Tuesday, 25 March 2014

South Downs Bikes CC

Unfortunately I was defeated by Man Flu on Sunday, so there is no race report from Hungry Hill this week. From my death bed I have been industriously working on a new kit design for the South Downs Bikes Cycle Club. Let me know what you think!

If you want to find out what the club members have been up to lately, or tag along on the next group ride then check out the brand new club website. www.sdbcc.co.uk

Monday, 17 March 2014

Traffic Report! Southern XC Round 1

Sunday was a stunning day and the first ride of 2014 in shorts! The skies were clear, the sun was warm on my back, it could have been August. The beautiful Spring weather drew a mammoth entry for the first round of the Southern XC Series, at Wasing near Reading.

The course was flat and fast, the trails criss-crossed by a tangled network of roots. Luckily it was dry and riders could just clatter over the woody speed bumps. The large entry meant lots of spectators too, families making a day of it, deck chairs and picnic rugs spread out in the sun. It really made for a great atmosphere.

Based on last years results I wasn't gridded, which was bad news given the huge field. I lined up on the 7th row with a sea of 50 riders stretching out ahead of me. I dodged past a few on the first fireroad climb, but repeatedly got boxed in, and then had to slow as the pack slipped, single file into the wood. Now bouncing around on the roots it was even harder to make headway, the serpentine trails never really opening up to offer an easy passing opportunity. I made what could best be described as steady progress into the top 40 by the end of the first lap.

There were three technical sections during the lap, but my courage had deserted me. (Too many wimpy miles training on the road this winter.) So in the end I was taking the B-line at all three! Each probably only lost me 5-10 seconds, but over five laps that adds up to several minutes!

It wasn't until the 5th and final lap that the trail ahead cleared, which unfortunately meant I wasn't catching and passing anybody. My lap times are relatively poor reading, but I finished stronger than those ahead, which is positive for the marathon/enduro races I have planned later in the year. Most importantly I had really enjoyed myself, blasting around the singletrack in the sunshine, which at the end of the day is what it is all about!

Saturday, 15 March 2014

New Term Starts!

You will have noticed I have been quiet for a few weeks. Well I decided to take a month off, not totally away from the bike, but away from the stress and rigours of racing. As much as a rest for the brain as the body. For some time now I have promised myself a break as there doesn't seem to be an 'off season' anymore. The endless round of Spring Series, Southerns, Summer Nationals and before you know it Winter Enduros provide little break throughout the year.

So what have I been doing? Well I've still been out on the bike, trying to beat the weather and put in some extra miles. One of the problems with constantly racing is that it can be hard to put in a good training base with the aim of actually improving your fitness.

This year my focus will shift slightly, away from the Olympic short course XC races, to the Marathon endurance format of racing. Hence the need to put in some miles!

Having said that my first race of the new 2014 season is the first round of the Southern XC at Wasing near Reading. It'll be a training race, i.e. I haven't tapered, but it'll be a great chance to hone the technical skills after a winter of tempo training rides on the road. It always takes a few races to get back into the swing of things, so some of the other riders might have an edge but unusually for a Southern XC the weather looks positively spring like!

The new bike has had a few set backs so I am still on the same bike as last year. I have upgraded the fork to a Rock Shox SID Brain. Hopefully the 15mm bolt thru front axel will improve front end accuracy. Other than that the bike is as it was last year with just a fresh new Rotor bottom bracket. 

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Good Old Fashioned Fun!

The bike industry is based on constantly evolving technology. Every 12 months the manufacturers release their latest wares; over night they would have you believe that your old kit has become so obsolete it is a miracle you can even ride down the high street to the shops on your old bike. Of course it isn't all marketing hype, bikes have progressed leaps and bounds since the early 90's. That constant development means we can now ride further and faster, over much more challenging terrain. I'm as much as a sucker as anyone for the latest shiny 11 speed widget or lightweight carbon thing-a-me! Perhaps we sometimes forget about the basic enjoyment in just riding a bike?

With my new mountain bike still work-in-progress and the road bike currently in desperate need of some TLC, my only choice was the frankenstein commuter/cross bike lurking in the dark at the back of the shed. Originally cobbled together from a mismatched assortment of parts raided from the spares box, it had only been intended for transporting my son around the local lanes. Dusted down and with a few tweaks it was once again pressed into active service for a 4 hour ride over a mixture of Sussex lanes and South Downs trails. Nothing new or innovative on this machine, but would this make the ride any less enjoyable?


At the heart of the bike is a 2001 Stumpjumper M4 fitted with a Salsa rigid fork. I have fitted some 29er Crest wheels, which with narrow 32mm Continental Touring tyres, doesn't throw the geometry out too much. The drivechain is an eclectic mix of 9 speed road casette and Ultegra rear mech, paired with an ancient XTR M960 crankset, modified to take a Blackspire 32t single chainring. All the other bits and pieces are old cast offs apart from the terrible Clarkes mechanical brakes which were a £10 internet purchase needed to get the beast rolling.

As soon as I left the luxury of tarmac and headed up Chalkpit Lane, I realised how spoilt we are now-a-days; modern suspension is like cheating! With narrow tyres and rigid forks I had to pick my line extremely carefully, even on the climbs. I had already chosen a route that stuck to the main bridleways and didn't take in any of the more technical trails we normally ride. It wasn't boring it was brilliant! I revisited paths I haven't ridden for years, and was able to take in the view instead of concentrating on dodging down the singletrack. Yes I was going slower (much slower) but actually it is just as challenging and rewarding. 

Mountain biking has moved on, and that is great, but getting on a bike like this reminded me of the 'good old days' when we still enjoyed every ride as much as we do now. No I'm not going to be riding this bike every weekend, for a start I'd need to convince all my friends to get retro bikes or I'd be left behind in an instant. However, it was a really enjoyable morning, a break from the norm and a chance to reminisce.