Sunday, 23 October 2011

Rapha Super-Cross

Today saw the last round of the Rapha Super-Cross at Alexandra Palace in London. Another unseasonally sunny day provided far reaching views across the city from the stunning setting of the 'Ally Pally' gardens. Odd that I've never been here really as it carries the accolade of 'The Birth Place of Television' - my two worlds finally collide.

Unable to take part due to the niggle I picked up racing last night I decided to take advantage of what might be the last sunny day of 2011 and enjoy the atmosphere, racing, beer tent and the unexpected presence of a number of friends. Most of the morning was spent catching up with people and wandering around the course. (And as per usual the obligatory "this place has a lot of potential for an event ya know" conversation took place as the gentle stroll turned into a venue recce mission.)

The main event started around 2pm - a number of high profile, elite riders had been invited to this most prestigious of British Cyclo-Cross events to compete for a very fat prize purse. I took up a prime photo position at the top of the steps for the first lap to see who would make it to the top step first and pick up the bonus. Much cow bell ringing ensued but after a few laps my interest was waning as the effect of the real ale kicked in and my latest bottle emptied. Time to hit the beer tent again, at the bottom of the hill, and if we timed it just right we could probably get there, drink a bottle whilst watching the last couple of laps next to the hurdles and then restock in time for the prize giving. This was the cunning plan anyway but as more friends joined the group the prize giving took a poor second place to ever more beer.

Apparently Paul Oldham, reigning Cyclo-Cross National Champion, won with his Hope Technology team picking up the team honour too. All in all a pretty good day - good weather, good friends, good beer (pies were so-so, frites were cold, uncooked and overpriced but I guess that's my fault for being a greedy-guts) and all finished off with an impromptu pub dinner with a select little group to continue the day's feel good factor. Alexandra Palace hasn't hosted a cyclo-cross race for over 20 years, but judging by this year's event, I don' think we'll have to wait that long again!

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Night of the Knobbly Tread - 3rd!?

Very little cycling happened this week for one reason or another, everything was going to be packed into the weekend: a pub lunch/meeting with a title sponsor today followed by an interview with a journalist and the evening would be capped off with my first mountain bike race in a good few years.

Going for something a bit different again I chose a race just down the road at Black Park, the Night of the Knobbly Tread - a low-key, night cross-country race organised by a local club.

For me, there's only one choice of bike for an event and venue like this... the Surly 1x1. Not that I knew much about the venue, but I figured it would be fairly flat and I wasn't wrong.

I arrived at the event in good time and it was a dry, mild night. That's about where my good fortune ran out and the evening turned into a comedy of errors:

Lap 1 - 19m38s: Lining up at the back of the start group I mentioned to friend and event sponsor John Cookson from Exposure Lights that I wasn't sure my MaxxD would last the race as it hadn't had much time to charge. With one minute to go to the start Cookie whipped it off the handlebars and ran off to his van, promising a swish, fully charged Six Pack in exchange. The race started and I rolled up to the line to await his return. Sure enough as the last rider disappeared around the bend at the end of the start straight he returned with said light, snapped it into the handlebar mount and cranked it up to full beam. Hell it was bright!
Now it was time to give chase to the back of the pack and set off spinning like a mad woman on my 32:16 gearing down the fire road, catching the first half dozen stragglers. Into the first section of singletrack and blam! I'm blind! A screeching of breaks! Crack! Straight into a tree! All 2000 lumens were now pointing directly at me and I couldn't see a thing, thankfully the tree had brought me to a relatively safe stop in the darkness. In our haste to get the light onto the bracket we must have nudged it along the bars slightly and the clamp was no longer tight, leaving the heavy light free to swing around the bars. Multi-tool out I tried to tighten it again but couldn't get the position on the bars thanks to the numberboard. The rest of the lap was spent with one hand on the light trying to hold it in a useful position with a number of 'blinding-light/tree interludes' thrown in when the bars required both hands.

Lap 2 - 18m40s: Crossing the line to start my second lap I took a detour to the Exposure stand to once more seek Cookie's assistance to fix the loose bracket problem. The addition of a small section of rubber under the bracket seemed to do the job but also resulted in the end of my glove finger being clamped tightly to the bar! Untighten clamp, release glove, retighten clamp and off I went once again, chasing down the riders I spent the entire first lap passing and re-passing.

Lap 3 - 16m20s: A dream lap. Fast, fun, flowing, singlespeed perfection! With all this light, my renewed zeal for bike racing and the twisting hard-packed singletrack I was glad I'd chosen the 5 lap race as opposed to the 3 laps, this was one grin inducing mountain bike course and I was making up places. Laps four and five, here I come!

Lap 4 - 17m05s: Started as fast as lap 3, bring it on! Unfortunately the evening was getting slightly damp and ground conditions were changing. The lead riders were now starting to lap me and the sound of a couple of quick riders catching me through a tight singletrack section and the shout of a familiar voice to come through was enough to make me move just far enough off the racing line to catch a now slippery off-camber root and lose the back wheel, hitting the ground with a thud. Both riders managed to avoid me as I lay in the middle of the track trying to unclip. It was perhaps this twisting action that aggravated an old knee injury that I used to get when racing singlespeeds regularly a few years back. I should probably have given up after this lap.

Lap 5 - 18m59s: Not wanting to quit such a short race and figuring things couldn't get much worse I carried on to finish the final lap. My knee pain intensified quite quickly on this lap and soon I couldn't put any pressure on it at all, pedalling gently on the easy going sections and using my right leg to pedal through the tougher sections. I limped around the rest of the lap, frustrated that I was unable to enjoy it.

To my surprise I crossed the finish line to be told I was needed on the podium for 3rd place and incredibly was only around 6 minutes behind 2nd. My eventful race was then relayed to an array of friends over a couple of pints in the local pub. Despite everything, it was a very entertaining evening.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

'Cross Race Number Two - 3rd!!

With a round of the Central Cyclo-Cross League in my home town of Hemel Hempstead on a bright, sunny October afternoon I was struggling for excuses not to do this race. The 1 o'clock start meant I could take a leisurely ride there and still have plenty of time for a practice lap, even after a lazy Sunday morning.

The course was very different to the one at Basildon (most notably missing the huge hill in the middle) and wound up and down some small grass banks, through some sweet, tight and twisty singletrack and included some extremely off-camber sections that would have been very interesting in the wet. Fortunately the grass could only be classified as 'slightly damp in places' today and the coating of dust on my frame increased lap by lap.

Today's race was also 20 minutes longer, being lumped in with senior men this time. I was feeling quite good, despite the hours of exercise clocked up this week and now having some idea of how hard I can go in these events decided to push myself until I finished or blew up.

Unlike last week though I wasn't really chasing anyone and couldn't see anyone chasing me and ended up playing cat and mouse with a couple of guys for the first 5 laps - they would get a good lead on me around the fields and then I'd be right on their wheel through the singletrack. I'm astounded at how many of the riders couldn't ride even the most basic singletrack quickly!

Exactly one hour later the race finished with a sprint for the line between me and 1st place (alright, she'd lapped me, but a sprint finish is always fun) and I completed the 8 laps to finish a surprising 3rd. (Results position 68.) Looking at the lap times I was pretty consistent too, with a variation of just 10 seconds between all the laps (not including the start loop on the first lap.)

I treated myself to a post-race slice of cake and a cup of tea and then gently rode the 4 miles home in the sunshine. All in all a pretty good Sunday afternoon, I could get used to this...

Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Cracking October

The weather so far has been amazing this month and has provided that extra bit of motivation to get out and ride. So much so that I've actually managed to ride 10 out of the last 12 days, and today I went for a 3 mile run whilst I was at work. My only day off was Sunday after the cyclo-cross race - I thought I deserved a break. I think in professional circles they call it a 'Rest Day' or something.

The key has been variety, as is often the case in life: a BMX session, a couple of sessions on the rollers when time was short, a 2 hour exploratory trip playing around on the bridleways of Ashridge Estate and a night ride at Cannock Chase by kind invitation from Matt at CycleShack in Cannock. It's been quite a while since I rode with a group, especially as this was designated the 'Fast Group' so having my legs ripped off for two hours in the dark was quite a shock to my tiring legs. Riding in the dark isn't something I'm used to either, it's probably at least 3 years since my last proper night ride!

Despite my legs feeling like jelly on Friday morning I still managed to cram in 20 minutes on the rollers before work but opted for a lie in this morning and swapped my spds for running shoes. It still hurt, but at least I had an extra 45 minutes in bed.

Six continuous days of quality exercise is a record for me this year with a good five and a half hours of cycle training under my belt this week. And only two glasses of red wine consumed, I could almost start classing myself as 'healthy' at this rate.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Doing BMX ...

I've had a mountain bike since the early nineties and before that I had the compulsory '80's BMX (and a worn out VHS of BMX Bandits). My skill level never progressed above skidding the length of the drive and briefly lifting the front wheel off the floor and I certainly never went near a BMX track. But that was all to change today!

Redditch has a new BMX track and for the price of a couple of pints you can hire a bike and a helmet. Spurred on by an evening of YouTube videos I was as excited as the Christmas Day when I was lead out into the backyard to discover my very first BMX leaning against the wall - pristine and with a complete set of silver pads and a large number board with a tiger emblem on.

Funnily enough BMXing is not quite how I remember it. As kids we would ride for miles on our BMXes on hot Summer days, up and down dale, across the fields, through the lanes and think nothing of getting up and doing it all again the next day throughout the entire summer holidays. Two decades and rather more pints later, things are slightly more difficult, with the first challenge being riding up to the start ramp. With some huffing and puffing I made it and sat on the start gate staring at the huge mounds of dirt in front of me.

In the videos these jumps didn't look that big. And at the start all the riders would sprint down the ramp pedalling for all they were worth, launching high into the air and gracefully clearing the whole thing. My approach was slightly more reserved. The first ramp was a bit of a kicker so I employed the one U-brake to take some of the speed off down the start ramp and rolled up to the top, pedalling across the table top and down the other side. It wasn't stylish, pretty or graceful and I'm certainly not going to be challenging for a London 2012 spot, but what do you expect from a female thirty something!

This steady approach continued around the rest of the track to get a feel for the tiny heavy bike, flat pedals, jumps, doubles, step-ups, berms and final rhythm section. Two minutes later, thighs burning and wheezing through the full face helmet, I'd completed a circuit of the miniscule track. For the next 10 minutes I sat hunched over the handlebars at the top of the start ramp until my body recovered from the exertion and then I headed off once more...

Half an hour later I'd completed 3 laps and was getting braver. My front wheel was lifting over the jump at the end of the start straight and I was completely leaving the ground at the top of the step up - though not actually clearing it. This resulted in some uncomfortable and twitchy landings, at one point finding myself completely detached from the bike, bar the handlebars, whilst it was on the ground and I was in mid-air; not my most graceful bike handling moment.

All of this continued for 45 minutes until I could ride no more - my legs were like jelly and my lungs couldn't take in enough oxygen during my fits of hysterical laughter to break down the enormous lactic acid build up. Time to hang up my helmet and head home, content in the fact that I'd spent a very enjoyable sunny afternoon trying something else new, rather than having a couple of pints down the pub. Can't wait for my next visit!

Saturday, 8 October 2011

My First Cyclo-Cross Race

Today was the day. The day I did my first ever cyclo-cross race. I've been talking about it for a few years now but today I put my money where my mouth is and did a round of the Eastern Cyclo-Cross League at Basildon.

As always my preparation was hardly ideal; very little fitness, no speed and I haven't raced for a few years. But what did I have to lose? Nothing. I've been enjoying riding bikes lately so now seemed the perfect time to try something new, with no pressure, and just enjoy the experience.

Racing can sometimes seem a bit daunting when you haven't done it for a while, especially in a new discipline. I wondered if I was going to look out of place with all the skinny, quick, experienced riders and I was more than prepared to come last. Part of the reason why I'd picked this event was down to it's structure: the women were due to go off in the morning with the Veterans, rather than the silly quick senior men. I felt better about this, if nothing else there might be some old fuddy-duddy behind me at the end of the first lap. I was also unsure about the format of the race, I hadn't seen how long we were racing for, or how many laps we had to do, how would I know when to stop?!

Needless to say the reality wasn't as bad as I'd imagined it. Although most of the cyclo-cross set are club affiliated and therefore in lycra club kit, there was a healthy smattering of mountain bikes around and a few people that had eaten too many pies. And one quick conversation with a couple of the very friendly ladies at the back of the group as the riders were being lined up and the rules became perfectly clear too. I was going to enjoy this after all.

The start was a steady affair (another bonus of going off with the Veterans) and up the first hill I was actually making my way through the pack! Unusually for 'cross racing (so I'm told) was the presence of a very steep hill in the course that we went up twice. The first lap was the only time I rode it, I wasn't the only one either. My Surly Cross-Check has always been set up for road riding with a fairly sporty block on the back and my legs were suffering from this.

After lap 2 it became clear how many laps I had left and realising I could probably go a bit quicker if I wanted to, I started to put some effort in. I'd been cruising on the flat twisty stuff up until now but on lap 3 I decided to actually use the big ring and push the gears. It's amazing how many places you can make up by riding a bit faster, jeez I wished I'd tried that earlier.

On the last lap I caught up to two ladies at the bottom of the steep hill but one rode it and the other ran it whilst I, well, 'ambled' is probably the best word to use. I lost some time but on the long flat run in to the finish there was still room to chase. It was a good tussle, I even passed one of them at one point but was overtaken again in the final 200 yards.

After 40 minutes of racing and 4 laps I was 12th out of 15 with 9th place just 13 seconds ahead in a four woman, last lap battle for the line. My last lap was also 30 seconds quicker than laps 2 and 3, so I probably could have gone a bit quicker and maybe even been as high as 8th. Hindsight is a wonderful thing though and I'll know for next time. Yes, there is going to be a next time!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Windy or What

Tried desperately to talk myself out of going for a ride today but the only excuse I could find was that it was windier than yesterday. Other than that it was dry and fairly sunny and with winter approaching it's best to make the most of the days where you can still go out and ride in shorts and a short-sleeved top with today's addition of a windproof gillet.

I stuck to the usual road route today and fought a strong headwind for most of it. Legs were feeling pretty good but having not ridden for quite a while my backside was suffering a little. It took a good 5 minutes before I could sit down properly and found the sweet spot on my saddle.

I was pretty happy with how I was riding until some guy in a bright yellow jacket on a touring bike with panniers and mudguards just rode away from me up Ivinghoe Beacon. There's a long way to go before I call myself 'fit' again. Still, 25 miles and 1h45 minutes closer.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

'Cross Bikes Are Ace

Popped out for a local ride today, first time in quite a while. I had big plans to do a 45 mile road ride but thanks to the weather and the unbelievably strong headwind my plans changed part way into it. Cue the versatility of a Surly Cross-Check.

So as the weather was good and the ground was bone dry I went exploring on the Ashridge Estate and the Chiltern Cycleway to help progress a little project I'm working on.

And this is why I love 'cross bike so much - a dozen or so miles zipping along the tarmac, detoured off down a gravel track, back onto the road, playtime on some hard-packed rooty bridleways, short cut across the common, down the road to the canal, along the towpath and then tucked in time-trialling the final stretch home at 22+mph.

What other bike can give you so much fun in so many ways on so many different types of terrain? It's rides like this that encourage me to ride more - 2h30m, 27 miles. Can't wait for tomorrow!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

My Dirty Habit

Hello, my name's Sara and I'm an addict. It dawned on me the other day that I have a problem, my dirty little habit as I sometimes call it. It takes up all of my spare time, I can't go a day without thinking about it, it makes me do silly things and it costs a lot of money. So what am I referring to? Mountain bike events.

The signs have been there for a long time and now other people are starting to notice. Earlier this year I took a weekend off inbetween a two week job on a mountain bike event to go to help out at another mountain bike event 5 hours away and whilst there I mostly talked about other mountain bike events watching the last day of the Tour de France. A friend pointed out to me the previously un-noticed Busman's Holiday I was on.

Just this weekend gone I worked a full night shift at my proper job, finished at 7am and drove from London to Brighton to help out some friends on the Brighton Big Dog 6 hour mountain bike race. As soon as it finished I jumped in my car and drove back to London for another night shift! Many told me it isn't healthy, or normal, to go for 36 hours without sleep just to work on a mountain bike race. But it's not the first time and I doubt it will be the last.

I go to sleep thinking about mountain bike events, I wake up and my first thought is about an event and in between that almost every waking minute is spent thinking, talking or writing emails about events. Hell, I even dream about events!

Weird, I know. Obsessed? Probably. Addicted? Undoubtedly. But what can I do about it? Cycling is my passion, and evidently my life. I have been consumed by it, heart and soul and there's nothing really wrong with that. There is just one problem I've come across that seems to be getting bigger though - I don't actually get to ride that much any more!

Friday, 12 August 2011

Same old

Work today. Home-work that is. Work, work and more work. Though I have the added diamension of a third computer to sit in front of as I tried to get my new laptop up to speed. I was trying to put it off until after the Montane Kielder 100 but the current one took over half an hour to get itself together this morning and I lost my patience again so action had to be taken. Now it's just a case of installing all the relevant software and transferring all the important files over whilst doing a bit of house-keeping. Not great timing but I'm sure it will pay off by the end of the month.

The dullness was interrupted by a surprise phone call from the National Trust Ranger at Ashridge Estate asking if I'd like to go along and discuss mountain biking on the estate with him - future potential and event ideas and how to help mountain biking in the local area. It was a very exciting conversation and hopefully I'll get to meet up with him early next week. Watch this space!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Fostering a Prince

A Pinarello Prince that is, and a very pretty little thing he is too. He's been spending the summer at my house and whilst he settled in has been restricted to the turbo trainer in the spare room. He had his first proper outing today - the usual 25 mile Ivinghoe Beacon loop that I do. Nothing too strenuous, just bike and rider getting familiar with each other's habits.

It's been a good few years since I rode an actual road bike, probably all the way back during the Tour of Ireland, and do most of my road miles on a Surly cross bike or my shonky old Marin that I use for commuting. So to take a spin out on this nifty little carbon number was something of a treat. Though a little short for me (a 48cm and I normally ride a 50cm) this just added to the zingy feel and the general feeling of wanting to 'go'. Out of the saddle every pedal stroke made him lurch forward despite my current lack of fitness and slight, er, 'excess baggage' at the moment.

I'm sure if I had anything like my usual form at the moment I would have smashed my record for this ride, but as it was I returned home in around the usual 1h40m. Though I must say spinning along the flat with the gps reading 42kph did give me hope for the future and increased motivation to get out and ride some more whilst the weather is still half decent. Thank you Prince!

Monday, 8 August 2011

A Quickie

Morning full of emails and catching up on the post. I've found that to really stay on top of events you have to start work on the next one as soon as the previous one has finished. So despite the fact that the Montane Kielder 100 is less than a month away, a number of my phone calls and emails today revolved around 24 Hours of Exposure 2012 and other events in the pipeline.

Crunch time came around 3 o'clock: bury my head in the computer for the rest of the evening, or get up off my arse and go for a ride? The break in the clouds was the deciding factor and I popped out for a short loop around Ashridge Estate. Just an hour, 15 miles, but it was enough to get the legs spinning and heart rate up. Felt good.

Back for a cup of tea and a dark chocolate and ginger biscuit, then buried my head in the computers again.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

A Quiet Year?

In terms of the blog it has been admittedly, but that's only because it's been far from a quiet year in real life. I think I've managed to squeeze in more riding this year than the previous two, but the number of events I've been involved in have also increased so I'm still not riding as much as I'd like - does anybody though?

Since my last post I've skipped through four rounds of the BMBS series almost without a hitch (well, if you discount the two air ambulances we've had to call); finished off The Demo Series; battled through a hectic May that started with another very successful 24 Hours of Exposure at Rock UK that included the European 24 hour and 12 hour Championships this year over one extremely wet and tense weekend, threw in a few days of trail building in Kielder and then nipped over to work on the MTB World Cup at Dalby for 10 days. This was possibly the hardest event I've ever had the misfortune to work on and resulted in an exhaustion related illness - oh the glamorous life of travelling round the country to mountain bike events!

Finally I made it into July and the opportunity to work on the Olympic mountain bike test event at Hadleigh Farm. Maybe it's because I've worked on so many events over the years, or even too many this year, or the fact that I'm rather jaded by the whole 'cross-country mtb race scene' at the moment but for some reason I wasn't as excited about this as I probably should have been and I actually feel slightly guilty about it. Don't get me wrong, it was a great weekend and a fantastic race day, it just didn't feel as special as I imagine an Olympic Test Event should do - that's no reflection on the event by the way, everybody else was positively shaking with excitement, it was just me - so maybe things will be different for the actual Olympics next year. I do hope so! It's been a while since I had that massive event buzz I used to get and I miss it.

Still, having three years of the national series, two World Cups and the Olympics on my resume is still pretty cool. Where do I go from there though?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A Big Welsh Day

Big views. Big hills. And for the first time properly, big wheels. It's been a long time since I rode a bike in the Brecon Beacons, probably almost 10 years. During that time I've spent a lot of time walking in the area (see 'mountain walks' label) and have spotted numerous paths and trails that have prompted the phrase "this would be an ace trail to ride"; A phrase common to mountain bikers and yet seeminly rare and incomprehensible to normal people.

One such trail is the bridleway from Y Das to Grwyne Fawr Reservoir - a rock strewn double track that gentle descends down the valley to the dam.

So finding myself in South Wales on a gloriously sunny March morning, there was only one thing on my mind, to ride that trail. Throw into the equation the official MTB route guides for the Brecon Beacons I'd bought many years before and never used, add the excitement of getting to play on my new favourite toy, a Giant Anthem X 29er, for the first time, and it was panning out to be a big day in the saddle.

I'd decided I was going to do a combination of the black and red routes that were based around Talgarth, adjusting them to my tastes. Off I went from Mynydd Du car park and immediately started climbing up through the forest and out onto the open hillsides high above Crickhowell. Brecon Beacon's riding generaly falls into three categories: 1) long and grassy, 2) a mud slog, or 3) steep and rocky. This route wasn't going to disappoint on any front. But no matter where I was or what I was riding on, the Giant 29er, (let's call him 'Anontio' for future reference, all of my other bikes have names so I don't want Antonio to feel left out during his short stay) just kept rolling, and very quickly: quick on the climbs, nimble through the rocks, ate up the fireroad miles and ploughed on through down all of the descents. It was proving hard to find fault with him.

Soon, much of the scenery became familiar as I trundled through BBMC country and realised exactly what was ahead. In complete opposition to the ultimate goal of this ride, the long, grass climb out of the valley floor up towards Pen Trumau ranks high on my list of 'trails I have no inclination to ever ride.' But at least I was rewarded with a view for once, something I've never seen on the BBMC. And then there was a nice little surprise in store for me.

Straight over the hill and down the other side towards Grafog I stumbled upon a lovely looking rock gully - the perfect test for Antonio and the confidence he had instilled in me. Half way down it started to go horribly wrong and an inevitable over-the-bars moment would have occurred had it not been for the unstoppable roll-ability of this bike, resulting in a rather stylish, slow-motion 'step off the back' dismount worthy of any stunt show.

Composed and on my way once more there was more testing terrain ahead. Considering the rather slick looking design of the tyres, the larger footprint from the 29er wheel found traction where I wouldn't expect it in the thick, muddy trails and I just kept rolling.

The final climb: Y Das. Famous for being 1000ft of unrideable, boulder strewn, rock stepped, bridleway hell. It took almost an hour to push to the top of this monster, the second time I've had to endure this nightmare but I can assure you it's the last!

So, five hours and 25 miles later I finally reached my destination: the head of Grwyne Fawr bridleway. (A mere 6km from my starting point!) And the descent didn't disappoint, neither did the Giant Anthem 29, it was a match made in heaven. The momentum of the big wheels just kept building and rocks that would have brought a normal bike to a grinding halt just flicked out from underneath me.

Job done, another one off the tick list. A beautifully big day in the hills, just me and my bike, just like the good ole days.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

29er Virgin

There's been a new fad in mountain biking over the last couple years (actually, 29ers have been around for about a decade thanks to Gary Fisher, but we'll gloss over that for the moment). Let's say, some of the more mainstream brands have picked up on the idea just recently.

Being 5'7" the minute I get out of bed means I've never even considered the possibility that a mountain bike with oversize wheels might be the thing for me. I've just never seen the point. I've seen plenty of people riding them, but they've all be towering 6-footers and 29" wheels don't look out of place on a 20" frame, so I never really took much notice.

That was until a few weeks ago when I ran another round of The Demo Series, showcasing the latest mountain bikes the big brands - Giant, Specialized and Trek - have to offer. All of them are pushing the 29er big stylie this year so I thought I'd see what all the fuss was about.

Considering I've been riding for almost 20 years, it also suddenly struck me that I've never bothered with any of these mainstream brands. I spent a season racing on a Giant XTC, I borrowed a women's Trek out in the USA for a week once and kept falling off the back of the seat because it was too short, and I've never even parked my backside on a Specialized! Another first was afoot.

Now, remember for one second that two of the bikes I own (Olive the DeKerf and Hyacinth the Maverick) are my two favourite bikes in the whole wide world and I have loved every minute I have ever spent riding them, that's why I own them. I'd also ridden a storming lap of the demo course on Saturday morning on Hyacinth - it doesn't get much better!

But it does.

First off, the Specialized Epic 29er - wow! Cruising down the final Skyline Trail descent at Afan, skipping over the rock slabs as if they were carpet and popping over the drop-offs. The ride was unbelievable, on a bike I'd never ridden before and hadn't even been set up properly. I just couldn't stop grinning! And then giggling. There was lots of giggling! I wanted to go again, again again again!

Next up, the Trek Superfly - O.M.G! Still brimming with confidence from the Epic ride, I'm pretty sure I rode the descent even faster, smoother and possibly with a tad more 'air'. This was frickin awesome! What had I been missing out on - these bikes just move, seriously move! More grinning and giggling and I was desperate to go out one more time, despite the huge climb that started the route. Sense and self-preservation got the better of me, one more run may have been the tipping point I'd been teetering on the edge of.

A cup of tea and time to chat about this amazing, grin-inducing new invention. Fortunately, this resulted in the offer of being lent a Giant Anthem X 29er for a couple of weeks until the next demo and with a big ride in the Brecon Beacons planned for Sunday, the offer was far too good to refuse.

My enthusiasm for riding hasn't been this high for a long time, there really could be something in these big-wheeled grin machines.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Turnaround Time

Holding down a full time job whilst being heavily involved in mountain biking means sometimes I end up doing long stints without sleep. Friday was such a day - a night shift followed by the long drive across to South Wales first thing in the morning. I'm usually fine on the drive, but the tiredness hits me around 3 o'clock in the afternoon and I shut down and have to have a snooze.

For a while I've been wondering how the activity of the day affects exactly when I 'shut down'. The ability of the human body to keep going as long as it has to will never cease to amaze me and a finite timeline with a huge dose of adrenaline can get me through most things.

After breakfast in Abergavenny I set off on Hyacinth (Maverick ML7) for a ride around the Sugar Loaf. I haven't ridden her for a while and have never failed to have fun, especially riding somewhere new being shown the local trails by a semi-local.

By mid-afternoon the sun was shining, the views were spectacular and a long, fast descent back into town awaited. Early evening came around and there wasn't so much as a yawn, I was even toying with the idea of going out for another lap! But duty called and I drove over to Neath ready for The Demo Series, reasonably confident that the sun-filled exertion of the day had merely delayed the onset of that crash-and-burn feeling.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

International Women's Day

Honestly, it is. In honour of that my employer decided to give me a red rose, a very swish little business card holder and a quote from Maggie Thatcher (who is obviously every career woman's idol!): "If you want something said, ask a man; if you want something done, ask a woman." Enough said...

But it's not just any old IWD, it's the Centenary celebration of International Women's Day. For those that didn't know it's also Shrove Tuesday aka Pancake Day, and today also marks three weeks without alcohol for me. To put it slightly more ironically, I won't be celebrating my gender's annual day, but will be starting drinking again for lent.

It's been a funny old day.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Looking Like Spring

But only looking like Spring, and not quite feeling. I was lulled into a false sense of security by the bright sunshine this morning and once again went out without my overshoes. It was one of those weird kind of days where you're not entirely sure what to wear. I settled for a long-sleeved base layer and a light Endura jacket and 3/4 tights. In the sun it was fine, when the biting wind blew, it was cold and by the time I got home I couldn't feel my feet again. You'd have thought I'd have learnt my lesson by now as I've had cold feet on every ride I've done so far this year.

I decided to resurrect some bits of old road rides I used to do and surprisingly racked up 50 miles in just over 3 hours. I can't remember that last time I did a ride that long but I have a feeling it's a good couple of years ago. After 40 miles I was really starting to feel it but I was on the very familiar home stretch so kept the pace going all the way home.

Skins Recovery Tights donned and Accelerade Recovery drink consumed, I'll be interested to see how I feel tomorrow and am really looking forward to another ride. (Two surprises in one day!)

Friday, 25 February 2011

God Damn Right It's A Beautiful Day

European Solo Championships launched as part of 24 Hours of Exposure, press releases done, sponsors secured - it's all falling into place. Having completed a To Do list I rewarded myself with a 2 hour road ride. There aren't many people that would consider a 30 mile ride a reward, but that's what makes us cyclists and everybody else, not.

As an extra reward, I decided to test the recovery properties of tea and Jaffa cakes. Test results were inconclusive, so I'll have to try it again I guess.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Changing the Rules

Another day spent riding around Sherwood Pines trying to find any tracks even vaguely interesting enough to make up a mountain bike course of a suitable standard for elite riders and a couple of Olympians. It hasn't been easy. The selection of trails at Sherwood is limited at the best of times and the parts of the Kitcheners trail I have actually ridden have been so uninspiring I've never bothered to do the whole thing.

The task was made harder by new UCI rules stating cross-country mountain bike courses should now be 4-6km long. Sorry, that's not a mountain bike course, it's a cyclo-cross course through a few more trees. Apparently, it's to make mountain biking more exciting and television friendly, but as the British National XC Series hasn't been televised for over a decade, I can hardly see BBC sport suddenly turning up because we've knocked a couple of kilometres off the course.

And as for more exciting, they've obviously never been to a BMBS venue. Let's face it England is hardly blessed with rugged, mountainous terrain so we always make the best of what we have in difficult circumstances. You can probably make a fantastically hard, testing, technical 5km course in the Alps - just send the riders around the alpine meadow, up the side of the mountain and back down the near-vertical, rocky descent. Job done. Not quite the case in Sherwood Forest, or Berkshire, or Plymouth. Even the hugely expensive Dalby World Cup course is 500m too long now!

So with shorter courses (though all of the BMBS courses will probably be pushing the 6km limit, a 4km course would barely get us out of the car park at most venues) and shorter race durations, this could be an interesting year for British Cross-Country Mountain Biking. Watch this space!

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Time Out

It's very easy to get bogged down with paperwork as an event organiser, so every now and again it's good to get out into the fresh air and get your hands dirty. Last week presented just the opportunity with a trip to Rock UK to do some trail building and maintenance on the 24 Hours of Exposure solo champs race course.

With a handful of willing helpers from Rock UK staff and a couple of huge piles of stone from FC Scotland, the week was spent shovelling, digging, raking, brashing, strimming and compacting on various sections of the route around Priest Hill in Newcastleton.

Despite the typical Scottish winter weather switching from hard frosts to torrential rain, a very productive week was had and good headway made into the task ahead. And, of course, there was lots of splashing in puddles and making mud pies...

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Priority Change

Quick switch of priorities today as the urge to carry on my good work from last week was still there. Ride first, then work, as opposed to work, then ride (which always ends up in just one more email, just one more cup of tea, oh look it's too late, too dark, it's too cold, it's dinner time etc and never an actual ride).

Quick two hours on some previously unexplored lanes and an undulating 27 miles. Clawing your way back from total unfitness is never fun, especially not when the temperature noticeably drops a couple of degrees whilst you're out and you can literally see the water freezing over. Still, if I can ride in this, I can ride in anything.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

5 in 5

It seems my motivation to ride just isn't there at the moment. Luckily my dirty habit of organising mountain bike events means every now and again I have to go and ride a bike. The strange thing is, once I'm there and ready to go, I really enjoyed riding and just wanted to ride more.

Wednesday was a short loop around Afan checking out a demo loop for the Demo Series. I don't know why, but Afan is my 'make or break' trail. A number of times now I've been to Afan having not ridden for a few months and thrown myself into this south wales deep end. Every trail starts with a lung busting, rocky climb that's a real shock to the system and on this occasion was followed by a fast, rocky descent. Just the kind of mountain bike kick start I needed. If the light hadn't been fading, I'd probably have done another loop (ahem!)

Thursday was off to Margam Park to recce the British Mountain Bike Series Cross-country race course. If Afan is the deep end, this is a diving pool! Climb after climb interspersed with old school off-camber descents. Ace, but not really what you need after so long off the bike and an increasingly more evident lack of fitness. Still, after a lap and some lunch, I was eager to get back out into the forest and explore some new trails (thanks to trail fairy Gareth Hayes), once more ending the ride at sunset.

Friday was a quick and uninspiring ride around Bedgebury in Kent for another demo route. The less said about that the better but I'll join the increasing government trend of blaming everything on the weather. It was, however, a nice break from the leg burning hills of south wales.

Saturday - Sherwood Pines. One of the perks of officially scouting out routes for events is that you get to meet up with locals to show you off-piste stuff. As a cross-country course Sherwood is as you would expect - fast, tight, twisty singletrack with few features and some 'steep slopes' that make up the tiny amount of ascent the course has. My riding mojo was back after four days of consistent riding and the miles of flowing singletrack were grin-inducing enough to keep me riding most of the afternoon.

Sunday and another trip to Cannock for a lap of the 'Follow the Dog' and 'Monkey Trail' trails. The pedally singletrack was making my thighs burn and I could feel the previous rides in my legs. But Cannock is undulating and fun enough to make you want to keep going to the next downhill section (well usually, when it's not an energy sapping, treacle mud fest!)

5 days, 5 venues, 5 rides, 53 miles, 8 hours (alright, it's not going to break any speed records) and a very good basis for getting back into the habit of riding my bike!

Friday, 7 January 2011

Two in a Row

Not deterred by yesterday's post-ride feeling of dizziness, nausea and as if my legs were about to drop off I decided to give it another go. The rain finally stopped and I squeezed in an hour and a half of the usual road loop. By the end of the ride if felt like the cob webs had blown away and my legs were spinning freely. (The numb backside has almost gone as well, settling in nicely to a trusty, well worn saddle.)

So whilst many of my braver cycling friends are attempting a New year "30 in 30", I've opted for a slightly easier "10 rides in 10 days" approach. I've ridden more in two days than I have in six weeks. A promising start to the year.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

New Year - Again...

So my winter training has started in earnest with a quick 45 minute spin on the rollers. For those of you that don't know what rollers are, it's like a turbo trainer but with the added hilarity of continuous wobbling, a reluctance to remove your hands from the handlebars (even when the sweat in your eyes stings so much you can barely see) and the ever present possibility of falling off the edge and riding straight into the wall in front of you.

Basically it's a balancing act, pedalling a normal bike perched on three belt driven rollers with nothing holding you up; that's if you don't count the various body parts wedged against door frames, the well known 'head leaning on a wall stance' or the even more popular comedy 'elbows out with just the slightest hairs breadth brushing against the wall every now and again' posture. I haven't braved riding in spd pedals yet so I'm still in trainers with an old Bulmers crate as a mounting block. But I am getting the hang of it and at least I'm riding a bike.

And there we have it, once more my resolution for the new year is to ride more, for the fourth year in a row. So my resolution now has an addendum of 'more than last year'. Considering my riding has actually slowly decreased over the last three years, this might be one resolution I manage to keep.