Following the Highland Trail video posted last week, I thought I’d provide some insight into how I approached the filming, what kit I took, what settings I used and so on.
A few people asked me before the race:
Why would you want to waste time filming when you should be racing?
While the Highland Trail appealed to my competitive instincts, I felt I wasn’t quite on the same form as last year, and the challenge of creating a short film appealed to me. The event had proven popular for non-riders too, and this was a chance to show everyone not racing what the Highland Trail was really like. Besides that, it was a suitable distraction from the sharp and committing end of the race. That said, I deliberately didn’t want to spend ages setting up off-bike sequences. I recognised the benefit of including some in the film, but I still wanted to get in a good distance each day, take a short sleep strategy and portray the impact that has on the rider.
Up until last month, all my films have been shot using a Contour +2 HD video camera; either helmet or bar mounted, or off-bike on a tripod. When I first acquired a video camera last year, it was a toss up between the Contour and the GoPro Hero3. Comparisons between footage of both cameras seemed to show next to no difference in quality and on finding the Contour at a good price (bearing in mind the Hero3 was still quite new and suffering from some early firmware glitches), that’s what I went for. Whilst I’ve enjoyed using it – and there are some areas where the Contour is better than the GoPro in my opinion – it does have one limitation in that you can’t chest-mount it like you can with a GoPro. Unless I do my helmet strap up so tight I can’t open my mouth, I’ve never managed to get consistently good POV footage from the Contour due to excessive shake off the helmet.
For the Highland Trail, I knew that for speed of gathering footage the vast majority of filming needed to be made on the bike. I think is where the main win for the GoPro is – the chest-mount. It so happened, that the Hero3 recently got a refresh to the Hero3+ with a new lens, new waterproof case, longer battery life, better low light performance and crisper image quality. Continue reading
After last year’s Highland Trail Race, one of my overriding feelings after completing it was that once was enough – I was not going to go through all that again. It was by far the hardest thing I’d ever done on a bike, and it pushed my physical and mental limits far beyond those I’d encountered in a “normal” 24 hr solo race.
Time is a good healer, it seems. My mind had shuffled all the gruelling bits to the back, and memories of good trails and heroic efforts combined to form a comparatively enjoyable experience, albeit one that didn’t involve a lot of sleep. The addition of another 120 miles for the route this year in the form of a northern loop around the Assynt placed it well and truly into the realms of Epic (a much overused words, but in this context it most definitely deserves the capitalisation), and this tantalisingly difficult section on top of what I already knew to be a tough route made it difficult to resist.
My final preparation was less than perfect, and nearly didn’t happen at all if it weren’t for the support of Shand Cycles. High drama even continued up to the day before the race when my bike came loose on the bike rack while driving to the train station, ruining a Jones H-Bar in the process. I boarded the train anyway, and set about trying to source a replacement while en route. Keep Pedalling in Manchester came up trumps with a new bar, even going as far as meeting me at the train station to hand it over so I could continue my journey north to Scotland with as little disruption as possible.
Approaching Devil’s Staircase
Race day dawned cloudy with a cool breeze from the North-east. It looked like a good day for getting the miles down, and with the 1 hour earlier start this year we would have a little less pressure to get to Fort Augustus before everything shut. I settled into a rhythm reasonably well on the opening section, but clearly not able to match the pace of some of the front runners. This was a long race, and I wasn’t about to blow up on the first day. Continue reading
It was at Bespoked Bristol Bike Show in 2013 that I first met Steven Shand, owner of Shand Cycles. Wildcat Gear supplied Steven with some bags to display at the show, and that marked the beginning of the two companies working together to unite Shand’s superbly crafted frames with the high quality bikepacking luggage creations from Wildcat Gear.
When I first looked at the bikes in their range at the show, two things stood out to me; thoughtful, elegant design that instantly portrayed the true purpose behind each frames intended use and, secondly, a level of craftsmanship in the brazing and quality in the final finish that is best seen in the metal to be fully appreciated. Continue reading
It was never meant to be like this.
A fraught week gathering kit together in preparation for the Cairngorms Loop 300km ITT suddenly got a whole lot worse when on Wednesday night I discovered a problem with my “race bike” that I wasn’t going to be able to get fixed. Casting an eye around the garage revealed a cyclocross bike with 8 gears and a fat bike with one gear. I dusted off the 10sp clutch mech I bought last year, but had not got round to using and stripped the 8sp cassette off the cyclocross bike, mated the bar-end shifter to a Paul Components clamp and set about fitting it all to the fat-bike. If only it was that simple. Continue reading
I should probably get out more. I don’t mean out on the bike (though at times, even that can be a bit irregular). I mean out of Wales. I’m sure there are many many really good places to ride, but this is where I live, and for much of the time where I ride. A very large back yard that has kept me entertained for over two decades. I can nearly traverse the whole country east to west (and back) or from north to south without reference to a map.
This little video is about a trip I did a few weeks ago with some guys I know off the Bear Bones Bikepacking forum. Neil was at the winter bivvy with me and Gian was at the Highland Trail last year. Andy was the only one I’d not met previously. The plan was to ride from the tip of Great Orme south to the end of Worm’s Head on the Gower. It was an adaptation of a trip I did a couple of years ago, which I’ve been quietly improving to create a “definitive” Welsh Coast to Coast with some of Wales’ best riding trails.
The weather wasn’t quite what we’d hoped for, and in the end the slower pace and the prevailing conditions prevented us from reaching our goal. The journey though – and its all about the journey – was still a good one made in great company. Thanks guys!
Hope you enjoy the film.
Winter can be such a fantastic time of year to get out on the bike for an overnight trip, with cool clear air revealing some fantastic views. This video is about a trip I took recently to a place I’ve always wanted to visit, since seeing a photo a couple of years ago: Pont Scethin.
Pont Scethin is a bridge, built some time after 1762, that lies on the old Drover’s Road from London to Harlech. In the 18th century, this was the main route through this part of Wales (long before the existence of the coast road). The old road remains as a walking/ riding track now, and the bridge still stands in this wonderfully isolated position.
The sunrise in the morning was amazing, and it’ll be a trip I will remember for a long time to come.
The air was cold rolling down the road out of Tyndrum. The Highland Trail Race was done, but the riding wasn’t over until I’d got myself back to Ewich House. Having the prospect of a bed for the night was useful incentive to finish the race that evening.
I was too late for food in Tyndrum so had to make do with what I had left in my bags and whatever I could scavenge from the car. Half a packet of crisps, two pieces of stale malt loaf, one flapjack and a large supermarket cookie. Not quite the reward I was hoping for, but together with 120g of Torq Recovery powder, it was going to have to do. Continue reading
I woke up with a jolt. I fumbled for my phone, the only means I had of telling the time with my GPS switched off. It was 5:15 am and very light. I got up quickly to see if Mark’s bike was still in the bothy, and it was. I gathered my kit together in a matter of minutes and was on my way by 5:25 am.
Knowing that Mark was a stronger and faster rider than me, I knew that I needed to get a few miles down the road to give myself a cushion for the rest of the race. The only reason I was in this position was because I’d slept less than he had. I’ve just done three of the hardest days riding of my life, covering 530 km, and I now had to race another 160 km to the finish. And I’ve just had 1.5 hours sleep. No pressure. Continue reading