Monday, 10 February 2014

A Shiny New Bike and a South American Adventure

This time just over a week ago I was in the beautiful snowy Alps, enjoying cold temperatures, snow, and getting out skiing every day. It’s hard to believe that was just a week ago, as there has been so much excitement and rushing around packed into the days since then!

Last day in the Alps and Climbing/Skiing off the Aiguille du Midi (Photo: James Thacker, and some "auto-awesome-ing" from Google!)
It was with a bit of sadness that I left Chamonix early on Saturday morning for the long drive back to Dunkirk, although having had a fantastic action-packed month, I can’t really complain, and besides, there were new adventures to look forward to. I was treated on the ferry to a taste of what the UK has had to endure on a regular basis by the sound of it over the last month though…gale force winds, lashing rain, and therefore some pretty stormy seas, and after a super long drive through France on top of the crossing, I was really grateful that Toby had offered somewhere to stop on the drive North. Waking on Sunday morning to blue skies and sunshine though it’s hard to understand what everyone in the UK has been moaning about?! Didn’t seem that bad to me ;)

As I got closer to Dutton, my excitement levels (and probably the speed I was driving…oops, hoping I wasn’t caught!) got exponentially higher…for not only was I looking forward to seeing my family again, I knew there was a large bike-sized package waiting for me that had arrived from California the day before!!

New Bike gleaming in the sun :)

Fresh out of the box and being built up!
One pimped bike!
Thanks to the awesome folks at Juliana Bicycles (sister branch of Santa Cruz), a brand new, super shiny, pimped-to-the-max, beautiful Bicycle emerged from the box, and I spent the rest of the day building it up, bouncing like a small child in a sweet shop, drooling over how lovely it is, and feeling very very privileged to be the new owner of such a wicked looking bike. I hadn’t been sure it was going to arrive in time for my next little adventure, so to find it waiting for me had me completely giddy! It’s a 150mm travel Carbon full suspension bike, with 27.5 inch wheels, and just about the most bling components it’d be possible to fit on there! It weighs an incredibly light 28Lbs, and is going to be perfect for the guiding, racing and riding I do throughout the year! I am a very lucky girl!

It was some point that evening that I suddenly realised I had left myself 2 days to unpack and sort out all my stuff from France, pack for the next trip, build a bike up, and get it fully race prepped and ready to ride….not my best ever idea, and those 2 days were the busiest and most stressful for a long time. I couldn’t have got ready in time without the help of a lot of people who I am very grateful to!

Monday morning started with a trip down to Shrewsbury with my bike, for a couple of things sorted by Lee and Fay and some of their many contacts! Thanks guys! First stop was The Trailhead bike shop, where Lee’s friend Rich stopped what he was doing to switch my brakes from American to UK style (and therefore hopefully prevent me killing myself on the first gnarly descent!), rebleed the brakes, and sort out all the cable routing on the bike so there are no rub points. Next stop was another of Lee’s friends, also called Lee, who is the designer and owner of Invisiframe. This stuff is amazing! It’s what goes on top-end cars like Porsches and Ferraris to stop any stone chips. So it’s completely invisible but provides a protective coat to the Carbon frame, and makes the bike look even shinier than before! Lee spends hours and hours measuring and designing the kit for each different frame on specialist software that then cuts out the individual pieces to be applied. Fortunately, my new bike is the same frame as a Santa Cruz Bronson, of which Lee has done quite a few kits for already, so he was able to print out the sheet of pieces, and then apply them with the skill of someone who’s done the job many times before! It looks incredible, and I hope it’ll keep the bike looking so for as long as possible, despite the busy year I’ve got in store for it!

Lee from Invisiframe applying the magic protecting coat!

Meanwhile, back at the farm, my mum’s washing machine and tumbledryer had been working overtime, and more parcels had been arriving! I seriously was so high on excitement and adrenaline at this point I was wondering why anyone takes drugs!

Thanks to Ash at TransProvence and his deal with Mavic Cycling, each year, those guiding for a good chunk of the season are provided with some kit to use, which I guess works for the company as guests get to see the kit being used day in day out and how it stands up to the rigours of guiding in the Alps, and is gratefully received by the guides as you tend to go through a lot of kit during a guiding season, the costs of which can soon add up! Anyway, Ash had spoken to Mavic, and asked for some things to be sent a bit earlier, and lo and behold, some extremely shiny new wheels and tyres had turned up, along with some other bits of clothing and kit….it was like Christmas!

Bumblebee wheels and other yellowness thanks to Mavic ;)
Only problem was, some parts needed to be changed on the wheels for them to be compatible with the components on my bike, and I could see it taking me hours to figure out….hours I didn’t really have! So Tuesday morning I headed over to my once local, and still favourite (!) bike shop in Hope, 18 Bikes, partly to pick up some spares and a bike bag, partly to show off my new bike to as many people who I knew would appreciate it as possible, and partly because I was hoping Matt could help me with the wheels! Whenever Gareth wanted things doing asap by the mechanics at Bike shops, he would always take cakes, biscuits, beer, or basically something to use as bribery…and I frequently use the same tactic! If I’d had time I would have made cake, but this time biscuits had to suffice, but I hope they went down well! Matt got everything sorted in about a tenth of the time I would have done, and soon the bike was looking even more amazing with its new yellow wheels!

Thanks Matt!
Some frantic packing and stressing about whether I had all the spares I needed ensued on Tuesday evening, before finally making it to the airport on Wednesday courtesy of my mum’s taxi! Amongst all my flapping about and spreading boxes and kit all over the house over the last couple of days, my mum and dad had calmly put up with me and kept me well fed, watered and looked after as usual….definitely the best parents ever J
Left this view in Manchester....

...For this one on the way into Santiago!
So, I probably haven’t even mentioned what the rush was for! But now I have calmed down a bit, and reached the destination, I’ve got time to do so! I’m in Santiago, Chile, for a race called the AndesPacifico Enduro. A four day stage race that will take myself and about 75 other racers from high in the Andes, down to the coast, taking in some of the best riding this part of south America has to offer. Long days, huge descents, altitude, technical and varied trails, amazing scenery, and a whole bunch of new people to meet and enjoy the experience with….I am excited!

Dusty trails and sunshine...whoop!!
I’m racing under the team name Mavic Trans Provence/Juliana Bicycles, and hope that given the generosity of all these companies, I can be a good ambassador for them! It still feels a bit overwhelming to have had the support I have, and I feel honoured and proud to be representing all of them. I’m not and never will be the World’s fastest racer, but I’m pretty sure I’m one of the people having the most fun on their bike, the most of the time! There are all sorts of plans for adventures with my bike in all sorts of places this year, and so I’ll certainly be coming into contact with a lot of people in a lot of places, and having ridden the bike a couple of times already, I will definitely be selling its virtues to anyone who’ll listen! It’s so much fun…light, playful, it climbs effortlessly, it’s super fun on the descents, the geometry is confidence inspiring and makes me feel like it wants to be ridden fast!…I can’t stop smiling whenever I’m riding it…even more than usual!! I feel very privileged to be riding what I think is one of the best women’s bikes to have been produced. For so long, women’s bikes have been a watered down, cheaper version of the men’s product, with heavier components, terrible colour schemes, and to be honest, the kind of bike I would never be taken seriously as a rider on, by anyone who is into mountain biking!

 I remember going to buy my first full suspension bike in a shop in Sheffield. I’d gone on my own, and despite asking to look at a couple of the bikes I’d researched online, I was steered towards a small women’s bike on special offer. The staff had obviously been told to try and sell it to any woman who came into the shop. Despite my polite refusals that I actually wanted to spend a bit more money and get a higher end, lighter bike, the assistant would not let it go. He obviously thought that as a girl I knew nothing about bikes, so was trying to tell me that the heavy, entry level components on the bike were perfectly adequate for what I’d need (even though he hadn’t bothered to ask what kind of riding I did!), and that it was a fantastic bargain. Never mind that it was about 3 frame sizes too small for me, weighed more than the bike I already had, and the components were nowhere near as good etc etc…oh, and it would have fallen apart with one run down The Beast….it was a women’s bike and therefore all I’d need! Thankfully, I think those days are hopefully disappearing for most girls who are into riding. From spending 10 years of my life with Gareth, who was totally bike obsessed, and the last couple riding pretty much every day in some testing terrain and knowing what works for me and what I want, I’m confident enough to say so! My Juliana Bronson is the first “women’s bike” I’ve ever owned, and I’m proud to be riding it and representing a company that I think has got it totally right. I’ve got lots of female friends who ride, all at the same level as their male counterparts, and therefore they want bikes that are capable of riding the same trails and having the same amount of fun on them. We’ve pretty much all ridden men’s frames, modified with shorter stems, cranks, smaller gearing and women’s saddles to compensate for the physical differences between us, which is fine, but it’s awesome that Juliana are producing a range of bikes that are as good a specification as the men’s frame and component wise, but have the factors above dialled in, and they look great too.

Super happy and privileged to be riding my new Juliana Bronson!
In the past I would never have been seen dead on a womens bike, because they just didn’t cater for the riding I did, and I didn’t want people to think I “rode like a girl”….well I guess my attitude has changed a bit as I’ve gained more experience and confidence on the bike. There are loads of girls who shred their bikes like (I think) I do, and actually, I will never ride like a guy…I don’t have the same physical build or strength, our bodies work differently, but I don’t think riding like a girl is a bad thing! Take a look at Anne Caroline Chausson or Anka Martin….I’d be honoured for my riding to be compared to theirs!! Smooth, stylish, fast, flowing, girl shredders basically! Its brilliant to see more women riding, and more riding at a higher level too, and I’m thrilled to be supported by a company that’s recognising this and producing the bikes that us girls want to ride!! Thanks Juliana Bicycles!

Nacho, Teo and Nicolas from the Santa Cruz Bicycles shop in Santiago
So far I’ve had just about the warmest welcome possible in Chile…The race organisers have arranged for us all to be collected from the airport, no matter what day you arrive, and take you to your accommodation. The B & B staff are super friendly and helpful, and I’ve been properly looked after by Rodrigo, a Chilean racer and all round nice guy who I met at last year’s TransProvence, and his friends. They have shown me round some of their fantastic local trails to give me a taste of Chilean riding, invited me for delicious BBQ meals, pointed me in the right direction of things to see and do, and gone out of their way to make me feel welcome in their country….I hope I can return the favour one day! I've also just got back from some last minute bike race-prep at the Santa Cruz shop in Santiago, where Teo and Nacho were happy to help, and super excited to see my new bike :) I said, the Chile I have seen so far is full of friendly, welcoming people!

With Rodrigo and friends exploring the Pirque Singletrack

Pick up at the bottom of La Parva after another long, technical, dusty descent!
I’m getting really excited about the race now which starts on the 12th February. I was worried about not being used to the bike in time but with each ride I’m feeling better and like I can push it further and faster and know how it’ll handle. I've made a few tweaks, like putting a shorter stem on, and bigger brake rotor on the rear after the few days of riding here has shown me what needed modifying. My main objective for the race is to experience it and enjoy it, and obviously ride as well as I can, but I’m a little bit nervous after I learnt today there are only 5 girls racing, with all of the others being pretty experienced Enduro racers…eek! It will certainly be a challenge, my lungs still don't feel 100% after last months chest infection, the heat here is intense (I’ve been sweltering on the rides so far, and burnt through factor 50 suncream!), and everywhere has dry, very loose and dusty trails (with “antigrip” surfaces as the Chileans keep telling me!) which I obviously haven’t had a lot of practice riding on coming from a European winter! Anyway, as I have no expectations of how I’ll do I’m just going to enjoy it and try not to crash too much!!

I think there should be updates on for anyone who wants to follow it.

All this last week of excitement has been tinged with a little sadness though…there’s one person more than anyone who I really, really wanted to show my bike off to…Gareth….
He’d have been so proud of me, thrilled for me, and massively jealous! He’d have been trying to swop the components off it onto his bike without me noticing (yes he did once do that before I knew as much as I do now about bikes!) and he’d have been as excited about it as me…He would have wanted to go straight out for a spin on it, helped me dial in the suspension settings with some spreadsheet he’d produced, been constantly tinkering and looking after it for me, and understood why I love it! I’ve really missed his presence this last couple of days….it just would have been awesome to have shared it all with him. It’s the kind of bike I think both of us dreamed of having…and now I’m lucky to be riding one, and I wish he could see me… I hope he can…

Taking my new bike to visit Gareth's Tree which we planted 2 years ago in a quiet spot where it's nice to go and think of him and talk to him. It's a Giant Redwood, like the ones found in California where we visited on our roadtrip, and so will always hold memories of the adventures we had, it will stand out from the native trees around it, grow tall and strong for many many years, and is a choice I think Gareth would have approved of...

The 5000 year old "drive-through" giant redwood tree we visited together whilst in the US

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