Fair City Enduro – 2016

It’s still dark, the rain is the heavy wet kind, its a Saturday morning in late October and I find myself loading the bike onto the car for a drive to Perth. It can only mean the Muckmedden Fair City Enduro.

The Fair City Enduro is a little bit different to your usual one day enduro, with its proximity to Halloween, those participating are encouraged to don fancy dress and race in costume. This instantly lightens the mood, with untimed transitions and no stage start times its a very laid back affair. Last years outing was not really a clean run for me, so I was out to improve on on that performance whilst just having a really good day on the bike.

Time to remind myself how to ride in the wet!

Like last year, the heavens where fully open with heavy showers interspersed with smearing drizzle. Unlike the previous year however, the rain never really broke and was a constant feature of the day. With six downhill stages taking in some new and some old, it was going to be a loose, greasy, back wheel drifting sort of day. Time to remind myself how to ride in the wet!

The long slow burner of a climb brought us up to stage one. A new addition for this year, it started dark, slick and rooted, before breaking cover and diving nose first down a steep loamy turn. It was a complete sea change to the trail so far and caught a few people out (myself included). Then it was an of camber thigh burning sprint over wet grass before sliding sideways on grassy flat turns to the dibber.

It was a run to wake you up, riders had been warned that it was probably the stage you were most likely to crash on. My over the bars done, it was back up the hill to stage two.

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Stage two was a subtle variant of the same stage the year before, the top section was an exercise in keeping momentum as you searched for grip in the super slick, super muddy ruts and berms. Once the trail dropped back into the trees you soon joined the bike park for a fast blast through the berms and jumps.

I made possibly the best dib in the history of dibbing

As I popped off the last drop of the stage, I made possibly the best dib in the history of dibbing. Coming in hot I managed to clock the dibber perfectly into the timer whilst still skidding the rear wheel. No dibber dance, perfect first time, I could not of done it twice if I tried.

stravaiging-fair-city-enduro-2016-2Stage three was the same as last year, It was a fun trail and my best stage of the previous year. A nasty wee drop at the gate led to a fast sprint with plenty of scope to pop off logs and small drops, before a sudden short climb robbed you of all momentum. Any attempt of mine to regain some pace was moderated by the flat turns and pedal heavy nature of the last stretch of trail.

The transition of the final three stages brought us closer to Perth and to the cliffs overlooking the river and valley below. The low cloud cover refused to lift and a misty haze clung to the hillside that made you question if it was the scotch mist or your steamed up googles obscuring your view.

Stage four was probably my favorite of the day, fast, flowing and with many high “enduro lines” to keep things interesting. The whole trail was carpeted in a colourful display of freshly fallen autumn leaves. Pretty it may be, but the slick leaves led to plenty of moments when your rear wheel tried to overtake your front.

The climbs were sociable affairs, with no stage start times you could catch up with friends and share stories of the near misses and perfect lines from your past stages.

The fifth stage was the shortest of the day. A short run in gave you just enough time to get both feet clipped in before an all to short rock garden spat you out onto a fast grassy trail. Blind turns and drops were followed by wide flat greasy corners where keeping on the wet grass was for a change, your best hope for finding grip!

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The sixth and final stage of the day is a local classic, the cliff run mixed techy chutes, fast open single track and stiff thigh destroying climbs. being the last stage of the day, I was absolutely emptying the tank whilst trying to ignore the fire in my legs. The last hundred yards was rudely interrupted by some freshly cut flat turns that robbed you of all momentum as you fought to keep within the tape without staling out completely.

I was by no means bother the podium (or even the top 50% of my category) but that isn’t the point of racing for me. I was there to do better than myself, to push hard and have a great day riding bikes with friends, mission accomplished.

It was also the last ride on my faithful stead, Kaspir the Santa Cruz Heckler. He moved on to new adventures near Bike Park Wales the day after, and what a parting rip round the woods it was.


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Finella or Drumtochty

(depending on what side you approach the hill), is a hidden gem in the southern edges of Aberdeenshire.

From the steep old growth of Drumtochty Glen, to the tight dark stands on the Auchenblae side, this hill has a lot of character and range of trails on offer. For the committed downhill rider and enduronaut the Drumtochty slopes provide plenty of challenge and speed for those willing to tame the gnar. On the mellower side of things, the tight trails  of the Auchenblae side are woven over and through deep furrows cut between dense crops of pine trees, on ground that is apparently impervious to rain.

The fire road climbs snake lazily upwards and is dispatched without much fuss allowing the main business of descending to soon begin. The “trail” singletrack on the Auchenblae side of the hill provides singletrack with a character quite different to offerings elsewhere in the region. The dense growth of harvest timber has led to quite a barren understory, that is both fast draining and thick with the loam created by years of shed pine needles.

These trails are short fun blasts that reward the committed who work their body english as much as they turn the cranks. They can be linked together to create long flowing runs that build in pace the further you run, before breaking the tree line and climbing back up the fireroad for another blast on the roller coaster.

The impossibly weather proofed trails have a deep soft loam that rips into high roster tails as you bob and weave between the furrows. Yet with all that grip, sniper roots still lurk in the shadowy corners waiting to grab a wheel out from under you and set you pin balling from side to side down the trail.

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Then there are the longer newly dug steep “enduro” lines. Off camber, with steep chutes and rooty drops. The newer lines are best attempted with repeat viewings, as once on the bike blind drops always appear larger than they are in reality.

You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

The proximity of the trails to each other and the modest climbs of the hill may lead you to expect a less demanding character of singletrack. Yet a trail can be as challenging as you make it, with precision and bike handling levels increasing dramatically the faster you go. You can’t simply steam roller these trails if you want to go fast.

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It may not have the number and length of the trails at other local spots like Scolty, but this is one hill not to be overlooked.

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You say Finella I say Drumtochty, the OS says Drumelzie.

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I Just Bought a T-Shirt From Danny Hart

I Just Bought a T-Shirt From Danny Hart

It was the Saturday evening after his World Championship winning run, they had T-Shirts for sale at the Mondraker pits. Danny Hart on the Front and Redcar Rocket it on the back, they were pretty special and very cool, only being for sale there and then. Thing is, I wasn’t in Val De Sole.

I saw a post he put on his facebook page briefly mentioning the T-Shirts, I thought I would join in with the social media storm and send Danny a short message wishing him luck and cheekily asking if I could buy one of the shirts. I thought little of this and did not expect a reply.

To my complete surprise, a few days after his win, he replied.

I like many other fans watched the live feed with building anticipation and excitement, it was a hard track, one that had taken out some of the sports very best. With rider after rider coming down the hill the tension grew and would surely get to our man. Then Harts run came, the beeps counted down and he threw himself at the course. Equal parts perfect precision and on the absolute ragged edge, it was a run that you couldn’t believe was happening. Then when he crossed the line and the light went green, a cool shirt became a prized piece of memorabilia. And to my complete surprise, a few days after his win, he replied.

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A few quick messages and a Paypal transfer later and one of the shirts was mine. Now this might not seem like a big deal, it is after all, just a T-shirt but it is symptomatic of a few things in our sport, both very very good and really quite bad.

The level of access between the top players of our sport and the normal rider is almost unparalleled. Events like the Fox Hunts and Peaty’s Steel City Down Hill race are a prime example of this, what other sport can a normal rider rock up to and race the current world champion and other top tier legends? The barriers between the public and the pro’s are so small as to almost not exist. You you can visit the pits and watch the wrenches and support crew prep the racers on race morning.

Now DH is like the F1 of mountain biking and when you compare the access between them it is quite startling, but truly refreshing and something that our sport should be applauded.

And sadly, me buying a shirt from Hart via Facebook is also practically like buying merchandise from the lead singer of a band outside of a small venue gig, except he is the reigning world champion. The fact that our sport is, relatively speaking, cash poor when it comes to the pros salaries and bonuses is a travesty. Even for the biggest names. Now Hart wasn’t selling the shirts to put some money in the meter, he does it because he a humble down to earth guy who takes time for his fans and supporters. But many racers sell similar wares because they need to fund the vans drive to the next round of the season.

I would hope that if downhill was ever televised again and money came into the sport, that it would filter down to the riders, and that the velvet rope of other sports (and cycling disciplines) wouldn’t descend between rider and fan.


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Walking Away From the Mountain

Yellow: Be aware. Severe weather is possible over the next few days and could affect you. Yellow means that you should plan ahead thinking about possible travel delays, or the disruption of your day to day activities.

The Tour was my training focus for the last few months, the usual planning and preparations had been made and with training going well I was hopeful of a clean run come race day.

This would be my third run of the TBN, The first year I wasn’t the best prepared training or skills wise, but the two punctures were what slowed me down most. The second attempt I was mechanical free and feeling fit but my day was plagued with cramps that forced me to my knees. This time my goal was a clean run, the best run I could make, the third run would be the charm.

We left the morning before the race, leaving a Deeside that had been enjoying a prolonged period of dry weather. But traveling west the skies steadily built in density, the predicted storms seemed to be coming to fruition. Things didn’t improve once we had found and settled into the chalet as the rain started to lash across the windows. The wee man was delighted with the digs and was totally unfussed by this adventure or the weather. The sky continued to darken long before its time.

Whilst I stretched off that night and during the bike’s final going-over, the wind rattled and battered the chalet. I had drawn the curtains as much as a way to deny the weather as to keep the heat in. But I knew the following day was in question.

Racing and to some extent riding your bike is a singularly selfish pursuit, for what ever reasons we ride, ultimately we ride for ourselves. It takes us away from family, it makes us sacrifice time, energy and all too frequently, finances. It pushes us to try to better our fitness and skills, challenging us to push harder, but that can come at a cost. Sometimes the ride is not worth the potential cost.

Dawn barely broke the morning of the race and the sound of the wind had not eased. The minor miracle I had been vainly hoping for had not surfaced and the weather had not broken. I stepped outside to make an assessment and come to peace with the decision I knew was already made, a decision I had hoped the race organisers would make for me. I  looked down towards the north face of Nevis and across towards Aonoch Mor. I could see hints of mountain through razor thin breaks in the fast moving cloud, curtains of rain washed across the view and my face. I knew today wasn’t going to be a race for me. It would be too great a fall with the chances of the fall getting greater the higher I climbed on the course.

I had come to see the mountain, nodded my appreciation and the mountain was unmoved, stoic in its cloud bound vigil over the loch and all below. The race went ahead, what else could the organisers do, the route curtailed into a out and back sortie. From all accounts it was a grim affair with large portions of the course wallowing in standing and flowing water.

I will no doubt be back, this race has yet to get out of my system, I will never know if this year was the year were I was ready, luck had other ideas. I guess no race is the perfect race, there will always be mistakes made or opportunities that go uncapitalised. Ultimately all you are left with (and the reason why we do it) are the feelings and the experiences, to come down from the hill with a head full of magic and a story to tell.

There will always be other races and other stories to tell.


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