Puddle of Mud Designs

It’s become a personal mission of mine to find good riding gear. I’ve really struggled to find shorts, jerseys, protection and shoes that fit, function and look good. Although the larger brands are starting to realise women want more variety… that we come in more shapes and sizes than the typical S, M, L… I still feel that smaller brands get closer to the mark than the big ones. Brands like Flare ClothingSHREDLY and Puddle of Mud Designs are all founded by female riders who know what we want, what we need and how much we can afford. These women are looking to make a change, and are working hard to give back to the women’s riding community.

Puddle of Mud designs is still in its infancy, less than a year old! Operating out of Brisbane, Australia, the brand was founded by keen biker, Mary who is all about fun, friends and well… mud! Since her early years of riding in Dublin, Mary carried her passion for MTB over to Australia where she now races, rides and produces these fun jerseys.

Mary believes that bikes are an extension of ourselves, and I like that. I spend more time cleaning and maintaining my bike, than I do on myself! I take pride in riding my bike, whether it’s a social ride with friends, a moody vent down the park, or just to get somewhere! Puddle of Mud jerseys reflect the fun and passion we riders have.

Here’s how Mary sees it: “I am very proud to be part of a HUGE community of female riders, of all disciplines, here in Brisbane. We’re called the Brisbane Chicks Who Ride Bikes. I am really passionate in helping women get into mountain biking (as that is what I know over any other discipline), and I realise it isn’t as scary as it may look in the media. It’s wonderful to be away from the hustle and bustle, wandering through beautiful forests and taking in all that fresh air whilst keeping fit!”

Recently, PoMD have put together a race team of four passionate biking babes who all live for riding. Mary has plans in the pipeline to expand the race team in the future, so watch this space! It’s great to see pro-active riders taking their initiative and passion to give back to the community. So, massive thumbs up to Mary for establishing this great company, and I really hope to see it grow and make it’s way over to the UK in numbers.
I got the Skye jersey (I’m a sucker for tartan), and it’s great! Fits really well with a flattering contour to the body. It’s got a lovely loose material which doesn’t even make you feel that you’re wear a bike specific top… you could easily get away with wearing it casually as well. There’s a secret hip pocket for your keys, or for midget gems in my case! … and the variety of designs are awesome!

SHREDLY Leggings

SHREDLY, You Had Me At Shorts

I often rave about my love for SHREDLY’s MTB shorts, their colourful, comfortable and functional for a long day of trail shredding. What makes them stand out is their subtlety. They don’t look or feel like your regular MTB shorts, they can easily be worn off the bike for comfortable lounge and beachwear also. You can read my full SHREDLY MTB Shorts review here.

So, can you imagine my excitement when Shredly announced they were releasing a 2016 line of active leggings?

 A tempting selection of leggings from the 2016 line.

A tempting selection of leggings from the 2016 line.

In true SHREDLY fashion, the new line of 2016 leggings are available in 9 colourful and stylish designs. After much deliberating, I decided to get myself a pair of Danii’s – Navajo inspired print.

Getting it Right

For me, leggings are a difficult thing for brands to get right. First and foremost is the “see-through” index. Manufacturers get the design spot on, but when you wiggle and squeeze yourself in a pair, the design can warp and the colours appear less intense. With that comes the “can you see my pants?” question… or in my case “can you see my tattoos?” which is my personal test of legging quality.

Then there’s the fit. Many leggings I’ve tried and tested have incredibly high waists, uncomfortable when you’re getting your gym session on, or even just lounging on the couch. The ankles can be sown too tight, and the dreaded crotch seam can reveal a little more anatomy than you’d want.

What appears to be a simple and staple garment for your wardrobe, I find leggings a tricky balance of coverage, fit and style… especially if my intentions are for active purposes. So how do the new Shredly Active Leggings fair?

The SHREDLY Danii Leggings

Upon receiving my new leggings, I was relieved. Just in the hand, the quality of the material felt thick and soft to the touch. The design was bright, well printed and exactly what I was hoping for. The fit was spot on as well, and I was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t come up as high on my waist as other brands.

 The mid-rise waistband is comfortable and non-restrictive

The mid-rise waistband is comfortable and non-restrictive

These active leggings have moisture control and quick-drying capabilities, which is what you need when you’re sweating out those workouts at the gym. There’s no side stitching on the outside of the leg, and all the seams are discrete for a smooth looking design. What’s even more appreciated is the small triangular gusset that’s been carefully sown in to allow for greater movement, and a reduction in any embarrassing camel toes.

 The inside of the leggings are soft and brushed for a lovely feel against the skin

The inside of the leggings are soft and brushed for a lovely feel against the skin

While the outside of the leggings are brightly coloured and smooth, the inside material is white and brushed to provide a soft feel against the skin.

The Test

I’ve had these leggings for 2 months now, and in that time I’ve worn them on the bike, to the gym, for yoga and just for everyday wear. Yep, I love them.

For me, they tick all the boxes. The see-through test is satisfied which minimal pants and tattoo being visible. I mean, I really have to forcibly stretch them on my legs to see anything beneath.

 My non-scientific see-through test: Stretched out tattooed thigh in the sunlight with and without SHREDLY leggings. They passed!

My non-scientific see-through test: Stretched out tattooed thigh in the sunlight with and without SHREDLY leggings. They passed!

For the stretch test, yoga has certainly proved that they can go in any which direction your body can. At no point have I felt restricted by movement in the SHREDLY leggings, and I’ve not felt any discomfort from the mid-rise waistband.

Yoga stretches with the ever so helpful, Gomez Thunderpaws

Like their shorts, you can easily pass these off for everyday wear too. I often wear mine with a heavy woollen jumper, or long shirt and no one would think otherwise that they are active performance leggings. The versatility is what I love about them.

Overall

SHREDLY’s active leggings for 2016 are a hit with me. They look and feel great, and they are versatile enough to wear for a variety of occasions.

With a price tag of £60, admittedly, they sound quite expensive for a pair of leggings. However, I think the price is justified as they are stylish, fit for purpose and made with the female body in mind: what we want, and how we want it. Not to mention the quality of the material feels like £60 leggings, rather than thin, cheap and see-through ones you can get elsewhere.

They are available in sizes: X.Small, Small, Medium and Large so be sure to check the SHREDLY size guide to see which would be best for you. Whenever I’m not sure on sizes, and ordering from outside the UK, I always double check my cake belly and biscuit bum with a tape measure, just to be sure.

Available here for £60

IXS Trail RS – Helmet Review

Helmets are always a tricky thing to get right. It’s the most important piece of protection to equip yourself with on the bike, so you need to make sure it’s fit for purpose, and right for you. There’s a number of criteria to be satisfied before investing in a good helmet: Does it have adequate protection? Is it the right type of helmet for my riding style? Does it fit? Functional? What colour does it come in?

For the past few months, I’ve been bedding in the IXS Trail RS helmet after hearing some great reviews about it. It’s the same worn by Elite downhill racer, Katy Curd, so I decided to put it to the test for myself.

The Helmet

This all-mountain trail helmet has great coverage, ensuring all the important parts of the head all well protected by the EPS absorbing material. It’s lightweight in the hand, weighing roughly 340g so it doesn’t feel clunky or heavy to ride in.

The 22 ventilation system ensures your head stays cool, even on those hot days, by channelling the airflow directly into the helmet. The visor is fully adjustable which allows for you glasses or goggles to tuck in nicely when you don’t need them. The vertical and horizontal position of the helmet can be adjusted in small increments,  making it ideal for finding that perfect fit.

The Test

This has to be one of the most comfortable helmets I’ve ever tried. The strategically placed padding lining the inside of the helmet has great contact points with the head, so you have the protection and the comfort for a long day of riding.

The additional material around the chin straps is a bonus luxury, even though it’s prone to getting dirty and wet against the skin in the rain. The Y-clip fastening system is easy to use with even the muddiest of gloves.

The ratchet wheel at the back of the helmet adjust the helmets size in small enough increments that allow you to find that snug fit, without compromising on comfort. The front end is fairly low, so while the visor offers sun protection, it can be a little annoying when it just creeps into your eye-line.

At no point did I feel too hot, or stuffy in the IXS trail helmet, probably owing to the impressive cooling system of integrated vents.

Overall

The IXS Trail RS is impressively comfortable to wear. It’s lightweight and attractive design doesn’t have you feeling like a bobble head while bouncing around on the trails.

It satisfies my criteria for providing great coverage, comfort, functionality and it’s available in 5 awesome colours. I went for red, as it’s my favourite.

Like with most helmets, heads come in a variety of shapes and sizes, so although this might be great for me and my noggin, it’s always best to try-before-you-buy.

The 2016 style is available here for £77

Ride 100% Accuri MTB goggles review

Ride 100% has been around in the American motocross industry since the 80’s, but more recently have exploded into the MTB circuit, and boy have they made an impact! I’m looking at just one element of their impressive MTB range, the goggles. They offer three styles of goggle: RacecraftAccuri and Strata. The differences between them come down to nose guards, colour variety and lens options. The Racecraft model retails for approximately £49.99 and features a detachable nose guard. Whereas the Accuri model is between £39.99 and has the same mirrored tinted lenses, but no nose guard. The economy model is the Strata and this comes in at approximately £24.99 as there is slightly less of a colour range and only available with clear lenses, but they still have the same high quality frame and straps as the superior models.

The first thing I noticed about this brand was the garish retro colour schemes they have to offer, I think they’re amazing and certainly eye-catching! I chose to go for a pair of Accuri goggles in a purple and pink scheme which complements my teal POC Cortex full face helmet. I ordered mine from a retailer on eBay as I found them to be the cheapest out of the main online retailers. Not only this, but the merchant threw in 10 free tear-aways as a bonus, and I do love a good bonus gift!

I love getting parcels and especially biking parcels, I immediately have to drop everything and have a little play. The goggles arrived with the clear lenses in place, the mirrored lenses separately, a cloth pouch and the 10 free tear-aways.  The first thing I noticed was how flexible the urethane frame was. It’s really soft and bendy which means you can manipulate it to fit your face perfectly. 100% nail the natural curvature of the goggles as they were a great fit for my POC Cortex helmet, and not a lot of adjusting is needed. The goggles are well ventilated as air is able to flow through the foam on the inside of the frame, which is soft on the face and provides ample comfort from the frame themselves. The strap is a thick 45mm wide and coated with non-slip silicone so that they don’t move too much around your helmet whilst riding. To change the lenses is really straightforward. Just pull the top of the frame and ease out the lens, then swap it for the other lens and slot back in place, it’s easy peasy and totally secure with little groove clips to keep the lens in place

So that’s the spec, but how do they fair out on the trails?

Well, firstly I would strongly suggest to use tear-aways on the goggles, especially in wet muddy conditions. These can be purchased from online stores and eBay for a few pounds. They are super easy to pop on as there are plastic nodules to affix the tear offs to. They serve the purpose of keeping your lenses clean, but also scratch resistant. How many of us instinctively use our sleeves to wipe over our glasses/goggles? I know I do, but when you have grit, sand and whatnot on you, you run a high risk of scratching and damaging the lenses themselves.

These goggles perform brilliantly and I can’t find any negatives about them! The lenses are well ventilated and coated with lexan for anti-fog protection. There aren’t any breathing restrictions around the nose whatsoever and they didn’t slip down my helmet at any point. I’m highly impressed with these goggles, and they don’t even break the bank either. However, if you are on a tighter budget, then the Strata model may be for you, still the same shape and materials used for the frame and strap, but there are colour restrictions and they only come with clear lenses. I’m quite excited about the future of 100% in MTB as they have released further products such as gloves, helmets, eyewear and riding apparel. If their goggles are anything to go by, then the rest of their range looks promising for future investment.

Shredly Women’s MTB Shorts – Review

I always get asked where I get my shorts from, I’ve even had women take photos of them so they can find them online! To my surprise, not many women have heard of SHREDLY, but after seeing their unique eye-catching shorts, they won’t be able to forget them! I speak with a lot of female riders, all different ages, disciplines, sizes and shapes and a common cry for help is with clothing. Although larger brands are starting to tease us with women specific wear, it still feels like we’re pulling at a thread to one day unravel a dream wardrobe of biking wear.

When I started out riding, one of the first companies I came across for clothing was SHREDLY. I don’t need to say much about this brand because the shorts really speak for themselves! Variety, Colour, Patterns… and style. These shorts are so eye-catching that it didn’t take me long to click a few pairs into my basket and spend invisible money on these beauties.

SHREDLY offer a wide variety of shorts and other riding apparel, but where did it all begin? We chatted with Ashley, the brains and beauty behind the brand.

Hi Ashley, thanks for speaking with Velo Me! Can you tell us a little about yourself, your biking background and what inspired you to start producing women’s biking kit.

I grew up in the mountains of Colorado, USA and my family built one of the first houses in our neighbourhood that was up in the sticks. We had plenty of open fields to play in and formed courses or obstacles that always somehow ended up running through the pool or tennis courts down the street. My parents made us go on family rides together where we had to actually complete a ride from start to finish, with uphill and downhill. I remember really hating it and thought the rides were so hard. I much preferred to stay in the neighbourhood playing on our made up courses! It wasn’t until college that I really enjoyed riding (on my own accord) and started to embrace the pain and suffering that came with climbing, because I knew what came after…the downhill!

In college, I studied Apparel Design and Production and paired it with a second degree in Business Marketing. I had no interest in designing outdoor or athletic apparel and had always planned on being a high-end, couture designer – just like Reese Witherspoon was in Sweet Home Alabama. I spent a summer studying abroad in Florence, and fell so madly in love with the country that I considered moving to Milan to pursue a career in the fashion industry. Then I went to Switzerland for a weekend and the fresh, clean mountain air, absence of concrete littered with dog poo and high-rise buildings changed something in me. I realized my heart wasn’t in the city. So I moved back to the mountains and starting working in the marketing world. It still didn’t appeal to me to pursue outdoor design, but then I bought a new bike and started riding a lot. I rode mainly with my girlfriends, and like the true fashionista in me, I wanted to look stylish on my bike. I hated putting on my tight, uncomfortable shorts with the chamois attached to the inside. I also hated the hand-me-down jerseys from my Mom that were obviously from the 90’s, but when I shopped for alternatives I didn’t really find much better. I had visions of the fun shorts I wanted and the jerseys to wear with them, but I couldn’t find anything like them. The designs in my head wouldn’t go away and after talking with my girlfriend’s about their complaints and desires I had a clear picture of the products that we were all looking for. That’s when I thought, “Hey, I could design these things! I could probably even produce them! Hmmm…let’s give this a whirl.” 

Tell us a little about SHREDLY itself, the people that work there and how the wicked designs come to life.

SHREDLY currently consists of one full-time (me, surprise!) and one part-time employee (the lovely Danii Morse). It is a small operation and we wear a lot of hats like Designer, Sales Rep, Customer Service, Accounting, Fulfillment and Warehouse management, Returns/Exchanges, PR, Marketing, Events, etc. Some days I don’t even know what hat I’m wearing besides Crazy! Right now our focus is obviously making really great gear, keeping the product offerings manageable while continuing to add essentials to the line, and keep it exciting. The designs are engineered very thoughtfully and always come from a place of need. We are ladies, we know what we need, and we’re listening carefully to what other ladies want as well. When it comes to the designs it’s really nice to have something to offer everyone. The wild and crazies, the more conservative, and then everyone in between. Our customers range in age from 12 to over 80! Seriously! It has been so fun to learn who our customers really are, and that they come from all different walks of life, shapes, sizes and ages. Not all of them ride bikes, some just love the comfort and functionality of the products along with the fun designs! So when we are selecting final designs each one tends to pick it’s own personality from our customer base and we make sure to have a selection that offers something for everyone! 

In your time of running SHREDLY, what changes in the women’s market have you noticed and are there any future plans to expand the brand further?

The market has definitely changed since SHREDLY was born 4 years ago. More and more women are riding bikes, it’s exploding. Instead of SHREDLY being the black sheep, and departing from the typical black shorts, all companies are now trying to address it. What do women want, how can we meet their needs? It’s nice to see the market shifting towards satisfying specific demands instead of just offering the basics because there isn’t any competition. 

We’ll continue to do what we’re doing well, and then I think it will naturally expand into other areas that are being neglected. But first things first, we still have a lot of non-SHREDLY wearers to convert!

Do you have a favourite piece/range of clothing you’ve done so far?

The shorts are definitely my favourite to design. It is so fun to see the patterns come to life once they’re off the computer and on an actual garment! Then to see them on different ladies of all shapes and sizes and see how great they look is so fun and rewarding. 

I love SHREDLY shorts, I think you have a brilliant attitude towards women in riding and promoting stylish and functional kit. What more do you think could be done by bikeparks and other leading brands to encourage more women to get out on the bike?

I think this is all happening now and it’s really exciting! I see so many ladies riding groups, women’s clinics, women’s brands that are hosting or promoting ladies only events: ladies maintenance workshops, ladies only bike races, ladies night at bike parks, equal purses for men and women’s categories and more! This is all great and will transcend generations. The young ladies that are growing up now are exposed to so many more opportunities to get on bikes, and if we all continue to do our part and support these programs, it will encourage more women to get on the bike! There are even organizations like Mountain2Mountain (and Afghan Cycles) who are bravely helping to support women who wish to ride bikes in places where it is considered taboo, and can even be a dangerous decision. Very cool that these initiatives are taking place in developing parts of the world.

And Ashley, we all want to know what bike you’re currently riding and what trails you love best!

Ahh! My current bike is the Yeti Beti SBC5. It is an incredible bike that is game changing, and I am in love! It climbs like a dream and is very fun and responsive on the descents. I never really thought you could have the best of both worlds. 

My absolute favourite trails are in this order:

The Whole Enchilada in Moab, Utah, USA

Prince Creek in Carbondale, Colorado, USA

Off the Grid in Seattle, Washington

Ashley in the Mountains on her Yeti

Ashley in the Mountains on her Yeti

It sounds as if Ashley made the right choices in life to lead her to be Miss SHREDLY, and I’m grateful because, as a consumer, I benefit from her creativity! Women’s riding is an exciting place to be, and it’s a great time to get involved with all these amazing companies popping up and contributing to the growth and success of female riders everywhere. I love seeing SHREDLY post up teasers a photos of their new ideas, and I’m excited to see what else will come out of Ashely’s colourful mind… sorry bank account.

I wear SHREDLY shorts on a majority of my rides, I find the fit spot on and the small size increments make is easy to find an ideal size for you. The designs are awesome, really eye-catching and stylish which are fun to coordinate with the rest of your riding attire. They are a soft shell material with breathable discrete vents, but are still comfortable to ride in and manoeuvre with. I’ve even worn them off the bike as well, great beach wear and all-rounder because they don’t even look bike specific!

Because of the soft shell material, theses shorts may not be ideal for aggressive downhill riding or racing. The material is soft so they can wear after many bike hours, and even snag on hefty impacts. At $100 a pair (£67), they are on the higher end of the price spectrum, but after having tried and tested so many other pairs of shorts, these work best for me personally.

Pure Mountains: MTB holiday in Spain

Pure Mountains was established by Tim and Jenny in 2005, a British couple who moved out to the Sierra Nevada mountains to set up their dream business of running an MTB holiday company. Providing luxury trips, guided tours and amazing food, the Pure Mountains experience was purelyawesome. Here’s the Velo Me review of my 5 day stay.

The Holiday Package

So what’s included, and for how much? I went on a 5 night trip with skills coaching from 4X World Champion, Katy Curd. The price of the trip was £599. You can take your own bike, or rent one from their Canyon Spectral fleet for £195. I chose to rent a bike out there for convenience, so the total package holiday came to £794.

For this you get quite a lot included, and Pure Mountains really takes a lot of the extra stress off you by catering to all your needs. The package included:

  • Airport transfers from Malaga airport to the Pure Mountains lodge
  • Room (with towels, extra blankets and en-suite)
  • 3 Meals a day (excl. 2 nights at a local restaurant: €20 pp pn)
  • Guided rides in the morning, with coaching from Katy Curd in the afternoons
  • Bike hire of a Canyon Spectral
  • WiFi in lounge area
  • Tim’s home-made ale from his micro-brewery

The Holiday

The lodge is set in a beautiful secluded area of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at an altitude of 1700m, which offers some stunning scenery. What sets this apart from most other holidays, is that it’s an eco lodge, powered by solar panels. The panoramic views are absolutely stunning here, the perfect way to spend breakfast.

Breakfast outside was a lovely way to start the day

Breakfast outside was a lovely way to start the day.

My group consisted of six riders, Coach Katy Curd and Guide Tim or Jenny. An eight person group size didn’t feel too big, or small. Everyone was super lovely and easy to get on with and throughout the holiday, there was time to get to know everyone. I’m so relieved that we had a lovely group because they really made the holiday enjoyable and relaxing.

The mornings consisted of guided trail rides which are incredibly fun. Whether you’re a beginner or expert, there is something for everyone. Unlike the UK, the terrain is rocky and loose which adds a challenging element to the riding, and a great way to learn new techniques. It was helpful to have Katy with us, coaching us through some of the more technical sections. After a re-fuelling lunch, it was back outside for some essential skills coaching with Katy, and I think everyone in the group came away feeling more confident and more able on the bike.

Additional Information

Pure Mountains offers a great package MTB holiday and while they take care of so much, you can just focus on your riding which is great. Some additional information:

– All prices are based on one person sharing a room with another. I travelled with Linzi from the Velo Vie Ladies, and we shared together which was great… apart from the late nights where we were up chatting into the wee early hours! If you do want a single room to yourself, there is a surcharge.

– The lodge is eco friendly and runs off of solar energy, so Jenny and Tim ask you limit your power usage. This means no hair-dryers or strengtheners, ladies! Not too big of a deal when the warm weather dries you quickly, but you may have some Monica frizz to tame!

Tame the wild hair!

Tame the wild hair!

You need to buy your own insurance! I got MTB specific travel insurance which only cost me £24 for the trip. You’ll also need an EU Health card which is free when you register online

– You’ll need to book and pay for your own flights. The closest airport is Malaga which is convenient for most people as there are many airports which fly there. I flew from Cardiff for €160 return

Overview

My Spanish MTB adventure was amazing! I thoroughly enjoyed myself and I wouldn’t have had as much fun if it wasn’t for Pure Mountains. Jenny and Tim are so welcoming and they did everything they could to make me feel happy, confident and comfortable. The lodge was comfortable, the trails were challenging and the company was great. I really hope to book again in the future, even if I have to tolerate some wild hair and share a room with a chatter-box! (I was the chatter-box, not Linzi haha). Great holiday, amazing surroundings and indulgent food, I highly recommend a trip with Pure Mountains.

POC VPD Knee Pads Vs. IXS Flow Knee Pads

When I was a kid, my mother would always tell me to wear padding when I went out on the bike… but that was so “uncool”. When you’re a kid you’re more fearless and although you hurt yourself, you just get on with it and show all your friends at school your gnarly war wounds. Now I’m older, more aware of pain, I’m all about the padding and being safe. Unlike my daring youth, if I break a bone I could face problems with work and being more inconvenienced than if I had to take a couple days off school and being known as the cool kid with the cast.

When I was shopping around for knee pads, I knew I may face a problem with sizing as there aren’t many women specific sizes and models. My legs are fairly slim, and I think I have small knees which was going to be a problem as I didn’t want the hassle of having to constantly adjust and pull up my pads whilst riding. In my riding experience, I have extensively tested both the POC VPD knee pads and the IXS Flow knee pads. So I thought I would do a comparative review of the two of them.

POC VPD Technical Info
 POC VPD Knee protection

POC VPD Knee protection

I came across the POC VPD range of protection and I thought they looked nice, simple design and the technology in them sounded really smart. They are pre-bent to contour the joints for a better fit and they are made of Visco-Elastic Polymer Dough (VPD). This dough-like material means that they are soft and flexible for manoeuvrability, but stiffen up immediately on impact to offer a high level of protection. There are rubberised strips around the cuffs to prevent slippage whilst riding, and the top cuff is reinforced by a sturdy Velcro strap. The knee pads range from a size small to size large, and they are approximately £72, which I did struggle with, but given knee pads are a necessity, and POC are a highly reputable brand, I didn’t worry too much about it.

IXS Flow Technical Info

 IXS Flow Knee protection

IXS Flow Knee protection

In comparison then, I was given a pair of IXS Flow knee pads to test out and review for Velo Me. I was instantly surprised by how light they felt, and how slender they looked too. The IXS pads have a number of features such as the X-Matter foam compound: a high impact and energy absorbing material. This is coupled with the AeroMesh fabric that encases the whole pad which is breathable and anti-bacterial. The pad itself is covered with a highly durable Kevlar which boasts the ability to withstand multiple impacts and provide long-lasting wear. The Silicone cuffs help keep the pads in place on the knee, and a loop-lock strap on the bottom cuff secures the pad above the calf muscle. These pads are more reasonably priced at approximately £45, and their sizes range from small – X large.

So how did the knee pads perform?

William and I do an initial test on all padding and protective wear, we strap them on and hit each other with things. Good fun, but I don’t recommend this as a true method of testing out protection. No one was hurt though, so both the POC and IXS pads passed the preliminary test! As for field testing, given that I like to push myself and always try new (stupid) things, I come off my bike a fair bit. So I can safely say that I have put these pads through their paces and done thorough testing with them, in all weather conditions.

POC: My first thoughts of the POC’s were “they look cool”, but they felt bulky on my knees. The size small was a snug fit on my thighs and calves, but the pad itself seemed almost too big. It felt big both in width and in curvature so that I had a constant “air-gap” between my knee and the pad itself. Despite this, they were bendy enough to allow good movement whilst riding and I did feel protected in them as well.

I did a number of tests with these pads, firstly a 25km MTB race. The POC’s offered great protection, but they suffocated my joints. I didn’t find them very breathable and when your skin is a little sweaty, the silicone cuffs did slip which was an inconvenience because I did have to pull them up every so often. So I wouldn’t recommend them for long distances, or hot days.

My second test was a crash, which I didn’t plan on but these are what the pads were made for! In my review for the POC Cortex Flow full-face helmet, I wrote about my epic fail at Bikepark Wales and it was whilst wearing the POC VPD knee pads. Now, I took a hell of a slam that day and I was disappointed to find that my knee bruised badly through the pads. I believe it has a lot to do with the bulky fit I mentioned earlier, and the air gap. They did of course prevent a smashed knee, but the impact did cause purple bruising and swelling which I didn’t expect from such high-end padding.

IXS: They fit really well to my narrow knees, without that noticeable air-gap between the knee and the padding, which was a relief. The breathable mesh covering means that my knees can breathe on hot days! Yay, minimal slippage. I like that the strap is above the calf muscle, because it gives the pad little room to move down. When the strap is above the knee, the leg naturally gets narrower downwards, so the strap is only tight at the point you set it. If it slips, then it’s downhill from there! I have taken falls with them, nothing as big as the previous fail, but I have fallen and I’m pleased to say that I didn’t suffer knee problems or bruising with the IXS pads. These pads even look like they fit better, and they move really well which is great for riding all trail types and durations.

I wore the IXS Flow pads throughout my Red Bull Foxhunt experience and they were brilliant from start to finish. The event involved a lot of climbing, pushing and riding and I felt no hindrance by the knee pads, or slippage either. They were very comfortable throughout and despite constant wear over 2 days of riding, they didn’t smell bad either!

If I had to point out a potential negative with these, it would be the AeroMesh fabric. Despite it’s fab breathability, it’s also quite thin. So be careful when tugging on your pads to put them on or remove them because they feel easy to snag or tear. I’ve not torn mine, but I am aware that this is a potential weakness.

IXS Front View

Conclusion

Overall, the IXS Flow knee pads win it for me. Mainly owing to the better fit as they feel more snug, without being restrictive and they feel lighter and more breathable to ride in. I would say the POC’s are more heavy duty and better for high impact, like downhill riding, but only if they fit you correctly! The IXS pads are now my preferred knee protection and I wear them on every ride, they are a great all-rounder for comfort and protection. They’re the bee’s knee’s… yea, I went there.

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Alpkit Camping Essentials

I was pretty nervous about camping at the Red Bull Foxhunt 2015, and this is because I’ve only ever camped at Festivals and with William, and I never realised how much I relied on him for the alpha tent responsibility. At first, I looked at staying in a hotel for the duration of the event, but I didn’t want to miss out on the atmosphere and spirit of the Foxhunt, so I thought: “sod it, I’ll camp it out.”

I felt immediately reassured by the lovely people at Alpkit who sent over a camping care package to ensure I would be comfy cosy on my Foxhunt adventure. I was excited to test their camping gear out as I was very impressed by their awesome merino wool base layers Every single piece came in handy over the course of the weekend in various circumstances. So let me give you a breakdown of my Alpkit essentials:

Jaran 2 Man Tent

Jaran 2 man tent

It’s rather self-explanatory really, the tent was my shelter and my bubble of solitude for the weekend. I was keen to see how it would fair with all my biking gear, clothing, sleeping stuff and withstand the notoriously brutal Scottish weather.

On first impression I was pleased to see how compact the tent could be folded away to. A carrier for the tent, and the pegs with another small pouch for the ground sheet. All in all, it was very lightweight to carry and easy to stow away in luggage. Thumbs up.

Getting the tent up, secure and stable was the next challenge and if I’m being honest, it was a struggle. Now, I usually rely on William for the guidance of tent pitching, but getting this Jaran tent up was difficult because I wasn’t provided with any pictures or instructions. So, it was like doing a jigsaw puzzle without having the picture to know what the final image should look like. Luckily, I was pitching up next to Amberand Lucy who were a dab hand at tenting and helped me figure out which way goes what… what goes how… and how goes why. We got there in the end!

Despite the lack of instructions, I did like how all the poles were already connected and there wasn’t any need to faff around poking them through the little tent pole tunnels. I think it’s a pretty ingenious design to have the inner tent hooked up onto the poles, it’s quicker and more simple because you can easily see the shape and structure and line it up with the outer shell. The inner and outer shell material felt strong and once it was all set up, I gave the tent a good shake, and thankfully, it barely budged. It felt a lot stronger in structure and material than the usual festival style tent I had been used to!

 The internal structure of the tent

The internal structure of the tent

So how is it inside? It was great for me. Spacious porches on either side of the sleeping chamber which were great for storing the biking bits and muddy shoes. The tent is described as a 2 man tent, but the sleeping compartment would be very snug for two adults, and near impossible if you have a lot of clothing or equipment. It would be better if the porches were bigger I think, or if the sleeping area was a little wider.

At night, the tent was great at keeping the wind and rain out. It was very breathable as well, and the wee bugs were held at bay by the mesh fabric on the inner lining. There are reflective tabs on the outer shell which lit up when your torched glanced over it… great for those night-time pee breaks. All the outside zips were protected by Velcro and snap enclosures to add more protection from the wind and rain.

It was a great tent for my biking weekend away, definitely fit for that purpose. It kept me, and my gear, dry and protected from the harsh Scottish elements. The function of this tent is to be lightweight, durable and ideal for backpacking, which it is. However, I think it would be too cosy for 2 people, plus kit. The porches would be better if they were a little larger, so the sleeping compartment could be kept relatively clear. Overall, it was a great tent and I felt more confident sleeping in a tent that looked and felt secure.

 My cosy abode for the Foxhunt

My cosy abode for the Foxhunt

Dozer Sleeping Mat

This sleeping mat was a godsend for the trip because I didn’t want the inconvenience of a full-on blow up mattress, but I also didn’t want to sleep on the hard ground. This sleeping mat was a brilliant solution. The mat is long enough and wide enough for one adult, it’s coated in a soft covering which is nice on the skin, and it rolls away into a neat little bag which again… easy to pack and stow. The mechanics of the sleeping mat was simple, unlike the tent debacle, where all you need to do is roll the mat out on the floor, open the valve at the end and leave it. That’s pretty much all because the valve acts as a vacuum and sucks in the air, so after about 15mins, the mat is nearly at capacity. You may need to blow it up for that last little bit, but it’s a very simple, comfortable product.

 Dozer sleeping mat

Dozer sleeping mat

Sleeping on it was great too and much better than I thought. I expected to still feel the lumps and bumps of the uneven ground underneath, but I didn’t. Then at the end of the trip, undo the valve and roll the mat up from the top so all the air is squished out. Simple and effective.

Skyehigh 700 Sleeping Bag

I’ve said it once, I’ve said it before… I am a creature of comfort. I love fleecey blankets, comfy pillows, warm cats and cocooning myself in little Jessica-Den’s. So sleeping was a huge concern of mine, being warm and relaxed because I wanted to feel good for riding the Foxhunt.

 Super red lovely sleeping cocoon

Super red lovely sleeping cocoon

The Skyehigh sleeping bag, again, comes well rolled up and packed as minimal as possible making it light and convenient to travel with. It’s red (my super favourite colour) and it’s got goose feather down which sounds mega fancy. It has a single zip on the left hand side, and a hood for the head whilst being long and tapered towards the feet. The material is weird because when I unrolled it, it felt thin and I thought, “How on earth will this keep me warm”. So when it came to bedtime, I wore socks, leggings, t-shirt, jumper and hat because I didn’t have much faith in the sleeping bag keeping me toasty. Then, at around 04:00 on Saturday morning I found myself sheepishly tugging on my socks and jumper because I was too warm! Sorry for doubting you, Alpkit. The sleeping bag rocks, and I was as snug as a bug in a rug… in a tent, in Scotland.

Bob Lantern and Indigo Head Lamp

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No happy camper should venture off without some form of light source and in desperate times I usually resort to my phone’s torch, but that’s not very efficient with battery life. Alpkit provided me with two lights, a lantern which was excellent to hang in the tent. This requires 4x AA batteries and has a variety of light settings which came in handy whilst writing up article notes at night in the tent. Then there’s the Indigo head lamp which I wasn’t sure about at first, because I didn’t think I would need it, and once again I was wrong. This little lightweight gem was brilliant! Great for going to the loo, for walking around at night and even as a wee hand-held torch. It’s comfortable to wear, soft strap and you can tilt the light itself to shine at whatever angle is best for you to see with. I carried mine around in my pocket a lock as well, just in case and it wasn’t a bulky burden at all.

Filoment Jacket

Whilst at the Foxhunt, a number of ladies commented and compliment my jacket which I wore pretty much the whole weekend. And rightly too because it’s great. I have saved the best for last in this case because the Filoment jacket is superb. It isn’t what I expected and once again I was surprised at how thin it was, but it totally exceed expectations and kept me extremely warm.

 The amazing Filoment jacket

The amazing Filoment jacket

It’s very lightweight, easy to stuff away into your bag and it makes for a great light outer jacket, or even as a mid-layer. The zipped pockets are ample in size and the tapered female cut is really flattering to the body. They have a number of lovely colours to choose from and the sizing is spot on as well. I had a size small and I usually suffer from long limb syndrome with clothing but I didn’t find this at all. The sleeves and body were long enough to cover all areas without leaving it exposed.

The Filoment jacket is so soft and squishy that I actually wore it under my Foxhunt jersey in the final race! I took my jacket up the mountain thinking it would be cold, and didn’t have a quicker way to bring it down, so I just wore it. However, I was absolutely baking by the end of the run!

Wrap-up
So there we have it. My first solo camping experience whilst attending the Red Bull Foxhunt with some of the industry’s best camping equipment. I’m no camping aficionado, but I was extremely happy with Alpkit’s range of camping gear, with only niggles on the tent side of things. My favourite piece is the Filoment jacket which surprised me on how warm and comfy it is, and stylish! As it’s now entering the colder months, this jacket will be my go-to for the rest of the season.

Massive thanks to Alpkit for the camping support, I wouldn’t know how I would have fared otherwise. I mentioned it before in my Merino Wool review, but Alpkit are awesome for providing outdoor active and camping wear because it’s designed for active people, by active people. The quality is of a high standard, it’s functional and stylish and I would feel confident using their products for my future endeavours.

AMS Om 45 Stem

One of the first things I changed on my Canyon was the stem. It came with a 60mm stem which I wanted shortened for my own comfort as I felt a little too stretched out on the bike. I downsized to a Renthal Duo 40mm stem weighing 124g (including bolts), and it served me well with the Renthal Fatbar lites for some time. I had the opportunity to test out the awarding winning Om 45 Stem by AMS and I jumped at the chance. I’m super impressed with the frame guards they produce, so I was curious to see how their stem would fare on the trails.

There’s something really interesting about the branding of the Om 45 stem. It was named after an American doctor, Duncan “Om” MacDougall, who was determined to measure the weight of the human soul by measuring the loss of mass experienced at the point of death. After numerous experiments, Dr. MacDougall concluded that the soul weighs 21 grams. AMS introduce their new stem called “Om”, owing to its 121 gram weight, the lightest stem in the industry, and winner of the 2015 Design and Innovation Award by Enduro Mountain Bike Magazine.

Tech talk now… So how do AMS manufacture such a sleek and lightweight stem? It’s extensively CNC machined. For those who aren’t sure what that means exactly, CNC stands for Computer Numerical Control. This allows for the precise production of components in all areas of manufacturing. AMS use 6082 T6 aluminium block for the production of this stem, and some internet research has revealed this alloy has excellent corrosion resistance, which is fab for durability and all weather usage. So AMS are able to shave off minute fragments to reduce the weight without compromising the structural build of the stem itself. Here’s the spec:

Specifications:

  • Compatible with 1 1/8″ steer tubes and 31.8mm handlebars
  • 121 grams fully assembled
  • CNC machined from 6082 T6 aluminium block
  • 45mm offset, 0º rise
  • 30mm stack height
  • 55mm wide handlebar clampThere’s the technical breakdown, and now for the practical testing. I’ve had this stem fitted on my Canyon for a couple of months now and I’ve used it a lot. When I received the stem, I was pleasantly surprised by its simplicity in design and feel. It’s light, it’s looks great and it’s minimal in design and construct which I love! I’m a super minimalist in my lifestyle, the boyfriend is a hoarder… go figure. So the stem really appeals to my personal taste, and the anodized black with laser engraved white branding is really effective.

Fitting the stem requires standard Allen keys and it’s really simple to disassemble and reassemble with its 6 bolt design. It’s super easy to fit yourself, but as with all modifications with cockpits and headsets, it’s a nightmare to get everything straight again, but you’ll get there! It’s always a good idea to keep a multi-tool in your pocket on a ride after you’ve adjusted the cockpit area because it won’t be until you’re riding that you feel the slightest of differences.

If I were to pick on one thing that lets this component down, it would be the lack of grams for your buck. The AMS Om 45 stem retails for €135 which is approximately £98, so this puts it into the higher end of the price scale. For this price tag I would have thought the stem would have been even lighter than the boasted 121g. To shave off more weight, the bolts could be replaced with titanium ones, but this would be at your own additional cost.

I do really like the look of this stem, it looks like two animal claws holding my bars in place. It’s easy to fit yourself, no boyfriend assistance required, go me! And for the weight conscious biker, it’s only 121 grams. The low 30mm stack allows for a lot of adjusting which is great because you can play around with the height until you’re totally happy with it. The handle bar clamp is wider set than my previous stem which increases the strength of the bar positioning as well and reduces the stress you put on the bars. The Om 45 can now be bought in a wider handlebar size, mine is a 31.8mm and the newer AMS Om 45 Stem offers 35mm at 140g, for the same price. I’m hoping this is the tip of the iceberg for AMS, and would like to see more components hitting the market in the future.

Red Bull Hardline 2015

The Red Bull Hardline is said to be the most difficult downhill mountain bike track built. Dan Atherton and his crew spent months crafting the technical and fast flowing course in mid-Wales to create a single track that would scare and entice even the most daring of riders. Natural rock garden, doubles, hip jumps and road gaps, this course has a bit of everything to push any rider to the limit of their ability, and beyond. Sadly, Dan Atherton injured himself a week before the event resulting in shoulder surgery, so he wouldn’t be racing the event himself. I wondered how this would affect the morale of the riders when the Hardline Godfather hospitalizes himself on his own track! Samantha and I spent the weekend absorbing the buzzing atmosphere, and the welsh rain, of the Hardline event!

Saturday September 12th: Qualifiers

I’m really not a fan of early mornings, especially when it’s raining outside. However, I was pumped to get up at 06:45 on a Saturday morning and get ready to drive up to the Dyfi Valley in Mid Wales to watch the highly anticipated Red Bull Hardline event. Sam and I flew down the Welsh country roads and arrived at the site just as the practice session was kicking off. Much to our disappointment the heavy rains had churned up the fields into a boggy suction pit, and the rains continued to flow. Note to self, tie boots on tight! Not to let this bum us out, we kitted up in waterproofs and set off into the arena where the atmosphere was buzzing. After we received our media passes from the Jeep tent, we decided to climb the track walk so Sam could find some good photography spots to camp at.

Oh dear God. Describing the track walk is difficult because all that comes to mind are curse words and gentle sobbing! The rain had done a fab job of creating a muddy slip n’ slide for the spectators to clamber up, and fall down over the course of the weekend, and I give a massive thumbs up to anyone who didn’t fall on their butt at some point. Yep, I did fall on my butt. It was so bad in some places that Red Bull had nailed ropes into the ground so you could hoist yourself up a near vertical wet muddy wall, I didn’t sign up for a Toughmudder, did I? On one of my descents down the track, a pushy child actually used my leg to pull himself up a muddy bank. Thanks for the muddy hand prints, kid!

So the wet forest muddy scene has been set. Now for the action. The media passes we had for the event were awesome as we were allowed just inside the taped areas next to the track for Sam to get her shots. And boy did we feel close to the riders when they flew by on their practise runs. Saturday morning practise started with riders sessioning some of the jumps near the top of the course, and these were huge! We had heard from the marshals that Friday’s practise session had seen some epic falls and crashes, so the riders were keen to pin these features before qualifiers later in the day.

I managed to steal some time with the lovely Gethin Evans whilst he was carrying out some track maintenance. Gethin, who’s besties with Dan and Olly, helped with the Hardline construction from the start. He told me that over the 3 months of building there was a solid crew of 6 men, with additional builders lending a day here and there. I asked him what the hardest part of the build was: “Mentally, the planning of the course was the hardest part. Physically, carrying all the logs up to the Renegade jump as it was so demanding”. Gethin thought that the riders needed a more positive-mental-attitude as some where requesting more practise times and easier features. But this is the hardline! Thanks Gethin, and big shout-out to #teambont!

The day ended with the qualifying race between the hopeful and brave (or stupid) 8 riders. Gee Atherton who had be dominating the track in practice, secured himself 1st in qualies, followed by Joe Smith and Bernard Kerr. The day ended with the sun shining and the riders sessioning the final 2 jumps in a whip-off competition.

Sunday September 13th: Finals

Yay! Clearer skies greeted Sam and I when we headed into the arena on day 2. The atmosphere was intense as the crowd had really filled out for the Finals and the anticipation of the day’s riding was on everyone’s minds. We climbed once more up the boggy track walk of doom and popped ourselves under the colossus road gap. It wasn’t the distance of it that freaked me out. It was the height that these riders would land from, and the speed! I know my chicken wing arms would snap off completely if they had to withstand that impact. Something Rachel Atherton agreed with when I asked if she would ride the road gap: “I can ride the feature and the distance, but it’s the height and impact of landing that is too big for me”.

The day kicks off with a couple hours of practicing for the riders, which was one of the drawbacks of the event only having 8 riders. You found yourself waiting around… a lot. Unlike other races and events where riders are constantly on the track, at the Hardline, Sam and I would be waiting a good 40mins+ before seeing any action. The original rider list was approximately 15 riders, whittled down to the final 8 although it’s not clear why riders pulled out of the event. Perhaps Dan’s injury, or the delightful Welsh weather put them off! I wonder if Red Bull would open the event to a wider rider list in future (beyond the UK and EU). Even more so, I would love to see some ladies take on the Hardline! Riders like 4X World Champion, Katy Curd could surely have some fun with these jumps and drops.

Later in the day, Dan Atherton showed up in the arena with his arm secured to his chest. What a trooper to attend, fresh out of surgery, to see the riders take on his challenging track. I managed to catch up with Dan to see how he was doing and thankfully, he said there wouldn’t be any long term damage to the shoulder. Hurray, Affy will ride again! What a lovely guy as well, the Atherton clan were so welcoming and friendly! They say to never meet your idols, but I couldn’t have been happier,.. I just wish I was a little less awkward and fangirly.

The riders made their final ascent to the top of the mountain in Jeep vehicles, preparing for their final run. I wish I could have read their minds at that point. If it were me, it would be curse words, prayers and thoughts of Gomez. First to ride was Alex Bond who suffered a rear puncture in the early stages of the track and had to roll himself down to the finish. Poor dude, to have trained and practised so hard for that to happen in your final run! The riders descended in their qualifying order with Gee Atherton coming down last. Having thought Gee would secure the win, we were all gob-smacked when it was announced in his final race run that Gee’s rear tyre had come off early into the track. Mechanical issues can happen to anyone, at any time but the final of a Hardline run that you were sure to win is the WORST time for a mechanical fail. Gee dragged his bike through the finish where the extent of the damage was clear: the rear tyre had completely come off and tangled itself up, locking out the wheel altogether. He was not a happy bunny, which is totally understandable.

Against all odds, the unexpected winner of the Red Bull Hardline was Scottish rider Ruaridh Cunningham, who qualified 4th on Saturday and who hadn’t even ridden all the course features until his final run. He was followed by Joe Smith taking 2nd place, and Bernard Kerr taking 3rd.

Hardline 2015 Race Results:

Ruaridh Cunningham – 3:53.785
Joe Smith – 3:57.402
Bernard Kerr – 4:01.035
Adam Brayton – 4:11.028
Reece Wilson – 4:15.335
Craig Evans – 4:20.701
Alex Bond – 7:47.398
Gee Atherton – 10:47.941

I love watching race events and I’m always on YouTube checking out tricks, rider diaries and trying to study rider technique. Watching the Red Bull Hardline event is a whole new level of riding and I have so much respect for all the riders who participated in the event. It’s hard to describe the epic scale of some of these features, but to throw yourself off a wooden bridge, or down a near vertical rock face, you need some guts and skill! You could see every rider really knuckled down and gave everything they had to this course, skill, speed and the determination to conquer the track in one piece.

Thank you to everyone at Red Bull, Atherton Racing, Jeep and the riders for making the event what it is. Good luck and well wishes to Dan Atherton for a speedy recovery as well, see you next year Red Bull Hardline! And last but definitely not least, thank you Sam for the amazing photos and keeping me company on the drive! Please check out Sam’s photography skills, not only is she great at capturing super action shots, but she’s an ace rider herself. All the photos for this article have been taken by herself, and there’s more in the gallery below. Enjoy!