this, Tern are using the manufacturers behind Syntace to make the hinge mechanisms for them. Bushed and sleeved pivots are used, resulting in tight tolerances. The pivot wear points are replaceable, and the impregnated plastics should stay smooth and wear slowly, keeping long-term costs low and shrugging off bad weather and low maintenance – ideal characteristics for the intended market.

Making products that are reliable and easy to maintain is key to Tern's philosophy. They see convenience for the consumer as the key driver, and don't believe in innovation just for the sake of it. There are still some good ideas on their bikes though, like their integrated headlight – admittedly not a new concept – driven by an HG Hub from Dahon's in-house component brand BioLogic. This delivers power like any dynamo hub, yet the resistance can be turned off when not required, allowing the wheel to spin freely.

Back to the ride. There were lots of short sharp climbs, brake tests, kerb drops and quick direction changes on the route. The three very different models we tried coped well, with a 'snap out of the gate' you wouldn't associate with a folder. There were lots of pleasing little design points like V-brake mounts behind the fork (so that braking forces pull the brake onto the rim, rather than twisting it off), logoed blanking bolts on the rack bosses, and cable routing that didn't flex badly when folding. 

Above all this ‘design intelligence’, the bikes were just sorted: no ghost shifting, frame flexing or front wheel wobble. The bikes weren't compromised by having a pivot in the middle, and didn't feel like folders. The ride was responsive and comfortable.

The hinge, with its patented floating link, is designed to be durable and low-maintenance

We were given an opportunity to speak at length with Josh and Matt, to find out more about the brand, the ethos and the products. They described the venture as a collaboration of minds and said it was quite a departure from the past, using modern manufacturing and design principles, and focussing on utility, not just folding bikes.

It's the desire for utility that's spurring on this brand. There are no carbon fibre versions, suspension parts or belt drives. When collapsed, the hinge edges are smooth, with the locking mechanism smoothly protecting the patented floating link from damage and debris. The unlock mechanisms have failure points built in to prevent damage to clothing. None of the component parts is so obscure as to render its failure the end of the bicycle, and Tern aim to have spares available worldwide within three days.

They're keeping things simple, with just two main hinge designs, commonality of spares across the range and only three base colours. Allied with custom graphics this reduces the manufacturing options, while allowing some degree of uniqueness. Tern bikes have an undeniable heritage taken from Dahon, but the approach seems to be more revolutionary than evolutionary.

Passion for bikes goes deep at Tern, with a rider programme for employees: commit to ride to work and you get a Tern to do it on; the more you commit, the better the bike. New employees are asked if they ride as part of the interview. These may be little touches, but they show commitment.

Tern show similar commitment to the end buyer. You don’t want a bike that's obsolete as soon as you buy it, and Josh says the full range will rotate every three years, so that the company have longer design cycles to create better products. This is refreshing in a seasonally driven marketplace, and reflects the ethos and culture of the company.

Check out our 'first look' article and www.ternbicycles.com for more details.

BikeRadar tackles British Cycling's Bike Maintenance Workshops

June 27 2011
Source: Bike Radar

As someone who spends the majority of their spare time on a road bike, my mechanical skills should be way ahead of the level where they currently languish. Previous efforts - usually from my dad - to offer fixing advice have tended to fall on deaf ears. I’ve never had the patience or the mechanical mind to sit around and be shown how to change a brake or gear cable; it was always interfering with good riding time.

But now, with my bike starting to creak with old age, an over-reliance on good fortune was slowly being exposed. Punctures, spoke breakages, gear troubles – the problems were coming thick and fast and after years of problem-free riding, my ignorance was beginning to catch me out.

I'd bought books, I'd watched videos and they were helping – just not enough. I felt what I really needed was a tutorial by an experienced mechanic, someone I could watch and learn from and ask questions of when I inevitably went wrong. So when I learnt that British Cycling’s Bike Maintenance workshops were rolling into town, I signed myself up.

The eight-hour Intermediate course I went for (they also currently do Introductory and, later this year, Advanced courses) costs £125 for non-British Cycling members, which may seem a big outlay. But with costs of servicing on the rise, I’d argue it’s a shrewd investment. Even if you still have to shell out for new components, the money saved on labour in the DIY approach will far outstrip the course cost over your lifetime.

The course

I arrived at 9am and was greeted by my tutors for the day – Iain McClellan and Graham Moore. They are the guys behind Pro Tool School, which was set up last summer by Iain and his old British Cycling colleague Peter “Spike” Taylor, with an aim to teach bike maintenance from grass roots to the professional ranks. Peter is the former GB Cycling Team head mechanic, while Iain has worked predominantly for mountain biking teams in Britain and Europe.

Iain McClellan (right) has worked with many professional cycling teams, both on the road and in mountain biking

I was hoping for a hands-on course, and after only five minutes of Powerpoint, Iain pointed us in the direction of the gloves and overalls and we set to work. The first task was to brush-up on bike anatomy by tagging labels to the relevant components, which I negotiated easily enough. We then covered stem height adjustment and bearing replacement; again, fairly simple. We whizzed through mending broken chains, removing and installing wheels and what to carry on the move, which was familiar territory.

Replacing an inner tube was next up and is a skill I could always improve. Iain informed us the national average is 25 minutes, which is frankly appalling if true. My admiration at the time he took during his demo – 32 seconds – was matched by his visible disappointment, which he claimed was five seconds short of his Pro Tool School record. I’d have been pleased with my time – a whisker over three minutes – had I not been the last to finish by a considerable distance.

Iain went through brake pad and inner brake cable replacement – again, easy when you know how. Knowing how to adjust front and rear derailleur limiter screws (which stop your chain slipping off your cassette) was very useful, as was gear indexing (tuning the gears so they run smoothly) – new found knowledge I put into action as soon as I got home. Replacing an inner gear cable rounded off the day, which was probably the trickiest task to master.

Graham Moore (right) is an experienced downhill mountain biker who recently started at Pro Tool School

So, all in all, it was an extremely useful course. Anyone interested in the course but feels like they have these skills covered should look at the Advanced courses starting in November, which will cover, amongst others, cassette and chainset replacement, wheel truing and rear derailleur cog replacement. British Cycling advise you work your way through the different levels, as there is little overlap in course content.

Apart from the skills I picked up, the biggest thing I took away was that learning bike mechanic skills needn’t be something to dread. Self-servicing your bike isn’t just about saving yourself a bit of cash; it’s also an empowering experience, to have the skills which make worrying about where your next mechanical problem is coming from a thing of the past. I’ve always found biking offers a freedom which other forms of exercise and transport fall short on, but I’ve realised you’ll always be held back without the skills to fix mechanicals when they inevitably rear their ugly head.

To find out more information about each course, meet the team and book your place online, visit www.goskyride.com/Bike-Maintenance-Workshops.

Talking, texting banned on bikes

June 3 2011
Source: Bike Radar

Last year the California State Senate passed a bill that fines bicyclists who text while riding, and this April the bill was extended to include bicyclists who talk on handheld phones whilst riding as well.

Riders who break the law face a $20 fine for the first offense, and a $50 fine for each additional offense. It must be stressed however, that former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into a similar ban for drivers back in 2008.

So isn’t this really just leveling the playing field?

Similar moves have failed in other states. A bill that would have banned cellular phone use by bicyclists in Virginia died in committee in February. A quick search online found that many cyclists are up in arms that they can’t pedal and text or talk.

Personally, I think this is a wise move.

Texting is extremely dangerous to do while driving, and it is probably worse for a bicycle rider; especially considering this thing called balance comes into play. Imagine a rider on the road, in traffic, barely in control — texting; even in parks and on bike paths it puts other users at risk.

As a long time resident of New York City, it was a common sight for me to see people gabbing on their phones while riding the loop in Central Park. This one handed riding makes it difficult to maintain control and more importantly brake accordingly.

But worse it causes distracted riders. I cannot tell you how many times I had to yell to get someone’s attention while trying to pass — as the rider was engaged in conversation on their phone — and then the rider ended up enraged at me for yelling to gain their attention so that I could safely pass.

That said, I’ve always answered my phone. I mean, it might be an important call.

So I can tell you from my own firsthand account that it is more difficult to control the bike on the winding roadway. However, whenever I felt that it wasn’t a quick, “are you at the park yet” type of call from a buddy or my wife, I tended to stop to the side to finish the call.

Most conscientious riders would do the same thing.

And maybe this is the bigger issue. Not to sound like a bicycle elitist or anything, but it was generally the casual riders who most often decided that an hour long ride was a great time to catch up on the phone for an hour.

Is it the phone’s fault?

There is another issue here, it isn’t so much the use of the mobile phones, but how distracted a rider may be. Many states ban headphones while driving, an irony given that drivers can turn the stereo up so loud as to make no difference. But now there are bans of headphones while riding, and particular restriction has been debated longer than mobile phones have been commonplace.

Oregon had introduced a house bill in January that would prohibit bicycle riders from using “listening devices” and this would include mobile phones and MP3 players, as well as headphones with fines up to $90. Other states and communities have bans on headphones as well.

In the end it really comes down to common sense. From my own experience, it is commonplace to see runners with headphones, while many cyclists wouldn’t be caught dead wearing headphones. This isn’t to say that runners are more dangerous (I run and cycle, sometimes doing both in the same day) or cyclists safer. Rather it’s about being aware of the surroundings and the environment. Runners remain pedestrians whereas bicyclists need to follow the rules of the road.

Headphones are dangerous in general because they block the noise, but the level of distraction is far less. So if you can ride safely and legally with headphones — such as on a lightly traveled bike path — then headphones might not be a problem.

Regardless the best strategy is to pay attention, and that might mean making time to focus on riding, and find a different time to text and talk.

The New and Improved Ryan Guettler

May 25 2011
Source: ESPN X Games
Ryan Guettler had a rough year in 2010, but following shoulder surgery, and eight months away from his bike, he's back on US soil, and motivated to start the next chapter in his BMX career. That next chapter includes a new bike sponsor (Colony), a new job (Unit Clothing team manager) and a new partnership with Daniel Dhers to take over Dave Mirra's former private warehouse, the Animal House. In the above Unit-produced video, Ryan discusses the changes in his life, gets in some clips at a Las Vegas, Nev. skatepark, and even brings up the topic of a new amateur contest series he may or may not be working on in the near future. Earlier this week, Guettler took a hard fall and broke three ribs. So here's to a speedy recovery Ryan, we hope the rest of 2011 treats you much, much better.

Video: Tommy Clowers in for X17 Step Up

May 25 2011
Source: ESPN X Games
X Games 17 is right around the corner, the first wave of invites has been made public and the hype machine and rumor mill is already beginning to churn. Making a surprise return to Step Up after a two-year hiatus is none other than four-time X Games Step Up gold medalist Tommy Clowers. After winning four gold medals and basically becoming the man to beat in Step Up, Clowers was a bit confused when he was mysteriously taken off the invite list in 2009 for X Games 15 and 2010's X Games 16. "I don't know what the perception was -- if I took a break from it or what. But I didn't take a break, I just wasn't really asked to do it and I was kind of confused by it," Clowers tells ESPN.com. "I was trying to get in -- I was calling, emailing and it just wasn't happening." Ready to prove that he still has what it takes to go big and clear the bar, Clowers attempted to hit up the X Games council once again to see if he could get an invite for X Games 17. This time, it went a little differently then he thought it would. "I finally got ahold of the guys and they asked me to submit a video of me riding. It was a little weird: I felt like I was trying to break into the sport after 11 years, but whatever," laughs Clowers. Tune in on July 28 to see how Clowers stacks up against defending Step Up champ Matt Buyten and the rest of the field at X Games 17.

The Life and Riding of Jeremiah Smith

May 4 2011
Source: ESPN X Games
Failure Bikes pro Jeremiah Smith is one of my all-time favorite riders to shoot with. Having grown up in southern Ohio, we've done a lot of riding and shooting together over the years. And I've been lucky enough to witness his meteoric rise from unknown rider to sponsored pro with impressive contest placings (including a sixth place in Park at X 16 and a Gold Medal in street at the 2011 Asian X Games.) Personally, I think Jeremiah is one of the best all-around riders out there at the moment. He's got amazing style and some of the most original tricks on lock. And that's just talking about his park riding skills. He's even more impressive when it comes to street riding and can throw down equally at the trails. Because of his recent win at the Asian X Games, and bump up to the DC pro team, we thought it would be a perfect time to get an inside look at the unique riding of Jeremiah Smith. Launch the gallery for the goods.
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