Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Man Flu!

OK so it wasn’t really man flu, but a cold brought on a chest infection, a bad case of Asthma and the need for antibiotics. Either way it kept me off the bike for 9 days, which is the longest I’ve been out of the saddle since July 2011!!

Normally this sort of hiatus would have brought on a case of the shakes, but firstly I knew I was too ill to ride and in all honesty it provided a nice break at the end of the season. It was perhaps telling that I didn’t actually miss the bike as much as I normally would.

The worst was the throbbing pain in my legs that started after about 3 or 4 days. It was almost as if I could feel the muscle tone draining away. This slow torment however was nothing compared to when I actually got back in the saddle! In hindsight perhaps setting out on a 50 mile MTB ride with 1500m of climbing was slightly optimistic. I was completely dead on my feet by the time I staggered in through the front door, but it had been a glorious autumn day. I had headed out with a friend to tackle the man made trails over at Queen Elizabeth Country Park near Petersfield.

The QE of old used to be a nightmare of slippery off-camber chalk and roots. But the new blue trail, although not especially technical has a cambered all weather surface where the swoops and bends still provide a thrilling challenge if tackled at speed.

The next test is getting back to fitness in time for the Merida Brass Monkeys series which starts in little over a months time. 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Specialized Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie 27.5"

You can't avoid the current avalanche of publicity surrounding E-bikes. All the major brands are clambering onboard and releasing their own battery powered machines. These aren't just racked and mud guarded commuter rides either. Specialized for example recently introduced their off-road E-bikes - the Levo range.

Turbo Levo FSR Comp 6Fattie

I popped my E-bike cherry a few weeks ago when I attended the Cycle Show. Much to my own surprise I had a great time railing around the short indoor track at the NEC, but it was a novelty and not really representative of the real world.

My chance to actually experience E-biking out on local trails came when I heard that Specialized were running a Levo demo day just 15 minutes up the road at QE Country Park in Hampshire. I was first in the queue on a sunny Autumn day and was quickly astride a Turbo Levo FSR with 3in tyres and 135mm of full squish from the rear shock. The fit was all dialled in using the clever autosag feature, the power was turned on and I was off!

I cruised along the first section of slightly uphill bridleway. The motor providing some nice gentle assistance, but it wasn't until we hit the first switch back of the climb proper that I noticed the punch provided by the battery. The more torque you yourself apply to the pedals the more power the battery provides. I literally surged up the hill! On the downhills despite the unfamiliar bike the Ground Control and Purgatory tyres provided all the confidence you could need on the all weather surface.

After a couple of laps of the blue route with some of the red trail thrown in I swapped back to my own hard tail bike for a comparison.

On the gravel fireroad there was no obvious difference and interestingly looking at Strava the times for the steep switchback climb were also fairly equivalent. Although I suspect I was putting in more effort to maintain the same rate of progress the ultimate pace was limited by the terrain and the corners. The REALLY standout difference was the decents. The Levo decended like a stone in comparison to my more familiar Stumpjumper HT.

Riders line up at QE Country Park for the Specialized demo day.

So what do I take from my morning with the Levo?

  • Firstly the E-bike enables you to maintain a higher pace for less effort. Making it suitable for older / injured or less fit riders wanting to enjoy a morning on the trails with their younger/fitter buddies.

  • Secondly the battery power enables you to ride a 'bigger' more 'technical' bike up the climbs. This means you can enjoy the benefits of the longer suspension and the extra grip of fatter tyres on the descents.

  • The big negative is obviously the weight. I didn't have the strength to even pop the front wheel over roots. I'd imagine lifting the beast into a car or onto a cycle rack would be quite a challenge.

I'd like to ride more E-bikes for a proper comparison. The E-bikes from Cube and Haibike I rode at the NEC Cycle Show seemed more 'eager' than the Levo, which felt slightly sedate when the power came on. Perhaps the Levo is more 'natural', but does this take away some of the fun?

One thing I will say about the Levo is how well integrated the design is. It doesn't look like a normal bike with a battery bolted onto the downtube as many I have seen do. Except for the green power light you might not even notice it was an E-bike as it flashes past on the trail.

For me the battery assist is a gimmick I don't need at the moment, but I can see others might benefit from. The total revelation for me was the 3in tyres! Switching back to my bike I realised how I had been completely ignoring the roots riding the Levo. My Rocket Ron 2.25 suddenly felt skinny and utterly inadequate. I was noticeably slower on my own bike as I had to pick a line around obstacles, the tyres scrabbling for grip as I leant the bike into the bends. So perhaps what I need a Fattie bike?


Monday, 10 October 2016

Top step of the podium!

The first ever MTB race I attended was organised by Gorrick. With them I cut my teeth as a XC racer at numerous venues across Surrey. The Spring and Autumn series were my staple diet for weekend racing. My recent focus has been on longer multi hour marathon events, but with the years major goals behind me, it was time to return to my roots and the adrenalin fuelled, leg burning blast that is short course cross country.

The riders began to gather around the start banner nervously chatting. I’d already been there for 15 minutes with memories of the days when Open races regularly featured fields of over 100 riders and you needed to arrive early if you wanted a competitive starting position. There was no such problem today as we rolled up to the line barely four rows deep. Despite the lower turnout I’d already clocked some familiar faces likely to be challenging for the win. These included two riders local to my neck of the woods on the South Downs. As ever in an Open category race there were also some unfamiliar faces, the ringers, their lean physiques and tricked out rides marking them out as possible front runners.

From the starters signal we plummeted down to the first corner. I’d already seen an ambulance in attendance after an earlier start line pile up, but we all clattered over the roots safely and around the bend at the bottom. It was a beautiful Autumn day and the course was running fast after a week of dry weather. If it had been wet the roots would have been a completely different challenge.

I was 3rd wheel chasing the two riders ahead, with the pack hot on my heels. At the base of the first climb the leader stumbled slightly on the roots and I was through into second following one of the unfamiliar faces I’d seen at the start. An unknown quantity! Would he now ride away?

The course couldn’t have been better designed for me. Repeated short inclines linked by fast singletrack. I was comfortable following down the descents and at this stage riding slightly within myself on the climbs. Looping backwards and forwards, it was easy to track those behind and as the lap progressed. Three of us had formed a lead group that slowly gapped the rest of the field. Sensing the pace slowing I did something I had never done at a Gorrick in 13 years, I took the lead! It didn’t last for long as I was quickly chased down by the other rider in the group, the local legend I still know by his Strava alter ego of Spider Pig.

Taking the lead had pushed me slightly into the red and the gap opened ahead of me. I completed the first lap 9 seconds back, but with a healthy lead on the chasers behind.  I used the climbs to get back on terms, the gap yo-yoing slightly until I found myself back in front again. I pushed on and my lead steady widened to around 30 seconds.

42 races over 13 years is how long I had been trying to win a Gorrick. For long periods over those years the goal of winning one of these races had consumed my thoughts and been my overriding aim. Following my first race where I came 49th my results had improved to consistent top 10 runner, and then the podium. Two 3rd places remained my previous best. Now I found myself in the lead.

I was pumped and feeling good, the gap still seemed to be going out as I powered into the final lap. The twisty course meant I had regular sight of Jason behind, which only heightened my concerns of getting caught. I also began to worry about the bike – surely a mechanical issue wouldn’t deprive me of victory? Would it? I’d been up late the night before rebuilding the rear hub and bleeding the brakes. I was cautious under power and with gear changes. My racing line between the trees started to get a little conservative and I winced every time I saw glass glistening in the trail.

It wasn’t until the final fast sweeping section that I began to realise this was actually going to happen! I crossed the line victorious thumping the handlebars with excitement. I don’t win very often and it meant a lot to finally achieve something I have strived for so many years to achieve. I drove home singing loudly along to the radio with a huge grin on my face.  

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Plans for Autumn / Winter

September has been very hectic and stressful, but I hope I can report some exciting news soon!

I haven’t had much chance to focus on training, but have still been commuting to work and riding with the guys at the weekend. Hopefully the residue of Summer fitness is still lurking in my legs and can be lured out for a last hurrah come race day. Gorrick's are always a fun blast whatever the result.

Following that the Brass Monkey winter enduro series it not far away now. I sat out the races last year to look after a heavily pregnant wife, but hope to be back fighting for a top ten position this year.

Winter is coming!