*The Rough Stuff Fellowship
I wrote this post specifically for a journal edition of The Rough Stuff Fellowship, which is THE original off-road cycle touring and mountain biking club, and founded in 1955. It’s a global club and well recognised. It even has special lifetime members and ambassadors of off-road cycling like the legends Charlie Kelly and Jacquie Phelan. The story started with………
A brief scene setter
Date of ride: 2nd April 2021 (or the Good Friday holiday in some countries).
Location: Switzerland, and in the pre-Alps Region.
My energy level: Medium.
My chosen attitude: Never give up.
The Bike: An unknown, early 1990s prototype frame that I have built up.
Previous evening’s alcohol intake: Half a bottle of organic Prosecco.
The Weather forecast: Full sun and a maximum temperature of 20 degrees C.
Chosen ride snack: Honey sandwich.
The plan was to meet up with a friend and head off into the Swiss Jura mountains for the day, but he got grounded and couldn’t make it, so as I’m never one to throw away a bike ride day, I set off from the house to do my own ‘Spring Classic’. I’m doing a full loop from the house which will be about 5-ish hours and with a bucket-load of climbing and descending. Our house is at 800 metres and the highest I’ll get to is about 1650 metres, which isn’t very high, and why this French speaking area is called the pre-Alps Region. These are the baby Swiss hills. I have done some of this ride on an eMTB before, so I know it’s going to be fitness-challenging on an old vintage MTB.
The first 20 minutes of the ride consists of some very narrow roads and some grassy trails. This gets me to the start of a steepi-ish climb which is about 3 kilometres in length. It is mainly forestry track, so it’s just a case of ‘sit and pedal’, whilst not forgetting the ‘never give up’ attitude that I chose before I got out of bed. Remember, we all have the choice of attitude when we wake up, so make the most of it.
I get to the top of a mountain called Les Pléiades where the ski lift is, and the snow has just about gone due to the recent warm weather, as well as it being one of the lowest ski runs. I call Mick Ely, the ‘Global Head of RSF membership’ on FaceTime for a quick chat to see if he’s also out on his bike. He isn’t as it turns out, but he is following a cycling theme to go and bag his next project from somewhere in Bradford, UK. However, we do agree to do a virtual ride together in the future. I then follow the route of the ski run. This means ‘downhill’.
Unfortunately, as I race down the track, I get a pinch-puncture by bunny hopping (badly) the wooden rain gutters that are set into the track. I tip the bike upside down and change the tube. There’s no rush and the views and weather are beautiful.
The next part of the ride takes me from Les Pléiades to the neighbouring ski village of Les Paccots, which is at 1500 metres. This adjoining section is a ride through meadows, woodland and some steep single track, which isn’t rideable and is a push or carry section. I find a small locked up mountain farm house and stop and have my lunch in the wood store area. These small chalets are only used in summer when the cattle are taken to the high grounds and there was still quite a lot of snow around it. The honey sandwich gets eaten and then it’s time to crack on, up again.
After another hour of climbing, I get to a point on the track that is quite deep snow, so start walking. The snow depth varies from ankle to upper thigh depth and as I get to an avalanche sign I decide to head down through the forest. This time of year, the snow is very unstable, so if the Swiss put an avalanche sign up, there’s a reason for it.
I head down another track to where I can hear the fast river in the bottom of the gorge. There is no track now, so it’s a push and carry through deep snow down to the river. I expected my feet to be colder, but so far, my toes were still hanging in there. On reaching the river, which looks and sounds wider than it’s 3 metres, I have little option other than to use the bike to lean on as I wade through the river, which wants to drag the bike down stream, such is the force of the current. Bizarrely, the river is warmer than the snow was, so wading through at knee level wasn’t as bad as I had expected.
The river water is snow melt, and tastes fabulous, so I filled up my CamelBak with the pure liquid. The challenge now was to get up a 60 degree climb, though trees and with the bike. This was harder than cycling up there in the first place and it took some time before I could throw the bike over the gorge ledge into the field and climb up after it.
From the rim of the gorge, I walked carefully through the field with the bike as it was full of alpine crocus and looked stunning in the sunlight. I reach the small road which runs down into the Les Paccots ski village, then get onto the smooth tarmac. From the village, there is a 4 kilometre run down to the valley on wide, winding and super-smooth roads. I’ve got a pair of Terra One vintage-style tyres fitted to this bike which have a nice profile for taking corners fast, which I take flat out where possible. I spin my biggest gear out quite quickly, so I get into a MotoGP crouch position and imagine I’m on my Ducati.
From the valley bottom, it’s about 30 minutes ride, up again, to the house. On arrival, the first job is to wash the bike, soon followed by a mug of tea and some cake, then shower, and then more tea and cake. With the puncture and the lunch stop and the gorge detour, I’ve been out 6 hours, so am feeling ‘relaxed’.
Just in case you’re wondering about the bike, it is a prototype frame that is a mystery, and which I’ve previously written about. The handmade forks are ITM, but the frame is of unknown fabrication with no brand or serial number. I got it from a friend in Switzerland and built it up with a mix of parts from the shed. I think it is from one of the Italian factories like Verlicchi, but can’t be sure. It a great all-rounder and runs well on those Terra One vintage-style tyres, is light and just looks interesting. I’ve got it set up for a perfect fit for me.
Anyway, so what? I hear you say. There are a couple of takeaways. Firstly, choose your attitude carefully when you get out of bed in the morning, because it’ll set up your day and of those closest to you. Secondly, seize every cycling moment regardless of what bike you are riding. Thirdly, and I think this is in the spirit of the RSF, don’t just follow the trail signs, be inquisitive and explore new places as it’s a lot of fun. And finally, I reckon with lock-downs and/or restrictions continuing, there is a future of doing rides which might be on your own, but with technology, we can connect virtually with each other and enjoy our cycling experiences at the same time, even if we are not together.
I’ll sign off with my next challenge, which will be to replicate one of the photos in the RSF Archive and to create a then and now side-by-side image. In the meantime, below is a picture or those fabulous, Alpine Spring Crocus. Nice!
If you want to know more about The Rough Stuff Fellowship, or even join, here’s the link https://www.rsf.org.uk/
All photos by the Author and with the use of a selfie stick😉