- Bike Checks
by Gary Perkin
I get to go and ride in some pretty cool places with my job of taking photos of the humble bicycle. Tough job I know, but someone has to do it. Considering the Mayan Apocalyse nearly did us in, it was pertinent to develop my personal MTB Bucket List. To be honest, it's always going to be hard for follow up on what the wordsmith that is Mike Ferrentino has written, but I'll give it a shot. In no particular order here are some of the places I think everyone should ride in their lifetime.
Seeing as I'm following what Ferrentino has written, I feel compelled to not only "see" his recommendation of the Lakes Basin but also "raise" him with a photo of the man himself railing the trails near Gold Lake on one of our shooting trips up there this year. Don't be fooled by Ferrentino's self-effacing demeanor about him being old and cranky and unable to ride a bike like he once could, he can ride a bike! And he comes into his own on the trails that mirror his character more than any other in the world. They're rough, tough, will knock your fillings out and ring your bell more than once if you get ahead of yourself. But you'll come back begging for more because they feed your soul in a way that the groomed trails just can't. Elwell, Smith Lake, Mills Peak. Gold Lake, Long Lake, Sardine Lakes - there are just too many to name, and that's just the Lakes Basin side. Cross over the Sierra Butes and you've got the whole of Downieville to get your shred on. I spent 4 weeks up there this year based in Graeagle and came back not only a stronger, better rider, but a better person for my time with the Sierra Butes Trail Stewardship family!
Even though I rode the descent from Monte Baldo in 2009, I can still remember almost every turn and drop and that sense of awe as if it was yesterday. We were between two World Cup races and I was traveling with my good friends Sven and Anka Martin and the GT Bicycles race team. We made a quick few hundred kilometer, two-day detour to the town of Torbole on the edge of Italy's biggest lake, Garda. We took two gondolas up to 1800-meters and descended the valley for a bit. Then we switch-backed our way up another 500m or so vertical up to 2080m and from there we experienced a ride that blew pretty much everything else I had ever done out of the water!
The picture you see here is literally the first turn of the main descent. There is no warm up, qualifier or bunny slope to warm up your skills, it's loose, rocky goodness straight away and continues with all kinds of terrain; chutes, switchbacks, drops, flat-out turns and everything you could wish for on an descent that is nearly 20km long. And then you ride into the ancient town of Malcesine at the water's edge where you cool off and fill your rumbling stomach with course after course of incredible Italian cuisine! Bellisimo!
Mashatu is a little different to Garda or Lakes Basin. The riding isn't the most technical you'll find, it's not blessed with gradient or a team of trail builders. But what it has is soul and spirit, in bucket loads. First off you're riding in a wild game reserve with elephant, lion, hyena, wildebeest, zebra many types of antelope and scores more, and it's their tracks through the bush that you follow. Then you are sleeping under the stars, under the shade of 300-year old Mashatu trees with said elephant wandering past, lion roaring in the darkness and hyena trying to steal scraps from the campsite. The armed guides who ride with you are legends who will amaze you with their bushcraft and their riding skills with an elephant gun slung across their back. There is no cell reception, internet or even electricity. If you want to know how far your bike can take you away from it all, this is it!
I think it's safe to say we all know Scotland for Fort William and what it has done for the sport downhill mountain biking, but Scotland has so much more to offer than an annual race in the Highlands. I started riding in Scotland probably 11 or 12 years ago and the growth and expansion there is nothing short of mind blowing. The first trail I rode there, Rik's Red Route, has set the trend for what has now become so much more. For example The Seven Stanes are truly world class trails with all kinds of sections that ride so well in rain or shine! The amazing Kirroughtree is a personal favorite of mine which I have ridden in both blistering sun and pouring rain. Both times returned a big shit-eating grin on my face! Spend some time there and you can do 2 trails in a day and 10 in a week to truly begin to experience this amazing country.
Like Ferrentino said, France rules! I've always had an amazing time just being there, let alone riding there, and the place that sticks out the most to me is Les Deux Alpes. "L2A" is famous for the Mountain of Hell race which takes place the week after the MegAvalance at the nearby resort of Alpe D'Huez...maybe you've heard of it? It's an awe inspiring place to ride your bike with as many natural trails as man made and gondolas all over the mountain to get you to the top over and over. Les Deux Alpes already stepped it up in 2012 with a Crankworx event and in 2013 they continue that tradition in addition to hosting a round of the newly-formed Enduro World Series. You know this place is special when it gets that seal of approval.
This year I spent a week or so exploring and shooting in the red rocks of Sedona, Arizona, being careful not to nose manual backwards through a vortex, just in case it brought forward the aforementioned Mayan Apocalypse or alien landings or whatever else you can overhear some of the newly-transplanted locals speak of at dinner! It's weird man. But then you meet the bike riding locals and you forget all crystal-gripping hippy stuff. They're a rad bunch who will show all their great, new, ever-expanding trail networks and scare the bejeezus out of you on exposed trails that leave pucker marks in your chamois. Highline, Hangover, Chicken point and Mystic Trail all deliver the goods for hard desert red rock riding. Try not to crash into the cactus though. 10 months later and I still have a couple in my leg!
I would be a poor ambassador for my country if I didn't mention South Africa. While the trail networks may not be as steeped in history as some places, we have taken great strides in making some great trails even better, and we're heading into some amazing times with new trails opening across the country all the time. The growth of MTB has been stratospheric in the last few years and we're starting to gain the critical mass with respect to landowners and authorities as a major player in the outdoor sports world. Tokai, Jonkershoek, Harkerville, Howick, Karkloof and Mankele are great places to continue the year-long summer that I've managed to live for the past 11 years.
But with all this speak of exotic locales, the other reason I mention my home trails is that they are what feeds my soul on a daily basis while I dream of the far-off trails...and I hope your home trails do too. Stop trying to win the internet and get out and ride! -Gary