Saturday, 31 December 2011

2012 - 2nd Half Analysis

For me, and I’m sure many other riders, Rd 4 of the BMBS at Margam marked a premature end to the season. The long wait until Rd 5 and the temptations of summertime drinks in the intervening months would prove hard to resist. Coupled with Sarah’s return from travelling, a couple of weddings, a riotous trip to Russia and a damaged ankle, my decision was more or less made to end the season at this convenient juncture.

Some success followed at a couple of smaller events (STWeekender and Brighton BigDog) thanks to a bit of residual fitness but the last few months have largely been a chance to let the inner fatboy enjoy his freedom.

Unfortunately the other side effect of a lavish diet has been the emergence of an inexplicable allergic reaction (kindly diagnosed by my GP via Google!). Six months down the line and after a number of failed attempts at finding the cause of the problem we are slowly ticking off all the potential causes. The latest theory is that it may be tomatoes, although this doesn’t explain the swollen face after eating a blueberry! In the meantime I shall continue popping antihistamines.

The end of October bought the unexpected announcement that most of the Soil Mechanics staff were to be made redundant. Never a pleasant experience but unbelievably jammy timing considering Sarah and I had committed to a winter season in Meribel from the beginning of Decmeber. November was therefore  spent riding my Ragley singlespeed, sending my Ghost into winter hibernation, regretfully selling my Spicy after 18months dormancy, and honing a menu plan for our new jobs as smiley happy chalet hosts. We return late April so until then it’s a winter of XC (skiing:) 

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


Mates-/rat-/ghetto- races are nothing new. However, with the growth in true enduro events (not those 100k loops in Mid Wales) the realm of competition has been opened up to those other than all out DHers and XCers. Nowadays people are recreating the Megavalanche magic in their own backyards*.

Having grown up in Bridgend it wasn't until a chance meeting with a couple of the local riders last winter that I came to realise the quality of riding just north of the M4. Throughout the year, come rain or shite, the boys from the Garw Valley MTB Club meet every Wed evening. Such is their enthusiasm that the recently re-opened pub from which most rides start appears to be trading off the bikers' need for beer and chips.

The club's first race - the GarwAvalanche - was to be run off Mynydd Caerau, a mountain just one or two valleys over from Afan Argoed. It is also close to the Bwlch – South Wales' very own alpine style mountain road and training ground for the likes of Geraint Thomas, Nicole Cooke and Big Mag. Anyway, word spread through Facebook of the plans for a Le Mans style start followed by a 20-30min decent with a little bit of climbing thrown in. I convinced a few of my riding buddies in Bristol to make the trip. So to did of few boys from Gwent. A turn out of ~30 for the first edition wasn't bad considering the dank weather. After a couple hours ride/push (plus removal of any eye-gougers from one of the newly cut sections of woodland singletrack) we made it to the trig point.

With my lack of racing since Margam I wasn't confident of a high placing. However, I have been working on my drinking in the intervening months - Ideal seeing that the running start was preceded with the downing of a can (I went for Strongbow figuring the higher alcohol content over the Carlsberg should loosen my limbs in readiness for riding my rigid singlespeed).

One of the quirks of this form of racing is the widely tapped courses. Sometimes this can lead to some imaginative line choices (see video below). Other times it can lead to complete wrong turns (as was almost the case for a couple of the Bristol boys who nearly ended up on the wrong side of the valley when approaching the finish). Coupled with the heavy mist up top it was quite a site to see thirty frothing and burping bikers darting across the moors.

Much credit to Alex Betts and Matt Pinches for the choice of route – there was a nice mix of rocks, loam, roots, grassland, tarmac, steep, tight, fast and techy. My race all but ended with a puncture after the second rocky chute. Rowan Sorell won, clearly not feeling a top ten at the recent Trans Provence in his legs. He won a neatly engraved slate. Last won a neatly engraved wooden spoon.
Long live boozy racing.

*Literally in the case of Garw resident Matt Pinches.


Thursday, 25 August 2011

Brighton Big Dog

The Brighton Big Dog has earnt itself a big reputation in a short space of time. It helps to have a vibrant riding scene based around tight woodland singletrack, a good few characters and an enthusiastic event team. All sounds very much like Bristol, even down to the special guest appearances: Big Dog had Big Maggy Backstedt in 2009; Bikefest is to feature Steve Peat later this year.

Since the STW Weekender I had barely touched the bike due to injuries, social commitments and an uncomfortable mix of the two (drinking on a moving bus hurts:( To further excuse myself for the poor lap times I was coming in to the Big Dog off the back of a hedonistic 10 days in Russia.

No worries, I was riding the Mixed Team category with term-time local Euan Adams (Red Kite Cycles) and Sarah Turner (Charge Bikes, girlfriend of fellow Elite racer Trev Allen). Whilst bimbling around on our practice lap Euan was forced to press on in order to make it in time for the start. Glad he did cos I wouldn't have made it. After his strong first lap we stayed out in front all day, ending with a comfortable margin which excused us from a 9th lap.

The course itself was a meandering sprawl through the Stanmer Park woods with a cute detour over the dual carriageway. The marshals were really encouraging and the weather was fine.  Having driven to and from the event on the day it certainly had a high drive to ride ratio of about 3:1. It was well worth it for the jovial podium ceremony and the neat prizes (Exposure lights and chamois cream!). Props to the event team for getting a host of supporters on board.

Thanks to Euan, Sarah, the organisers and everyone else. Sorry to the camera man for spraying his lens.

Picture courtesy of Dave Hayward

Singletrack Weekender, Lee Quarry

Housemate Matt and I are regular users of the Singletrackworld forum. We prefer to take a back seat when reading the nonsense that gets spouted by some of the personalities rather than risk a flaming for poor grammar or daring to pose a 'what tyre for…?' question. However we had heard that past Singletrack Weekender events at Lee Quarry were well received so what better way of putting forum-names to faces??

The format of the Weekender harks back to the early days of mountain bike competitions where one bike has to be used for each discipline: DH, trials and XC (unlike Malvern there was to be no lake jump:) In keeping with the tone of Singletrack's magazine and forum the tone was relaxed, with beer themed sideshows and spot prizes throughout the weekend.

Friday's journey north was typically painful so we took a last minute detour to ride the trails at Cannock rather than sit out the traffic. There was an interesting mix of forest trails which had elements of the riding meccas at Puddletown and Swinley Forest. The occasionally tiresome link sections and climbs were worth it for the beefy main descent which rode like a traditional Welsh trail centre, Brechfa coming to mind.

Back on the road we skipped the lure of Burger King for the delights of steak pudding with Uncle Stubbs and Co. After a couple of Timmy Taylors it was time for bed.

Saturday was trials (balance, hill climbing etc, not the Danny Macaskill/Chris Akrigg form) and DH. The DH course was nicely challenging without being too technical. It was also widely taped to allow for multiple line choice. In light of the furious bursts of rain our enthusiasm only stretched to a couple of DH practice runs. Matt and I both took tumbles in practice, though at least my falls were largely out of site. Typical that I should skin both knees whilst carrying pads in my backpack. Our race runs went without too much drama, Matt finishing a few seconds quicker than me. We were safe if unspectacular in the trials, incurring one penalty minute each for failing to ride a skinny which I'm sure would never be a problem without an audience.

Sunday was the XC race where everybody was gridded according to their penalty points from Saturday. The course preview stated that it was designed to favour an all round rider, presumably to remove the bias of previous events which favoured the lycra lovers. There were two other Elite XC riders in the starting line up. Both were gridded ahead of me and one of them happened to be Nick Craig (Scott UK)! After travelling all that way Matt and I ended up next to each other on the startline, going off in the third wave of riders. The race went well, the rain held off, it was great to be cheered on by my Auntie and Uncle and cousins and on his return to racing Matt managed to avoid a heart attack! I finished in third overall, second in Seniors behind Steve Webb (Singular Cycles) Unsurprisingly Nick Craig won but he wasn't announced as the overall winner, perhaps because he didn’t want to be seen winning a chipper or maybe because he didn’t exactly need the XT groupset from race sponsors Shimano?! I won some handy bits and bobs and an XXL T-Shirt.

Friday, 22 July 2011

BMBS Rd4, Margam

Picture courtesy of Joolze

I have always been a bit disparaging towards Margam, questioning why so many love it. The annual showing of blue skies, deer herds, rhododendrons and the contrasting backdrop of the steelworks makes for a very photogenic venue. However, past experiences – the numerous crashes, the mud, botched tyre changes and thigh length bruises – have tempered my enthusiasm for my home event.

This year was to be a 'Best of' for Margam; the mud of 2010 coupled with the stifling heat of previous editions. Despite the forecasts for sun, there was no indication of what was to come. Grey skies and rain preceded the event and even the morning of the race was overcast. Yet in the 15minutes it took to drive from Mum and Dad's the sky had cleared and I had a sweat on. Whilst muddy, the rapidly drying course posed an interesting predicament for tyre choice. However, after the panic of last year's last minute indecision I stuck to my guns with the middle ground option of Maxxis Advantage up front (good grip for the claggy off camber but struggled to clear on the fireroad climbs) and Aspen out back (surprisingly grippy for the damp rooty climbs and happily ungrippy for the fireroad climbs:)

The start of the race was nuts. It's always a shock to go from resting to max heart rate inside a hundred metres but in the heat to which no one was acclimatised it felt dreadful. People were popping within the first lap and it was these retirements that were the motivation to continue. Lap 1 was rapid (for me) where I struggled against some unfamiliar mid-pack riders, laps 2 – 4 were a lonely war of attrition whilst lap 5 saw the bait of a tiring Jon Pybus (GT Racing) upfront and the fear of a fast finishing Matt Page (Wiggle) and George Budd (Salsa) coming from behind. Normally I'd have resigned myself to being passed, happy enough to settle for my first top 20. However, with a vocal Matt & Amy and JB doing a stellar job in the feedzone for myself AND Scott Easter I tried to up my pace on the final lap. This amounted to a few fleeting moments out of the saddle and some ungraceful re-mounts following a run through the mud. With tiring arms I had to take the descents carefully, particularly the final chute where a loss of line can lead to some comedy wheel-slap in the ruts. Relieved, I pulled away to finish a happy 17th. Hardly ground breaking but a significant step forward.

I feel it slightly devalues your result when it is achieved by default, either through others retiring instead of beating them outright or when the regular international riders are absent. Nonetheless, to look at the positives, it is pleasing to overcome the indifference of my ride at Wasing by digging deep and refusing to bow to the more experienced riders. It also shows what is possible off the back of a favourable week at work, a couple of beastings on the road bike and a nice bit of rest.

Like any impressible glory supporter I can now say I'm a fan of Margam.

Friday, 24 June 2011

BMBS Rd3, Wasing

As a Bristol student, prior to becoming a fair-weather biker I would ride in all conditions. As such I gained a pretty sound education in the quirks of muddy, rooty singletrack. This served me well at a stinking Margam last year where I was on course for my best Expert result (until I fell off on the flat - see below :)

With all the races having been dry this year I was actually looking forward to a wet Wasing. As forecast, it did rain, (un)fortunately the real heavy rain didn't fall until the end of the Elite race. Therefore I would like to blame the consistency of the mud on my woeful performance - had it been real greasy then maybe I would have done, I don't know, 10% better and finished in the top 30 instead of 33rd. Not a good performance but like I say it's the mud's fault, not mine.

Next up is my home race in Margam, a much loved old-school course with grassy drags and big climbs. Why people love these old courses I'm not sure. In fairness there were a few tricky sections last year, not least the flat part on the approach to the arena where I managed the impossible and fell off on a straight section and ended up with the handlebar in my groin and the feeling of having had a new ass ripped open...

Gang Pants: CHECK

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bristol Bikefest

Turn up the BASS

Here's one for you fact fans… the inaugural Bikefest celebrated Timberland's sponsorship of Ashton Court's trails whilst this, the tenth edition, marked the first phase of the SW1 funded (re-)re-development of our trails. If the new look Quarry section is anything to go by then the once niggly rooty trails will soon be replaced by beautifully flowing singletrack.

I recall the very first Bikefest was won by 'Volvo Canondale'. Hmmm. I have since entered every one, sometimes in a team, sometimes on a singlespeed and sometimes on my own. In that time some things have remained constant: the fine weather, the laid back atmosphere, the cheery Cadets, suicide dog walkers and the inane PA ramblings.

This year I drew the short straw for the Le Mans style running start. Basically I can't run. I am slow, it hurts my legs and it makes me look silly. Once onboard the Ghost Lector 9000 :) a mighty shove from housemate Matt got me on my way and I had a clear run (bar the dog walkers and joggers) for the entire lap.

Through the early stages we built up an overall lead of a few minutes which was never quite comfortable enough to allow for a mechanical. During the evening our lead was very slowly whittled away by Cycle Coaching Wales, a real handy team comprising a few national standard boyos. With Robby feeling the miles in his legs from his recent Gran Fondo in Tuscany we re-shuffled our order to try and hold off second place. It seems they did the same and on the penultimate lap they took the lead. Unlike Mountain Mayhem the rules of Bikefest are that no laps completed after the cut off count. So, after a mammoth tussle Roadie Rob came in at approx 8.38, just behind one of the Cycle Coaching Wales strong boys which meant that in order to win we not only had to re-take the lead but put in the fastest lap of the day so as to beat the cut off. That we did thanks to lots of caffeine, our vociferous support, Ghost, Gaerne shoes and Mart from Hotlines. High fives to the rest of the Psyclewerx team: Robby, Rob and Scott Easter.

WELSH CHAMPS, Builth Wells

A very pretty Fforest Fields played host to the 2011 Welsh Champs mid-May. Set on a wooded hillside resplendent with all its bluebells, the full extent of the course could be seen from the arena snaking up, down and across the hill. It was real nice and understated and could have been a real pig in the wet due to all the off camber rooted sections.

There's not massive strength in depth in Wales and with our only regular World Cup rider present, first was a formality for Lee WIlliams. Without Matt Page or any crossover roadies I figured a podium was a possibility should any of the other contenders puncture or catch a root. Poor Ant O'Boyle (Torq) had a host of problems which saw him DNF from a guaranteed second and bumped me up to 4th for most of the race. Towards the end the unrelenting climbs took their toll and a tenacious Ed Roberts passed me going in to the final lap. Still, 5th in my first national (regional? sub-national? state?) champs is alright.

WeeDub Lupo

BMBS Rd2, Dalby

Not since the heyday of XC racing in the nineties has England hosted a round of the World Cup. It's fair to say that in comparison to the staid Newnham Park venue of old (come on, the Pipeline descent?!), Dalby well represents the evolution of XC courses – technical descents, technical climbs and, at the UCI's behest, a clover leaf format which allows the appreciative crowds not one but TWO glimpses of their boys in lycra.

The night before the race - when I figure healthy eating makes no odds to your prospects - comprised Tapas in nearby Pickering followed by a boys night in: Ben and Jerrys, Mrs Crimble's coconut macaroons and an awful Rene Zellweger film. Woop.

Come race day conditions were perfectly dry and not too hot, so no need for a last minute tyre change from the trusty Aspens (also used by star attraction for the day, race winner and past World Cup winner, Geoff Kabush of Canada). Following my 46th position from round one I was gridded towards the back so the aim was not only to avoid being lapped but also to improve on 46th so that I'd benefit from a better ranking for round three.

Fifty odd riders isn't much compared to the heady days of '90s XC but on a singletrack-heavy course like this a poor start means being strung a long way from the leaders. The expected bottleneck came at the first sign of a rocky feature where the courteous mugs like me waited for the congestion to ease whilst the heated racesnakes bypassed us on their cheeky little detours. Through the middle part of the race I found myself yo-yoing with George Budd (Salsa Racing), with Matt Page (recently crowned UK and European 24hr Champ) never far behind. Racing high point of the weekend was clearing the climb for the first time in ~14 attempts and two years of trying. Unfortunately the time gained over the chicken run (who'd have thought, uphill chicken runs) was soon lost as the adrenaline ebbed away! Towards the end the strength of George and Matt showed as they steadily pulled away, reminding me of another area of training that needs addressing. Still, 31st in a foreign flavoured field isn't all bad.

Thanks again to Hotlines and Ghost and also Barry Camel for his weekend edit (below).

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Davey does Dalby

Again, courtesy of Barry Camel (do excuse the 'mid-table racer' bit - artistic license:) ...

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Veins = Form

It’s clear that most cyclists suffer from body dysmorphia to some degree. Look no further than the shaving, the shiny embrocations, the self tanning and the long socks to mask those lamp post legs.

For me, as mentioned previously, the prevalence of visible veins has always been a loose barometer of form. It kind of makes sense: fit = lean = sticky out veins. I think this was the theme of my highest scoring essay in Geographies of Food where I talked about banana chips and Lance Armstrong and veins and the perception of well being. Also, maybe it’s just me or maybe it’s the fact that their legs are pasty at the start of the season, but I’m sure the pros legs look less veiny prior to having ridden in to form.

The myth was sort of dispelled in my first race of the season where, despite legs like a roider, the result was no good. Following Tom Southam’s insights, I figure it is probably time to stop obsessing about a look that is desirable to no one but a try hard biker.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Oinkleton has arrived

At last, thanks to Hotlines (and Psyclewerx for piecing it together) my Ragley Piglet is ready to ride. Considering it's a Frankenbike built up from odd bits and spare bobs it doesn't look too bad.

Disclaimer: As a nod to being a Ghost rider first and foremost please note the Ghost wheels (and the OEM tyres :) There should be no conflict of interests between the trail friendly, single speed Piglet and the race ready, 30 speed RT Lector - there is room in my heart for both.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

BMBS Rd1, Sherwood Pines

About 18 months in to my life as a cross country racer and I found myself back at Sherwood Pines. Since being promoted to Elite it meant that some things were to be done differently this time round: no turning up on race day armed with a couple of spare tyres to cater for most eventualities; no more bimbling around for a solitary practice lap; and, most importantly, no more turning up late for gridding. Some things never change as I still managed to miss the grid call, though it's debatable what difference it made in starting at the back compared to starting very near the back! At least I had no time for the nerves to take hold.

Unsurprisingly the main difference between Elite and Expert is the unrelenting pace and the strength in depth of talent – I always found there were faster boys than me in Expert but at least there were only a few of us vying for the holeshot. At Sherwood, however, the flat nature of the course is characterised by twisty, loamy singletrack linked by long sections of fire road, making for intense racing typical of a 2hour interval session where the big bursts of effort are on keeping hold of the wheel in front of you. It is probably the only race of the year where roadie-style drafting is advantageous on the fast fire road drags.

A high quality field comprising a handful of European pros meant that my main objective was to avoid being lapped! After narrowly avoiding the start line pileup I settled in to the rhythm of St David as I found myself sharing the work with two other Welsh lads. We stayed together for much of the second half of the race until Sion o'Boyle (Torq) lost his front wheel going in to the last lap! At this point it was damage limitation, trying to manage the cramp that follows a dropped water bottle (my first since Sherwood 2010!). Ben Roff (Orange Monkeys) and I worked together for much of the last lap; the dirty deed of having dropped a countryman weighing heavy on our minds. We were only 20seconds up but on a course like this a few seconds might as well be minutes. At the end I finished a relieved 46th. Oli Beckingsale needn't lose any sleep just yet.

Thanks to Hotlines and Ghost whose RT Lector 9000 proved astoundingly tight, light and nimble in Robin Hood's back yard. Roll on the techy delights of Dalby!

Serviced apartments: The Future for race accommodation!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011


Not really. Round 2 of the Welsh XC Series was held on a nice traditional course overlooking the Royal Welsh Showgrounds in Builth. Nice in a none-too demanding kind of way: a spectator friendly two leaf clover layout with no mega hills :) and no real tech :(
Result was a little disappointing considering the positive signs in the lead up: my vanity barometer showed an increasing number of visible (not varicose!) veins in the legs plus, since Christmas, I have shed the equivalent to approximately 16 of these puppies (accessories not included).

Thanks to Amy for putting us up for the weekend, the lairy spectators and JBs beard trimmer for giving my legs the more manly, semi-shaven look.

The Wilderness Weeks

Not much bike news since the Red Bull event except that an alternative video of Dunc's crash has emerged and that Barry Camel has been offered royalties for his cut. In light of the silly season for accidents – three crashes between Robby and Roadie Rob, one resulting in a written off Micra; two involving an airborne Rob – training has mainly been offroad and in the dark. Night riding is fast losing it's novelty: bring on the clock change and save us from the crows feet!

Oh hello, my DeRosa is worth like four times your Micra.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Red Bull Hill Crashers

First this...

...not forgetting this...

...and then it was poor Dunc's turn...

Shame for Dunc but otherwise what a fab event! Speedy Hire must have done well with about 1/2km of strip lighting up Park Street. Thanks to Sue and Nick for the viewing gallery.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Oh Hi Boys

FYI if you've made it to the flash, the last sentence reads..."Looked down on by the students, Dave faces his greatest challenge yet, one that will test his endurance and spirit to the limit." :)

Friday, 14 January 2011

Ready, Set...GHOST!!!*

2010 was a steep learning curve. It taught me to be wary of Holiday Skin, to never change tyres 3 minutes before the start, and to never miss the start line call up. I also came to appreciate the worth of wet wipes, talc, Banoffee gel and Just Right.

As I look ahead to 2011 I owe thanks to Mart at Hotlines, Robby and co at Psyclewerx, Barry Camel (coach and videographer), family, Sarah (pit chief) and her yellow Lupo.

*not my words