Schwalbe Bike Alpinism - the first descent?

Mar 12, 2012
by Colin Stewart  
First descent. These words always sound a bit strange in the context of mountain biking but have become regularly used when it comes to bike alpinism, bike mountaineering or whatever you want to call it. All these terms try to describe the adventurous combination of high Alpine mountains and self supported trail riding. You can become addicted to this type of mountain biking, always in search of higher mountains, steeper and more technical trails or simply some mountain nobody has ever been to with a bike just to make the first descent.

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In real mountaineering the first ascents are alway a big thing and no matter what guidebook you read it’s very likely you'll find the first ascent noted. In bike alpinism things are a bit different. Thousands of people have already been to the summit when you reach the top with a bike on your shoulders and, although you might not have heard of anybody else who did the same peak on a bike, you're never really sure. I haven’t heard of a single mountain where the first descent with a mountain bike is documented, either in a guidebook or, these days, on the internet somewhere. There are so many good riders and experienced locals out there that the chances are good that somebody crazy enough has carried their bike to the summit, perhaps even years before you first got interested in biking.

On the summit.

Regardless of all that, the idea of a first descent has something magical about it. Even if you can’t be sure nobody has done the mountain before at least it’s your first descent. Perhaps you saw a peak or a striking ridge line in a photo, or some red dotted line on a hiking map that drew your attention to it. Curiosity grabs you and instantly you ask yourself “Is it rideable?”

Time consuming research follows. You study the contours on the maps, look at every picture of the mountain you can find and read the accounts of hikers on the internet. From there you take a day off, a long drive from home or even plan your holidays just to get to this mountain. You get up early, ride in and hike a long way up the hill, your bike on your shoulders getting heavier every hour. Perhaps you even thought of giving up and turning back during the climb.

But, finally, you made it and are standing on top of a mountain maybe no other cyclist has ever been to, ready to begin your first descent. The downside of being the first one to ride a new trail is that you often don’t know if it’s possible and if all the effort is finally going to pay off. That's all part of the adventure and exploration that we enjoy so much.

Johannes enjoying the view.

It was those feelings I had when I stood on top of a 3200m high summit in Tyrol last summer. A very steep and exposed ride was in front of me and a possible free fall of hundreds of meters if I screwed up. Colin and I saw the summit when we reached our main goal, a subsidiary peak lower down and were freaked out looking at the amazing ridge line leading down from the summit to the glacier. We just had to get to the summit. Descending off our first summit then traversing the glacier was a bit time consuming but we made it. Finally I was on the bike and ready to roll. I slowly and carefully opened my brakes...

Alpine mountain biking above 3000m.

When you ride on schist rocks you have endless grip and even the craziest lines are rideable. But not so this time. The rocks were not as grippy as I had wished and the ideal line has been polished by the countless shoes of hikers to make it slippery.

I'm glad that I mounted high volume tyres with the stickiest rubber that Schwalbe make on my front wheel. I lowered the pressures too in an effort to maximise the contact area of rubber and rock. Besides the slippery rock surface there were many loose stones acting like ball bearings to unbalance me in unwanted directions. Slowly and as in control as possible I rode one steep section after the other. Colin followed and leap frogged ahead of me with his video camera and caught the action.

Finally, I completed the section and reached the top of the glacier. Compared to the exposed rock section before it was great fun sliding down on the snow. Soon we hit our original traverse line and were back on our first peak of the day. I knew it was still a long way back to the valley, but I’m happy about my safe descent from this remote mountain peak on a summit that maybe no other mountain biker has ridden down from before.

Dawn at the hut.

Writing by Johannes Pistrol ( www.bikewithpassion.com ), Video & Pics by Colin Stewart.

Posted In:
Schwalbe



46 Comments

  • + 4
 Great article and cool video about our common passion. Smile

First descents (whether or not they are for real) are such a great experience due to the excitement of the unknown. In combination with the alpine setting, it makes for an awesome day even though you might not ride it completely.
  • + 5
 i think it'd be pretty cool to be the first person to ride a descent, but other than that the riding in the video did not look like it was not particularly fun
  • + 2
 ^so the double negative there means you think it looked fun?
  • + 0
 typo, my baddd
  • + 4
 Looks fun for a trials person...
  • + 4
 or fun for someone who has the balls to commit to it
  • + 1
 It hurt to look at the fork constantly blowing through its travel, bobbing up and down like a pogo, constantly using like 80% of the travel. Which is because of a lack of low speed compression and because its an air sprung fork. I hope people realise air forks suck big donkey balls for this kind of riding (if that thing is coil sprung I will literally suck big donkey balls).
On descents like this you should dial in more low speed compression to combat the effect of braking, especially if you are doing it with brakes with a bite like his. This guy seems completely oblivious to that though.
But very impressive how he manages to ride that underdamped air fork through!
  • + 3
 @VictorMAAS - His fork 'looks' exactly like my coil Totem, so, I guess, enjoy your donkey endeavor?
  • + 3
 @VictorMAAS: time to suck the donkey balls :-D
  • + 3
 i don't understand why no fullface? becouse of visibility issues? You can smack your head into pieces on those rocks if you fail
  • - 1
 the climb up with the fullface would suck even more
  • + 2
 it's called a backpack
  • + 1
 He also had a camera man. I'm sure he could pack one up but it would be uncomfortable when you are already packing a bike up. The are kinda bulky if you hadn't noticed.
  • + 2
 fair enough. I truck one around myself and have gotten quite used to it. I've never had to carry my bike like that though. hence the wisecrack. sorry man
  • + 2
 Cool of you to be decent about it. I just started using a fullface last summer at the park. It still seems huge to me.
  • + 1
 That 'gently does it' approach doesn't alway work well for me, as it's too non-committal, and I end up losing too much momentum, and putting a foot down. But I'd really love to learn to endo the back wheel round tight corners. It's harder than it looks as you have to throw your weight foward a bit, right at the point when you're worried about going over the bars.
  • + 1
 I need a lighter weighing bike, my beast of 50lbs needs to poop out a baby like a new carbon m1 bike with 9" travelSmile That time will come in a year or two. Super technical and amazing video.
  • + 2
 Good thing this is sponsored by a tire company, don't think he'd have any tread left on that back tire after that descent.
  • + 1
 Makes me wish I wasn't surrounded by National Parks so I could ride all the excellent looking hiking trails around here. Not to say that National Parks are bad though!
  • + 2
 I wonder how many times he needs to bleed his brakes. I am thinking on a daily basis, LOL. Great vid/write up.
  • + 2
 He must be a trials rider.
  • + 1
 he certainly has some good control. not just over his bike but his own heart rate....I don't think I would have the same look on my face riding down that "trail" - and I use the term loosely.
  • + 1
 Hi assstein! It's a Liteville 901 in Large: www.liteville.de/t/25_98.html
  • + 1
 Kick ass Colin! Amazing work as usual!
  • + 1
 Mad skills, but it looked more like survival skills rather than fun.
  • + 1
 looks like you might need some trial background?
  • + 1
 what is the bike in this clip?
  • + 1
 Liteville 601. German brand. Best finish I've ever seen on an aluminum frame. Crazy attention to detail.
  • + 2
 it's a 901 ;-)
  • + 1
 hey Johannes, ich bin auch gerade dabei, ein neues Bike aufzubauen, ich würd das 601 oder 901 nehmen. Ich bin mir noch unsicher wegen der Größe, bis jetzt bin ich ein M gefahren (Felt), es scheint aber, dass viele in meiner Größe (182) doch ein 901 in L bevorzugen.
Was meinst du?
  • + 1
 servus andee88! Aus dem Bauch heraus würde ich dir zu einem L raten. Allerdings ist halt jeder ein bisschen anders gebaut und hat auch andere Vorlieben. Am Besten wäre sicher eine Probefahrt, um Klarheit über die optimale Rahmengröße zu bekommen. Du bist aus Innsbruck? tf-bikes veranstaltet am 4. und 5. Mai ein Testevent gemeinsam mit dem Radsport Krug in Mieming. Vielleicht wäre das ja eine Gelegenheit für dich? Schreib einfach mal dem Thomas von tf-bikes und richte ihm einen schönen Gruß aus :-)
  • + 1
 thas total control right there
  • + 1
 Flowy. Haha That takes some skill for sure.
  • + 1
 Great pictures and movie. This trails are my dreams.
  • + 4
 what trails?
  • + 1
 I think he meant the overall 'trails"...everywhere... that you just make... lol
  • + 1
 PB really needs to learn how to spell the word "BADASS"!
  • + 1
 and "ARMPUMP"....!
  • + 1
 armpump cure indoor rock climbing once a fortnight for about 3 months never again Smile
  • + 1
 Haha... What?
  • + 1
 for armpump cure try indoor or outdoor but i did indoor rock climbing never had arm pump since, i used to get it all the time and ruin my rides even small rides so went climbing problem solved Smile i did the Mega Avalanche in france just after never once had it everyone else did i didn't Smile TRUE,
  • + 1
 Gotcha, nice! Ill have to give it a go.
  • + 1
 let me know how you get on Smile
  • + 1
 Held my breath throughout !
  • + 1
 Does anybody know this song in the background?
BTW awesome movie!
  • + 1
 Very impressive

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