You’ve no doubt seen the “best nine” Instagram collages doing the rounds, produced by a website that rounds up people’s most “liked” snaps of the year.
As you can see, all of mine are MTB-related, and six of them (including the most-popular five) are from a single trip to the Scottish Highlands in April. There’s a repeat and – weirdly – the sixth most-popular snap is a crap pic of my Enduro 29. Not ideal.
The Scottish trip was great and gave me the opportunity to take more riding photos than usual, but I don’t think these are my best nine pics of the year – so I’ve decided to do the job myself, and explain a bit about each one.
NOTE – I’ve embedded the images and they may not display perfectly on mobile, so please just click through to have a proper look.
Here we go then, in date order…
1. North Wales in March
A group of us had a gloriously sunny late March weekend in North Wales, and the keenest four started on Friday afternoon with our first go at Snowdon for a while. We did the normal, up Llanberis, down the Ranger and over Telegraph Valley route, there was snow on the summit (and some of the way down the Ranger Path) and despite having a 170mm enduro sled I still couldn’t ride the gnarliest bits.
The next day saw one of the best rides of the year with Mark showing us round the amazing off-piste at Gwydir Forest, which was dry and loamy – with a spin out to Capel Curig and back on some excellent rocky trails.
Then on the Sunday I did The Beast and Tawr at Coed y Brenin to finish myself off. Tired but happy.
2. Golden hour on Winter Hill
My local trails at Rivington / Winter Hill are pretty good, especially when they’re not submerged in mud. I know it’s difficult to remember now, but we had a lovely long, dry spell from the end of March through to mid-summer.
This is the start of probably the best trail on the hill, and one of my favourite photo spots due to those trees. Due to its position as the first proper hill off the Irish Sea, Rivi gets some stunning sunsets and plenty of golden hour, #lightbro or whatever you want to call it.
So this pic represents all those lovely dry local rides, with the sun staying out longer each week. This trail is an utter slopfest now, of course.
3. A snowy day on the Feshie Hills
I’d never ridden in the Cairngorms before this year and my introduction to these imposing lumps of rock was a cracker.
A slog up the Carn Ban Mor track, a left turn at the top as the snow thickened and a ride / trudge along the undulating ridge with stunning views across to Braeriach and then a marvellous descent with a bit of a “secret” feel back to Feshiebridge.
There’s a ride report here if you’d like more info and pics.
4. The Achnaschellach descent
The day after that Cairngorms ride we hit Torridon for the classic “lollipop” ride – a long old loop with a bit of hike-a-bike and two of the best long descents in the UK.
Last time I was up I missed the top section from Coire Grannda and I actually enjoyed it more than I did the gnarlier lower section. Put together it’s a sensational 500m-plus descent (with a 2km-plus plateau in the middle that I always forget about).
The light’s a bit flat in this pic but I really like the positioning of the two riders.
5. Cotic Solaris in the woods
I built up this handsome Cotic Solaris this year and it has really relit my fire for steel hardtails, as well as giving me the chance to find out what 650b-plus is all about.
I’ve raced XC on this bike, I’ve pedaled it across the Applecross peninsula and I’ve taken it round a few trail centres, but I’ve mainly ridden it from the house to my local-local trails.
It’s hard to take a bad picture of this bike, but I think it looks best in 29er form and in its natural habitat – the woods.
Read my review of the Solaris here.
6. Winning on Win Hill
I don’t get to the Peak District much as it’s a right pain getting round Manchester to reach it, and life is too short to waste in a traffic jam in Stockport.
One of my two or three trips down there this year was to meet Luke and sell him some wheels, and we did a nice 40km-ish loop to make it worth the journey for both of us.
The bit around Win Hill was one of the highlights and I was pleased with the light in this shot, as well as the composition with the trail directly in front of the rider.
7. Photo op with CB
Not a riding or bike photo, but there is a pretty decent cyclist in it. Myself and my OpenMTB colleague Andy Nelson (centre) met Chris Boardman at a Cycling UK event in October – receiving a “special recognition” certificate for our work on the Trails for Wales campaign.
This felt great as I’d put a lot of effort into supporting Cycling UK’s campaign and helping them reach a wider audience.
The public consultation is now over and it was resoundingly in favour of allowing much winder access for bikes in Wales – so we’re cautiously optimistic about the Welsh Government making the right decision on the issue.
8. Borrowdale Bashing
I’ve had quite a few rides in the Lakes this year, but don’t have many good pics to show for it. I do like this one from the Borrowdale Bash at the start of December though.
A great ride, with good friends and despite it looking a bit moody here, it didn’t even rain.
9. Torridon takes an encore
Another snap from that Scotland trip back in April, but I only posted this a week ago when I’d finally got round to writing up a “mini-lollipop” route we created for an easier day out (which didn’t turn out to be super-easy).
A long line of singletrack, the desolate beauty of the north west Highlands and a rare pic of me on a bike – what’s not to like?
The descent here was actually our main climb on that day, I just rode down a bit of it for the camera. It’s not really cheating though, as we had done it as a descent a couple of days earlier.
And one for luck…
I’ve just realised I didn’t have any with my faithful hound Tetley, so here he is colour-co-ordinated with my Cotic and some autumn leaves. He loves a trot around with me and the bike.
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