Monday, 31 December 2012

2012 Review

 2012 was muddy but hugely enjoyable!

Race wise 2012 has been a busy and exciting year, with over 20 events at a broad range of venues from January through to December.

The Gorrick XC series from February through to April is the largest mtb series in the UK. Attendance exceeded 600 at each of the 5 rounds. I frustratingly finished just outside the top 10 overall in 11th; a position I repeated in the Southern UK series including the Southern UK championship.

The popularity of cycling continues to increase and the number of entries for events grows and grows every year. With this in mind I was pleased to be consistently finishing in the top 10. This year I just missed out on the headline top podium positions, finishing 4th on three occasions. This wasn’t always down to my own performance. I was deprived of a likely victory by a snapped chain and another podium went begging after a puncture. After 6 hours of racing across Salisbury Plain in May, I finished only a few seconds behind third, despite spending time helping a friend who had fallen and was injured. So there is plenty of opportunity to make amends next year.
This year the birth of my son at the end of June meant I had other priorities during July, a month which had seen my best results in 2011. I intend to return to these events in 2013 and hopefully claim some silverware.
My cycling highlight of the year is not race related however. It has to be riding along behind the Olympic road race as the huge crowds that lined the route cheered us on!
I am greatly looking forward to 2013. The highlight will be the opportunity to race a national event at the Olympic Hadleigh Park venue. The national championship should also be nearer to home so there is the added prospect of a national ranking as motivation.
I would like to thank my sponsors South Downs Bikes and Fast Find Personal Locator Beacons. Also special mentions to Muc-off and Exposure lights for their support! Finally Happy New Year and thanks to you all for reading my blog.

Friday, 28 December 2012

S-Works Ground Control Review

Given the recent weather conditions I decided to look for a tyre with a little extra grip than my usual racing slicks. The Ground Control features large, squarish knobs that offered the promise of extra purchase in loose conditions. The knobs are well spaced so I hoped that the tyre would shed mud well when things got gloopy.
After some indecision I chose the S-Works version which weighs a raceably acceptable 600g for the 29x2.1in size. Heavier than my usual race tyres but hopefully it would be worth it for the extra purchase when things got slippery.
With a Rocket Ron already on the front wheel, I inflated the Ground Control on the rear using Joe's No Flats tubeless latex. The tyre inflated first time with a track pump. Setting the pressure at 28psi I headed for the first round of the Brass Monkeys Enduro series.
The course was a mixture of loose loamy soil, soft muddy sections and hard packed forest roads. The Ground Control hooked up well on climbs regardless of the conditions, digging in and powering the bike forward. It also rolled surprisingly well on the fireroad sections. However, laterally the tyre squirmed left to right, making off camber sections especially difficult. Overall I had hoped for more from the deep tread.
After 8 miles the tyre lost pressure instantly and on inspection the sidewall was torn. Any puncture is down to bad luck but it is difficult to recommend a tyre that you have to bin after less than an hour of riding. My feeling is that the rubber in the S-Works has been trimmed back to save weight at the expense of acceptable durability. 
When I got home I ordered a Maxxis Beaver. The Beaver is more costly but it's only 500g and offers better grip.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Glass on the path!

There is a small store in the village near my home. A group of the local youth often congregate outside in the amber glow of the street light. I have become used to a torrent of abusive comments as I cycle past on my way home. Occasionally a few of them will give chase, buzzing around me on their BMX, bums in the air, boxer shorts showing, skinny legs flailing wildly. It can be intimidating but I have learnt that they soon lose interest once out of sight of their audience back at the shop.

The other night, I dropped down the cycle bridge over the A27 into the village. Too late I noticed large shards from a broken beer bottle or two, distributed deliberately across the cycle path. Unable to swerve I rode directly over the base of a bottle, the sharp jagged edges pointing viciously towards the sky.

I stopped and after clearing the glass examined my tyres in amazement. Both were still inflated! Incredulous I rode home and apart from a quick mention to my wife thought no more about it - until the following morning! I opened the door to the utility room, and it looked as if my bike had been attacked by some serpentine sea creature. Its black tentacles reaching out from my rear wheel.

Overnight the rear tyre had split in two, the inner tube forcing itself out of the hole and then bursting into long rubbery tendrils. The tyre was almost new so it must have been caused by the glass from the previous day.

Furious and grumpy I fitted an old tyre and set off for work. Only then did I think I might actually have been quite lucky. True £40 of tube and tyre destroyed just before Christmas is annoying. However, what if the tyre had burst while I had still been making my way home the evening before? I would almost certainly have been thrown into the road, in front of whatever traffic was around me at the time.

I don't expect the idiots who put glass on cycle paths think much at all. What might have seemed a harmless prank to them has left me £40 out of pocket, but the consequences could have had far more serious.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Merida Brass Monkeys - Rnd 1

Legions of riders gathered at Caesar’s Camp on the 25th November for the 1st round of the Merida Brass Monkeys enduro series. Winter had certainly arrived and most of the 500 riders huddled at the start were sporting over shoes and ear muffs. The Caesar’s Camp course uses tank and military tracks to really make the most of the undulating countryside near Aldershot. There were several long withering climbs, the gradient increasing horribly towards the top. The energy sapping mud constantly tugging at the tyres throughout the lap.

I was cautious on the first lap, aware that there was a long way to go I didn’t want to burn any bridges this early in the day. On the second lap I pushed a little harder and passed a few riders until I was challenging the 10 ten.
The hills were loaded toward the beginning of the lap. So once over the final climb the reward was a flat out series of swooping bomb holes back to the pit area. Third time through and suddenly the rear rim was banging against the rocks and roots, all the air had ‘burped’ from my tyre. I rattled back to start with riders streaming past. Back in the pit I re-inflated the tyre and re-joined but I had lost 10 minutes.
I hauled myself over the hills three more times, finishing 22nd and the last rider to complete 6 laps. I’ll hope for better luck in three weeks at round 2!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Gorrick Autumn Classic

It had to happen eventually – the sun shone and it was a beautiful crisp morning for Gorrick’s 20th anniversary bash. Gorrick have been the staple diet of budding and experienced cross country racers since November 1992. In that time we have almost started to take for granted the efficient organisation and superb courses. Gorrick have become the standard by which other events are judged. It is at these alternative races when your entry has been lost; you discover your timing chip didn’t work; or you got lost because there wasn’t enough tape marking the course, that you appreciate what a slick operation Gorrick is.

After a quick count back this was coincidently my 50th Gorrick race! (I was amazed by that stat!!) My first race was February 2002 in the Novice category. Totally under prepared I pushed my broken bike across the line 49th out of 62 starters! Season after season I trained harder and raced better until I worked my way up to the sharp end, of what had by then been renamed the Open class. I started to collect some of Gorricks famous 'ash tray' trophies before being convinced to move up to the Masters category in 2011. My first season in Masters was a tough education, no longer racing at the front I found myself struggling to even stay in the top 20. This year I finished in the top 10 at three of the four spring series races. Sunday's Autumn Classic would provide the last opportunity to demonstrate my improvement, before another winter of hard graft.

The course for Gorrick’s birthday was a flat, big ring blast with all the usual Gorrick twists and turns. In fact squeezing past with so many riders on track proved extremely difficult. 

By keeping my elbows out I somehow found myself on the front row for the start. The horn blared and I was fighting hard to maintain my place at the head of the field as we charged full pelt down the first 1/2 mile of fire road. There was bumping and barging, with riders chopping and changing lines, so I was relieved and even delighted to enter the first singletrack section still in third. With so little opportunity to pass I concentrated on hanging onto the two riders in front. Unfortunately we caught the back markers from the earlier races and I lost sight of them midway through the first lap. Once the track opened up a few fasters riders came through from behind and I was in 8th place, chasing again to hang on to their wheels. Losing ground in the tighter sections I clawed it back on the climbs and by the end of the 2nd lap I was up into 7th. The riders in front had gone so it was a race to the line between me and the guy I had just passed.

Cutting every corner and squeezing every ounce of energy I could muster, I maintained a small gap. However, as we neared the finish a quick glance over my shoulder revealed my pursuer had been joined by another rider. Working together they were closing in! The last easy passing opportunity was a flat section of fireroad before a sharp left turn that would take us down a steep gulley. I could hear and almost feel them breathing down my neck as I dived into the narrow decent, staying tight to the inside to ensure nobody crept past. There were still a few tricky corners to navigate but they would have to ride around the outside as I deliberately positioned myself close against the marker tape each time. A tyre buzzed my rear wheel, into the final bend but I held my nerve and was across the line. 7th place my best Gorrick result of the year! 

Monday, 8 October 2012

XT MTB Enduro

Another race another quagmire! Swamp racing seems to be the theme for so many races in 2012. I have already had the mud syringed from my eyes by the St-Johns ambulance after one event this “summer” and I don’t think anyone who was there will ever forget the conditions at Black Park, where riders were being pulled from their bikes with hypothermia. So in hindsight maybe the  XT MTB Enduro at Hawley lake near Farnborough wasn’t that bad! At least the sun was shining! However, there were long stretches of deep standing water to be navigated and sections where progress through the gloop was almost impossible. Rear tyres slipped, gears skipped and chains sucked!

A frenzied fireroad dash got us underway, riders weaving from side to side as they hunted for grip. On the first climb my chain tied itself in a knot, coiling itself away tightly under the chainstay. It took an eternity to unravel, by which time I had lost touch with the lead group. I plunged on through the slop, brakes were worthless anyway but my brake pads had dissolved away before the 2nd lap. As the laps progressed a racing line began to form, snaking between the worst of the puddles. Although churned by the passing of 100’s of tyres other sections became impassable. The section I named ‘comedy’ corner was the worst: as you approached steering had little impact on the bikes direction and once you were pointing the right way, the rear tyre spun and fish tailed hopelessly however carefully you turned the pedals.

Perserverance paid off as I made up places finishing just off the podium again in 4th from a field of 89 in the 4hour solo.

So a great result but now it’s time to count the cost. Sunday provided the opportunity to service wheel bearings, bottom brackets, chains, rear brake pads, and rebuild forks.....! Plus I’m still washing the mud from between my toes!

Monday, 1 October 2012

September Monthly Summary

Miles: 686.3
Riding Time: 42hrs 53min
Highlight: Tour of Britain TV appearance (See below)
Low Point: No racing this month

After the wettest summer I can remember the September sun shone. Although I have not had any races to report on this month, I have been out racking up the miles. In fact 686.3 is my highest monthly mileage EVER!

The backbone of this record busting distance has been my commute to work. This month I only resorted to the car on 2 of the 15 days I was in the office. Ok, it means I have to wake up 30 minutes early, but with the sun invitingly peaking from behind the bedroom blind this hasn’t been such a hardship. At the moment I obviously want to spend my evenings at home with the little one. By cycling home I get some training miles under my wheels and by avoiding the traffic I’m still home only 15 minutes later than normal. Plus there is the warm satisfaction of having saved approximately £6 every day in petrol.

The cause of the recent sunny weather was undoubtedly my new mudguards. Almost from the day I proudly fitted my SKS Chromoplastic mudguards (in gloss black) the Indian summer began. I was genuinely quite pleased when it rained on my way to work last week! My wife of course thinks I’m getting old. As she points out, only a few years ago I wouldn’t have been seen dead on a bike sporting mudflaps. Imagine the extra weight, the drag and just simply how totally uncool they look. I agree, they are the cycling equivalent of a pair of M&S slippers. However, as I tip toed through a shower the other day I did smugly smile to myself as I caught a young lad with a long brown stripe of road detritus up the back of his white Rapha jersey. I’m sure that from behind a mask of streaked mud and grit his envious eyes blearily admired my full length mudguards, clean face and unsoiled clothing as I imperiously glided past in comfort. I’m thinking of fitting a useful basket to the handlebars next....

On the racing front, I have pre-entered the Merida Brass Monkeys enduro series which runs from November through to January. Obviously 1 hour dashes along the A259 are not the perfect training for 4 hours muddy and technical MTB racing. However the motivation of a goal to work towards should help get me out on the road at 6.30am, even now as the mornings grow darker and the weather inevitably takes a turn for the worst.
Merida Brass Monkeys - – I missed out on a top 5 position in the series last year when I was struck down with man flu at the final round.


Wednesday, 26 September 2012

TV appearance at the Tour of Britain!

My first TV appearance during ITV's coverage of the Tour of Britain. Unfortunately not on the bike. I'm the bald chap with the camera next to gold jersey wearer and tour winner Jonathan Teirnan-Locke.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Rotor MTB Q Ring Review

The publicity drive behind oval chainrings seems to have ramped up recently, not least with Bradley Wiggins using them at the Tour. The marketing spiel quotes increased power, reduced fatigue and improved acceleration. I needed some new rings and decided to give them a try.
I opted for the '29er' marketed 38 tooth big ring. Unfortunately Rotor only go down to a 26 tooth for my spider set-up although many other sizes are offered. I previously had a 24 tooth granny on my old cranks so wasn't willing to make the leap. So I opted for a 25 tooth Carbon-ti inner ring.
The chainring turned up next day in a nice plastic sleeve with four bespoke bolts. The detailed data supplied with the rings describes a 4 week long acclimatisation period. Hah! I just jumped straight on and got riding!
Initially I was almost disappointed to notice hardly any difference. However, as soon as I tried to accelerate or get out of the saddle there was a definite ‘feeling’ that the rings were trying to help. Please be aware that this is just a feeling, I cannot substantiate any extra power or noticeable speed advantage. What I can say is that after two months on the Q-ring I really do like it. The fact that I think it is helping me is probably as positive as any genuine performance gain. To me it feels like the oval is helping me stay on top of the gear and keep the pedals turning. On climbs I seem to be able to stay in the big ring for longer.
I had to slightly tweak the position of my XX mech so that it just cleared the tallest part of the oval and then shifting, even to the non-Q inner ring has been fine.
I would suggest you give them a try but be warned they aren’t cheap so they do require some commitment prior to purchasing.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

August Summary

Miles: 467.2
Riding Time: 30hrs 33 min
Highlight: Watching Olympic MTB on the TV!
Low Point: DNF at Brighton Big Dog
As you’ll have guessed from the lack of posts recently baby Ferris has been taking up a lot of my time recently. Cycling has definitely been on the back burner.
The one exception was the Brighton Big Dog event held at the beginning of the month. The event is a 6 hour enduro around Stanmer Park north of Brighton. The omens were good, despite recent rain it was sunny and I was amazed by the huge turn out. Numbers were limited but still it was great to see so many cyclists mingling under the summer sun. 
Within the first 500m I knew I was in for a long day. A lack of training, plus a definite lack of sleep had not been ideal preparation. I slowly slipped back through the field up the first climb and then slipped and slid across the greasy roots of the first wooded section. The next climb saw me struggling again and I lost sight of my team mate Ian as the group I had been riding with spun away. My cycling was laboured, but this was a rare chance to get out on two wheels so I was determined to make the most of the day.
The second lap was a bit better as the course had dried and I was just starting to enjoy myself when I had a flat in my rear tyre. Just before the event I had splashed out on a Zefal foam filled inflation cartridge. The idea is that the foam plugs the puncture while the CO2 inflates the tyre. In my case the foam covered my hands and face while the CO2 escaped happily into the atmosphere. I limped around to the end of the lap where I used the pit area to slip in an inner tube and re-inflate the tyre.
Only a few minutes into the next lap and the tyre was going soft again. Yet another puncture and I decided it was time to head home!
Big Dog was a disappointment and showed me how far my fitness has already dropped. Looking at the result I should have been up there challenging in the top 10 but I was nowhere near that pace even without the punctures. I have done even less cycling since, but have decided to treat August as a month off! Hopefully I can get back to commuting to work in September and then target a return to racing later in the year.

Monday, 6 August 2012

July Monthly Summary

Miles: 479.8
Riding Time: 30hrs 41 min

Highlight: Following the Olympic Road Race
Low Point: Snapped chain while 2 at the Chichester Challenge

The first two weeks of July were dedicated to my fatherly duties, with one exception – the Chichester Challenge. Unfortunately poor preparation, awful weather and a bit of bad luck meant it wasn’t much of a treat! The second two weeks were the exact opposite of the previous two. I rode the bike almost every day, commuting to work and back. In the end the mileage and riding time isn’t far short of what I would normally do in a month. The difference being that those miles are made up of almost entirely flat 1 hour bursts between Chichester and Portsmouth.

On Sunday I did spend over 5 hours in the saddle riding up to the Olympic Road Race in Surrey. It was a fantastic day out, one that will live long in the memory! Just being part of the atmosphere was incredible, it was inspiring to see so many people out to watch a cycle race. However, the highlight was undoubtedly riding on the closed roads to the cheers of and shouts of the crowded pavements. Possibly a once in a lifetime opportunity. At least it is certainly unlikely that I’ll get to casually ride the wrong way up a dual carriageway on a sunny Saturday afternoon again!

Truth be told however, I was exhausted by the time we neared Petworth. If there had been one more hill I’d probably have been off the bike walking. So looking ahead to this weekend and the 6 hour Brighton Big Dog race, I have no idea how I’m going to go. On previous form I would be targeting a top 10 finish, but with limited riding over the last 6 weeks I don’t know how my stamina will hold out. So I go with limited expectations but the intention to enjoy myself and savour the chance to ride my mountain bike for a change.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Olympic Road Race

On Saturday Ian, Jon and myself met up at Petworth to cycle the remaining miles up to the route of the Olympic road race. After a scenic ride (with a slight detour due to my dodgy GPS download) we arrived at Gomshall. The street through the village was lined with people, Union Jacks fluttering in the sunshine.

A small break away went through first and then the cruising Peloton approached. For some reason Gomshall was the spot the pack decided to take a communal comfort break! Riders stopped all around us to answer the call of nature. Wiggo himself drifted past gaining speed after his own pit stop.

Surprisingly, although the race had passed, the highlight of the day was still to come. We decided to get back on the bikes and follow the race route to Box Hill to catch a second glimpse. As we rode along the crowd lined streets we were joined by other riders with a similar plan. Before long we found ourselves in a large peloton of our own. As we raced down a closed A25 the people lining the streets started to cheer and wave! Cameras flashed, people clapped and waved, certainly some convinced we were part of the race. It was as if we had qualified for the Olympics, an unexpected experience never to be forgotten!

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Getting Back To Work

Having a baby is a life changing experience, your time is no longer your own. Everything revolves around Ferris and very irregular eating and sleeping (if we’re lucky) routine - not to mention the nappies! Gone are the days when I could roll home from work, pull on the cycle shorts and breeze out the door for an hour or two on a training ride before dinner. So to keep up the fitness and maintain my sanity I’ve been cycling to work every day. It is a 35 mile round trip taking about an hour each way. The first week was fairly torrid with a fierce headwind in the mornings and a couple of soggy rides home. However, this week couldn’t have been better, spinning along the coast road looking out at  the sun sparkling across the harbour.
I am slightly concerned that I’m becoming tuned to 1 hour rides. Although mile munching on the road bike does mean I’m racking up 175 miles a week backwards and forwards to the office. Time will tell how I cope with the 6 hour Brighton Big Dog Enduro on the 4th August.

Why a photo of a pig? My route home takes me through the pig farms around Funtington and this chap (I don’t actually know it’s the same one) oinks at me everyday as I ride past. I’ve started replying with a cheery “Hello!”. Is this the first signs of commuter madness?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Congratulations Fay!

Huge congratulations to Fay on winning the Nationals at Wasing on Sunday. Awesome result! Nice to see the national colours in the South Downs Bikes team!

Race Report:
As the women’s master’s race unfolded, it soon became clear that there was an almighty battle being played out with Jo Munden, Fay Cripps and defending champion Caroline Goward the main players. In a ding-dong battle the lead constantly changed hands with little to choose between the 3. By lap 3 it seemed that Munden had made her move opening up a 13 sec lead going into the last lap. However just 23 minutes later the title went to Cripps, with Goward just 19secs adrift, while Munden failed to finish, after falling victim to the hot humid temperatures, Munden had collapsed trackside suffering from heatstroke. Luckily reports are that there are no long-term effects and she’s fine, a little disappointed maybe, but fine 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Chichester Challenge

Technically (for insurance reasons) the Chichester Challenge isn’t a race, but tell that to the competitors! Everyone rides as hard as they can, plus there is a trophy for the first rider home! The 55km course snakes across the South Downs around Goodwood, Harting and Kingley Vale. I have ridden the event on eight previous occasions and have many fond memories of blazing across the sun baked chalk under clear skies. This year sun screen wasn’t going to be a concern and numbers were definitely down after days of rain had ensured a mud bath awaited those who gathered on Lavant green under grey drizzly skies.

I could easily have won the event on 3 or 4 occasions in the past, but punctures are a real feature of the flinty course and I have only made it home unscathed on one occasion. This includes the year when I invested in the thickest, knobbliest tyres I could find, only to puncture within sight of the start!

This year I was totally under prepared. I had been at home all week with my new born son so hadn’t done any training. The cranks on my race bike had been returned under warranty so I was riding my wife’s 10 year old, fully rigid Stumpjumper. The lack of suspension I could deal with, but the cheap V-brakes are next to useless in the mud.

I was joined by South Downs Bikes team mates Ian Petherbridge and Fay Cripps on the start line. We set off together up Chalk Pit lane to the top of the Trundle at a steady pace and reduced the field to a lead group of five by the top. I knew I was going to struggle on the descents without suspension or effective brakes but hung onto Ians wheel as mud streamed from his rear tyre and across my face. My glasses were quickly obliterated but visibility between frantic blinking was little better without them.

At the bottom of the hill the five regrouped for the next evil climb that eventually takes you to the South Downs Way above Cocking. One of the other riders tried to make a break near the top but Fay pulled him back and I followed her wheel as Ian and the 5th man dropped back. The mud defied belief and I was drenched and fighting to keep the bike upright as Ian steamed back through, making the most of his 29 inch wheels on the flatter section along the ridgeline of the Downs.

Several of my Chi Challenge races have come to a premature end on the decent to Hooksway. So I took it carefully, dodging the deep gulley’s in the path formed by the recent torrential rain. Wet chalk has a friction co-efficient similar to ice, so steering inputs are best kept to a minimum, riding with soft hands, gingerly nursing the bike from side to side. At the bottom I passed Ian kneeling, CO2 canister in hand, topping up a flat tyre. So now I just had to chase down Fay – which is no easy task, she is one fit young lady! On the climbs over Harting Down I closed in but lost ground again on the decent and flatter sections out towards Petersfield.

However, I love the final climb out of Stoughton over Kingley and was confident I would catch her here and make use of my fully rigid bike on the tarmac run in to the finish. My wife had said she would bring my son to the finish and I began to imagine crossing the line with my arms in the air. Beck running out to congratulate me..... SNAP!

The chain had broken. That’s the trouble with a 10 year old bike which only emerges from the shed every 3 months. With wet muddy fingers I fumbled for the spare chain link. Before I could remount two riders went by, with Ian chasing behind them.  I was angry and riding hard to make back time – too hard. Psssssssssssssstttttt!

The puncture dashed any remaining hopes and a third before the finish dropped me even further back, but I had given up by then. So another year and another defeat grabbed from the jaws of victory. If I’d had my own bike maybe things would have been different. The chain wouldn’t have broken and I might already have been ahead as I wouldn’t have lost time on the descents. Maybe next year?  

Friday, 13 July 2012

I'm Back! - June Summary

Well what an exciting few weeks! Ferris Connor was born on the 30th June so there hasn't been much time to think about cycling recently! My two weeks paternity leave have flown by in a flurry of nappies, visitors, midwives and dodgy instant meals.

Ferris - 7lbs 8oz
June Summary

Miles : 478.9
Riding Time : 29 hours 50 minutes

Highlight: Birth of baby Ferris!
Low Point: The weather and low mileage

With due date looming my riding and racing reduced as I didn't want to find myself hours from home when the call came in! With no racing goals for motivation there was also little incentive to venture out during the wettest June on record.

I managed one final Southern area race but missed the last round. The dropped points unfortunately meant I finished 11th overall in the series. Still quite an achievement but a top 10 would have been nice!

I had already written off July and two weeks in I've hardly looked at a bike. I did however enter a local race, which I should have won but....... more on that later!

Friday, 15 June 2012

Bontrager 29-1 Team Issue Review

A racers dream?
First impressions of the 29-1 are that it is narrow (quoted 2.0) and there is not a lot of tread! These two characteristics help give the tyre its exceptionally low weight – approx 490g for mine. Personally it is not a tyre I would consider running up front where I prefer something larger for better grip. So I have been using the 29-1 on the back wheel.

I slopped in some latex and the tyre inflated first time with the track pump – so a positive first impression. The tyre is not designed for tubeless use, but once on the rim it stayed up and using latex really maximises that low weight. Running the tyre tubeless also has the advantage of letting you run a lower pressure, helping to negate its narrow width by increasing traction and bump absorption.

There was no doubt that on the first ride I felt vulnerable, surely one flint would rip this skinny little tyre to shreds. However after a few minutes my fears were forgotten and I started to enjoy the huge benefits of such a low profile, light weight tyre. It rolled along so well it was like having a tail wind blowing me along! The lack of rotating mass also meant it accelerated out of corners like Usain Bolt from the blocks.

I left the tyre on for the recent 6 hour enduro ride at Elrestoke. The tyre behaved flawlessly, helping me crawl up the climbs, while gripping nicely in the singletrack. I have spent some time on this tyre now and despite my fears I haven’t yet had a puncture; so my initial concerns over its fragility might be unfounded.

The obvious thing to say is that the 29-1 is designed for dry, buff trails. With such a shallow tread it is a fair weather tyre and isn’t going to make much progress if conditions are greasy. A 6 hour race is fairly punishing on kit but there is now noticeable wear on the already minimal tread, so don’t purchase these expecting longevity! On the other hand compared to some tyres the cost of these Bontragers is relatively low. You could probably buy two for the price of a Schwalbe.

I have to end with my overwhelming experience of these tyres. They are FAST! If you accept that they are designed purely for dry race days – these tyres fit the bill perfectly. I never noticed any lack of grip despite their slender proportions and the low weight transforms your bike into a rocket ship!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Star Ride - 60 Mile Cycle Ride from Chichester

With racing on hold for a while it was time for a nice long training ride through the Sussex countyside. This star shaped 60 mile route heads out west from Chichester before turning north over the South Downs to Harting. Skirting the market town of Midhurst there is the climb over Bexley Hill to conquer before heading back south. Sticking to quiet lanes and peaceful villages, this rural ride takes you back over the spine of the Downs at Amberley before rolling home for a well earned cuppa!

The well at East Marden - Turn Left!
Head out from Chichester on the B2178. After a mile fork right and keep heading north until you reach West Stoke. Ride through the village and after the church turn right at the Kingley Vale car park and follow Downs Rd through to Funtington. There are great views along here of Kingley Vale to the north.

Take a right onto the main road, ride through the village and after the Fox & Hounds take Hares Lane north again. Descend to the T junction and turn right, follow the road for just over half a mile before the next right towards Walderton and Stoughton. Ride through both villages along the lane to East Marden, where you take the left fork at the well, up to the B2141. Turn left up the long climb and then down the the other side, turning right at the bottom, into Harting. 

Follow the road out of Harting east towards Elstead where you turn right, winding your way through to Bepton. Turn left into the village heading north again towards Midhurst. After 1.5 miles turn left at the Country Inn. Follow the lane through to the A272 which you need to take for 1/2 a mile towards Midhurst before turning left and skirting Midhurst to the north on Hollist Lane. Straight across at the cross roads with the A286, join the A272 again for 100m, before taking Easebourne Street on the left. This is the strenuous climb of the day up Bexley Hill. Take care down the other side and at the bottom turn right and back on yourself at the village green. 

Three main climbs - Harting / Bexley / Amberley
Follow the lane through Lodsworth until you find yourself back at the A272. Turn left and then immediately right and follow the lanes all the way through to Duncton. You'll be pleased to know you aren't heading up Duncton Hill today - instead turn left at the bottom and follow this lane past Bignor Roman Palace to Bury. Go straight across the A29 and on into Amberley. 

Unfortunately it is now time to head right up the hill to the Whiteways roundabout. Take the second exit to Chichester but stay off the main road by turning right almost immediately down through Madehurst. You'll now have to rejoin the A29 for a short time up to the garage at The Spur. 

Turn left here and wind you way back to Chichester through Westergate and Oving. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Southern XC Round 4

I know I said I was going to take a mid season break, but Sunday morning came and I realised I would regret it if I didn’t race. I was keen to defend my 5th position in the Southern XC Series points table. Crow Hill in the New Forest near Ringwood was the venue so if Baby Ben did decide he wanted to make an appearance I would be close enough to rush home!

The dark threatening clouds looked menacing overhead but the track was still bone dry and very dusty! The warm-up lap revealed an undulating course linked by a maze of woodland switchbacks which created a fast and punishing circuit.

Despite being gridded on the front row I had learnt the lesson from the previous round and let the field flood past off the start. Towards the end of the lap I spied Alex Taylor about 30 seconds ahead. As you’ll know from my previous blogs I’ve been racing Alex all season but have become frustratingly familiar with the sight of his rear tyre.
As we crossed the line vocal encouragement from Jon and Ian alerted Alex to my presence. I saw him glance back as we rode down through the switchbacks, and for much of the lap all I saw was the occasional glimpse of the green South Downs Bikes shirt ahead.
However, as we climbed up a leg stinging grassy slope I closed the gap and then pushed down the opposite side, inching my way towards Alex’s rear wheel. Again sensing my presence he was able to frustratingly stabilise the gap at a couple of bike lengths. We continued through the trees, twisting left and right until we emerged at the base of a steep climb.

On the hill I pushed past and pulled ahead. Now it was my turn to be chased! The gap grew slightly and I started to relax but I should have known better. A quick peek over the shoulder showed that Alex was actually closing in!
I pushed on but I could hear from the brakes and crunching of gears that my pursuer was close behind! As hard as I tried I couldn’t drop him and then my worst fear was realised as a front wheel appeared and then inched past. But it wasn’t Alex! The great thing about MTB racing is that Alex's family offered me encouragement every lap and we shook hands and exchanged stories after the race. I'll defintely miss the camaraderie over the next few months.

After 4 rounds I am now 7th in the series. With the next round coming the weekend after my wife’s due date this will DEFINITELY be my final cross country race of the year. I will have to wait and see if those behind in the table can close the gap at the final race.

Friday, 1 June 2012

May Summary

Miles :                568
Riding Time :      42 hours 32 minutes

Highlight:           4th At the Erlestoke 6hr Enduro
Low Point:          24th Southern Champs

Bike racing can be hard work!
The Southern Championships was intended to be the culmination of 5 months XC racing. Unfortunately it wasn't my day as either the pressure or fatigue got to me. So onto summer, traditionally the start of the enduro season - events to which I am more naturally suited.

I hadn't been intending to ride the Erlestoke race but I took the opportunity to put the disappointment of two weeks before behind me. I needed to average 40 minute laps to complete my target of 9, which I knew would get me near the podium places. After 5 laps I crossed the line on exactly 3hrs 20min - so I knew I had to ride the final 4 laps faster than the previous 4. I dug deep, racing each lap against the clock for the next two and a half hours. There was a colossal sense of achievement when I crossed the line in 4th place! Personally this was one of my most satisfying results, I rode strongly all day beating some well respected riders.

Baby Ben is due is June so now would seem the perfect opportunity to take a break, on the back of this positive result. There are several enduro events to target later in the year, if I can survive the sleepless nights! I'll keep the reports coming in but cycling will take a back seat for a while!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Erlestoke 6 Enduro

I had only heard positive things from those who entered last years Erlestoke Enduro. I have raced at the venue before – but only through the mud, snow and ice of January's Salisbury Plain Challenge. With the weather forecast predicting the week long heat wave to continue into the weekend I was keen to see the venue in a different light! At 8.30am the temperature was already rising nicely as we struggled to wrestle three 29ers into Ian's car. I would be riding the 6 hour solo while Ian and Fay were entering the Mixed Pairs.

It was great to see a large turnout of South Downs Bikes riders to greet us in the car park, all sporting new 29ers!! There was just time for an early lunch of ham and jam sandwiches before joining the huge starting grid that formed for the Noon start. Numbers were undoubtedly swelled by the glorious weather – with 80 riders in the Solo male category alone!

There was a short starting loop to spread the field and then it was out onto the course proper. After a flowing descent into the wood the course emerged onto an undulating, strength-sapping grassy traverse across the fields to the foot of the hill. The climb started as wooded singletrack but then opened onto a steep gravel road. Having reached the top there wasn’t time for a rest as the route headed out across the open hill top into a strong headwind. The field was well spread by now but I was still riding close to the front and slipstreamed a group of riders onto Ian’s wheel and then followed him down the descent back to the arena.

As we rode past the campsite Ian took his eyes off the trail for a moment to check his watch and missed a little depression in the path. From my viewpoint it looked like somebody had tossed a doll into the air! When I reached the scene Ian was a bloody mess with road rash on arms and legs. He slowly made it back to his feet while I retrieved his bike and then uncomfortably remounted telling me to continue. He handed over to Fay and was patched up by the medics and rode another 4 laps. But I bet he was sore this morning!

The descent from the top of the hill was a belter. It was fast and flowing, twisting and turning between the trees on the chalky soil I am familiar with at home on the South Downs. Even after 6 hours I was still really enjoying myself, throwing the bike down the switchbacks! 

I managed to keep the laps ticking over just under the magic 40 minute mark, completing my 9th lap with a couple of minutes to spare. My favourite race of the year  - a combination of sunshine and great trails! 

4th place on the day was my best result of 2012 and one of my strongest race rides ever. 

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Formula R1 Brake Review

I previously owned a set of Formula Oro Puros. They were superb brakes – never an issue,  great performance, nice ‘feel’ and lightweight. When Formula brought out the R1 I couldn’t resist. The main selling point of the R1 at the time was its feather weight – 180g without rotors. To achieve this you had to sacrifice the Oro’s bite point adjustment and the gorgeous carbon levers but on the plus side black and red suits most colour schemes better than gold!

 Initially I had a pile of problems with my R1’s.
  • My brakes leaked from behind the lever pistons – apparently a batch fault now rectified, but it did ruin a nice pair of carbon bars.
  • After a few months one of the rear calliper pistons jammed. The tools to service this are expensive and were going to take weeks to source, so in the end I purchased an entirely new calliper.
  • The tiny red aluminium torx bolts that hold everything together are VERY easy to round off. Unfortunately when this happens it can take weeks to track down replacements. Sourcing  parts has become easier now Chainreaction stock Formula spares but there can still be long waits between restocking. I have stockpiled my own little stash of spares for emergencies.
  • The levers became sticky so they didn’t spring back out. The only solution I could find to this was to remove the two lower pivot bolts! The levers are now a little more floppy but I can cope with this. The levers themselves might look thin and spindly but they are comfortable and have stood up to several years of abuse.
  • The final problem is the most fundamental and annoying. There is VERY little clearance between the disc and the pads, so set-up is ultra critical if you don’t want annoying brake rub. Even a slight kink in your rotor leads to an annoying ‘pft,pft,pft’ as you ride along. Also if like me you regularly need to remove your wheels, it is usually necessary to reset the brakes. I have probably now spent hours of my life tuning and tweaking the brake rub. The actual effect of the brake rub is minimal but it is extremely annoying!
  • Finally the bleed kits and spares can be scarily expensive when you do track them down.
So after that tale of woe you are wondering why I still have the R1’s on the bike? The performance and feel that these brakes offer is superb. You can stop on a sixpence or lightly feather the brake into a corner, all with a single finger. The power is better than my old Oros but Formula have managed to maintain the superb modulation and control of the R1’s forebear. Once you have shelled out for the kit, bleeding the brakes is a piece of cake.
Finally there is of course that weight. Often after spending another evening tuning out the brake rub I have considered alternatives – but I can’t bring myself to add a chunk of weight to my bike!
In summary the set-up is fiddly and they need constant care and attention to keep them running smoothly, but the performance is  powerful and wonderfully refined.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Southern Championship

My wife is 8 months pregnant so Sundays race was the culmination of a truncated season of racing. With the national events this year either in Scotland or falling around the due date, the Southern Championships is the most prestigious event in my 2012 race calendar. Last year at the same venue I was very disappointed to finish 23rd and fully intended to make amends in 2012.

The first sunny weekend for months had left the course damp and grippy. There was only one climb of note, the rest of the course weaved amongst the bluebells in the dappled shade of the undulating woodland. I had rested since last weeks enduro, so when I was gridded 3rd with the warm spring sunshine on my back, everything was looking positive for a good race.

The start was a flat out sprint into the base of the climb. I lost some ground but still turned into the wood at the top in 9th place. Then it seems I forgot how to ride! In the twists and turns riders came past me left and right as I struggled for any kind of rhythm. As the lap continued things didn’t improve and I completed the first lap absolutely plumb last! From the front to the back in 20 minutes! I don’t know if it was fatigue from the Gorrick 100 and a hectic week at work, or the prospect of impending fatherhood playing on my mind, but I had absolutely no pace.

With my motivation in tatters I did at least force myself to keep riding, as there were still series points up for grabs. To compound my good mood I misjudged a turn and burped a large amount of air out on my rear tyre by hitting a root. Despite riding the entire last lap with a flat tyre it was still almost my fastest!  I also caught and passed a few riders, finishing the day 24th one place worse than the year before.

It was a very disappointing day in what is becoming a frustrating year. Maybe it was just a bad day, or perhaps the thought of becoming a father means different priorities?  Either way Sunday is in the past.  I’ll now take a break from racing for a couple of weeks and look forward to the next round of the series. This will be my final race before the birth and I’ll be targeting enough points to ensure a top 10 position in the Southern XC Series.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Gorrick 100 Enduro

Swinley forrest was chilly and damp as 90 nervous cyclists gathered for the start of the Gorrick 100. Ahead of them 7 gruelling 10 mile laps of twisting woodland singletrack, open forest paths and of course the infamous sandy Surrey Hill climb. As if to emphasise the enormity of the task ahead the race briefing included the information that all riders must be finished by 6.30pm.

For me the Gorrick 100 is THE event that goes straight into the diary every year. I have had good results here, but the challenge is still a very personal one of forcing my body to complete a feat of physical endurance. This was the 7th time I had stood on the start line and I had made it to the finish on each of the previous 6 occasions, (my times varying from just inside the time limit of 10 hours to last years 6 hours 20 minutes.)

It was obvious that this year wasn’t going to be the fastest event. Weeks of rain had left some of the trails soft and claggy. Luckily it wasn’t the mud bath of previous years, helped in part by the excellent all-weather trails that form part of the developing Surrey Hills MTB area. 

Experience is a wonderful thing! At the start I watched excited, adrenalin fuelled riders streak away as I took it easy for the first lap. Sure enough a lap or two later I saw many of the early eager beavers again, this time their faces pale, eyes set in a blank stare as energy reserves hit empty.

The second and most critical bit of knowledge I have picked up is to eat, eat and keep eating! You simply can’t get enough energy on board. From the start I was munching fig rolls, energy bars and bananas every 15 minutes. Probably as important is keeping topped up with fluids. I’ve tried various methods of refuelling but this year I opted for a pit stop every lap to pick up a fresh bottle and more grub. People with partners who have extraordinarily high tolerance to boredom get their food and bottles passed to them. Personally I haven’t found a way to persuade my wife to sit in a cold, soggy wood for an entire day, but those lucky few have a definite advantage.

The hilly sections of the course were loaded at the beginning of the lap so once over the traditional sandy cliff face you were able to enjoy the singletrack. In fact this year my arms were struggling before my legs as I wrestled the bike through the serpentine, switchbacks.

I quickly fell into a loose group with 2 riders. I say ‘loose’ because over this distance everyone rides at their own pace and has moments when they are feeling good, and bad times when they start to suffer. We constantly swapped position. I often gained on the climbs, then struggled to hold onto a wheel on the flat.

As the day progresses riders entering the shorter distances join the course. Obviously these are not real men (and women), but I’m sure they have a wonderful time smirking at the anguished faces of the 7 lappers! Anyway on lap four I was caught by Matt Knight from SDB who was riding the 40 mile challenge. After a quick chat we rode together and he kindly offered me a nice slip stream. This pulled me ahead of the others in my ‘group’ and I found myself alone.

Completing an endurance event can be as much about the mind as the body. With the legs screaming for a rest, convincing them and yourself that another 30 miles is a sensible idea can be tough. Your mind starts to suggest it might be easier to sit at the side of the trail for a while, or even better head back to the burger van in the car park. Lap 5 was the toughest for me as those evil voices whispered in my ear. I probably pushed too hard while riding with Matt. However, a brief comfort stop and an opportunity to top up some lost air in my rear tyre and I was back up and running. I was passed by one of the guys I had been riding with – which could have been a bad moment. But actually I felt ok and I felt stronger again as the final lap closed in.

I had been in the saddle for over 6 hours as I approached the climb for the 7th and final time. Never before have I cleared the climb on every lap of a Gorrick 100. But this year surrounded by people walking, who were riding far fewer laps than myself I cleared the top. I knew then that I was going to finish and for the first time I started thinking about my position in the race. I knew I was unlikely to catch the guy ahead as he had continued to slowly pull away into the distance since passing me. I checked over my shoulder and my heart sunk at the depressing sight of a 7 lap number board a 100 meters behind. Damn! I pushed as hard as I could, strength in my arms and legs failing, co-ordination wandering as I negotiated the descents and corners towards the line.

Finally I could hear the commentary and smell the burgers! I had hung on and rolled across the line in 18th. As a testament to how tough this event is, only 47 of the 90 starters completed the full distance. I had so little left that on the way home I had to stop for a nap. Luckily it was a bank holiday so opportunity for a lie in the next day!

On board video taken by the winner Ben Thomas