Switch-Backs DH 26-30 March 2009
Well, I am truly lost for words, what a long weekend if Spain with Switch-Backs DH, unflippin believable.
One word = WOW...
Natural DH at its best, some of the tracks are just hand crafted by God himself, others by the Devil.
A few words on our experience:
The man behind the experience that is Switch-Backs DH is Michael Saunders, a cool guy who has been doing Switch-Backs thing for around 8 years now and last year introduced the van assisted DH side. Michael went out of his way to not only show us the best of what’s on offer in Spain but also to understand how our group ticked so he could hit the sweet spot. Every group he looks after are different so this was a key strength. He was backed up by possibly the coolest van driver in Spain, Lucky was his name and he drove us all around, took care of our bikes in the van and drove us to the petrol station for much cheapness beer at the end of each day. Both Lucky and Michael are legends.
Before I went to Spain I had watched the videos from the Switch-Backs DH website and had a look around YouTube but upon arrival at the first trail it all looked rather different, for some strange reason. Yes the trails were similar to the videos but what the videos don’t show you are the variety of trails on offer, how quickly the trail terrain can change on a single run and the whole scale of the trails, amazing.
If I remember correctly we hit the following trails whilst we were there:
Thursday afternoon = Rediculator – hard to put a single explanation to this but it involves three main sections, the first made up of steep sandy runs littered with rocks (It felt similar to driving a boat down a river littered with rocky outcrops, turn the bars and a few moments later the bike turned), strangely rather fun and addictive once you get the hang of riding it. The second section was more hard packed and flowing. The third was more techy with larger rock garden type terrain. So all in all a bit of everything to get you into the swing of things.
Friday = the newly named Booby-trap and it’s longer more mentally deranged sister Booby-track Long. We renamed it Booby-trap because this trail had such a double sided personality, the first sections was fast flowing and rocky soil/stone terrain interjected with switchbacks and the second section was just one on long rock garden, start to finish! Great for honing the bike skills and letting rip. After the trail finished I loved the ride down to the van, not normally part of the trail but just a must to reach the van. It involved riding down through a small town so I nicknamed this the Urban DH section and found it great fun launching off every step and switch back road corner possible, much air time was rewarded, I loved it.
To end to day Michael talked to us about another variant to Booby-trap which he had heard about and subsequently looked at it on Google Earth. We were intrigued and talked him into us all trying to find it, true adventure type thing. Well, the first hour was pure hell seeing as we took the wrong trail and ended up doing a hike’a’bike session, everyone was well knackered, sweaty and fed up after that, not even the amazing view could cheer a few up. But a couple of us were determined to find this allusive trail and after looking around some more I found the entrance, hidden away on a non descript corner. So, with adventure clearly in mind I talked everyone into it, probably against Michael’s sensible side. But only after 100m into the trail everyone was buzzing, crafted by god himself what followed was possibly the best piece of natural single track DH trail I have ever ridden! 3 long sections, the first super fast flowing on sandy hard terrain, the second was a short an awkward section through what felt like a jungle and the third was the epiphany of Switch-Backs DH, rocky techy switch backs, back to back. The best bit was this trail had hardly ever been ridden, I only saw a couple of scrape marks on the rocks showing no one rode it and it was completely natural, never been touched by a spade. It took us over an hour to descend at a quick pace, nuff said, and my favorite experience of the trip.
Saturday = SRAM and 911. Contrast to the previous day of adventure we started this day on the SRAM test track, pretty much a full on DH course type track made by locals. Time to get the stop watch out and pin it! First time down slow checking it out scared all of us but the second time down at normal riding speed it seemed ok, by the end of the session everyone was pinning it. My best time was 3.34 which wasn’t too bad after 6 runs but compared to the legendary Peaty run of 2.44 does seem rather lame lol, how on earth did he do that!? Michael has a best of 3.12, very quick.
In the afternoon we completely changed trails and tackled the 911, a long trail from what looked to be the highest point around and covered in massive radio masts. The trail is a natural rocky descent which flows nicely into a techy switch back middle section and then ends with a rock garden dream/nightmare (delete as appropriate). The first time the second section seemed bloody hard work as we were tired towards the end of the day but when we rode it a couple of days later it rode much much better. At the end of the 911 a local guy called Sal has started to build a new line up the hill and if he ever reached the top it will be unbelievable. We pushed up to session what he has done so far and it’s brilliant, a line with continuous step ups, doubles, table tops and drop offs, go Sal go.
Sunday = Happy Days and 556 (I think that is what it was called) Happy days says it all, a local track built by the guys from the local bike shop. It runs down from a local quarry through dense woods, the terrain is half soil half stone, the upper section includes a load of flowing step downs from the natural terraced terrain, a gap jump and ladder drop. The second section is more peddly and techy to keep your speed going. You just can’t help trying it again and again to get smoother and smoother.
556 was a strange trail, on the outset it seemed too simply, just a baron hill ridge where a few locals have worn a trail down and a couple of 10 year olds have borrowed there dads spade to dig a couple of jumps. However it turned out to be an amazingly fun trail to ride, each time getting more fun. Because it wasn’t very technical or hard to ride you could forget the brakes and let rip, faster and faster and faster. We sessioned this all afternoon and everyone was a grinning ear to ear after each run.
Monday = The BOS track with its variant lines, then a 911 variant followed by one last blast down the fantastic SRAM track and a direct 911 finish. The BOS track was a flowy line with a possibly the most prickly small bushed in the world, wear long socks and shin pads.
So that was it, home to recover. I don’t think it is not possible to fit more amazing riding into 4 ½ days anywhere, sure you can ride all day in the Alps or Canada but in my view Spain is very different, the natural terrain, local built trails rather than a corporate affair, the contrast between natural beauty and building site that is the Costa Del Sol, unique and simple brilliant.
The accommodation was perfect, nicely sized 3 person apartments in a quite location with a kitchen and balcony, plus the showers were super strong, perfect after a long day riding. There was also free internet connection and even a pool, although the pool wasn’t heated which we found out after a few beers. The uplift van was spot on, a large Merc with plenty of space for everything and with Lucky looking after the bike loading/unloading there was none of the normal uplift bike damage that can be so annoying. Local food was there to suit everyone’s taste, you could either cook in the apartments like we did one late night back or go out to a restaurant, one night we ate pizza and other nights we lived it up eating top notch.
We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and all look forward to returning one day hopefully soon. We were blessed with no major mechanical failures and no physical injuries, the terrain is fairly tough on both bikes and riders, we only had a couple of punctures and peddle breakages.
Spain is an amazing place to ride and Switch-Backs DH made it professionally happen smoothly, effortlessly and most importantly fun. All we had to do was pay, turn up and ride! I also now want to go out to Michael home town in Bubion where his trail descriptions have me very excited.
Can't wait to go back, most highly recommended.
A few pics:
Ready to rock
Hanging out with the locals
Don't look down
Dropping in on 556
Upper section on 911
Which way now on 911
Ras clearing the rock garden on the Rediculator
Spot the rider on BOS
Sandy corners that actually bermed as you rode round them
On top of the world
With the main man Michael (middle)
The don aka Lucky the van driver