Mega post alert – You know how this rolls right? First ride on mission, epic frothing and waaaaay too many photos, all adds up to a post so big, that its also a day late. Only took me one day and I’m later than a Qantas flight already.
After the 3 country road trip to get down to Sospel, the first thing to adjust to when waking up for day one of riding is that this isn’t Saturday or Sunday… What exactly do I mean by that? Well, this is one of the greatest things about being on a mission/riding holiday: Establishing the routine of being unplugged from the matrix and getting down to some rad riding every day.
It also felt strangely good to be putting knee pads back on as well, something I have missed being back in the cHub post Mega March. Its always a sign the riding is going to be gooooood when the pads are going on. Continuing on this theme, Sospel had arranged the good stuff for day 1:
Of course, rocking up to a French town with mountains in every direction you look doesn’t mean that automatically there are trail maps and sign posts slapping you in their face with where to ride. It turns out that pretty much every bike park in Europe opens late June, so to access the best trails and maximise the time available it called for one key thing: Local knowledge.
Through some investigation and dare I say it, ‘networking’, my guide for the day was Davide Bozza, yes, not so French obviously, but as it turns out, rather handy on the bike. The GT bike and gear wasn’t just because he likes bikes built by a Pram company, that would be supplied equipment…
Davide gave me the option to have a day shuttling around Sospel to take in all its greatest hits. Whilst this may have seemed like a no-brainer, the price was somewhat eye watering, but initially I thought there may have been some more DNGC crew on this trip, so locked it in… Ahhhhh, its been a while since we’ve got to use this! Come on, where is he?!
And yes, if you must know – Those are full Porn star glasses, the new Oakley Jawbreakers getting their debut in the most appropriate location, but more on that later – Its time to cut this faffing and RIDE FFS.
Given this was day 1 of riding on tour, and its been a few months since being on proper terrain, I wanted to ease myself back into it as you can imagine. Well, turns out there isn’t an Italian term for ‘playing yourself in gently’, as we hit the so called ‘Classic Sospel DH trail‘… Davide wasn’t showing any wear & tear from racing an Italian Cup ENDURO round the day before and got straight into showing me his regular training trails…
It didn’t take long to work out why this was the classic DH trail, flowing lines, lots of options, plenty of lethal rocks waiting for a lazy pedal and of course, a plethora of jumps or options to go big if you felt the need.
Like a the health and safety nerd you want to punch in the face at work, here I am listing the dangers of a road gap jump being interwoven with on-coming traffic… Confused, Davide pointed out simply that the riders who hit this jump over the cars, yes… Of course… Given it was day 1 I decided to ease that one (the same decision as it would be on day 20, or 30, or 50):
This really was a ‘Welcome to the party pal’ situation, back on real gradients, back into rear gnar and riding with someone who could pull away from me with their eyes closed. Yeah, so I was getting all the things I have been complaining about not having, rammed into one morning. No room for bleating, it was time to get on with getting amongst it on this deep end Gnarathon:
I shall admit to getting three quarters of the way down and thinking “fuuuuuuck” as my arms were shocked back into the real world of riding. I had of course forgotten how rough, rocky and fucking fast this French terrain is. It’s massively different from anything encountered in March, but rather than panic it was easy to remember this was run 1 on day 1, so stay calm and dirty on. For some reason though, the Nomad didn’t feel like it was quite loving the French roughness… An interesting thought…
Next up on the menu was a rather long drive back up to around 1,200m to take on some of Sospel’s finest – ‘Ze Holy Trail‘. Apparently a big hit around these parts and I suspect has been used before in the Trans Provence race at some stage. I didn’t know it when we set off, but at 2.9km’s long with a 721m drop (yes, thats an average -24% gradient) it was a trail with two main ingredients – Steep as fuck and rather rocky:
Yeah, so by mega steep I mean -57% in some spots, as well as sustained sections in the -30 to -40% range. Would probably explain why in the lower half of the trail I was genuinely struggling to slow the bike down (quite a feat when you’re armed with Shimano Saint brakes) to get through some of the mega evil French switch backs which send the message to your brain that they may be close to Le Impossible. Did I mention it was a tad rocky in spots?
I can see why this is called ‘Ze Holy Trail’, I spent most of my time either saying Holy Fuck or Holy Shit whilst trying to remember this was still day 1 and not day 18. Cue faux scenery shots as I cooled my arms and brakes. My face is trying to mask my confusion at how much I was being bounced around like a Political intern at a post election party:
Davide knew how the fuck it rolled to, not only was he a GC and waited for me, which as an aside is a massive ego hit if you happen to fancy riding downhill, but he also prompted several highly posed Dirty modelling shoots along the way – What more can you ask for from a guide? Here I am oddly posing on a bridge, WTF, am I attempting to appear nonchalant as I suck in deep breaths after surviving Ze Holy Trail?
Davide had the sweet set up rolling – Finish the run, back in the Rad Van, MTB DVD playing and off to the next spot to smash that would be essentially impossible to A) ride to in a day and B) find without some prior intel or knowledge.
Yes, the combo of Davide’s exceedingly intimate trail network knowledge coupled with a van that seemed quite happy to be driven anywhere, and fuck do I mean anywhere, meant that it was the fully Sospel regional experience. You know when it takes 40 minutes to drive up to the top of the DH you’re both getting a super long run, plus accessing terrain that would be a ball ache beyond belief to try and ride to… assuming you could find it.
After getting slightly beat up after the first two runs, Davide wanted to have a look at the Nomad (which is a polite way of wondering why I was going so fucking slowly). He then enquired if my shocks were ‘broken’, which is polite in Italian to suggest my set up was more geared towards giving donkey fellatio than being able to ride French/Italian gnar. Luckily for me, Davide owns a bike shop or two, so I stood back and let him tinker as much as he wanted…
And with that, it was time to move on. Asking someone if they would rather shred in France or Italy is a bit like asking if you’d rather have a bubblebath with Rachel McAdams or Sienna Miller (yes this is a gender neutral proposition), the correct answer is: Both
With that in mind, the next epic descent was leading us from France and into Italy, who was I to say no?
Now, I’m hesitant to use the word ‘Transformational’ as its often used by cunts to sell business cases that wreak of shit to people who should have the balls to say no, but don’t… BUT, in this instance the changes that Davide worked on the Nomad’s suspension were just that, it was a full transformation. He had taken a shit load of air out, tweaked the compression and dialled in about 40% sag in the rear. Radical changes yes, but with a corresponding radical outcome on the trail.
Fuck me if I didn’t get an instant lift in control, confidence and speed… Handy given the next trail was full gas, and of course, rocky:
I spent the whole way down in some form of bewilderment that not only was I going that fast, but the bike felt SO much different. Super mega fuck my face, it was like it was my bike, but like a billion times better. Call it an extreme make over, call it common sense and hanging with someone who actually knows how bikes work, but ultimately the end result was I started to earn some fist pumps at last, which lets face it, is pretty much the most important thing…
Braaaaaap and all those other cliche MTB calls, it was fucking ON now for sure, armed with the new ‘super soft’ set-up, I wanted to hoover up gnar like I was a squirrel on acid accidentally locked in a nut factory. Luckily for me, my frothing wishes were continually answered as we dropped straight into the Canyon of destruction next up:
OH GOD YES! Time for unnecessary gushing, but in this next sequence of feralness, it pretty much sums up trails and terrain you have ENDURO wet dreams about when living in a place that has none of this:
Fucks sake, did someone like Leo DC climb into my brain and pull these trails out from the dark recesses where I fantasise about riding my Nomad really fast on epic natural terrain? It appears to be the case. I love you brain invaders:
I think at this point the runs started to blur together a little bit into one awesome event after another… Drop in, steep, rocky, fast, fist pump, say “Fuck YES” a lot while Davide replied “Si si, is good!“, upload – Repeat. I’m mean, it was quite simply indulgent ultimately… By this stage we were sweaty balls deep in Italy, which means even riding to lunch was cool as fuck:
This also gave me the perfect opportunity (after finally nailing that seafood Pizza I had fucked up the night before) to make myself into as big a cunt as the American tourists around me who were busy buying faux pottery to put in their McMansions by standing on a medieval bridge and waving in a photo where you can make out the DN ENDURO jersey more than you can my head, that’s how Branding works:
With Euro Techno music that would make Calvin Harris blush blasting in the van of radness we set off along the next crazy single lane road that again turned into a four wheel drive track basically, the kind of ‘road’ that you wouldn’t want to take your Soccer mom SUV on even. But Zero fucks given by Davide, the Gnar Hunter just pushed on to take us to the next epic descent. Almost started to get tired of these views you know?
Into the final couple of runs, after all, we had been on the go for 6 hours at this point, and I was in love with not only the terrain, but this thing of utter beauty here. Its the whole Sleeping Beauty scenario essentially, all I need to do was tweak the right buttons and dials to unlock its potential. Am I a cunt for riding it around with a set up that didn’t work for me at all? Partly yes, but in my limited defence, you set the bike up for where you’re riding and this place needs a different approach completely. Also, much like finding what makes you climax quickly, a bit of experimentation can do wonders for you:
The penultimate trail was an absolute banger – It had this interesting trait of sucking you into high speed sections that you could rail the fuck out of feeling like a hero, and then spitting you straight into something that really made you have a second thought, a rather fast one mind you, as there wasn’t a lot of time for pontification. Quite amazing when you consider this is all natural trail with no building – The only conclusion? Mother Nature loves the fuck out of ENDURO:
Obviously Davide knew this run like he had designed it himself, not to overlook the fact that he is an epic shredder (the fact that he had worn through a set of grips on a new bike always a pointer to someone who shreds a bit), which I got to witness first hand any time there was a section that required a serious anatomy inspection. Bombing sections like this on the super soft set up was a revelation… I want MORE:
Ok mofo, here’s some more…
Phew… Fuck, well this is the point where I ran out of Go PRO battery and that’s probably right in line with concentration spans expiring. Is this over the top gushiness? Yes. Are there too many photos today? Yes. Are zero fucks given about all that? Absolutely… And why is that?
Well… Of all the MTB Missions undertaken on Dirty Nomad, I think this was the raddest Day One I have ever had. Sure, there was no crashes, no drama and I got the bike set-up in a way that had never occurred to me would work. But ultimately this was about loving mountain biking even more than I thought possible. Quite a tall order after 24 years of marriage, but days like this are rare, they don’t always come along like this, so as you can guess – Need to be savoured.
And now, to round it all out, some key points:
- Croissant count – 2 so far, one possibly filled with chocolate, but we’ll add it to the kill tally anyway
- Cunt of the day (COTD) – Surprisingly cunt free as you’d expect… My bike set up probably the likely candidate, but I can conveniently blame that on the cHub, so the case against me is dropped
- Gear of the day award – Oh man, this is hard to pick. Ok, so first up the new Oakley Jawbreaker glasses with Trail Prizm lens are so good the fuckers should be compulsory. Oakley aren’t paying for this, but go out and BUY them now, the down side of people referring to them as cum goggles will fade away quickly once you start shredding in them. Also Science endorsed
- DN Tech Tip – Ok Nomad 3 owners, I respect that the super soft set up will be considered whack by many, but it works strangely well. 40% sag is quite insane, but somehow it’s magic when you’re facing a minefield of rocks that want to sexually assault you. Obvious downside? Pedal strike city, so don’t try it if you are running 175mm cranks. As Davide pointed out, the Nomad is a progressive design any way, so less air and perhaps a touch more compression is worth experimenting with. You can always change back… But there’s no way I’m going to, the bike has never felt so planted or as fast as this. Don’t mention EWS.
- Trail of the day – Ah… All of them? Fuck, its too hard to pick to be honest and not just because I lost track of the names, but because each one had something incredible about it that made you smile in a rather involuntary fashion. Simply a superb area.
So, that’s day one of riding in the Gnar spank bank. Massive shout out and thanks to Davide and his shuttle driving GF for an awesome day of riding. Chances of finding these trails or having as good a time without a Davide are near zero, so its a good thing he runs this as a business. Watch out for a full wrap up post in the weeks ahead where I will give all the low down on hooking up.
In the mean time, I’m washing up from the first day in Finale Ligura, Italy (day behind here), which if you can believe it or not, was possibly even a step up on day one. How the FUCK could that be?! Stay tuned… More to cum.