Thursday, October 8, 2009

Testing testing 1, 2 ... Tree!

As many of you know I've been testing a Spitfire prototype for a few months now to see how it rides. Last weekend I headed down to the Scottish borders with my mate Alan to ride Innerleithen. This trip was mainly to test the Spitfire with a different shock setup, but also to have some fun on the national level DH courses on my big bike, and to get a bit more fitness back before I go in for more major surgery next week (I can hardly wait!...<- sarcasm!). I hardly got any sleep the night before the ride due to the gale that was howling at my window and the rain hammering the glass, and unfortunately the weather didn't look much better when I got up. Alan arrived and we loaded his car up with my spitfire and legend; his rune was already on the roof.
Typical scenery in the Scottish Borders

The drive down was pretty nice, as the rain has subsided and the sun was beaming. We did our mandatory on route stop at the shops and picked up some energy drinks for after the ride and muesli bars and bananas for good healthy sustenance. We drove past Glentress where there looked to be hundreds of riders as per usual, and 10 mins later arrived at an empty Innerleithen car park. I guess the weather had put people off due to the exposed nature of the trails??

The rain had stopped but there was still a strong cold wind (gusting up to 90mph according to the weather forecast I saw that evening) that meant we rushed to get bikes ready and head off to start the 20ish km XC loop. The first hour or so was spent on the long slog of a climb. There were a few semi tech sections with some smooth rock obstacles to get up and over, which in the wet was a bit tricky (did I mention the rain had started again?) as my tires liked to spin out from time to time, but I made it up most of it without dabbing despite being a poor technical climber. I have to admit that I needed to stop more than once to get my breath back and stretch out my legs a bit. Not sure if it was the cold, but my legs seemed tired from the start, maybe it was just one of those days?

I'd set the spitfire up in steeper taller setting for the climb to help with pedaling over anything technical. It worked really well. I was playing around a bit with pro pedal to see how it felt, and definitely decided that the spitfire really doesn't need it, it made little to no noticeable difference with pedal bob, as there isn't really any bob anyway, but when I came across a tech rough section the pro pedal made the bike feel a bit harsh and I felt I had less traction than with pro pedal off.

Alan on his rune battling gravity and the wind!

Things got pretty interesting / hilarious when we exited the trees as we approached the summit of the trail. This is where the wind really showed us who was boss (rain had stopped again thankfully). I have taken a couple of photos of the start of this section before the wind really kicked in. The gale was hitting us side on (luckily blowng more uphill than down), but made those switchbacks pretty crazy, as you had to try and balance on the bike on the single track against the power of the gusty wind which blew me clean off my bike twice and caused me to ride off into the heather a whole bunch of times. 90mph side winds on a bike are a blast... I was laughing my head off.

With the wind more behind him, Alan was off!

As we got to the top (we both took an unintentional shortcut straight over the deep heather thanks to the wind) we tried to shelter in a little wind hollow that had been made for such days. It didn't offer much protection, but helped a bit. We chowed down as quickly as we could, knowing that the whole trail was pretty much downhill singletrack from here on it. Woohoo!

Our shelter from the weather. And no, it was not sunny for long!

I took a couple of pics, as the weather was pretty epic (doesn't show too well in my little camera phone snaps I'm afraid), and then is started to hail! Ah yes, just what you want when in shorts and T-shirt in 90mph gusts... It was somewhat stingy!

Spitfire in its natural habitat.

The descent was great fun, fast flowy singletrack that the spitfire just carved up. The top section was a bit sketchy at times, as there were quite a few small jumps in the trail... but even these small jumps were dangerous with such a strong side wind, I almost landed off the side of the trail on one of them. so from that point on we were scrubbing our way down.

I know none of the photos really show it, but trust me it was crazy windy!

The trail varied a fair bit on the way down. It was nearly all flowy, but the terrain changed between gravel, rocks (including lots of nasty sharp ones that were hidden behind small drops) and really nice loamy sections through the trees. The one word that always springs to mind when I think of high speed riding on the spitfire is CARVE... you get that feeling like you do on ski's or a board when you perfectly hold the edge and accelerate out of corners. I was grinning the whole way down (in the rain... yeah it was back again).

Before we completed the loop we took a little excursion to hike a bike up the side of a fast DH run called 'make or Brake'. This was an open jump style run, a but like a-line, except smaller and on gravel. It was fun to ride down, but the wind really mean that getting air was not an option, so we had to take it pretty easy unfortunately. We then linked back up with the end of the XC loop and rode a really nice pumpy traverse section back to the car, where we sheltered from the horizontal downpour that was now upon us.

A couple of sannies and some energy drinks later and it was time to hit the DH course. At this point I grabbed the Legend... well wouldn't you? Alan once again grabbed his trusty rune (it really is a true do it all bike) and we hiked a bike for about 40 mins or so to the top of a run called Crest run. neither of us had ridden it before, but were both looking forward to that blind run where you have no idea what is coming.

It was a great trail, especially the top section which was pretty steep and technical, reminded me a bit of a cross between '19th Hole' in Squamish, and 'Ride Don't Slide' in Whistler. The later parts was more of a high speed loamy blast with lots of slippery tree roots. I was shattered at the start of the run, and by the bottom I was ready to call it a day. My body isn't yet back to real fitness, but these days certainly help.

We loaded up and headed home, where I had a nice beef stew for dinner. Perfect! It was a great day made even more memorable by the adverse weather conditions. Thanks Alan, and the trail crew who work on the trails down there! (Trail map for Innerleithen)

Quick, follow that sun!

You can follow some forum discussion about the spitfire here if you're interested. Feel free to chip in your thoughts. There is no doubt that my prototype is good, but in my opinion it isn't yet great. However the production frames will have a whole bunch of small improvements that will take it to that next level.

(Big shout out to Alan for picking me up on a bunch of occasions... I really should learn to drive sometime!)

This pic isn't actually from that day, just a nice one of the forth road bridge I took while out the week before.