The update of an icon. I took the 4th generation of the Salomon Speedcross series on a number of trails and mountain runs for this review.
,When a company oozes this much cool and has the pedigree to back it up, it's little wonder why Salomon are one of the top shoe brands when it comes to trail running.
The Speedcross series is one of their most successful year after year giving it an almost iconic status. They are light, comfortable and have the grip to rival any. The newest edition to the line, the Speedcross 4, is no exception. I took them for a test, along some of the most rugged and remote parts of the Wicklow Mountains, to really get a sense of them.
,There is no denying the traction of the Speedcross 4. The new model has a tighter lug pattern, allowing more lugs for the surface area. This enables the chevron treads to dig deep enough into the terrain underfoot to give maximum grip.
The 11mm drop on the midsole is due to a big heel and thinner forefoot. This may seem a little high compared to other more minimal shoes on the market but there is a reason for it. The thick heel absorbs shock on the big downhills whilst the thinner forefoot gives you precision stride as you make you way up uphill. This does however give the shoe a slightly overbuilt feel when running of a flat surface. So this is obviously enough a trail only shoe.
The quick lace system gives a secure and snug fit, meaning less chance of sliding when you are hitting the trails hard. Compared to older models, such as the Speedcross 3, they have a slightly tighter fit. So a half size up may be needed in some cases.
The thick mesh-nylon coats the top of the shoe like a softshell jacket. While it prevents most debris, even sand, from entering the shoe, it can become quite warm on a hot day. In the mountains or in cooler weather you would be glad of the thick layer. For those of you who embrace the bad weather there is an option to have a Gore-Tex layer.
At the €120-130 bracket, the Speedcross 4 places itself amongst some heavy hitters. However, I feel there is enough bang for your buck for them to hold their own.
The real world test:
It's a strange feeling when your foot hits the ground but you don’t feel the impact. These were the first words I said to my wife after I finished my debut run in the Speedcross 4. That was only 10km and I needed something a little more intensive, to really put these shoes to the test, before I gave it my full review. Queue a montage of me scanning over endless maps of the Wicklow mountains.
The beauty of trail running is the simplicity. A full Camelbak, some nut bars, my Speedcross shoes and way I go. With the clothes on your back and nothing but high mountains through your front windscreen, you know you are going in the right direction.
As I pulled into the carpark at Glendalough, a sense of excitement came over me. I loved running in the Wicklow Mountains. There was so much variety in the types of trai there. The possibilities are endless. To give the shoes a good going over, I chose a 30km route involving a mixture of open mountain, single trail and timber walkways.
Apart from slipping on the unmeshed timbers of the walkway, there was very little to worry about at the beginning of the run. The many, many steps of the walkway led me up to the Spinc viewing point before my route tapered off to the left. From there, I followed a small path which hugged the tree line of the conifer forest. It was there that the real trails began. The treeline took me up over 600m before I branched off again. The faint path, visible only by a slightly shortened growth in vegetation, brought me off the main path to the right. It was from here that the grip of the Speedcross would be truly tested.
As the grass turned to heather and then to bog, there was little to no difference in grip. The shoes held firm as I powered along the ridge line. Even the herd of deer looked impressed as I whizzed passed them. The farther I travelled on the mountain ridge, the wetter the ground got. It wasn’t long before I was nearly knee deep in sodden bog. Each stride sent my feet deep into the ground with a great squelch. The lack of hard ground sent me down into a valley. On the other side high on the opposite mountain was a reservoir. This would be my marker to aim for. Well, it was my marker until a heavy fog rolled tentatively overhead. By the time it made its way down to me, my visibility was reduced to 20m. Fret not my friends, no panic emerged. Logic dictated that if I just kept going up I would eventually meet the ridge, where I knew there would be a trail. Logic won out in the end. Just beyond the bog canyons was the trail that would lead me up to the reservoir.
With the cloud clearing, the upper lake came back into view. Just in time for a rapid decent through a stunning pine forest. It was here that the extra lugs really came into play. The sheer drop through the trees was near vertical at time so I was glad of that extra bit of traction.
As the carpark emerged through the trees, I resisted the temptation of returning to my van early. Pushing aside my instinct to be lazy, I turned right and made my way back around the lake. I loved the marked trail around the lake. The reassuring stability that the shoes gave me enabled me to make light work of the well pressed gravel and large smooth rocks. All of the rock hopping took its toll on my legs though. By the time I reached the 27km mark I was beginning to fatigue. That’s the price of fun, I suppose. By the time my feet finally returned to the buttery smooth tarmac carpark I was fit for the hay.
When you plan on running 600km on trail, you need a shoe that can withstand a battering while also preventing you from getting one. The Speedcross 4 are those shoes, the quality of build and versatility is everything you need.
Everything from the quick-lace system, the protective rubber on the front, the thicker heel, to the thick mesh-nylon, it’s all there to give you a comfort and reassurance mile after mile. For these reasons I find the Speedcross 4 a step above the rest.
I know what you're thinking, 'that's a long run you're doing there' and you know what, you're right. There is reason behind the madness though.
In 2017, there are still people who believe that the life of an animal is their's to own and to destroy as they please, often in the most inhumane way possible.
The ISPCA work tirelessly to help save vulnerable animals from conditions that are just unimaginable. They deal with abandoned and abused animals day in, day out and I'm constantly in awe of their amazing work.
In order to give a little back and hopefully help the ISPCA in their fight against animal cruelty and neglect, I want to raise as much money as I can by completing a 600km trail run along the E8 hiking trail in the summer of 2018. Begining at the Dursey cable car on the Beara peninsula and ending in Marley Park nine days later. I hope that by putting myself through a little bit of pain (or a lot, we'll see how the knees hold up!), I can ease the pain and suffering of even one animal.
So please donate as much as you can to help this amazing organisation. If you want more info about the ISPCA please go to there website here
If you would like to donate to the cause my just giving page is here
You can follow my training for the run on my Facebook and Instagram pages.
"One day it started raining, and it didn’t quit for months. We been through every kind of rain there is. Little bitty stingin’ rain…. and big ol’ fat rain. Rain that flew in sideways. And sometimes rain even seemed to come straight up from underneath. Shoot it even rained at night…." – Forest Gump
The Irish summer, as brief as it is, is even shorter in the west coast. The sun no sooner shines and it rains again. This leads me to think that there is no truer a quote to sum up the west of Ireland than that of Forest Gump. Years of constant battering from the elements has turned it into the world famous landscape that it is today. The sheer cliff faces that seem to stand like the walls of Helm’s Deep, acting as our greatest line of defence against the attacking sea. The sheets of exposed limestone of The Burren that seem to follow the contours of the hills for miles and miles. The thousands of coves and beaches. It’s all there, formed by harsh unforgiving weather.
Unsurprisingly then, I went in search of gear that I felt could withstand a bit of Ireland's finest.
Bike: Trek alpha 1.1
As my budget for the race wasn’t exactly flush, I spent money where I felt necessary. The bike for me wasn’t a huge issue and I didn’t feel the need for a new one. I used my five year old Trek Alpha 1 - tried and tested on many an Irish road. Granted, with its 8-speed groupset, I didn’t have the greatest selection of gears for the steep climbs I’d be tackling but it did me the finest. I did end up wearing out three sets of cleats walking up hills due to not having enough low gears, but the walk was a nice change every now and then. In saying that, if I were to do it again I would definitely use something with a greater selection of climbing gears. You don’t need overly high gears in this race because the wind will put a stop to any speeding you plan on doing.
Bags: Mackworkshop frame and bar bag
Now this was an area that took great consideration. With a lot of bikepacking gear designed and manufactured in sunnier, drier climates, they are often unable to stand up to the shite weather we have here in Ireland. I wanted to find a manufacturer that understood my needs for the race. I turned to Mackworkshop. It's a small British company that specialise in bespoke bike bags. Their knowledge of the types of weather I would be tackling meant I ended up with some pretty robust and slick bags. My bags and bike were two things that gave me zero issues during the race.
Saddle: Brooks Cambium C15 Carved
Cracking little saddle and would definitely recommend it.
Tri Bars: Profile Design T3 + Aerobars
These were incredibly comfortable. So much so that I fell asleep on them while cycling twice.
Pedals and Shoes: Road style
Dumb fucking idea. Just look at the pictures below. Get mountain bike style shoes and pedals. I went through three sets of cleats during the race from walking around in them. I’m also pretty sure they were a major factor in my achilles problems.
Tyres: Continental Grand Prix 4000S ll
I used a 25mm tyre and it was more than capable for all surfaces the race threw at me, including the gravel section in Donegal. I didn't get a single puncture.
Lights: Son Edelux ll
This was my first dynamo front light and I’m never going back to battery because of it. It performed brilliantly even at a slow pace up hills.
Dynamo: Son Delux
Another fantastic product from SON. Zero drag felt and I was happy with the power output. The only issue I had with it was that I could only charge my Garmin at speeds over 18kmp. This led to a lot of frustration around Donegal where it was difficult to keep that speed for long periods of time.
USB Charger: Sinewave Revolution
Brilliant charger and worked perfectly.
GPS: Garmin Edge 1000
It was my own cock ups rather than the Garmin's that made me go wrong so much in the race. I never downloaded detailed maps onto it. The extremely limited detail of the base map on the computer left me following the squiggly blue line of the route on a featureless white background. The battery lasted longer than I read online and it never failed on me once.
Bivvy Bag: Alpkit Hunka
It’ll keep you grand and dry in a cattle shed. I didn’t use it out in the open rain so can’t comment on how it performs there.
Sleeping Bag: Snugpak Travelpak 1
This is a nice little sleeping bag. It packed down nicely and fitted perfectly into my bar bag with loads of room left. Sure, it’s not the smallest or lightest but I will be using it again as it was grand and warm.
Clothing: I’ll list them for ya:
Gore bike wear Oxygen 2.0 Gore-Tex Active Shell Jacket X1 - The best cycling rain coat I've ever used. Even in the worst howling wind and rain it kept me warm and dry.
Cycling shorts X2 - Changed into the second pair when I hit Kerry.
Cycling jersey X1- Sure why would you need more than one.
Thermal base layer X1 - Worked amazingly well and it disgustingly never left my body for the whole race
Socks X2 - I ended up losing one pair on the second day so really I only had one pair for the whole thing
Spare tube X1
Plug for charging stuff in B&Bs
Sudocreme to help with the inevitable saddle sores
Spare cleats X1
Wexford County Council are proposing a new greenway for Co.Wexford. What a fantastic idea! May they continue it all the way to Rosslare Harbour.
Link to article about it here: http://www.rte.ie/news/2015/0706/712964-wexford-greenway/
Thanks to The Bike Shop for my newly built front wheel with SON dynamo. I'm all set to bait on into the night on the TransAtlanticWay race now :)
So as some of ye know by now, I will be tackling the inaugural TransAtlanticWay Race in June. A race of this nature takes skill, self sufficiency and piece of mind that all your equipment is up for the task ahead.
So .... I'm absolutely delighted to announce that Mack Workshop have come on board to sponsor me with a bespoke frame bag and top tube bag for my bike! Seriously chuffed and can't wait to see the final product!
Thanks to Jon from Mack Workshop! Have a look at their website by clicking on their logo below ... some pretty awesome gear!
We decided to take today off, a sort of settling in period before the next leg of cycling along the Loire. With no plans for the day, I made sure it would be a lazy one.
A trip to the supermarket was in order after breakfast. With Bastille Day on the horizon, we wanted to stock up on supplies for the next two days just in case nowhere would be open. They very well could be open but if the 40 hour lunch breaks the French normally take are anything to go by, I highly doubt it. The walk to the supermarket was great fun. While on the bikes, we’re in single file a lot of the time. This makes it hard to hold a conversation. It was nice to be able to talk shite again and just stroll around together.
The supermarket we went to was huge. Like, Walmart huge. Everything under the sun was inside. There was even a guy there whose sole job was to weigh your fruit. Yes, his job was to place your fruit on a machine identical to the one my Nan uses in SuperValu back home. How helpless do you have to be to need a guy to push the banana button for you? We opted not to use said service and focused on our list instead. Along with the food, we were able to pick up some new brake pads for Ruth’s bike. While flying down the steep hills two days before, Ruth kept telling me there was something wrong with her bike. I kept brushing it off, insisting that, “Meh, it’ll be grand”. It turns out she had lost one of her back brake pads while descending the 8% gradient hills on a fully loaded tourer. Woops!
The rest of the day consisted of us lazily setting up pitch at a table by the camp restaurant. We took full advantage of the free Wi-Fi and Skyped home for the first time, mainly just to show the Mammies that we weren’t dead yet. We were meant to be meeting Ruth’s mom in Italy in about two months, but while talking to her we discovered we had the date wrong and she’d be there two weeks earlier than we thought. Balls! We were already pushing 100km a day to make sure we made it to Italy in time but now we hadn’t a hope. After a little fretting session, we went back to the drawing board and worked out a new route. We figured that, with a little re-jigging and a small train ride, we might still be able to make it in time to meet up. The new plan meant that we would cycle to the end of the Loire path and take a train to Mulhouse, near the German border.
We only noticed today just how much time we waste on the internet back home. After five days of pretty much no connection, to have full Wi-Fi was a bit mad. So far, deciding which way to go involves a bunch of maps and the ever so accurate thumb and index finger measuring system to work out distances. You would think that this would take way longer than using a certain popular route planner, but you would be wrong. Every bloody time we went to look up a route or train time we would just ‘have to’ take a look at Facebook or the latest FailArmy video on YouTube. Now don’t get me wrong, watching FailArmy videos is never a waste of time. Quite the opposite actually. There is very little in this world funnier than people falling. It’s my evil little pleasure. I won’t say guilty pleasure because I don’t feel guilty about it at all.
Anyway, the moral of the story is that we got to talking about internet use and the like. It reminded me of something I had read before about which type of life was better - a life where you’re subjected to so many stimuli that you’re easily bored, or a life so absent of any stimulus that the most simple of things excites you.
I think that I would probably fit into the latter. I’m the opposite of the guy that has to have their smart phone with them all the time. I broke my jazzy new Sony phone just two months after getting it last year and rather than getting it fixed, I just went back to my old brick with no internet access. Constant connection to the internet is just a bombardment to the senses, there’s no need for it all. If news is important enough, I’ll hear about it somehow. As for that child in North Korea who trained his cat to dance the Hokey Pokey? Yeah, I can live without seeing that.
On a different note we’re back on the bikes tomorrow. It’ll be odd seeing so many people but it’ll be great to talk to other tourers and hear about their trips.
Did a little scouting earlier in the year for the Transatlanticway race, while on holidays. Gotta love those bends on the Healy Pass
Ezy-sur-Eure – Orleans
Distance: 41km (bike) 2 hours by bus
Max Speed: 35km
Average Speed: 18 kmp
Today was a roller coaster of emotions to say the least. The morning began with a potter around the local market in the town square. The description of the place given by our patron last night didn’t over sell it at all. There were so many stalls, as in they were everywhere. Every street and side street had something on it. The covers came so close to each other it almost had the feel of an indoor market.
It didn’t take long before I spotted my treat for the day. There, propped in a sea of baked breads, was a deliciously buttery croissant. It just called to me! It was my first ever taste of a fresh, homemade croissant and it was amazing. I can only describe its magnificence in the words of the great Homer Simpson, “Ahgrerahaaaa”. As I bit through its crunchy layers, I could see Ruth in the corner of my eye looking at me. I imagine she was crying inside, trying to convince herself that her Medjool date was just as decadent, but really just cursing being a coeliac.
We only realised yesterday that it would be Bastille Day by the time we hit Paris. This made it impossible to get any accommodation that wouldn’t be a total rip off. As a result, we decided to change our route and bypass the Paris madness all together. According to the local signs, there should have been 40km of bike path left, which would nicely bring us slightly south of Paris. From there, we’d take our detour and continue east. Well we would have if the path hadn’t randomly stopped in the middle of nowhere after 10 kilometres. Confused as to where the cycle path had gone, we had to abandon it and take the main road into the nearest town of Dreux. Our maps weren’t detailed enough to navigate our way through the town and the road signs were as helpful as a knitted condom.
We’ve found that the closer we got to Paris the more assholey the people were getting. The people of Dreux didn’t break this pattern. Anyone we stopped to ask for help, in French I might add, brushed us off claiming they didn’t speak English, in prefect English. Either that or they would fob us off with any old directions. So after wasting the best part of the morning following one asshole after another’s wrong directions, we eventually stopped a cyclist who was convinced that the bike path we were on did continue. So back again we went, 10km up the road to where the bike path had ended. No bike path to be found. Imagine that. Needless to say, at this point we were pretty pissed off and fed up with the unhelpful attitude of everyone we met.
Finally, in our hour of need, a young French girl, holding a child against her chest with one arm whilst carrying a bag of shopping with the other, approached us and asked if we needed help. She confirmed our initial thought that the bike path was in fact unfinished. It turned out she was a bicycle tourer herself and was all questions about our trip. When told of our route around Paris, I could see her facial expression change.
“That is not a very nice way. The roads are not nice for bicycles and it will not be enjoyable.”
“Is there a nicer way around?”
“No.” Jaysus, fair enough.
She paused and then ushered us across the road to her house to top up our water bottles. She talked to her boyfriend about all of the options for us. When they returned they were both smiling. Ah, I liked the look of this. They were adamant that we should ditch our planned route and head south immediately to the Loire Valley. We could follow the Loire bike path east until we meet the Euro Velo 6 which would take us to Basel, our planned entry point into Switzerland. They had cycled the route before as a family and had only great things to say.
It’s hard to argue with the locals. If they tell you where they live is shit, it’s shit.
Our options to get to the Loire valley were to cycle for two days along flat, boring roads or take a bus to Orleans. After the day we just had, all we wanted was to get as far away from this area as possible and we were totally fine with taking the bus. I regret forgetting to ask the girl for her name, but whoever you are, thanks.
So it was back to Dreux again to catch a bus. We were guided to the bus station by a local cyclist. I have found that old men on racing bicycles in France are very helpful. Hats off to you sir, you are a diamond in a bucket of coal. The bucket of coal being you, Dreux.
We got the next bus to Orleans, with a change of buses in Chartres. We didn’t have enough time to see the famous cathedral that I had learned so much about in school but I did get to see it from afar on the way in on the bus. It was a pity I didn’t get to have a closer look but as I have no future plans to return there I will have to chalk it down as seen. We did have enough time to discuss the pronunciation of the town name; I always assumed it was pronounced Shartrezz, whereas Ruth went with the far more amusing, Shart, as in “I just shart in my pants”. It’s the little things in life.
Arriving in Orleans was a relief. Setting off on the bikes, we felt like we were beginning a new leg of the trip. The cycle through Orleans was amazing. Most of the streets were empty, allowing us to mess about a bit on the bikes. Oh and the cathedral, don’t get me started on the cathedral. It was such a beautiful city and it will definitely be somewhere we would love to return to.
Our campsite was 6km outside the city, set on the bank of a small river. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen. There was table tennis, trampoline, playground, restaurant and most important, a shop with wine. The camping area was in a wild meadow. Each pitch had its own private circle mown into the tall meadow grass for privacy. Once we had the tent up we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine from the shop to toast the beginning of our next leg of France … also to drink away the frustrations of the day.
I sensed earlier in the day that Ruth was seriously frustrated with the wrong directions and cycling back and forth earlier, so I asked how she was. It turns out the monotony of the cycling was beginning to get to her. She missed our lives back at home; the chats, the music, work, just stupid shit (her words, not mine), but stuff that makes her happy. She explained that even though we were cycling together, sometimes the silence was just too much. She was craving a bit more interaction with people. I can see her point as up until now it has just been the two of us cycling in single file on the empty roads. However, the minute we decided to take the girls advice and get the bus to Orleans, it was like a weight had been lifted from her. The second she stepped off the bus, everything changed and arriving in Orleans was like a new beginning for the trip.
It was so good to see Ruth so excited about the trip again and we were both looking forward to meeting more bicycle tourists as, up until now, we had only come across a handful. Roll on the Loire bike path tomorrow!
First Sportive of the year done and what has to be the best post cycle food I've had at a Sportive.
I'm the yellow guy in the group :) Barrow Wheelers 100KM Sportive 2016
ar an rothar
endurance cyclist, adventurer and usually hungry