Sherwood Pines XC

Riding almost wheel-to-wheel, zipping through the trees on singletrack barely wider than our tyres, carving around bends, a small weight-shift here…a mere hint of brake there…drop down this hill, carry enough speed for the next little uphill…

The sun was shining, the ground was dry, the trails were quiet. “I tell you what, let’s not bother with racing today. Let’s just do this all day!”.

The ride from Lee’s house to Sherwood Pines for round 1 of the British XC Series was threatening to spoil the race itself. “There’s not that much quality offroad riding ‘round our way” Lee has said on many occasions. He’s been fibbing. The riding out of his back door is brilliant. Granted, the weather was probably helping but we rode 12 or so miles of quality singletrack to get to the start of the race without once having to ride across a sheepshit-covered exposed moor or through a farmyard full of Ford Cortinas or into a headwind along a dangerous A-road in the dark. This was indeed a rare treat and a fitting way to mark the day the clocks changed.

We arrived and signed in and Dave prepared himself for the 12pm race – me and Lee were racing in the vets’ race later in the afternoon.

The start was delayed for a few minutes after one of the Expert racers crashed quite badly – the air ambulance arrived and caused chaos by blowing away assorted tents, picnics and children – but once the race was underway Dave moved his way from near the back of the grid up to 20-somethingth place. Not too shabby given the limited overtaking opportunities through the trees…

Meanwhile, Lee and I were ‘busy’ spectating, soaking up the rays and catching up with various friendly faces. All this had to come to an end of course when it was our turn to line up near the back of the grid (our lack of results from last year’s XC series saw us chucked at the tail end) and spend the next hour and a half tearing around the course. It was simple – 4 laps, flat-out, don’t crash. I almost did crash about 100 feet from the start as a pile-up occurred right in front of Lee, everyone braking hard to avoid adding to the carnage, my super-slick rear tyre sliding all over the place as both wheels locked up. To my left, other riders managed to negotiate their way around the pile of carbon, aluminium and lycra whilst the rest of us had to do various 3-point turns and tourettes-inducing argy bargy.

I must have been in about 90th place by the time we got going again. To be honest, I’ve no idea what happened in those few seconds of dicking around on the start/finish straight but I knew I had to get past more people now that I’d hoped for. Oh well. At least I didn’t end up in the tangled mess on the floor.

What followed was 4 laps of overtaking on the short sections of fire road, keeping up with the guy in front on the singletrack and heroically sprinting past the cameras of friends and family at the end of each lap ;0)

The course was ace, my newly-lightened and race-fettled Scandal was also ace, I was feeling good (despite crashing shoulder-first into a tree on lap three), the sun was still shining and no sooner had I warmed up properly, the race ended.

I finished in a ‘not-too-bad-really-considering-but-that’s the honeymoon-over-with’ 40th place, which I think is just inside the points, which should in turn give me a better starting position at round 2 next month at Dalby Forest. Yay!

So it turns out that short races are brilliant fun, I only wish I’d not left it until now to take part.

On-One Scandal

I’ve had this ‘new generation’ On-One Scandal since a few days before the Strathpuffer, back in January. Brant kindly sorted me out with it so that I’d be able to use my old Scandal as a spare in the race. I’d was racing singlespeed at the ‘Puffer so the Scandal came with some extra, one-gear-specific horizontal ‘Swap-Out’ dropouts.

Where the old Scandal had a chain tensioner, I was able to maintain nice chain tension on the new one by moving the wheel slightly  rearwards – much neater.

The ride of the new Scandal is pretty much the same as the old one – no surprises there – On-One have kept the angles the same. The Scandal 29er has always been a great bike so why change something that works as well as that?

There are some differences though, the most obvious one being that big tapered headtube, allowing the use of much stiffer and longer-travel forks with tapered steerers and one of those headsets that makes things slacker…if that’s your bag.

The seat tube has now got a nice bend in it for extra tyre clearance and it’s wider too, so if you want to use an uppy-downy post you can do.

The finish, while it looks and is called ‘raw’, is actually anodised. It’s really tough – there’s hardly a mark on it even after being ridden for 24 (ok, 20) hours in the abrasive mud of the ‘Puffer.

The logos are etched onto the frame, no doubt with a laser or something.

This one turned up from On One with a lovely singlespeed-specific Middleburn chainset, nice in-house wheels (the rear hub sounds ACE) and a frankly mental 120mm, bolt-thru fork. In practice the fork on this bike, despite being complete overkill for my both-wheels-on-the-ground riding style and combined with the big wheels, means that there’s a feeling of invincibility and confidence to tackle big obstacles the like of which I’ve not had since I last rode my old Orange Patriot. It’s immense fun, in other words. It doesn’t feel too slack and as a singlespeed (where you’re stood up for much longer periods of time) it worked really well at the Strathpuffer.

Now that I’ve got gears back on the bike I’m still going to drop the travel down to a more ‘normal’ 100mm though. I’m not sure if that will make me any faster but at least I’ll start behaving better and stop trying to throw myself off bus shelters.

Now built with nice XTR parts and some fast tyres, it’s starting to resemble something race-ready. And that’s the beauty of it – now that 29ers have become ‘mainstream’, you can get all the parts you need to build a Scandal with big tyres, a big fork and wide bars and use it for playing on. Or, you can built it really light and go and race on it.

What’s not to like?

More info (and a BUY ME button) here




Polocini Winter Sprinter

A long, hilly ride the day before what was bound to be (based on the pace last year and the people I’d be riding with this year) a very fast 60 mile road ride should have been ok. A few hours in the hills, ride to Macclesfield, tea at mum-in-law’s, stay over then ride to the start 4 miles away in the morning. The weather was going to be pretty crappy but it didn’t matter.

Throwing in a few hill intervals at the halfway point of the ride the day before shouldn’t have been a big problem either. I might feel it a little bit on Sunday but that’s ok.

Doing all of this at the end of a pretty big training week was maybe pushing it a wee bit.

Forgetting to take more than two gels was going a bit beyond ‘pushing my luck a bit’ though. They weren’t even ‘strong’ gels either – they were those crappy watered-down ones. I only took them because they were out of date and needed using. I’m such a bloody a tightwad.

By the time I reached the final big climb, just a few miles from my mum-in-law’s, I was starting to have problems. Rapidly running out of energy, I was getting that weird floatiness…the start of the dreaded bonk.

What an idiot. I rode quite slowly for the final few miles and largely, I got away with it. I ate, massaged my legs and got a good night’s sleep and looked forward to a good ride the day after.

And it was great, as expected. I rode to the start, ate my free massive tub of porridge, collected my free pack of gels, energy bars and water bottle and met up with John and Phil. Despite the weather, 300 or so riders started the ride at 9am. Within a few miles the three of us set about dictating the pace at the front of an ever-decreasing group. Ticking off mile after mile of the (almost) flat route, our average speed increasing with each pedal stroke. Covered in grime and mud from the road, we kept things tight and were looking forward to being done and dusted in around 3 hours.

My legs felt pretty heavy but it wasn’t causing too many problems.

Things were going really well in fact, until we reached the ‘feature’ climb of Swiss Hill. A steep, cobbled climb that’s quite hard in the dry, but in the wet it’s a right bugger. Shifting down on the approach, I dropped my chain and had to stop to put it back on. The lads disappeared off into the distance as I attempted to get going again on the slippery surface. I ran to the top. They’d gone.

Ace. I attempted to catch them up but knew it was pretty futile. My average speed without the protection of the group would be no match for the Phil/John freight train, so I thought of a contingency plan. I’d go for a cup of tea instead 😉

A few miles later, I reached Prestbury (where my mother-in-law lives) and decided that my legs, by now pretty cooked, deserved a break. This was supposed to be an ‘easy ride day’ according to the training plan anyway!

And so it came to pass that with just 10 miles of the route left to go I succumbed to the lure of a warm shower and a warm drink, which is most unlike me but it seemed like the right thing to do. (I showed up later on at the finish to claim my free sausage and mash and cake though). I’m not completely stupid.

Another superbly organised and amazing value event from Polocini. How Allen manages to feed everyone before and after the ride AND  provide freebies AND feed stations is incredible really. The next Polocini event is the probably-aptly-named ‘Bastard’. Do it.