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Howl   New window
Date: Monday, 13 Jul 2009 22:57

I was driving along a lovely bit of road, somewhere in deepest Oxfordshire. The A40 was boring me to tears, so I’d turned off to take a more interesting route home. The road twisted, turned and undulated beneath us. Alas it did so very slowly, because the traffic ahead was moving at a rather leisurely pace.

Eventually the road opened out into a long, clear straight. I looked in my mirrors to make sure I was clear to overtake and was disappointed to see one of the cars behind me had reacted quicker.

It was something quite small, low-slung. Something expensive. Something distinctly Aston Martin shaped.

It was quiet until it drew alongside me. I had my window open, so I got the full effect of that beautiful V8 howl as it exploded past. The noise made the hairs on my arms stand on end. It painted a grin across my face. Within a few seconds it was gone, that wonderful noise echoing across the countryside.

That alone must make up a fair amount of the enormous asking price.

A bit further up the road, I changed down and overtook too. My little 1.6 VTEC Honda sounds nice enough, but it’s just not in the same league.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "General"
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Date: Friday, 10 Jul 2009 12:32

I don’t think I’d ridden the downhill bike for a couple of months. I’d put it away after a particularly rubbish ride and didn’t get it out again. It collected a lot of dust. The chain went rusty. I nicked it’s stem for my XC bike. It’d been languishing for so long that the forks had forgotten how they worked. Garry picked it up, rode it around the car park and nearly flew off the back. No damping at all. A few bounces and they came back to life though. Good old 888s.

We push upwards. This is ridiculous. I’m knackered already. The bike weighs as much as the moon and the top of the hill seems to be nearly as far away. Why did I even bother? This bike is rubbish.

We get to the top and natter on a bit before setting off. I pull on the full-facer, then the goggles, stand on the pedals and try to drag the thing up to speed. It feels slow and lumbering and squidgy and doesn’t pedal very well. Still think this bike’s rubbish.

Then we begin to pick up speed. Faster, faster, faster…

Arrive at the first whoop much faster than expected, pump through it, clatter over the roots and pin it into the big berm. Rail it around, over the top and down the chute, ba-ba-ba-bam through the braking bumps. BRARRRP! Rail it around the big off-camber, through the nadgery bit like it’s not even there and down onto the next path.

WHOOP WHOOP! This bike’s bloody brilliant!

Roll into “The dragon’s tail”, zig, zag, whoa, off camber, phew, around the tree, off the brakes, WHEEEE! Through the berm, over the hip, then rag it through the s-bend. The back wheel is trying to climb out of the berm! I’ve got a huge grin plastered across my face by the end.

It was all brilliant until the last run of the evening. I got high-sided riding across some damp grass and was unceremoniously dumped on my arse. Other riders stood a good fifty yards away heard the shout, thud and subsequent swearing.

Even that couldn’t ruin it though. Downhill bikes are brilliant!

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike"
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Knee pads   New window
Date: Thursday, 07 May 2009 18:00

We’re at Betws-y-coed, riding the Marin trail on a damp Monday afternoon. It’s the final leg of Alex’s stag weekend, which has involved the fantastic Penmachno trails, gorge walking, a crazy tree-top adventure, a parachute simulator and the odd pint of local ale, amongst other things.

We roll off the fire-road and into the final descent. Simon first, then Brett, me, Anton, Alex and Matt. Si sets off in his usual style: like an ICBM aimed at the far end of the trail. The rest of us roll in behind him, pedalling like maniacs to try and keep up.

We’re moving down the singletrack at ludicrous speed. It’s big, wet, rocky stuff. Properly rocky. North Wales rocky. It gets to the point where I have to back off a bit because my forks aren’t working very well I’m getting really quite scared.

We arrive at a particularly evil off-camber corner with a really rough run-in. Si has a big moment on the way through and stops a bit further up. Brett gets it wrong on the way in and has to really wrestle the bike around. I get all slidey going through the corner but manage to hold it together. Anton goes one better, losing the front wheel on the wet rocks and going down hard.

He bounces straight back up looking more or less unscathed, but for some reason he’s saying “That’s not good. That’s really not good.”

I look him up and down and can’t see what’s wrong. Then I look at his bike, which seems to be in one piece. I’m about to congratulate him on a spectacular crash when he lifts up the leg of his shorts to reveal the gash in his knee.

I can see his kneecap.

That’s really quite unpleasant.

Several stitches later, he’s off the bike for a few weeks while it heals up.

Earlier that day, when we were getting changed into our biking kit, he put his shoes on before realising he hadn’t put on his knee pads. “Ah bugger it” he said, and didn’t bother.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Friends"
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Date: Sunday, 01 Feb 2009 23:56

I broke a gear cable on the Cannondale, so when last tuesday’s Hotsingletrack ride rolled around, Tim very kindly lent me his classic Voodoo.

We met up with the others on Leckhampton Hill in the pouring rain. Luckily that eased off a bit, but after a few weeks of foul weather the trails were coated in a thick layer of thick, wet mud. Here I was, on a completely unfamiliar bike, riding in some of the most challenging conditions I could imagine. In the dark. Game on.

Just like the last time I borrowed it, I finished up the ride wanting to keep the Voodoo. It’s a lovely bike, all light, pingy and playful. It’s an XC race bike at heart, though. You can’t just sit back and cruise. Faced with a climb? Hammer up it. Deep mud? Hammer through it. Stretch of road? Big ring it leaving everyone else for dead.

And the descents? YEAH BABY! Off the brakes, BRAARP! OK, so I spent more time travelling sideways than forwards and there was at least one spectacular leapfrog-the-bars dismount. It was proper fun though, drifting everywhere, mud flying in all directions, whooping as we went. Especially comical was the sight of the two Marks dragging their bikes across a field, wheels completely clogged up with the thick, claggy mud.

I still haven’t fixed the ‘dale, and Tim’s put a shorter stem and wider bars on the Voodoo now. I wonder…

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Friends"
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Date: Wednesday, 21 Jan 2009 21:47

There’s been a lot of talk lately about HTML5, which is the latest incarnation of the language we use to write the web. So far, most of it has been about the new structural elements it brings, which is a great start, but there’s a lot more to it than that. Thanks to HTML5 and a handful of other standards, in the not-too-distant future web browsers will do all of this without the help of plug-ins (e.g. Flash):

  • Vector graphics (SVG, Canvas)
  • 3D Graphics (Canvas3D)
  • Animation (Javascript, SMIL, CSS animation and transitions)
  • Rich media (native handling of audio and video)
  • Javascript at speeds close to native compiled code
  • Proper layout and typography (through advances in CSS)
  • Complex form handling

This all all potentially awesome stuff, but there are a lot of hurdles to overcome. I have questions.

Do plug-in technologies like Flash, Java and Silverlight become irrelevant? Or will they continue to do things that the browser alone can’t (yet) do? What are those things?

What will it take to bring these new capabilities into wider use? The likes of Webkit & Opera are already bringing much of this stuff to millions of users through their mobile phones and games consoles. Will that be enough, or will the dominant desktop browser (Internet Explorer in case you hadn’t guessed) hold them back?

Will efforts to hack support into IE by other means (e.g. Raphaël, which uses IE’s proprietary VML to fake SVG support) be a good enough stop-gap measure to help with the adoption of these technologies? Can we leverage the likes of Flash, Java and Silverlight to help out where IE is lacking? (Will cross-browser headaches ever really go away?)

Then there’s the question of developer tools. The availability of decent authoring software helped the adoption of Flash massively. Will such things appear naturally when enough people are hand-crafting these technologies, or will the tools drive adoption?

Obviously I don’t have any answers. I can’t wait to start playing with it all though.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Geek, Web Code"
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Date: Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 23:04

Me: Was that rain? Or maybe snow?

Brett: Neither. I blew my nose.

Me: AARGHH! NOOOO!

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Design, Friends, TV and Film"
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Twice   New window
Date: Monday, 29 Dec 2008 23:59

I nearly always bring a bike when I come back to Guildford, but I never seem to actually ride the thing. Last time I was all set for a ride with Raoul before realising my helmet was still in Cheltenham. Bugger. This time though, things were going to be different. This time, I got up on Christmas Eve, chucked the bike in the car and headed towards vaguely familiar territory.

I’d not ridden around Peaslake for years — not since the heady days of my GT LTS singlespeed. My memories of the place were all a bit hazy…

Now, I’ve not been out on the bike at all for a week or three. I had a couple of “can’t be arsed” weeks, followed by a bout of the dreaded man-flu. So perhaps charging up the opening climb like a bat out of hell wasn’t my best move. Where’s my lung capacity gone? Why am I trying to cough them up? Why do I feel like I’m going to vomit? Surely it shouldn’t hurt this much…ooo singletrack! Lets see where that goes!

And so it begins. I followed myriad trails up and over and down and around. My mental map of the place started to return, or so I thought. I rode all the way up one mysterious bike-tracked path until I reached a car park on top of the hill. “That one’d be really good in the other direction” thought I. So I turned around and hammered back down it.

With the exception of the odd puddle twenty foot deep bog of death, it was fantastic! I found myself drifting through loamy turns, railing natural berms, pumping the undulations and getting all sketchy over the exposed roots. Awesome. But my mental map had let me down. Somewhere I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up by a reservoir I’d forgotten even existed. I was about to ride off up a rather dull-looking trail when I spotted another bit of singletrack over the road…

Oh man. I remembered this one from years gone by. That ride when we broke Tim springs to mind. Back then, it was a fun and sinewy little bit of singletrack. Good, but nothing really special. Someone’s been tinkering since then though. The fun factor’s been turned up to eleven. Loads of little jumps, whoops, drop-ins, fantastic zig-zag berms, endless roots and whoops of delight. Oh, and it’s really very fast indeed.

One moment stands out vividly. I came charging though a corner, saw some evil-looking roots ahead of me and instinctively pumped the front of the bike to lift it over them. Usually in these situations the back wheel follows without issue. Not this time. The rear shot sideways at light-speed before gripping hard. The back of the bike was now pointing in an entirely different direction to the front and moving just as quickly. I’ve no idea how I held it all together, but I pin-balled wildly into the next section with a massive grin on my face. BRAAARRP!

The descent finished within sight of the village. Whist resting there, I spotted adverts on the village noticeboard for biking companies based in Morzine and near Glentress, and that the village welcomes mountain bikers. Refreshing.

My second loop took an altogether different route around the woods, before quite coincidentally ending up at that car-park on top of the hill. Same again? Well, it’d be rude not to, wouldn’t it?

WHOOOP WHOOOOOOP!

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike"
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Date: Thursday, 27 Nov 2008 23:27

Death in Vegas intrigue me. I bought The Contino Sessions years ago, but only ever liked one or two tracks. Later I saw them do the sunset slot at Glastonbury and thought they were brilliant. They didn’t release anything for ages after that, so, well, I forgot about them. Then a couple of weeks ago, I noticed Satan’s Circus Vol.1 on eMusic and downloaded it — more out of curiosity than anything else. It’s been sat there in my “new and unplayed” playlist ever since.

This evening I finally put it on in the background while I read some more of Thirteen.

I think I bought it for my mum last christmas. She read it, then passed it back for me to have a go at. It’s the first book I’ve read in ages. I was a bit bored a few evenings ago and picked it up. I spent the first couple of chapters thinking how trashy it was. A couple more and I was utterly hooked. It’s an intriguingly wierd story.

About an hour later, the album finished at precisely the same time as the book did. The last note of Come On Over To Our Side, Softly Softly played as I read the last word of the novel.

That was odd.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Books, Music"
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Guak!   New window
Date: Thursday, 16 Oct 2008 17:00

Picture the scene: It’s the evening before the Megavalanche qualifier. We’ve all returned from a day of riding and a few of use are out on the balcony, fettling bikes.

Building bikes

One of the guys staying on the floor above us leans over their balcony:

Excuse me, do you guys have a 7mm screwdriver?

Funnily enough, we don’t, but it’s not long before Brett’s upstairs taking on the role of works mechanic and bleeding brakes for them. It turns out they were legendary downhill world cup racers Tommi and Pau Misser (now co-owners of the mighty Guak empire), who’d come to the mega with their mum. She was busy cooking them dinner and shouting at them every time there was any danger of grease going anywhere near the carpet. Brilliant.

Tommi went on to win his qualifier the following day, with Pau finishing fourth in his. Whether it was because they couldn’t stop, we may never know…

For us though, “Guak” took on a whole new meaning. It became the call of some sort of rare animal, and could be heard ringing out across alpine valleys for the next week and a bit. GUUAAAARRRK! GUUUAAAAARRRRRK!

You probably had to be there.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Design, Friends, Megavalanche, Pho..."
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Date: Wednesday, 15 Oct 2008 17:00

You ride in and it all feels fine for the first couple of corners. You’ve got a nagging doubt though.

They say Brendan Fairclough built this trail so he could practise for Champery (widely regarded as the toughest track on the world cup downhill circuit, especially when it rains). The really steep descents have never been your strong point.

A few corners further down the hill and your internal monologue isn’t fit for publication. This is utterly ridiculous! How in the name of your favoured deity are you supposed to ride down it? That Fairclough fellow is a bounder and a cad!

Before you know it, you’ve let the gradient get the better of you. Mild panic, slippery roots and a tad too much front brake mean you find yourself in the undergrowth, entangled in your bicycle. After a bit of struggling and a lot more swearing — mainly at yourself — you manage to extricate yourself and get back on it.

Fresh start. You’ve just watched Si, Jon and Alex disappear down the trail ahead of you. If they can do it, so can you. You’ve ridden Sixt, so just apply the same techniques here. You’ve got the storm trooper kit on, so even if it goes wrong, it’s not going to hurt too much. You’re not exactly going at light-speed anyway.

It takes you a while, but you get to the bottom eventually. It’s something of a relief. Si asks you if you enjoyed it. You answer honestly:

Not particularly. Can we go and do it again?

It gets eaiser. I think it’s what they call pushing the envelope.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Friends"
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Date: Tuesday, 14 Oct 2008 16:51

Spy Sky

La Clusaz, France, July 2008.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Photo"
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Cables   New window
Date: Monday, 13 Oct 2008 22:53

I’m sat here with the Macbook on my lap. It’s still a brilliant machine more than two years later.

Well, it’s brilliant except for all the cables. Right now I’ve got the power cable attached, the ipod plugged in, another wire going off to my camera, then there’s the backup drive and a pair of earphones. I’m using a portable computer but I’m tied down by all of the peripherals.

Now, imagine if you could dock your ipod to a hub over there on the shelf and have the laptop talk to it wirelessly. It’d be ace, especially if your phone, camera, GPS, external drives and all the other gubbins could sit over there with it.

The thing is, most of these things can connect via the USB ports on the side of the Mac. If only there was a wireless USB standard and products by the likes of Belkin and DLink which could do exactly that… Awesome stuff, except for the distinct lack of Mac support. Damn and blast and buggrit!

So what do I really want to see from tomorrow’s Apple Notebook event? An even faster Macbook would be nice, especially if it had Wireless USB built right in.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Apple, Geek"
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Promo   New window
Date: Friday, 01 Aug 2008 12:46

“There was this massive log-jam in the first corner, couldn’t see what caused it.“
“Yeah, that’d be me.”

It was an adventure just getting to the start.

Alpe d’Huez was a dark grey that morning, with the mountain-tops shrouded completely in cloud. Shortly after I left the apartment the rain began to fall. Then the thunder started clattering around the valley and all the lifts closed. We wouldn’t be starting from the glacier today. Everybody took shelter under the ticket office. Some riders gave up and headed back to bed.

It took an hour or so, but we eventually got the go-ahead. The race would start from the top of the qualifier, before re-joining the main Megavalanche track a little way above Alpe d’Huez. I set off to the top with Garry. We met numerous riders coming back the other way — they’d got up early for the A-final, had frozen halfway up a mountain for a couple of hours and were heading back for an early bath. Infamous mountain-biking hard-nut Martyn Ogden was like a poor lost little lamb. Not us though. The thought of quitting now never even crossed our minds.

Fast-forward. I’m stood at 2800 metres again. It’s freezing. I, along with one of the Megavalanche girls (wearing a bright-red binbag) and a couple of others are bouncing up and down to the pumping euro-techo in an effort to keep warm. It’s almost working. A few minutes later, the A-final begins. We cheer like mad. They’re gone. Time for us B-finalists to get on the grid.

I lined up on the second row alongside Chris Seager-Smith (who went on to finish third in his category — nice work fella!). We shared an energy bar and generally readied ourselves. The sun poked it’s head out from behind the clouds. It might even turn out to be a nice day!

Then comes the briefing. The banging techno kicks in again. Allemont! The tapes go up and we’re off. Everything goes mental. This is fantastic!

I get as far as the first corner. Someone’s pedal finds it’s way into my front wheel, which suddenly stops rotating. Almost as suddenly, I find myself crashing to the ground, with hundreds of riders trying to get past or over me. I try to get up only to find someone is standing on my head. I relax for a moment, struggle harder and get off the ground. Jump on the bike. Start riding again.

That completely knocked the wind out of my sails. I spent the next couple of miles travelling backwards through the field. I think Garry overtook while I was on the floor. Brett caught and passed me in the hardcore rocky stuff. Anton (who could hardly hold onto the bars thanks to some accidents earlier in the week) was with me shortly before we reached Alpe d’Huez.

Then things started to change.

By the time we reached the town we were riding in blazing sunshine. A crowd cheered us all the way through those fast open corners and out the other side of the town. The perfect catalyst. I powered through there as hard as I could, before sitting down for the slog up the fireroad.

I laughed at the superhero helping someone fix their bike at the bottom of the evil zig-zag climb. I had a great time blasting down the open stuff on the other side. I got caught in traffic jam every time the trail went uphill. I chased a lad on a Commencal down the faster stuff. I charged past him up a road climb only for him to pass me once we got back into the woods. The singletrack seemed to go on forever, with streams, rocks, roots and braking bumps only making it more fun. The comedy lurid mud-slides down the steep, claggy switchbacks were brilliant!

Then all of a sudden I was at the footbridge. I know this bit — it’s the bottom!

I charged through Allemont like a maniac and crossed the line smiling. I’ve finished the Megavalanche! I’m still alive! Wicked!

I looked down at my front wheel to find one spoke had snapped and was flailing, a couple of others were very bent and it had a hell of a wobble in it. I hadn’t noticed all the way down, which was probably a good thing.

Results? Who cares?

Oh, alright then. Charlie finished 69th overall (great result), Alex took 103rd, Stu came in 121st and Rich was 190th. In the Promo (B-final) Garry was 94th (winning Masters 3 again!), Brett came in 150th and I strugged into 213th. Anton retired due to the aforementioned hands thing.

Same again next year?

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Friends, Holiday, Megavalanche"
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Qualifier   New window
Date: Wednesday, 23 Jul 2008 13:18

This isn’t right. I’m getting nervous. I wasn’t expecting the nerves.

It might have something to do with where I am. 2800 metres above sea level, on my bike, lined up amongst 200 other riders. We’re ready to start our qualification race for the 2008 Megavalanche Alpe d’Huez.

The top 51 finishers go through to the main Megavalanche. The next 40 go into the Promo (or B final). The rest don’t count.

It’s all good though. I’ve ridden the whole course. I know the fast lines. I can do this. What’s more, I’m lined up next to Alex Marshall. He’s done this before and he’s quick, too. Just tag on and follow him down. It’s all good.

There’s the waiting. There’s the briefing. There’s the helicopters. There’s the mad techno playing over the huge speaker system. Thirty seconds to go. Alex and I wish each other luck and put on our goggles. Bike’s ready. I’m ready. Everyone tenses.

The tapes go up. Two hundred riders charge at once. This is complete madness! Sublime, brilliant madness.

Start of the qually

I pedal hard, change up a couple of times and slot in behind Alex. There’s riders everywhere. We go around the outside on the first corner and make up a lot of places. Somehow I stay with him on the inside through the next few hairpins before being barged off my line on the way into the final one. I’m forced around the outside and lose loads of time. Still, I pedal like a nutter down to the first of the snow and get through there in one piece. Alex is long gone. Plan B: Go it alone.

Suddenly I’m reminded of the altitude. My body is screaming that it needs more oxygen. Breathe deeply. This is really bloody hard and it’s only the beginning.

I pedal as hard as I can across the rocks. Follow Charlie’s line up and around the worst of the snow, missing out the utter carnage happening over there, then pedal hard again, across the rocks and onto the fireroad.

I want to push harder but I can’t. My body won’t let me. I pass one, maybe two people.

I reach the first of the tricky trialsy sections at hyperspeed. I don’t quite understand what’s going on here. Clearly someone up ahead can’t ride it, but just about everyone behind them is forming an orderly queue. Don’t they realise it’s a race? I ride past the lot of them, jump off the bike, run through the chaos, jump back on and head into the next section like a man posessed.

It’s a big rock field. Everybody’s going straight through the middle. I know better. I stick to the extreme right, hug the edge and come out onto the fireroad at roughly a million miles per second. I pass two people going up into the next section and dive into the rocky singletrack corner faster than ever before. Nailed it.

From here down, the trail goes mental. It was probably a nice singletrack down the side of a mountain once. Today, it’s a technical, rutted jagged rockfest. Exactly what this bike was built for. It’s all going fantastically until that nasty double-drop. I take the left line, something goes wrong and I’m flying over the bars. GARGH!

Stand up. Pick the bike up. Everything’s in one piece. This is still a race. People are squeezing past. Get on. Breathe. Ride. Get your head back in shape.

More rocky singletrack madness. I’m hitting it pretty fast and the flow’s coming back. The field’s spreading out a bit now. I pass a couple of people, a couple of others pass me. More of the sublime madness.

Eventually we hit the fireroad climb of death. Nearly everybody’s off and walking. I’m stood on the pedals grinding a 45lb downhill bike up there. This hurts. A fellow rider mumbles something about some people being too fit as I pass. There’s pretty girls cheering us on here, so I pedal harder. This really hurts.

At the top I hit the traverse. This should be a nice opportunity to rest — it’s a simple, fun downhill singletrack. Except we’re in a race, I can see riders ahead and I’m going to catch them. Oh, and I can see the base of the valley, a good few hundred metres below me — and nothing in between. It’s very fast and proper scary, until the trail suddenly zig-zags right. Scrub off speed, turn in early and I’m on someone’s tail. No way past here, so I follow them into a steep and gooey bit. A dopey english rider shouts “Allez!” from behind us. Nothing I can do but laugh as he slides off the bike and into the hedge.

Now it’s the switchbacks. I’m being held up now (unusual for me). I wait for a bigger corner, see the rider up ahead go wide and throw the bike down the inside. It’s messy, but it worked.

I’m passing loads of riders now. They’re all pulled over with mechanicals, punctures or they just plain can’t hold on anymore. These switchbacks go on forever and ever and ever and ever and WHOA! I get one wrong and nearly ride off the side of the mountain. There’s a whiff of hot brake pads around here.

Eventually the trail straightens out a bit. I catch another rider in the singletrack. I know there’s a fast fire-road section coming up though, so I’ll try and pass there.

No chance. They block every attempt.

I’m getting really tired now, but I know it’s not far to the end. Keep on pushing. I’m following the unpassable rider down a fast old cart-track. What was once a smooth stone road has become a veritable rock garden: BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BA-BAMM! We both get through unscathed, then cross the bridge and onto the final section. It’s fast, except for the mad straw-bale chicane (which nearly claims me), a few scary steep drop-ins (one of which claims the unpassable rider) and a fast corner to the finish at Le Bessey.

I cross the line to find there’s absolutely loads of riders here already. I feel instantly dejected. I thought I’d done OK, but judging by the amount of people down here there’s no way I’ve qualified. I find Alex, who had a good run down, beating some big names.

I chat to an aussie in the bus queue and we agree that it’d be nice to qualify at all. We get on the bus up to Oz where lunch is waiting for us. I find the results, scan down them and go from dejection to happiness and then frustration. I finished 55th — good enough for the Promo, but just four places shy of the main event.

Bacca, Charlie Alex, and Rich made the main Megavalanche. Garry, Anton, Brett and Jez were joining me in the Promo. Now, to prepare ourselves and our bikes for the main event.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Friends, Holiday, Megavalanche"
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Date: Monday, 23 Jun 2008 00:58

Well that was expensive. I burned through a set of disc pads, put a hole in the side of my shoe and to top it all off, I somehow punctured my camelbak’s bladder. That’s a comfortable feeling, let me tell you. A slow but steady stream of ice-cold water running down the centre of your back until… well, you can guess where it goes from there. Then there was the unceasing headwind which somehow faced me no matter which direction I rode.

Despite all that, I had a bucketload of fun. I rode trails I’d not ridden in ages. I discovered an enchanted cottage hidden in the woods. I had a bleating match with a freshly shorn sheep. I blasted down the sides of fields, along fire-roads and though twisting technical singletrack. I sprinted up climbs with Rage Against The Machine shouting through my earphones.

I got home feeling better than I did when I left, and that’s what it’s all about.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Music, Photo"
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Tarw   New window
Date: Monday, 21 Apr 2008 21:25

Coed y Brenin rocks, quite literally. I spent the weekend up there with a bunch of friends, old and new. The trails are rockier than just about anywhere else I’ve ridden in the UK, save perhaps Fort William. It’s the sort of terrain the current breed of “all mountain” bikes were built for.

Me on Pins and Needles

We started with Temtiwr, which is the shortest of the trails. A mere 9km or so and sadly too much of that is fire-road (this is a running theme). The Dream Time section is fantastic though — so much so that we went back to ride it twice.

After a hearty lunch we took on MBR. Again, too many fire-roads, but the singletrack was a great pay-off. Brutus is one of those incredibly technical climbs that you’re happy to get to the top of without putting a foot down, while Cain, Abel and the legendary Pink Heifer are all fantastic descents.

On sunday, Brett and myself had a go at the Tarw trail. The fire-road theme is all to evident here too; The bit after Heart of Darkness was particularly disappointing because it’s all downhill! Luckily, the singletrack on offer is nothing short of brilliant. Hitting Snap, Crackle and Pop at high speed is like tackling the dragon downhill track at Gethin; rocks everywhere and no easy way through it. Keeping momentum through there is a challenge in the best sense, while the slightly smoother Rocky Horror Show is absolutely flat-out fun.

There’s a few more photos on flickr. Thanks to Andy for organising it, and to Brett, Neil, Ash and Darren for making it such a good weekend. Fire-road be damned — I want to go back for another go at all that singletrack!

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Coed y Brenin, Friends, Holiday, P..."
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Date: Tuesday, 18 Mar 2008 23:56

Dave, off-piste

Nine of us went to Val d’Isere and spent a week having fun in blizzards, blazing sunshine, powder and pubs. Sadly we had to come back. You’ll find more photos on Flickr.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Friends, Holiday, Snowboard"
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Date: Sunday, 02 Mar 2008 22:41

Let’s rewind a few weeks. My Cannondale was unridable (everything was falling off of it), my Cove was just plain unsafe (and still is) and there was no way in hell I was going to ride cross-country on the 222. Thankfully Tim came to my aid and lent me his old Voodoo hardtail for a couple of rides.

Now, going by my current set of bikes, I really ought to hate it. They’ve all got long-travel forks, short stems and slack geometry. Not the Voodoo though. It’s an old-school XC missile: Steep angles, short travel forks and a long stem. It’s completely wrong for me.

And yet it’s so very, very right. Remember how I called it a missile? I wasn’t exaggerating. Point at a climb and you can’t help but attack it. It’s a joy on the singletrack too, so light, agile, flickable and always urging you to go faster. It’s got that indefinable feeling of rightness. Really, it’s only when the trail becomes completely torn up and rough that it can’t cope — every bike has it’s limitations. I didn’t want to give it back, that’s for sure.

Fast-forward back to today. The Cannondale is back on it’s wheels. I set off up the road and wound the forks down to their shortest travel setting for the long opening climb. Normally I’d wind them right back up at the first sniff of a descent but they stayed short-travel today. Clearly that Voodoo has had an effect.

I tore through the tight singletrack, loving the steeper head-angle and pumping it over the roots instead of letting the forks do all the work. I hauled it up those long fire-road drags, glad of the lower front-end. I pinned it through those fast corners, loving the stability that comes with a lower bottom-bracket (even if it meant I kept clouting my pedals on tree-stumps).

In fact it was a good 20-odd miles before I wound them back up again. Even then it was only because I ran into Charlie and G-Dog — they dragged me up for a quick play on the downhill tracks.

Finishing up with old tramway was fantastic as always. I don’t think i’ll never tire of going full-tilt down those rooty steps at the end of a ride. Coming home to a nice cup of tea and basking in that post-ride glow is always nice, too.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike, Friends"
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Date: Wednesday, 23 Jan 2008 17:28

So, the Internet Explorer team has proposed that as of IE8, if you want the latest and greatest features you’ll have to opt-in. (Note: Microsoft have changed their mind.) You can do this by way of an http-header, or using a meta-tag:

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=8" />

I can see understand why they’ve chosen this direction. IE6 was absolutely chock-full of bugs, but was left to stagnate for so long that web-developers began to rely on it’s quirks in order to make pages render correctly. Eventually IE7 came along and fixed many of those bugs. Consequently, many pages that were reliant on IE6 bugs broke in IE7. Microsoft don’t want to see that happen again.

The rest of the world doesn’t seem so keen on the idea. The web has gone wild, shouting about the myriad technical problems. Representatives from Mozilla (Firefox/Gecko), Apple (Safari/Webkit) and Opera have all said they don’t like the idea (and won’t be implementing it in their browsers). The big issue that stands out for me isn’t technical at all though. It’s education.

Getting the word out

Somehow, Microsoft need to get the word out to existing web designers and developers. They need to tell newcomers to the industry. They need to let educators know. I’m struggling to see how they’re going to do that. Why?

A quick look around the SitePoint forums reveals that people are still tripping up on using the doctype element to switch between quirks and standards modes (the last attempt at providing backwards compatibility to legacy web pages). They were first introduced with Internet Explorer 5 for Mac the best part of a decade ago. Over the years, every major browser has taken up the technology, countless people have blogged about it, written tutorials on it, put it into knowledge bases, included it in web design books, podcasted it, and people are still struggling to get their heads around it.

I reckon Andy Budd hit the nail on the head:

No matter what great leaps forward the Internet Explorer team make from now on, the majority of developers won’t use them and the majority of users won’t see them. By doing this the Internet Explorer team may have created their own backwater, shot themselves in the foot and left themselves for dead.

Things move quickly on the web

Of course, while I was writing that, the story developed a bit further.

It turns out that using the new HTML5 doctype will trigger the new super-standards-mode in Internet Explorer 8. What’s more, Ian Hickson thinks he knows a way to make an HTML5 compatibility layer for IE7 (see the last paragraph).

My interpretation? Microsoft are trying to make HTML4 and XHTML1 legacy formats (unless you specify otherwise with the X-UA-Compatible header) and push HTML5 as the standard for content going forward. I’ll be very interested to see how all of this plays out.

Lemurs

Katemonkey has gone and rendered everything I’ve written here irrelevant: The “X-UA-Compatible” Controversy — As portrayed by toy lemurs.

Some time later…

Microsoft have decided to do the right thing: IE8 now will use standards-mode by default.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Browser, Bug, Internet Explorer, Lemurs,..."
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Date: Sunday, 06 Jan 2008 20:49

A little over a month ago, I bought some replacement shock bushings for the Cannondale. I took the bike apart only to discover they were the wrong size. GAH! The following day, a replacement for the knackered headset arrived. I took half the old one out, then hit my thumb with a hammer (the moral here being to use the right bloody tool for the job), threw a bit of a strop and gave up for the evening.

It’d been hanging on the work-stand, looking sorry for itself for weeks. Yesterday I finally caved in and finished the job. The bushings are still wonky and I still haven’t adjusted the front mech to allow me to use the granny ring, but it’s bike shaped again. So today I went out for a quick spin up Leckhampton.

All that time off the bike, combined with the excesses of christmas have taken their toll on my fitness. I was painfully slow and my legs were screaming WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOURE DOING!? all the way to the top.

It was worth the pain though, because the descent back home was ace. I wasn’t riding especially well, or pushing the outer limits. Nope, it was just plain mud-splattered, two wheeled fun. I rolled off the top, boosting down the rocky chute, before jumping into the steep trails down to the lime kilns, getting mighty sideways down a new trail near the s-bends, bursting out into the open and flying off the natural rise in the grass before rolling down to the car-park and onwards to the old tramway.

I nearly lost it on the roots at the top (as per usual), before pinning it down the steps, racing through the switch-back, holding it high out of the rut, dropping back in and nearly high-siding into the hedge. It’s a good job I met the smiley lady jogging up the trail where it widens out or it could have been messy. Now, fly off the step and pinball down the rest of the trail.

Fun. My legs hurt.

Author: "Olly" Tags: "Bike"
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