Nick Maher has been living it up and adventuring to the absolute maximum over in the Alps, in the process testing out a Nukeproof Mega AM 2013. News has just come out about the release of a 27.5" wheeled version of the bike for 2014 (you might spot one in this article if you look hard enough..) but that's no reason for Nick to halt his testing process. 26inch wheels live on in the Nukeproof range and you'll be able to pick up a Mega AM or TR in either 26" or 27.5", for 2014 at least...
Here's Nick's latest tales of woe from a summer of extreme Alpine adventure. Take it away Nick:
Big Rides and Ridge Lines
Words: Nick Maher
(Click here for Nick's Nukeproof Mega test bike introduction.)
Finally a bit of downtime to catch up on my Bike Magic duties…
All the anticipation, preparation and planning before the summer season lead to a pretty hectic month or so here in Samoens, France, when the summer season finally kicked. Everything happened at once and the ‘to do list’ got decimated…
The lift system here opens a few weeks later than a lot of other resorts but we do get a little taster the weekend before opening when the French Enduro Series passes through. A stacked field of nearly four hundred riders took to the mountain this year with a good sprinkling of international riders getting involved including fellow Bike Magic bloggers Chris Kilmurray and Tracey Moseley, winner of the women’s race with a time that put her top 50 in the men’s!
While it’s nice to have the enduro circuit in town, you can’t help but worry how ‘your’ trails will hold up to the beating of four hundred riders hammering down them over and over again… Sunday involved hitting the same savage stage four times! On the plus side, the lift was open to the public to spectate, ride or both, so a couple of bonus days were grabbed in between heckling exhausted enduro racers.
A Super Enduro round the weekend before in Italy and a Enduro World Series the week after meant that a lot of the big names we were looking forward to seeing on the hill weren’t present and were using this weekend in between to recuperate and prepare. This was a bit of a shame as it’s always inspiring to watch legends of the sport such as Barel, Clementz and Vouilloz, especially on local trails.
Speaking of Fabien Barel, I’m sure many people have seen the classic bike movie Earthed 3. His section in this movie features a sequence purportedly in Les Gets during which he is heli dropped onto an exposed ridgeline. One of the shots gives away the actual location of the ridge to anyone who knows the area reasonably well and I’ll go so far as to say it’s at the top of the Col du Joux Plane, the famous Tour de France climb, but you’re on your own after that if you want to find it!
I’d been wanting to ride this ridge ever since I figured out where it was but had never had reason to go up there and unfortunately don’t have a helicopter in the garage. A photographer friend had also spotted the ridge and thought it would make a good shot, so one evening at dusk a group of us (all of us lacking in the helicopter department) headed up by Land Rover/pedal/foot power. The ridge was much steeper and more exposed than it looks in the video, as is always the way with these things… On one side you have steep alpine meadow falling away from you and on the other, at the end of your handlebar, is what looks like a giant chasm into the underworld. I knew which way I was going if I fell off! We struggled to get the shot any of us really wanted (from Soren, the photographer’s point of view; he couldn’t get an angle he was happy with, helicopters were mentioned again! And it turns out us riders aren’t World Champion downhillers like Fabien) but we came down happy and with a new, even higher respect for Fabien’s riding, myself just pleased to have ticked another line off my list.
Cramming in a bit of the old bill paying work stuff limited riding to a few afternoons on the DH bike for a couple of weeks. But then to be honest I’m glad I didn’t ride too much because the following weeks would be one of the most intense periods of riding I’ve done in a longtime…
It all started with the arrival of the Bike Magic/Dirt crew up the road in Morzine and the delivery of my long-term test bike, a shiny Nukeproof Mega AM. I’ve been keen to get my teeth into the hills around here with a proper ‘enduro’ bike so the arrival of this beaut was my ticket to all-mountain fun for the summer…. assuming it can hack the pace. I’ll keep you informed of my time spent on the Mega and how it copes with the things I’ve got planned for it.
I’m going to switch to a Big Brother diary style to fill you in on the next week or so of action:
Day 1: Photos with Bike Magic
Here I was roped into a photoshoot with the lads from the siamese magazines Bike Magic/Dirt [that’ll be us then]. This was on one of my favourite trails in the area with some old mates that I hadn’t ridden with in ages so I was more than happy to get out and do this one. Normally to ride the trail it involves three lifts across two valleys, a 20-minute climb, and a long traverse across the only desert in mainland Europe (really). This is the easy way into it! Unfortunately on the day the shoot was scheduled for one of the lifts was closed, cutting off a vital link in the chain. As the boys were on a tight schedule with other shoots planned we had to get in there somehow. In the end we elected to drive to the bottom of the trail (driving to the top is pretty much impossible) and then hike-a-bike it to the little mountain refuge at the top. I think we hiked for 3hrs in the end. The inevitable grumbles and piss-taking soon turned to awe and excitement and a flurry of Instagramming as we entered the valley that we were going to shoot in.
It really is some of nature’s best work up there and you can’t help be blown away by the cliffs and waterfalls that surround you, and then to top it off there is a tiny sliver of singletrack winding its way down to the horizon. A quick coffee to revive tired minds and we set off back down the sketchy, rocky top section of the trail, most of which is benched into a cliff face. The plan was to shoot at a couple of key points and then ride the less scenic but just-as-fun to ride lower section back to the van.
This all went swimmingly (apart from Pedro nearly catapulting himself off a cliff…. well held lad) until Andy the photographer failed to appear at one of the stopping points… We found him in a heap nursing some rib damage, a bit of blood’n’guts and a broken and no doubt very expensive camera lens. Beer needed.
Here's a dodgy phone camera photo gallery from our travels around on the hunt for proper photos..
Days 2 and 3: Getting used to the Nukeproof Mega AM
I had a couple of days to get used to the Mega AM and get it properly set up the way I wanted so went out thrashing it on some of the more pedaling trails around the mountain, taking in a variant of the big tour mentioned above. All good, although I have to say that the single-ply tyres the bike came with are as good as useless in the Alps. I’ve never had so many punctures in such a short space of time! Pumping up the tyres only sacrificed grip but it was all I could do until I got some bigger rubber in the post. It didn’t take away from the experience though and I put in two first-to-last chairlift days with the other local riders, thoroughly enjoying the livelier ride of a mid-travel bike compared to the big DH rig I’d been on for a while.
Day 4: 5am and off to Switzerland and the bike mecca that is the Rhone Valley.
I was working as a support driver for a local guide running multi-day trips across the region. I had to pick up a van and move it and the clients’ luggage further into Switzerland but the main reason for doing the job was the excuse to stop and ride ‘The Brasilian’, a trail that I’d been meaning to get back to for a few years.
It’s a bit of a faff getting to the top but not enough to put people off, it seems to be getting more and more action as time goes by; there were a definitely a few more bumps than last time! Faffing included a bus, a gondola, a big old pedally traverse and then 45 minutes of hiking up to a Col where I was greeted with a lingering cornice of snow. Worried that more of the trail was going to snowed under I scrambled up it only to find lush green grass and a bone-dry trail less than 10 metres from the edge of the cornice.
This trail has all the ingredients that make a great riding experience: It’s a 2000m descent for a start so it’ll take you a while and on the whole there is great line of sight allowing you to really open the taps without danger of hitting anyone/thing! Plus there’s that magic flow that is so hard to replicate; all the rises and falls, sweeps, turns and mixtures of terrain blend into each other seamlessly…. I was on my own and rode it way too fast for my own good, only stopping a couple of times to shake out my hands and double-check the map… the old trail memory isn’t what it once was clearly! If you want to find this one it’s all over the internet, just get on a bit of creative Google useage.
Needless to say I was buzzing when I got back to the van, another run would’ve been amazing but alas I needed to get on the road to reunite the clients with their bags. Turns out I probably could have squeezed in another one as I took a wrong turn on the way to the hotel and ended up being hours late anyway.
Day 5: Heading to Interlaken further into the German part of Switzerland…
Again I was dropping the bags off before making my way back home to France but I had a bit of time to explore the area around Interlaken and try to find something worth riding. The bit of research I’d done didn’t look promising despite the epic scenery and 3000m peaks surrounding the town. I didn’t have time to risk pedalling up something on the off-chance
that the wiggly line on the map was worth riding… I was going for maximum vertical for maximum rewards in the timescale allowed! I found a funicular and gondola marked on the map that should have taken me the top of the Niederhorn, which looked suitably mountainous for my purposes. I paid to park, took a wander to the lift station and found that bikes were allowed and the lift was running all the way to 3000-and-a-bit metres! Spot on.
After getting geared up and fettling the Nukeproof I went to buy my ticket. And that was the end of that… bikes were actually only allowed to the first lift station a mere few hundred metres above where I was standing, the rest was a nature reserve apparently where noisy polluting mountain bikes aren’t allowed… After a bit of questioning I garnered a list of places that would let me up with a bike but all involved a drive I now didn’t have time for…. so much for Interlaken or maybe I should have just manned up to a big old pedal! At least I had the four-hour journey home to scheme up how I was going to make up for this tomorrow.
Day 6: Just another day in Chamonix
My plotting and conjuring on the way home led me to pack the gear for a trip to Chamonix the following day, determined to strike gold and find something new to ride.
Although I’d ridden off the Brevent a lot in the past I’d never ventured along the Grand Balcon back towards Les Houches, so this was the plan for the day. A mate of mine, Paul, jumped in as well and off we went munching our morning treats from the bakery.
The two lifts from Chamonix town centre take you from civilisation to serious mountain terrain in no time at all and soon we were smashing down through the rocks, out along the ridge with Mont Blanc looming over us. It’s a spectacular place with vast panoramas on either side of the ridge distracting our attention from the loose rocks and massive slabs we were rolling over. In fact, I felt a little unnerved in my half-face helmet, regretting leaving the full-facer on the table…
The first section of the ride was very unforgiving and hard on the body and bikes and we were always conscious of dislodging rocks that might roll down to lower sections of the trail, never ideal and a reminder that being respectful and aware of the hikers in the Chamonix valley is of utmost importance.
Up to the Aiguiettes des Houches was a couple of hundred vertical metres of pushing, carrying and granny ring pedal work, but after a quick rest, snack and a load of water we were ready for our reward, winding away 1800m down to the train that would carry us back to Chamonix.
The descent more than made up for the disappointment of Interlaken, with steep gorse-lined switchbacks down to the tree line and then fast double and single track sections sweeping down to Servoz and the train station. We pulled up barely a couple of times to check the map and look at other trails that shot off into different spurs of the mountain, plenty to come back to another day.
Another box ticked that’s been on my list for a while!
Day 7: Lazy start followed by more picture taking…well, more like interval sprints actually.
Pedal, pedal, pedal, skid, click, “can you do it again?“. Luckily I didn’t have to get too involved as the arms and legs were well overdue a rest by now…
Day 8: After telling Editor McKnight all about the trip to Cham it was decided that it would be a good spot for more pictures.
Back to Chamonix it was and another few hours of careering through the boulders and shale pulling shapes for the camera. Some people don’t like the whole rigmarole of taking photos. Maybe its because I don’t do it that often that the novelty hasn’t worn off, but I enjoy the whole process. You’re creating something and preserving a memory, you nearly always learn something about your riding when you look back at the shots and hopefully the photos inspire someone else to get ‘out there’.
I’ve always thought there’s really something about a good photo… there’s bit more soul to them than video in my eyes. Photos are good.
That said I also did a sketchy as hell blind descent under the Brevent Gondola trying to ride fast for a Go-Pro without knowing where to go! Needless to say that didn’t end well, puncture and a nice long walk back to town as I’d off loaded my pack onto Andy the snapper…
The guys were heading off the next day and I needed a rest so to ensure this would happen more than a few beers were drunk in the bright lights of Morzine…
Day 9: Dribbling mess of a day off.
Days 10 and 11: Enduro….
Bit of pedaling around the place and back out to do the big tour of Le Grand Massif and back down the same trail we’d hiked up the week before. Unfortunately this time I exposed a bit of a flaw in the component spec on the 2013 Mega AM Comp… the cranks specified just aren’t up to the job in the big, rocky hills around here. One pedal strike and that was the end of them. I really can’t understand why a 160mm travel bike would come without cranks with a steel insert, it’s clearly its designed to handle some pretty meaty terrain? For 2014 I've just found out that the 26" Mega AM bike will only be available as frame-only, so that shouldn't be an issue...
Day 12: Back on the big bike in Les Carroz and Morillon.
This day really highlighted the importance of mixing your riding up as much as possible. Something I haven’t done for a while… Getting off the Mega and back onto my Nukeproof Scalp made me realise that I’d become a bit lazy with my riding recently. I found myself riding as if I was still on the mid-travel Mega and it paid off, riding much lighter and being a lot more active with my line choice…
Stay tuned for Nick's tales from the trail as he once again heads out on an adventure from Chamonix - this time to attempt the famous Tour du Mont Blanc route. Coming next week.
For more information on the Nukeproof Mega AM - available in 26" and 27.5" wheel options for 2014 - click over to the Nukeproof website and watch the video below to find out more about the new bikes.