Monday, 31 August 2009

Bank Holiday Madness Part 3 (Llandegla Research Trip 31st August)

When we have a group ride to another trail center we like to call it a research trip. We take photos, make notes, examine construction techniques, oh, and have fun riding our bikes! We hadn't put much planning into this and decided to make the short trip to Coed Llandegla just across the Welsh border. I met Ian at Birches Valley where we stocked up on supplies and loaded the bikes. As we approached Llandegla 90s pop band Hansen come on the radio and would stick in our heads all day. When we arrived (on time) Jez, Dave, Petra, Charlotte and Jessica were already there and tucking into the BBQ.

I'll let Jessica, aged 9, pick up the story here;
Today Ian Rob Jezz Dave Petra Charlotte and me were at coed Llandegla and we were riding the red section pretty tiring and we loved it. It had beautiful views but the worst thing was the hills we had to do a 3 mile hill and later a double climb which was really steep, BUT IT STRENGTHENED MY LEGS! Me Petra and Charlotte were doing the red section and had to miss out the black section because the black section was the 15 foot high board walk. Dave Jezz Rob and Ian went on that board walk Dave jumped past Rob.

The berms were great and also the down hills were awesome. IAN AND ROB WERE VERY FAST ! I DID THE BOARDWALKS FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER ! THE JUMPS WERE WICKED AND I LOVED THE STONE BRIDGE BLACK SECTION JUMPS and so did Rob he rode over them twice just so that he could do the climb back up again. I have to say that the biggest berm has to be the one by the swamp it was a long fast berm I want to do the pump course and skills section when they open! We had a look at them and thought ooooooooooooh!
Ride over we headed to bike friendly cafe and sat outside and set about replacing all those lost calories. I went for the 'Llandegla Ranch Burger', Charlotte and Jessica went for cake followed by chips!

After lunch we has the opportunity to chat with Ian, director of Oneplanet Adventure who run all the facilities at Llandegla. It is always good to find out how other centers operate and to share experiences. Despite Llandegla being a private forest and run by Oneplanet it was remarkable just how similar our experiences were. It was great of Ian to take the time to spend time chatting with us and hopefully we'll keep it touch and continue to share ideas with each other in the future.

Before heading home we went for another look at the skills loop (due to open soon). It looked pretty good and maybe something for us to think about in the future. We'll have to come back and do more 'research' when it is open.

Despite the bank holiday traffic the journey home wasn't too bad helped by Radio 1s eclectic playlist. I think this is the first time I've ever made it back form Wales without falling asleep. Um bop...

Jessica (aged 9) & Rob (aged ???)

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Bank Holiday Madness Part 2 (Trail Building 30th August)

Cliffs, Trees and Logs written by Charlotte

Today we Trail Builders were brashing off the Lower Cliff section of Phase Two due to a motorbike rider who cleverly found a way in to the section. This time it was not all of the usual team as Alex, Ian and Andrew were away, so it was just Rob, Martin, Bruce, Frank, Steph, Dominique, Jez, Dave, Petra, Jess and I who arrived. Dave, Jez, Petra, Jess and I carefully made our way up the wrong way of the section (oops) and met everyone else at the top that had piled into the two land rovers. Rob, Jez, Dave, Steph, Jess, Petra and I was to knock a round of wood on each side of the trail and leave a half round lying in the middle of them all the way down the trail. Dominique came down the trail putting lovely blue netting up across it as well. Frank and Bruce were nailing the half rounds that we had put down to the wooden poles we had knocked in (so if anyone managed to get through the brash the rounds and half rounds would soon put them off).

Martin was busy with his chain saw cutting pine tree’s trunks to make our resting area a place not only to rest but to look at the lovely view and also eat his/her lunch. Not long after we started Rob and me decided to see what everybody else was up to, when we got up the top we found Martin busy with his work, we had a chat and left Martin to carry on with his work we started to walk down the climb and met two men who had shown up to get involved with Trail Building, after we had inspected the trail we went back up to look at how Martin was doing. He had found a big log that was too heavy to move so me and Rob got everyone else up to help (muscle or no muscle).

Unfortunately I was not allowed to help as I am only 10 years old (and there was only one camera because Jess was taking the pictures), so as it started raining I soon hid under a bush and watched.

Soon the log was pulled up and in place and we set off either home or back to Birches, and we all (well not everyone) looked forward to a cup of tea.

Charlotte (aged 10)

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Bank Holiday Madness Part 1 (Racers Guild 29th August)

Today was a Racers Guild day so the plan was for an xc ride in the morning followed by helping with the timed runs in the afternoon. Ian, Bruce and myself met at Birches and after the normal pre ride faffing (Ian had to remove the stale air from his tyres and replace with fresh!) we headed off to explore.

We started on FtD and then left the crowds and headed off across the road. I was leading (which guaranteed plenty of climbs) and Bruce and Ian for the most part followed (apart from when they didn't like my choice of direction!). The ride was mechanical free (except collecting bracken) and our longest stop was to try and work out how to take a picture of ourselves using a camera timer. We had promised the Racers Guild crew we wouldn't be late so soon headed for a quick lunch and up to Stile Cop.

The Racers Guild for anyone who doesn't know was set up by Aaron Neumann about 18 months ago and run monthly grass roots DH timed practice days. Its very chilled, you turn up, get a start time and see how fast you can ride and if you can beat your mates. The best CT rivalry is between Stu and Dale whose times are always close. Alex being grumpy after he has a bad run is also entertaining (especially in the rain)!

Aaron and The Racers Guild events have done a great deal to rejuvenate interest in both riding and trail building at Stile Cop and have created a great atmosphere on the hill. Unfortunately Aaron couldn't make it this month due to illness so the rest of us had to step up and make sure everything ran smoothly. I was on the start ramp handing out start times and ensuring riders were ready at their allotted time. Bruce was initially the starter (when he paid attention) and then went to do Aaron's normal job of timing at the finish. Ian was on first aid duty (administering Jelly Babies) and watching all the action!

Towards the end of the day the wind picked up and given our usual lack of foresight Harry and myself had to use ourselves to anchor the gazebo while trying to keep our feet on the ground.

The day went really well showing we can survive without Aaron although it wasn't quite the same without him...


Thursday, 27 August 2009

Strange Inclinations

Soon after Andrew and myself arrived at Birches Valley tonight we were approached by a mtb'er asking 'are you trail builders?' Had we suddenly starting publicly advertising our Thursday night planning sessions and someone had come to join us? No, it was just an interested rider asking about 'Phase 2'. It is nice when people come and talk to us so if you ever see us out and about come say hello. I wonder what made him think we were trail builders...

Anyway back to the task at hand, tonight we were trail planning again. Once you have explored an area of ground, found control points and joined them up on a map to form some kind of route you need to get your gradients sorted (you don't want to build a downhill trail and then find it actually goes slightly uphill!). To some extent you can do this by reading the contours on a map but you can get far more actuate and detailed results by surveying the ground with an inclinometer.

Using an inclinometer requires a bit of eye coordination – it’s a bit like patting your head and rubbing your belly. With one eye you look at a distance object (usually a marker tape tied around a tree at eye height) and with the other eye you look through the eyepiece of the inclinometer and line the pointer up with that object. The gradient between you and the tree is read from the scale in the eyepiece. Sounds complicated but with a bit of practice it’s simple. Armed with this knowledge you can tweak your route to ensure your trail flows just the way you want it.

The nights are closing in pretty quickly now so we soon lost the light as we walked back to Birches. It was dark when we got back and we were wearing gloves and carrying a lump hammer so I hope they don't have CCTV. Although I doubt many thieves or vandals would wear high viz jackets...


Monday, 24 August 2009

Tweaking and Tidying - Trail Building 23rd August

The devil is in the detail - This is a phrase that you may have heard before, but it is a phrase that is so true.

Even when building trails, the details make it the difference and bring the whole trail work and bring it all together. For example, trimming trail edges away to prevent water building up, shaping the trail surface to prevent water running along the trail or even nailing direction signs onto posts.

Today's trail building saw lots of detail!

Most of today's crew went off to permanently close the Monkey and start integrating the new into the old trails. LOTS of surface material was barrowed today - nearly a whole 1 ton pile! Lots of tweaks, and shaping ensued - and Alex whackered it all (after it was pointed out that he needed to turn the fuel on!). Reports from various sources informed me that Rob (who had a bit of a heavy night) wandered around ... !

Martin and I headed off to section 12 to open it. This doesn't just involve cutting a bit of tape with scissors and declaring it 'open' - we had to inspect it, de-brash it, remove fencing, remove diversion signs. We then moved to Section 11 to add some new direction and information signs.

Then we headed to Section 7 where most of the detail work was done. The new ending still isn't ready - more sun is required to bake it!

We installed new signage, re-located a sign post, completed the low fence. We installed a new diversion before the new end so that we could open one of Follow The Dog's Highlights; The Boardwalk! The section was then inspected and given an all clear and the fencing at the start removed!

A good day of trail building that didn't seem much, but a lot got done - time for a well deserved ride. Rob, Alex, Andrew, Bruce and Myself had a bite to eat and ventured off into the afternoon sun ...


Sunday, 23 August 2009

Rock & Roll (Trail building Sunday 23rd August)

Whilst the other regulars headed off up to fettle the Monkey, Alex, Rob, Steve and myself donned safety shoes and pondered over the massive pile of rocks destined to push the Monkey further up the technical tree. If you’ve been in Rainbow valley over the weekend, you couldn’t have missed the pile – 60 tonnes of prime Derbyshire gritstone

The task in hand was to find and mark stones suitable for the entrance – several smooth flat slabs and ones to become the launch ramps for the jumps. The rest will be used to armour the gullies and corners ….. full suspension highly recommended.

Whilst Alex and Steve levered rocks around and I occupied myself laying out some crazy paving destined for the end of the new causeway bridge, Rob sat on a rock nursing his hangover. He’d been to a friend’s wedding the previous day - his downfall being the free bar!

After finishing our game of super sized marbles, we headed up the hill to help the others.


Tuesday, 18 August 2009

The Monkey - A Pause

As part of the continued works on Phase II, this week will see the closure of the fabled (and non existent!) Monkey Trail.

Don't panic though ... When Phase II is complete, The Monkey will return with a vengence! It will be harder, tougher and meaner!

Until the re-opening of the trail, please do not ride the Monkey (or any other part of Phase II) as riding it will damage the hard work that goes into it.

...Good things come to those who wait...

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Happy Days Are Here Again (Big Build Day, Sunday 16th August)

As 10 o'clock approached we didn't have many volunteers but they soon started to appear (volunteer trailbuilders are easy to spot as they walk towards the bike shop without bikes and often carrying a spade!). Before we knew it we had nearly 50 including many coming trail building for the first time, another great turnout.

We were working on the Red Monkey with the intention of finishing what we started at the last big build. It wasn't long before we had run out of trail and moving down the hill to connect up the existing trail to the previously built black climb.

As the signal was given that lunch was served, I took the opportunity to lead a guided walk down the existing trail to show people what they had to look forward to. Some of the trail is a bit tricky to walk but I assured everyone it is much easier on two wheels. Lynsey christened several new roots with 'evil' status and returned visits were planned.

Over lunch I chatted to several folk about 'Phase 2' and anyone who asked was given a brief glance at the top secret map! [There is no map - we just gave it to Rob to make him feel important - Ed]. Most of us really enjoy talking about the work we do so if you ever want to know anything shout up and we'll have a chat.

When the 'kettle genny' was knocked off and the peace restored we held our customary raffle with 1st prize, a pair of exclusive Chase Trails engraved lock on grips, being won by new volunteer, but trail building veteran, Steve. It's cool to think that some Chase Trails merchandise (and memories?) will be heading back across the pond and finding a new home in New York. It was also great to chat to Steve and discuss the different approaches to trail building and riding experiences. I know we complain about the British weather but at least we don't have to worry about 'Hunting Season'!

After lunch we returned to what trail we had left to build. We started a new corner but quickly had second thoughts and reverted back to plan A (the pine needles will soon cover up the evidence). With so many people staying for the duration we were soon finished and heading out into the sun.

Back at Birches I enjoyed ice cream with Abby and Ian before taking down the posters and the day was done.

Oh yeah, I rode the monkey on the way home , I think it would have been rude not to, happy days...


Big Build Day Competition
We really want your feedback on your Big Build Day experiences, good or bad (we'll edit them anyway!!). Maybe write a short mini-blog about your day or about something entertaining that happened, be creative and you might win a prize. Post your thoughts as a comment to this message. Alternatively if you have feed back for us that you don't want to share with the world then you can send us a message via the Chase Trail website.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Big Build Day Competition

In addition to giving you free food and holding a free prize raffle this month we're running a Big Build Day Competition! All you need do to enter is come along to the Big Build Day on Sunday 16th August and then write a few words telling us about your day. Make sure to tell us who you are and a little bit about yourself and then tell us about your Big Build Day experience, what you did, what you enjoyed, something funny that happened, its really up to you. Try to keep it fairly short, say around 100 words (although we really won't be counting!) Send us your entry by adding it as a comment to our Big Build Day writeup that we'll post soon after the event.

The winning entry will be chosen using mysterious random criteria by the Chase Trails committee (we have a committee?) and will win some Chase Trails related goodies. You have 7 days after the Big Build Day to enter although it will probably take us considerable longer to sort out your prize! Working on the assumption that most people will have stopped reading by now and won't bother entering, if you enter you stand a pretty good chance of winning.

See you on Sunday,


Big build day, Sunday 16th August, Swinnerton Cycles Forest Centre 10am.

Chase Trails reserves the right to cancel or amend this Competition or the Rules without notice in the event of a catastrophe, war, civil or military disturbance, act of God or any actual or anticipated breach of any applicable law or regulation or any other event outside Chase Trails's reasonable control!!!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Monkeying Around with Peter Rabbit (Trail building Sunday 9th August)

A good turnout today … maybe something to do with the fact that the sun had got it’s hat on! Alex, Bruce, Dale and Josh, Dave and family, Jez and his good lady, Martin, Rob, Steve and myself making 14 in total.

Martin and Steve had some unfinished business and quickly jumped in the Landrover and went off to build fences.

The rest of us headed up to the “Monkey” to tweak a couple of the corners at the start. The ideal profile for a climbing switchback is to climb up to a flat platform on which you turn and then climb out.

One corner required a fair bit of work with material dug from exit being used to level the turning area. It also required widening otherwise the only way to make the corner would have been to hop the back end around …. OK if you’re Daniel Macaskill.

Whilst shaping another corner, I had a nasty surprise … my foot broke through into a rabbit burrow leaving me up to the knee in sand. Luckily, Peter and his mates didn’t appear to be at home but there was no way I was going to put my hand down the make sure. The burrow went diagonally across the trail so after we’ve confirmed it’s abandoned, we’ll need to fill it in ….. ‘Caddyshack’ springs to mind!

The children had decided that building MTB trails was boring so made themselves a toboggan run. It’s a good job they didn’t try it out as there was a nasty looking stump part way down. Now that would have brought tears to their eyes!

To finish the day off, Rob and myself pondered how to pin the tail on the Monkey or in more technical terms, how to join the existing trail to the new climb linking the Monkey into Phase 2. After a test ride and much head scratching, we agreed on a plan which should get built at next weekend’s Big Build Day (depending on turn out).


Don't forget, big build day next week, Sunday 16th August, Swinnerton Cycles Forest Centre 10am.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Chase Trails Need You (Big Build Day Sunday 16th August)

Our next Big Build Day is approaching fast, Sunday 16th August is the date and we'll be continuing work on a great section of 'Phase 2'. So whether you're never been trail building before or you're a big build day regular why not come along and help build the trails that you'll soon be riding. You can be sure of a friendly welcome, a free lunch (probably a BBQ), entry into a prize draw (to win Chase Trails goodies) and a great day out. Meet at Swinnertons Cycles, Birches Valley, Sunday 16th August, 10am...

Check out the great poster designed by Missus Toast

Monday, 3 August 2009

Trail Tech 1 - Bench Cutting (Trail building 2nd August)

Trail building today involved more building on the Monkeys Hat - which meant more bench cutting!

Bench Cutting is not about making things to sit on (though it is nice to sit down once in a while) but about building a trail on the side of a hill. Done correctly, they can make a fab trail that makes the most of a hills features while remaining strong, lasting longer than flat trails, look good and are fun to ride. The steeper the hill, the more dramatic the bench cut is! You'll see bench cutting everywhere you ride mountain bike trails, especially at trail centres. The reson why bench cutting is so popular is all about 'sustainability'. Water (and Skidding!) is the main reason trails degrade over time. Water runs downwards and if a trail is not built with this in mind, it won't last long. The greater the volume and faster the water runs, the quicker it washes the trails away.

Doing it right is easy but it is also easy to get it wrong! We've all ridden bench cutting that just doesn't work - the trails are too narrow, you catch your pedals on the sides, sucking you into the hill, or the outslope camber is so severe that your constantly fighting to stay on the trail ... or you find your self riding in a trench that is full of puddles or streams and debris from the hill.

There are two types of bench Cutting, Full and Partial cut. Full cutting is where the entire width of the trail is cut into the hillside and Partial (or cut and fill) is where part of the trail is cut into the hillside and what is dug out is used to form the outer edge of the trail surface. On Cannock Chase, we generally build only Full Cut because the ground material is rubbish at holding itself up! One other thing we are lucky with is that the trail surface is right underneath where we are digging and as it has been well bedded in over the years, it doesn't need much compacting. Many places have to import a lot of material and surface all of their bench cut trails, but some ancient Ocean decided that Cannock Chase would be made from Sand and Gravel.

A Bench Cut has a slightly outsloping surface and a steeper (but not vertical) back slope. This is to allow water to run down the backslope and over the trail slowly and in a small volume so small that the trail isn't washed away. If the trail surface or back slope are too steep, the water runs faster and washes the trail away!

Bench Cut Diagram. Arrows show water direction

Step 1 - Planning
Initial trail planning will have accounted for the bench cutting route. This will mean that the trail will have been steered towards or away from natural features and obstacles - toward a nice gulley or around a big tree - while bearing in mind the width of the cutting needed for the trail.

Step 2 - Clearing and Cutting
The width of ground that needs clearing away is far greater than the actual trail width. This is to allow room for the back slope that is there to hold the hill in place. There are a number of methods of cutting the trail; either scrape the top soil away to clear the full area of cut and then start hacking into the ground, or just hack away until some sort of bench cut appears! I prefer the first method, but both are equally effective. A third way is to start cutting away at the outer edge of the trail, and work into the hill. This is very time consuming, but gives the best results.

Step 3 - Disposing of the waste
As we build Full Bench Cuts at Chase Trails, the material that is dug out is not rquired. It is often mixed with the top soil which is no good for trail surfacing anyway. The best place for it ... is spread out on the hill below the trail. We need to be careful not to pile it higher than the outside edge of the trail (trapping water), nor have the material in mounds on the hillside which look ugly and can cause landslides! It takes a few months for the waste to blend in but because the soil is loose and full of nutrients, it doesn't take long to start growing and become part of the hillside.

Step 4 - Making good
Once the bulk of the cut is done, the trail needs to be tweaked so that the trail works lengthways as well as cross ways. The trail surface is trimmed to form a good riding surface that is slightly outsloped (about 5 degrees), the edges are cleared to allow water run off and the back slope is trimmed and shaped (to about 45 degrees) to make sure it doesn't collapse or wash away.

And thats it! Sounds easy doesn't it. The hardest part of bench cutting is getting the angles right and still having enough trail surface to ride on.

Next time you're out riding on the side of a hill, have a look at how well the bench cut was done!


Sunday, 2 August 2009

A Day at the Races (Midlands XC August 2nd 2009)

An early start again this week but not as early as for the organisers of the midlands xc series. As I rode through the special events area on the way to Birches Valley, Nadine was busy organising the arena and James was out doing some final prep to the course.

Dale and myself loaded up our Chase Trails gazebo, banners and flags and headed over to set up. By the time we arrived there were already lots of people signing in and heading out to practise the course. Our slightly late arrive made putting the gazebo up a little more challenging but it all added to the excitement. Russ had even managed to get there before us (helping Goldtec run their trade stand), although they weren’t as well prepared as us, you would have thought a trade stand would have a set of allen keys with them!). Alan arrived to help marshal and quickly disappeared not to be seen again for the rest of the day, if it wasn’t for the occasional radio call I’d wouldn’t have known he was there. We checked in with the extreme medical and were kitted up with radio, whistle and flags (yellow for caution, red for stop) and headed off with Lynsey and Al to find our marshal stations.

Dale and myself were location on a gravely fireroad at the far end of the course, at the start of the big dipper (or the end if you ride it the normal way) and had a pretty uneventful morning. The only highlight being that none of the riders made it up one of the steep loose gravel climbs and the racers who confidently shouted ‘rider’ before unclipping and walking like everyone else ahead of them. Lunch arrived by bike courier (James) and gave us chance to compare food quality with previous marshalling experiences!

For the afternoon we swapped locations with Lynsey and Al (sorry) and we got an afternoons entertainment at the ‘berm of death’. Contrary to popular stereo types most the xc racers rode this bit of trail really well and the top guys were super quick. The few people who unclipped and shuffled down on their feet unfortunately will keep the stereo type alive. As we were paired up I got chance to wander and see some more of the course and catch some of the entertainment. The best moment was witnessing Martyn Brooks’ taking his alternative line bunny hoping a log to cut a corner and carry his speed out onto the fireroad, class. I also witnessed a high speed off over some slippy off camber roots (when I complimented the rider on the speed he was going he replied “it doesn’t matter if you don’t make it to the bottom”), so true, despite the obvious pain he remounted and continued on. After I returned to my position the race was soon over and we were packing up and heading back to base. On the ride home James and Nadine were still busy tiding up…