Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bang goes the new frame!

So much for the new love of my life, I spotted a crack as I washed the bike down after this mornings ride, one of the linkages at the suspension is very obviously cracked at a stress point, very disappointing.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An MTB first in Sabah

Riding a mountain bike around Mount Kinabalu, unsupported might sound easy, or at least like a bit of a camping trip. Nothing to write home about in fact. Well as it turned out it wasn’t easy but we did have a great time.

Our attempt was, to our knowledge, the first time this had been tried, there have been at least two teams that have cycled around the mountain before but both have been supported, one of these we did in 2006.

The difference between supported and unsupported really comes down to carrying a load of weight, and that’s the crux in this particular situation because the route around Kinabalu is extremely hilly. Some 4,300 + metres of climbing in fact and once you add 7 – 9kg to your bike weight it gets hard, hard on your legs and hard on your backside.

Some of the route was unknown territory but we were fairly confident that we could find the trail and find it we did. I guess its always nice to have some things to work out on the trip itself. We could have recce’d the whole route and have it fully planned but that would have taken a lot of the fun out of it.

Progress on the new road from Ranau to Kota Marudu was surprising, this ride will be completely different in a couple of years so it was especially good to have done it now. A lot of beautiful villages and rivers along the way will soon disappear as the palm oil plantations come in.

So what is next?

There are several bike expeditions still waiting to be done and some will be happening in the next year or so, this beautiful state of ours still holds many secrets and I think it will be quite some time before the exploring is finished.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dirt makes you happy

No surprise there then.

A bit of a hiatus there demonstrating the unevenness of the work / ride balance during the busy summer months.
I have been out on the bike, not much admittedly but some, I even did a couple of rides on the road bike.
This is one of the problems with XC riding; when you take a break from it, for whatever reason, it is tough to regain the fitness and that takes some willpower to get through.
The heat here rules out setting out after 8 am or before 3.30 pm so you really have to be organised to make it happen.
Guess I'd better pull the finger out, bite the bullet, take the plunge or whateverrrrrrrr.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The busy summer season is off to a flying start as we were joined by an intrepid family from Denmark on a challenging three day mountain biking trip.

One of our first trips of the summer was an intreprid Danish family who joined us for a great three days of mountain biking. Taking in tea plantations, off road jungle tracks and some gruelling days they had a great three days with us and really got the season off to a great start. We only realised as the team arrived that the person who was emailing us in the build up to the trip was the middle son of the family who is a mad keen mountain biker. So any thoughts that a family with mixed age ranges might struggle with some of the challenges in-store were quickly gone - they were all keen and able and the most pleasing thing was their feedback that we manage to provide a challenge for the two older lads who were seriously hard core mountain bikers, whilst making it accessible and managable for their little brother.

They were greated with a huge tropical storm within about 5 minutes of getting on their bikes but came back from their first exploration with big grins and very very wet clothes.

For the next two days they negotiated a great combination of single track down hill, unpaved roads and tracks and a few hill climbs for good measure made for something for everyone.

We look forward to seeing you and your family out here soon!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

John Wayne Walk

Get yourself a slimline seat, buy a seatpost that has a high-profile upper bracket that pushes the seat upwards in the middle, go for a 10 km uphill ride and book yourself straight in for an embarrassing appointment at the doctors.
Nobody told me about this, nobody even suggested that this was a possibility. I mean you buy a good seat, then buy a good seatpost and hey presto you have the mother of all sores in the most unpleasant place on your body.
All I was trying to do was take the opportunity to enjoy my new full-susser on a bit of a demanding route.
Getting all your lightweight and top quality gear to match is even more complicated than I had imagined, now I have to choose to replace either my seatpost or my seat, both were expensive. Things were much more simple when I had an off the shelf bike and everything worked together. My arse only suffered when I did more than six or seven hours in the saddle, pretty good I thought.
And what is all that effing noise about at the football world cup? I love footie, I know as well as the next man that England stand no chance of winning but I love the idea of us winning and as long as we are still in the competition, we still stand a chance. Maybe a cat in hell might have a similar amount of confidence but you dont give up do you? Hey at least we made it to the finals, Scotland are supporting everyone that England plays and Ireland are sending letter bombs to Thierry Henry by the dozen.
I just wish they would stop with the horn blowing, no it doesnt do anything for the 'atmosphere' at all, gives everyone a headache and makes the commentators feel the need to keep talking just to distract viewers from the annoyance.
As for MTB riding; I am headed off to Sarawak in a couple of weeks where I plan to do as much riding as I can, Malcolm Jitam will be getting a call and I plan to make a video of my efforts for your amusement.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Viva Duallies!

As I gingerly took the new full suspension frame out to test (it had all the components from my old bike in case you think I might try to test a naked frame Thats it in the picture above, a Giant Talon frame), I didnt really know what to expect. The rear shock (Fox) had two controls on it and despite instructions gleaned from the internet it was still pretty confusing what they actually did. I would go so far as to say that the instructions made it more confusing, if they just said 'move the blue one to lock off or increase stiffness during climbing' it would be easy but of course they dont do that do they? No. Trial and error got the job done.
I loved it, even the extra kilo or two I was taking up the hills didnt seem to drag me back, at least I didnt notice it, the fact that every rock I rode over didnt kick me up the arse was like some kind of spiritual revelation! I could sit down on a bumpy climb. My ass is very grateful indeed.
As for the downhill... Anyone who has made this transition knows what I am talking about, its quite simply incredible, the back wheel tracks the front wheel instead of bucking around and the urge to keep a squeeze on the brakes vanishes. Its not exactly super-smooth but it is about 95% better than a hardtail. The thing that surprised me most was the sensitivity I got from the ground, I could still feel the terrain without being hucked around.
Its still new to me and I have yet to go out for a big ride with the guys but first impression are 'favourable'.
The fact that it is yellow still gives me some trouble but I think I will be able to learn to live with it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Eruptive disruptive

How come nobody had thought of it? Of all the things that can come between a man and his debut into the world of dual suspension, a volcano on an island near the arctic circle. No terrorists, no customs, no airport official who doesnt like the shape of the package, none of that, a flipping volcano.
So my brand-new-second-hand bright yellow litespeed frame is sat in Glasgow, ice cold in my in-laws garage waiting to come to its new life as a tropical XC machine. Waiting for the dust to settle, quite literally.
I know the subject has been revisited ad nauseam but you have to marvel at how confused everybody got over the volcanic ash, how the skies were blue over the UK but it was far too dangerous to fly. How upsetting it is when there is no-one to blame, to get angry at. How, it turns out, there is no master plan to cope with this kind of thing and what seems to be emerging is an image of all the powers that be (in the aviation world) running around in a panic, ignoring each other and closing airspace.
Its a sign of the times that nobody was willing to go out there and see what the danger really was, like it was a monster in the cellar. It took the airlines themselves to take the initiative.
The crux will always be that had they let planes fly and just one of the thousands that were grounded had crashed the whole world would have blamed the aviation authorities for not closing the skies.
In this particular case I do think that it was a case of there being a risk at all rather than there being an assessment of the level of risk.
So now, customs, airport officials and terrorist threats notwithstanding I shall be meeting my new frame on wednesday. Am I nervous? well of course I am, for one its yellow and I have to get over that, for two its not new and has a few minor dents, what if its so horrifically disfigured as to look old and worn out? For three I have only ridden two full-sussers in my time, one was a top-of-the-range Jamis and the other a brand new Santa Cruz Blur carbon. The litespeed is not in thier league and I dont want to find myself disappointed.
I am at that wierd stage you get to when you are so close to something happening that time seems to stand still, I want to go and pace around the arrivals hall at the airport.
Of course the wife and kids have been away for nearly five weeks so it'll be nice to see them too.......

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

trips a go-go

A week of mayhem here in Sabah which began with the Fat Dads team of Dave Hutchinson and I dragging our sorry behinds accross the finish line of the three-day Sabah Adventure Race in 8th place. It was a painful experience I can tell you, and one which parts of my anatomy are still to forgive me for.

The day after we had a group of Brummies to take out and I gotta say how impressive these older chaps can be. Maybe its because I am one of them there older chaps myself but they do seem to posses a fair degree of resilience when it comes to arduous days in the saddle. I took Rich (the younger dirt monster of the group) on a downhill singletrack where he managed to pile up by himself and break a pedal. His girlfriend rolled her eyes when we returned back to the main group to show them his extensive gravel rash....

Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday were recce days for Sly and me, driving into the backside of nowhere, unloading the bikes and bushwhacking into the interior. Sometimes we drew a blank and found ourselves somewhere unrideable but a few of the places we discovered were pure diamonds of routes. Untill you have ridden out of a steamy jungle to find yourself at a deserted beach of soft sand and a shimmering South China Sea, you have had an incomplete life.

Our database of rides is growing nicely which means we can accommodate more preferences and give the widest selection to our clients.

On Saturday we had a crazy stag do, a multinational group of hardcore riders who ripped it up all day, see this blog for an idea of what they thought of it. These boys really had a lot of fun.

So sunday should have been a quiet rest day no? No, I stupidly agreed to take a 'short' ride out with Dave and we kinda got lost, well maybe not lost but certainly in a place that no mountain bikes should ever go. It was a 5 1/2 hour epic which included falling down a hill into a river and canyoning down waterfalls with mountain bikes.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Action Asia magazine article Jan - Feb 2010

Sabah Tea Plantation, Sabah

I fly into Kota Kinabalu and find myself in a dusk downpour, for an hour or so of bombing disused access roads on the Sabah Tea Plantation before the light fades completely. With me are local survival guru and adventure junkie Simon Amos, and his super-fit riding accomplice Ronnie.

To the tune of tropical thunder and strobe-lit by lightning, we revel in the welcome cool of the highland air – we are 1,000m above sea level – and its enervating rain. Dodging the deeper potholes, we weave a line between old vehicle tracks that flow like rivers. Then, suddenly, we’re lost. Without a phone to use to call for advice, and with night maybe fifteen minutes away, we face a fork in the road. To the left, in the direction of the plantation, is head-high growth; to the right is clear road. Simon’s spidey sense kicks in. I second his instinct, Ronnie backs us up, and we slog off into the overgrown unknown. “I see tea!” cries Simon a short while later, “tea!” We’re home free.

Before long, we’re chilling over dinner with the fourth of our party, Sly, at the plantation’s casual, open-walled cafe, discussing the Plantation Cup race, stalled for the last couple of years due to a cocktail of funding issues and mismanagement. We are to overnight in the plantation’s longhouse, built in the style favoured by the area’s Rungus tribe. Lightning flashes on the horizon. We collect on the verandah and chatter into the night about bikes, mud, jungle and how the three fit together so well.

Kiulu Valley, Sabah

Mist zigzags between the serried ridges before us, as the first workers arrive on the plantation. Bleary-eyed as we are, Simon’s insistence on a pre-cock’s crow wake-up was well worth it. After a fortifying fried noodle breakfast, it’s into the pick-up for the ride up to the first departure point of the day – the summit of an ever-so-steep descent into a village-studded valley. The drop is all the more thrilling for the yawning thigh-deep concrete drain running along the inside line as we snake down the mountainside, towards the valley floor, and some of the most delicious singletrack possible.

The reason there’s such good singletrack in the valley bottoms is because – even in 2009 and even just an hour by road from the nearest city – many villages here are connected only by narrow trails, suitable only for foot, wheelbarrow or mountain bike. There’s nothing sculpted for riders here of course, but the numerous fords, and strategically placed rocks, roots and logs might have you believing otherwise. For the next hour, we take in what Simon believes is the best that Borneo has to offer: grassed crosscountry sections lead us through villages where we attract bemused smiles and waves from the locals; chicken-wire suspension bridges over 10m drops dare us to try the single wooden plank down the centre to guide our rubber; and connecting everything is all that lovely singletrack. It’s technical and frenetic, and brilliantly fun. There’s oodles of this stuff in Sabah – Simon says he hardly ever rides the same route twice – and best of all, you’ll most often find a small shop at trail’s end, with an ice-cold 100 Plus isotonic or soft drink at the ready.

Then comes more descent: balancing irresistibly fast sections with tricky weaving between rocks, ruts and sinkholes, all the way into the town of Kiulu where, loud with adrenaline, we find Sly slumped, snoring open-mouthed, in the pick-up, door open and all.

Lower Crocker Range, Sabah

After a night at Simon’s pad in Kota Kinabalu, the guys take me for a two-and-a-half-hour pre-flight stretch. At least, that’s what they called it. I called it less printable things, by the time we were done.

We start about 45 minutes’ drive east of Kota Kinabalu in the foothills of the Crocker Range. The region is known as Papar, and is an agricultural area crisscrossed by a web of village roads. There’s no need for a set route as virtually
all of them loop back to a main road. The lowlands are best ridden early or late in the day as the dirt roads can be blisteringly hot and blindingly bright. As it is, the sun is the hottest I’ve experienced in Sabah: an intensely thick heat, in the high thirties. I’m yearning for the slightest let-up in humidity as we dart along, seared by the sun when we break from cover.

Having watched Simon, Sly and Ronnie battle it out over a few torturous uphill sprints, I give it a go myself. My muscles are warm, I’ve been riding for three days and I’m in top shape, or so I think. I do finish ahead of the pack, but I’m redlining, overheating. In such humidity, sweat doesn’t evaporate, and heatstroke can quickly follow. I’m jittery, can’t think straight, and I struggle to some shade to recoup. Simon tells me I’m far from the first to underestimate the conditions. Eventually, I recover but we’re short of time so we head back downhill and join up with some blacktop back to the pick-up. A stop at a kampung store grants us a last bout of giggling, waving village kids and a final round of 100 Pluses.

Heatstroke or no heatstroke, I know I’ll be pining for Borneo, all the way back to temperate, unmuddy Melbourne.

Contacts -

Simon Amos runs Fieldskills, which does remote expedition support and runs specialised rafting, riding and trekking adventures for travellers.
Tel: (60-198) 312 759,,
Malcolm Jitam runs Outdoor Treks, which arranges biking, hiking and climbing trips,
particularly in the highlands.
Tel: (60-128) 886 460,,

Written by the brave Andrew Harris