North Gower – Gravel

Despite the postings to date, OttawaVelo isn’t all about MTBing. In fact about 95% of my annual KMs are on gravel. I love the stuff and can see myself riding it years after I retire from technical single track.

Somewhat ironically I used to be envious of those riders who lived a short ride away from some huge MTB singletrack network (ie: Colorado). Actually I still am, but I’ve come to realize that where I live offers some pretty damn beautiful gravel options right out my door that I enjoy a good 4-5 times a week.

RedlineOld

So what’s the gravel like around North Gower? Maybe the best way to answer that question is to explain my gravel ride. It’s a 2015 Redline Conquest Team. If stiff, it’s low, and meant for tempo speed. I run mini-V brakes, 11-23 cassette (1×10), Pacenti SL23 rims on tubeless Schwalbe G-One 35mm (awesome!) tires. She’s fast on smooth gravel and respectable on pavement.

NorthGower_2

What that means is that this region has little elevation (hence the tight cassette and non disc), and the gravel is typically fast (hence the 35c tires). This stuff won’t beat up yours legs anywhere near as quickly as Lanark Highlands/Gats (future postings).

NorthGower_FarmRoads

There are a few chunkier farming access roads but they’re pretty short.

NorthGower_1

If you’re visiting the area here’s just one option (too lazy to post a GPS file… some day I’ll get to it):

Parking just off 416, ~65km route:

  1. Take the Bankfield exit off of 416 (exit #57 I believe). Park & ride on the North West corner.
  2. Take William McEwen Drive south, left on Century Road West
  3. Take a quick hop over the 416 via Prince of Wales North
  4. Take 2nd Line Road South for a good while ’til T junction
  5. Right/East on Lockhead road.
  6. Left/South on 3rd Line Road South
  7. Right/West on Hwy 13, continue straight on Dilworth at the 4th Line Road junction.
  8. Right/North on McCordick
    • ride extention~40-50km, go left to Hwy #5, then West & over the river towards Kemptville. First right is River Road, follow the river to Burritt’s Rapids. Admire the lock/history then go north through village, a quick left/right up Dwyer Hill Road. First gravel right is Paden which is same road (opposite direction) as #11. #12 will be Left/North onto Paden.
  9. Left/West on Cowell
    • bail-out option, ignore #9 and continue north to #17 below
  10. Left/South on Malakoff
  11. Right/West on Paden
  12. Right/North on Harnett – turns into Gallagher road at right turn
  13. Left/North on Malakoff
  14. Straight/North on Proven Line Road (where Malakoff sweeps right)
  15. Right on T-junction to Harbison Rd
  16. Left/North on McCordick
  17. Right/East on Century road. Ride back to junction at instruction #2, reverse to get back to parking.

 

 

Pembroke – Forest Lea

It has been several years since the last time I’ve visited Forest Lea. I remember lots of flies and a reasonable amount of trails to ride – albeit somewhat ‘rough’ due to lack of traffic (Pembroke being a small city & sparsely populated region would have minimal Mountain Bikers to pack the trails).

TrailMap

So during the last leg home during my recent work trip I decided to take the 5 min detour south off of Hwy 17 to see what’s new. It turns out there’s quite a bit more distance added, the Trailforks link doesn’t show as much as the trailhead map or their web site.

TrailMap_1

There’s approx. 31km now, consisting of 3 loops:

  • Orange: Oliver and Q approx 6k
  • Red Original loop: continuous singletrack of all nearer trails approx. 15k loop
  • Blue back trails: an extra 10k added onto the Red loop – the more technical trails and longer climbs/descents
  • Green is pretty much XC ski trails. I would target those only if I were riding a CX or gravel bike.

I rode the Orange loop and half of the red loop before having to bail to get home. Maybe had the trails been a little higher in the fun quotient I could have been convinced to finish all of it… read on.

ForestLea_2

ForestLea_5

Terrain is a mix of everything, hardwood forest with lots of roots & rocks, pine forest with smooth sandy content, Canadian Shield with exposed slick rock.

ForestLea_4

Not only was the terrain varied, but so was the actual feel of the trails. The hardwood sections tended to be tight and rooty and other sections such as the pine forest was a little quicker rolling with more open sight lines, and finally there were more wide open sections to let the bike roll.

ForestLea_1

While the variety was nice in a way, it was also difficult to really get into a rhythm as it varied quickly and sometimes without notice. It was almost like several builders each with different visions/skill were involved. Maintaining any kind of consistent speed was a chore.

ForestLea_3

Another aspect I didn’t like was their heavy use of the existing XC ski trails. Several times the single track dumped out onto these open & boring highways for several hundred meters, if not more. At least their XC trails were fairly dry and clear, and void of speed-sucking wood chips.

I understand leveraging XC trails if land is tight, but there appears to be enough available terrain at Forest Lea that they can skip that stuff and link up the singletracks.  IMO the goal to a MTB centre should be to feel like you’re escaping civilization for a singletrack journey, not a constant reminder that this place is XC ski first, and MTB second.

ForestLea_XCTrails

The other disappointment is that there were quite a few sections where the trail was just poorly hacked together. Many of the bridges were an after thought, 2-3″ high tree stumps litter sections of trail begging for a pedal strike.

Bridge_1

Even the older established trails had sections where a quick Pulaski could shave the old farming/till undulations to make the trail smoother and faster.

ForestLea_6

It’s almost like the builders were in a haste to add distance at the expense of quality, which is a shame because the potential is certainly there both in available terrain and willing builders. My suggestion is that going forward they clean & speed up the trail, and link up some of the singletracks to remove the recreational use of XC trails (keep them for races/passing). I’m hoping to come out sometime in the future to help with trail work.

Overall, this is still definitely worth a stop if you’re enroute between Ottawa & North Bay, just expect for things to be a little ‘unrefined’ and keep your head up for surprises.

 

 

Sudbury – WMBC / Naughton Trails

Work this week brings me on a Northern Ontario loop. From GTA I typically like to include one of Hardwood Hills, Buckwallow, or Porcupine Ridge as I head north. Yesterday I skipped those spots to have enough time to try a new trail network a few minutes to the East of Sudbury.

Frankly, I’m glad I did. Walden Mountain Bike Club deserves a solid pat on the back for the work they did at Naughton Trails.

The first thing they did right (which many locations do) is provide a good map at the trailhead.

TrailMapBoardFront

The they also provided free trailmaps to take with you. With phone GPS apps becoming more accessible, not as many locations offer hard copies but it’s still nice to have.

TrailMapHandouts

Somewhat ironically, that map isn’t needed, because what WMBC  / Naughton Trails did exceptionally well was arrange colored loops to help visitors determine the type of ride they want, and then help them experience the best trails to fulfill that role.

I can’t begin to say how pleasant it is to actually focus on enjoying the ride rather than having to stop at every junction, pull out a damn map and deal with mosquitos and dripping sweat every few minutes, just to see/guess where I should go next.

TrailMapBoardRear

It’s one thing to offer organised loops at the trail head but it’s much harder to ensure that there’s consistency (and frequency) of signs throughout the network. In this case all but one junction had clear signs. Bravo!!!

Naughton_Signage

I rode the largest Red – ‘Kitchen Sink’ loop (12km, 234m) and added the Yellow ‘Second Lap’ loop (4km, 103m) for good measure.

Trails on the Eastern loop are more hardpacked and little elevation. As you work your way to the center & west of the network you’re introduced to more elevation and rock.

Naughton_1

For comparatives, terrain in the harder locations is similar to Kanata Lakes / Camp Fortune / Mont Ste Marie but the Naughton’s exposed rock is a little more chipped up. Some of the exposed views had a bit of Kelso / Camp Fortune / Mont Ste Marie feel.

Naughton_3

Climbing wasn’t too bad, there’s a couple of grunts like this up Logan’s Run.

Naughton_4

The other nice thing is that the builders didn’t have any surprises. When a visitor experiences a trail network for the first time they have no idea of the quality of trails and if there’s any hidden 4′ drops around the next bend. WMBC did a great job of building credability/trust early on which meant I could feel comfortable letting the bike roll and really experience the trails.

Naughton_5

Not sure if it’s pictured below, but my favorite trails were ‘Will Breaker’ and ‘Pacemaker’ when travelling clockwise (east -> west). Some super fun descents there.

Naughton_6

I’m quite surprised at what was offered, for what I expect was relatively little resource. Naughton Trails are just off the Trans Canada Hwy, about 10 minutes east of Sudbury. It’s a perfect & convenient way to break up a long trip.

For accommodations I was at the Holiday Inn Express (1696 Regent St). It’s a little dated but clean. For eating, I was recommended to try ‘Ripe’ (1788 Regent St) which was just a short 100m or so from the hotel. It was a really good meal, with an excellent wood-fired pizza.

  Ripe

Apparently ‘Laughing Buddah’ (194 Elgin St) a little further in town is also very good.

Ottawa – South March Highlands (aka Kanata Lakes)

Time to put in a review of my regular stomping grounds and the area which has had a massive influence in shaping the rider I am, Kanata Lakes (KL).

This area to the West of Ottawa (known as Kanata) has changed quite a bit over the years. I first cut my MTB teeth on the previous trail system ‘Dark Side’ before it fell into private hands. The Terry Fox road extension further carved up our play area but the Ottawa Mountain Bike Club (OMBA) persevered and not only managed to build/maintain an excellent trail system, but managed to forge a strong relationship with the city in the process.

KL_Map

Recently they’ve added a new public work bench along with tools. Pretty cool.

KL_WorkStation

So what to expect at KL? Rocks, roots, pretty much non-stop challenging terrain which will likely kick your ass – or give you a hell of a workout trying to survive. This place is as about ‘East Coast’ as you can get, minus maybe the elevation (max 30-40 feet).

KL_Typical_Climb   M_Line

If you can master KL, you can pretty much ride anywhere, seriously. The terrain forces you to look ahead and move/work with it to smoothen the ride (and maintain speeds). Those from the GTA can think of KL as somewhat similar to longer versions of Halton Falls’ tougher areas.

KL_RockHopper

There are some smooth patches, but they don’t last long, and are less frequent as you make your way out to the lower-traffic outer loops of Outback and Ridgetop.

KL_Outback KL_PWT

For those looking to ease their way into this network I suggest taking Bear Tree, Porcupine, North Dogsled, PWT east-west, then Bailout (if you’ve had enough), South Dogsled, Mario’s Line. If you’re feeling strong on PWT and are looking for more of a challenge, skip Bailout and take Outback and Ridgetop. Expect to double your ride time if you go that option.

KL_SimpleMap

Perhaps somewhat ironically, when the snow comes, KL becomes incredibly buffed and fast. The region’s ample fat bikers and snowshoers do an awesome job packing ~10km of trails to give you insanely fast conditions.

Ridgetop_Medium    KL_6

Kitchener – Hydrocut trails

Work took me to London Ontario this week. I decided to take a quick detour (~15min north of 401) to just west of Kitchener to try out the Hydrocut Trails. It’s reputation of being a great place to ride didn’t disappoint.

TrailHead

The first thing I liked about this network was the presentation of their map and the numbering of trails to show the most ideal loop. When riding a new location I hate having to stop at every junction (and therefore ruin the flow of the ride) to establish which way to go – Hyrdocut trails pretty much take that out of the equation. When there was a larger junction with multiple options there was typically a posted map to help with any confusion.

TrailMap   TrailList

All 20km of all-original single track was buffed, like super buffed! This was a ridged single speeder’s paradise. There were some ‘blacks’ and ‘double blacks’ but it was more a consideration of climbing and steepness rather than actual technical features.

Speaking of technical features there were frequent options off the side to take roll-outs or manual drops. Nothing crazy, just a little fun. The builder’s routing and options helped me to quickly grow in confidence to let the bike roll even around the frequent blind corners. Established one-way (only) routing also helped with the confidence.

The routing/layout of the trails was also excellent. Lots of gradual climbs with proper slope and mini-breaks kept everything fun, whether going up or down.

Trail_4 Trail_2 Trail_1

My favorite was probably Adams Run with lots of speed and fast corners, but there were a couple of sections with fun Kingdom Sidewinder-like sections that were also memorable. Below is Sweet Street I believe, Kamikaze offers a much larger version later in the trail network.

Switchbacks

All in all, an excellent outing and one I’ll be definitely visiting again. My 20km ride was 1hr 50min with frequent stops for pics etc… Plan on anywhere from 1:30 to 2 hours, with options to bail out and make a shorter loop. This is also an excellent place to bring beginners and young riders.

Vancouver – Riding the North Shore

A couple of weeks ago I was planning on a work trip to Vancouver and figured I’d head out a day early to ride some of the North Shore Trails. I wanted to take my Norco Torrent so the day before I spent an hour dismantling and figuring out how to pack my PLUS frame/wheels into a bike bag meant for road/26″ MTBs.

Before:

Pika_Before

After:

Pika_After

Prior to the trip I researched my options on Trailforks. The ‘North Shore’ is apparently 3 different mountain networks (Cypress, Fromme, Seymour) each with a slightly different flavor. I noticed one trail on Fromme had similar content to the Norco Promotional video, specifically Expresso, so that was a planned visit.

Seymour

I decided to start with Seymour as it showed more Green/Blue options to ease myself into ‘Shore. Overall the experience on Seymour was actually disappointing. There was a ton of erosion – specifically on Bridal Path which is a collector trail for many of the trails. I also crossed Severed D which looked more like an old creek bed than a trail… Academy and Good Sir Martin were fun technical trails to climb.

GoodSirMartin_2

GoodSirMartin_1

I also rode John Deer which was a fairly fast but quite new and not bedded in, Baden Powell which is not categorized but had some damn steep black’ish sections, and finally Forever After which was fun but not epic or anything.

I was beginning to wonder if the ‘Shore was just hype and the riding really wasn’t what I was hoping for. I think part of the issue is that you can shuttle on Seymour so there’s a pile of local traffic bombing down on equipment which is probably too DH-specific to climb back up. An excess of DH bikes means that DH-like trails can be sought.

Fromme

Prior to riding Fromme, I rode Seymour trails and met a local (Erik) who has a 7.1 Torrent himself. Erik was kind enough to offer a tour of Fromme. A couple of days later we connected and rode some really sweet trails.

Here’s a cool shot of the ‘siblings’ racked up for a ride.

Torrent_Twins

We started by riding up Lower/Middle/Upper Griffen then up the closed-to-traffic Mountain Highway which had a perfect easy gradient as it switch backed up Fromme. We rode down Crinkum Crankum and then Kirkford. Really nice flowing trails with ample armour and wooden structures.

Froome_2

Froome_3

Froome_1

We climbed back up Mountain Highway and then hit Expresso.

Expresso

Upon reaching ‘Big Smooth’ roll-out on Expresso, I took the time to study it and build up the nerve to roll it out. It’s far steeper/higher than what appears in the Norco Promo video (37-44 seconds). I figure 8-10 feet long and close to 70 degrees. Here’s a capture of the Norco video and me riding the same feature.

NorcoBigSmooth

FroomeBigSmooth

Overall Fromme was a really positive experience and I will definitely try and ride it again. I think that the lack of shuttling reduces traffic and therefore the types of bikes that are introduced.

We finished off a great ride at the popular ‘Black Bear’ restaurant for some well earned beer and grub.

BlackBear

 

Specialized 686 3L tech jacket/bibs/insulator

In honor of a winter that won’t quite let go of Eastern Ontario, I thought I’d post a review of one of my most significant cycling kit purchases ever, the Specialized 686 3L tech kit which consists of a Jacket, Bib, and Insulator.

Specialized_686_2

There hasn’t been a lot of on-bike reviews online, either due to the insane price preventing many from sampling, or their embarrassment of publicizing that they actually paid that much for cycling attire. Here’s a couple of reviews that provide some additional perspective:

In my case, I paid about 50% MSRP – which is still a shit load of money but my 30+ years cycling experience has shown that good equipment really does pay for itself in opening up the opportunity for more (or longer) cycling outings – helped in part with my Norco Torrent’s expanded foul-weather abilities.

686Kit

686_bibs

My previous cold-weather outings consisted of a combination of cycling/XC skiing/DH skiing clothing which worked reasonably well, but many little compromises were required to make it work in a cycling environment. It was actually the cycling bibs which first pulled me to this product. There’s so little out there in this preferred bottom style, the 686 bibs not only offered the more comfortable style but further expanding it’s functionality with it’s rear ‘SWAT’ (rear cycling pockets).

Specialized_686

Here are my observations from the ~ 500 kilometers I’ve put on this kit from -25C white-outs to full-on rain at a mere +3C. If it’s too much detail scroll down to the conclusion.

Cons:

  • The bib and jacket fabric:
    • Is NOT warm in the least – there is very little for inner layer in the jack and none for the bib pants. It’s actually quite shocking how quickly I can feel the sub-freezing cold seep through to my mid and base layers when I start riding. I can only assume it’s the enhanced ‘breathability’?
    • Is NOT 100% water proof. Claimed to have 20,000mm proofing (which I guess is good?), I felt dampness come though the thighs, hamstrings, back, chest (in that order) after about 90 minutes of exposure in what I would call moderate rainfall. Granted my ‘waterproof’ gloves didn’t fare so well either but I didn’t have to practically rob a bank to purchase those…
  • Jacket
    • The waterproof zippers can be a little stiff to work – especially with gravel grit mixed into the equation.
    • Rear ‘SWAT’ access/venting zippers are cut pretty high up the back. I don’t have practice of removing a bra off my back every day and clearly my lack of flexibility hurts me in reaching the rear zipper pull strings.
    • The jacket’s hood is a little small. It can fit over a helmet but if the front is fully zipped up there’s a definite restriction of movement from the fabric. It’s a shame because it adds so much flexibility out on the road.
    • Cuffs are tightened by Velcro straps. If I had to guess which part will tire/fail first – that would be it. It works effectively but I’m leery to use it much in fear of wearing it out.

Pros:

  • Pants
    • Bibbed setup is so much more comfortable for longer rides.
    • Little perception of tightness in the legs when seated and pedaling.
    • The four back storage pockets (named SWAT by Specialized) are flexible and well placed in the small of my back. No longer do I have to wear a bike jersey just to carry crap, I can stick to warmer/cheaper/more flexible base/mid layer shirts and store everything in my bibs.
    • The leg cuffs are really good. The inner cuff grips well to prevent snow/water from seeping in. When zipped, the cuffs are tight enough to not hit the crank arm/chain but still handles a wide range of boot thicknesses. Extra scruff fabric on the inside further protects against the crank arms.
    • Very little ‘swishing’ sound while pedaling
    • Good friction between the fabric and saddle
  • Fabric:
    • The bib and jacket fabric is NOT warm – making this a very real 3 season kit. Simply adjust the base/mid layer and/or open some zippered vents and you’re good to go right up to +10 depending on the terrain, exertion and wind exposure
    • The fabric offers exceptional breathability. I rarely needed to use to zippered vent when efforts increased. Start off a little cool and you’ll have 80% of exertion/exposure scenarios covered.
    • Despite being loose and somewhat soft, the fabric dose not flap around in the wind
  • The Tech Insulator :
    • Is soooo good on its own. With a nice full-length thin breathable stretchy fabric along the inner arm and core it can be used with a mid weight base layer down to -5C, or up to +8C with just a merlino t-shirt underneath.
    • Single-sided back zipper (as opposed to two on the jacket) allow it to work alone with the bib’s SWAT compartment.
    • The hood is small and thin enough to potentially double as a super warm skull cap under the helmet (very hot!).
    • When combined with the jacket you better anticipating at least -15C (or colder) otherwise you’ll overheat. Note that this obviously only covers the upper body, with no Insulator offering for the legs you’ll have to double up the legs base layers to match performance.

Specialized_Junkie

Conclusion:

  • A well designed kit, but the fabric’s somewhat disappointing warmth (independent of the Insulator) and waterproof performance prevents this from being perfection.
  • That same fabric (warmth) disappointment means this kit can be used for fall & spring as well, making it a somewhat better cost-effective proposition.
  • If you can get only 2 of the 3 piece of kit, get the Tech Insulator and Bibs. If you can get only 1 of the 3, get the Tech Insulator.
  • If you’re hoping for any kind of real warmth from this kit, get the Tech insulator. Not only will it make the main jacket work better in colder temps, but the Insulator also doubles as a jacket itself on warmer outing.
  • Assuming the durability does not disappoint, this is a worthwhile investment if you’re going to put lots of miles/years of foul weather riding. Otherwise, there are MUCH cheaper options for the more fair-weathered cyclist.

 

OttawaVelo – reborn!

Lots has happened since my last half-assed attempt to publish on this site. All has been good since then, I’ve just busy with other projects (like my Datsun 510) and kids stuff. In fact, experiences gained through my4 y/o Datsun thread has shown there is value in sharing information for others, I hope the same will be with this site.

Also, my cycling interest has been ‘perked’ with a recent purchase of a new mountain bike, a 2016 Norco Torrent 7.2. This bike has really impacted me in a two ways:

  1. Pretty much a do-anything rig. I can ride trails, snow, and even gravel is pleasant (albeit slow).
  2. An increased safety blanket allowing me to (continue) hitting technical trails at speeds which my 45 year old brain began to question.

KL_5

OttawaVelo.com won’t be a site about who I am, what I ate etc… Frankly, I’m not that interesting. Instead, it will be a means for me to document my MTB & gravel cycling experiences, both in places I cycled, and products I’ve used.