Monday, 25 November 2013

Brass Monkeys - Round 1

Congratulations to the Army Cycling Union! They created a cracking 7 mile course at Minley Manor, with miles of fast singletrack flowing smoothly through the woods of the estate. 

It was the type of course that rewarded you for your efforts without ever being intimidating! Never too technical, the trail wove through the trees, swinging left and right, allowing you to carry your momentum into every turn. There were a few climbs, most notably, one short, steep ramp near the beginning of the lap, but nothing to fill the heart with dread as you came round for your final lap.

The increasing popularity of this form of racing was emphasised by the packed car park. Maxed out at its 500 entry limit, this has become an extremely popular series. Given the high level of entries I wasn't sure how I was going to go. With this in mind I didn't elbow my way right to the front at the start, instead slotting in a few rows back in the pack. This did prevent me getting carried away on the first lap, but that was because I was held up by the shenanigans that always occur when the mass start converges on the first section of singletrack! Before one section I held back slightly to let a fallen rider move aside, only for somebody to rudely cut ahead. They then promptly fell off as well and completely blocked my path. I'll admit to offering them some polite, constructive criticism!

Doing my best to avoid the mayhem I worked my way forward, sometimes jumping 3 or 4 riders when the path opened and I had the opportunity. I finished the first lap 24th and was riding with the leading female riders. Despite the huge field I spent the next lap almost entirely on my own. Having pulled away from the ladies, and still feeling fresh I was able to fully enjoy the course. However, I was still only 23rd; I told myself that a top 20 finish would sound a lot better at the end of the day.

By now I had already started lapping the tail enders. It is always frustrating and with stunning regularity you seem to catch them at the worst moment. This will be either just entering a long section of singletrack, or a narrow climb where you can't get through. Traditionally a friendly shout of "Rider left" encourages them to politely move aside at the next available opportunity. For some reason yesterday I seemed to encounter several who adamantly refused to move off the racing line. It was during this period that I collected a small group of followers. At various points over the next few laps two or three riders followed my wheel, but they never came through to help!

I'm pleased to say I eventually left them behind and as the field spread the course became busier. It was hard to tell who you were racing amongst all the riders, spread out on different laps. So after 7 laps and 4hours 30 minutes, I'll admit to being very pleased to cross the line in 18th. 

My legs are stiff and sore today, but I know that I managed to get my full potential out, having left nothing on the course. 

Friday, 22 November 2013

Winter Enduro Racing - Tools

Contents of my jersey pocket!

  • Inner tube
  • Tyre levers
  • Inflator
  • CO2 cartridge
  • Multi tool inc. chain tool
  • I always keep a spare chain link taped to the chain tool for quicker repairs.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Winter Enduro Racing - Nutrition

My personal favourites:

  • SIS Go Hydro Electrolyte Tablets - Lemon  
  • SIS Mini Go Bars - Chocolate fudge or Banana fudge
  • Assortment of energy gels for variety
  • SIS Caffine gel for that final lap boost!
  • Jacobs fig rolls - supermarket own brands don't come close!
  • Banana

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Winter Enduro Racing - Clothing

Neoprene overshoes - probably the best product I have ever bought for a bike! Not the sexiest items you'll find in a bike shop but they do a stella job of keeping your feet warm and puddles out! Yes if it is raining the water will eventually run down your legs into your shoes but your feet will at least still be nice and toastie even on the coldest days. My personal favourites are from Endura. The fit is snug, so doesn't bulge and rub on your cranks, although they can be a tough to pull on and off, especially with cold fingers. 

My favourite piece of clothing has to be my DHB Roubaix tights. They are just so comfortable and warm, fitting better than any other short or tights I've tried. The knees are articulated to allow good movement and the brushed liner is luxurious! The Goldilocks pad is not to fat, not too thin, so perfect for long hours in the saddle. 

Monday, 18 November 2013

Winter Enduro Racing - Bike

Enduro racing is tough on bikes and kit. It is not a time to try something new; choose the simple, tried, tested and above all, reliable!

I'm running a 1x10 drivechain this year which should eliminate the chain suck I struggled so badly with last year. With less components and moving parts the single front chainring means there is less to go wrong! A single speed would be the ultimate extreme, but it won't be the fastest way around a race course.

Mud tyres like the Maxxis Beaver are great if the conditions are really boggy and grim. However, they will be slower on open fireroads. Taking the gamble on lightweight race tyres might seem tempting, but the time gained will be nothing compared to what you lose when a puncture strikes. So I compromise with a middle ground solution. At the moment I'll be going with a Rocket Ron on the front and a Fast Trak Control on the rear - but I'm watching the weather forecast....

Make sure your grips are fitted firmly, if it rains and they start to slip you'll struggle for control especially in muddy conditions.

If possible fit new brake pads! I wore a set down to the pistons in one enduro and I've frequently burnt through pads before the end of a race. Once you've lost your brakes you'll lose all confidence in technical sections and haemorrhage time. Sintered brake pads don't offer the same bite as organic but are more durable so will last longer in tough conditions. 

Finally a GPS or computer is useful for keeping an eye on your progress and that critical cut off time for the final lap.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Winter Enduro Racing - Mud and ice!

Last week I gave in! I finally broke out the full length tights and neoprene overshoes. No more pretending - Winter is on the way!

This means that the Brass Monkeys’s enduro series can only be just around the corner! As usual the series starts with the ‘Winter Warmer’ next weekend at Minely Manor in Hampshire.  The second round is just before Christmas and then there is the added bonus this year of two races in January! Traditionally the 500 entries are a sell out, but this year there seems to be even more interest in these events. At the recent South Downs Bikes shop ride, at least half a dozen riders expressed their intention to race.

As befitting the name the Brass Monkeys are usually cold, mucky affairs that test man and machine in equal measure. The aim is to complete as many laps as you can within the time limit. 4 hours is the deadline after which you cannot start another 7/8 mile lap. From experience I know that if you cross the line with 3hrs 59 minutes on the clock you could get to enjoy another 45minutes of racing. So there is potential for a long day in the saddle.

There is much more to these races than the obvious physical challenge of powering a mountain bike around undulating woodland for over 4 hours. Windy and wet UK winters tend to create soggy, slippery trails. Shifting gear can become a game of roulette as leaves, twigs and other detritus reap havoc with chains and cassettes. The seals of your wheel and bottom bracket bearings will be tested by deep standing water and I’ve frequently worn a set of brake pads down to the metal within a few laps! The ideal situation is to wake up to a nice clear frosty morning, then if you are lucky the mud will be frozen solid and you can skate over the top of the puddles!

If the bike survives this grim onslaught there is the challenge of maintaining your own energy levels in often freezing conditions. The trick is to constantly cram food and drink into your mud encrusted chops! Not always easy when you are busy dodging trees and oily roots. Rucksack style hydration systems are brilliant and allow you to carry lots of fluids and take a refreshing slurp whenever you like. However, dragging 2/3 litres of water around on your back is heavy and tiring. So instead most opt for bottles, which require a pit stop every lap or two for fresh supplies. Energy bars and gels will also help give you that extra oomph when fatigue sets in. Personally I include bananas and fig rolls for variety, as gulping energy gels all day can get a bit sickly.

There is also the question of tools. At many XC races I don’t bother, if I have a problem the race is effectively over anyway in terms of a result. At an enduro there is time to recover from a puncture and at the very least make your way back to the car, which could be 4 miles away! This year I have opted to carry a spare tube and CO2 canister in-case of flats. I run my tyres tubeless with liquid latex, but this won’t seal every puncture. Once a tyre is leaking I find putting in a tube saves faffing with fiddly patches or repeated stops while the latex attempts and then usually fails to seal the hole. The CO2 obviously saves time in comparison to a tradionnal pump, and the small canisters are more convenient to carry in a jersey pocket. In addition to this I will take a multitool, with a selection of allen keys and a chain tool. This should be enough to fix most trail side disasters.

Second guessing the UK weather is never easy but it is important you pick the right clothes on race day. It might be tempting as you shiver in the carpark to slip on an extra layer. However, once the race progresses overheating might lead to dehydration and cramps. Equally decide to skimp on overshoes or gloves and you’ll soon be struggling for control as your feet or hands become numb and useless.

That only leaves the challenge of staying healthy! It isn’t easy at this time of year. Colds and bugs sweep through the office and you can guarantee that it’ll reach your department just before race day! I’ll suddenly become paranoid about every sneeze and sniff, convinced I’m going down with something.

Over the next week I am going to summarise my preparation and share my personal kit selection as race day looms!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Something new! Rotor QX1 Chainring

When looking for a product endorsement you can’t do better than the World Champion! Christophe Sauser won his third world endurance championship earlier this year. He did so using a prototype chainring from Spanish manufacturer Rotor. Sauser has been using Rotor elliptical Q-Rings since 2008. He is well known for being quite picky about his equipment and his technical attention to detail. So if he has chosen to use a piece of kit, it won’t be because of a lucrative sponsorship deal, but because he feels it offers a genuine competitive advantage.
Christophe Sauser - World Champ!
Sausers prototype QX1 chainring
Some of you may remember that I tried a Q-Ring myself around 12 months ago, with positive results (here). The elliptical shape is meant to help minimise the dead spot in the pedal stroke, by reducing the effective gearing when your legs are at the weakest point of rotation. I wasn’t able to substantiate the claims of increased power and reduced fatigue but I did feel that my pedal stroke was smoother, providing less wheel spin and better traction in slippery, muddy conditions. It also seemed that I could stay ‘on top’ of the gears for longer before changing down.

Earlier this year I switched to a 1x10 gearing set-up. Rotor didn’t offer a suitable single chainring so I swapped to SRAM’s brilliant XX1. The huge advantage of XX1 is the alternating thick/thin teeth, which retain the chain without the need of a chain guide. It works brilliantly and I haven’t had a dropped chain yet, plus I have all the advantages of the light weight and simple 1x10 set-up. I have been monitoring the Rotor website since then and just last week I finally saw that they had released their own specific MTB single ring called the QX1.

So I now have an oval ring back on the bike, and I am looking forward to trying it out this evening at the monthly South Downs Bikes shop ride.

My QX1 fitted last night!