Is The UCI Stifling Innovation? – Sick Bike Co Collab

As part of what I hope to become a series of guest Vlogs (still hate that term). I recorded this vlog posing the question “Is The UCI Stifling Innovation?”. I look at the case of DH and XC, looking at how the UCI technical regulation affect and shape the disciplines. I also ask whether they should and what the “soul” of those races should be.


Excert from the UCI technical regulations, the full document can be accessed here.
ARTICLE 1.3.007
“Bicycles and their accessories shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practising cycling as a sport. Any equipment in development phase and not yet available for sale (prototype) must be subject of an authorization request to the UCI Equipment Unit before its use. Authorization will be granted only for equipment which is in the final stage of development and for which commercialization will take place no later than 12 months after the first use in competition. The manufacturer may request a single prolongation of the prototype status if justified by relevant reasons. The UCI Equipment Unit will pay particular attention to safety of the equipment which will be submitted to it for authorization.
 
The use of equipment designed especially for the attainment of a particular performance (record or other) shall be not authorised.” The bicycle must be accessible to all participants. All the components of the bicycle must be available commercially (i.e. available on the market or sold directly by the manufacturer) at the latest twelve months after their first use in competition. To implement this twelve month period, the manufacturer must publicly announce that the product in question is being used in competition and when it will be available for sale. In all cases the product must be in a final stage of development, very similar to the product that will be marketed.
Thus, it is not allowed to use equipment in competition that is not either available on the market or authorized by the UCI Equipment Unit and previously communicated by the manufacturer (with a twelve months period for the marketing). The use of equipment specially designed for a particular athlete, event or performance are prohibited. “Specially designed” means a bicycle with a technical added value when compared with other equipment. No minimum production quantity or minimum price is defined for either bicycles or any component parts.
However, for down
hill and 4X cross mountain bike events, BMX, trials and indoor cycling, specific provisions are laid down in the part of the regulations concerning the discipline in question.

Fungle Road

Heading south from the Fungle singletrack is the Fungle Road itself.

The old drovers road connects Deeside in the north with Tarfside in the south and is usually part of a larger loop. I have a favourite section, from Birse Castle up to the edge of the estate. It is a real leg burner of a climb but one fast descent coming back down.

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I normally take the Fungle on my XC whip as the climb can be a little, intimidating, it is the sort of constant grind that benefits from a lithe XC machine.

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Its a stiff old climb.

But I thought I’d take the big bike for a change, not being on the gas for the climb was a good plan. The weather God’s looked on me kindly and the temperature was around 17-19 degrees. Pretty toasty for early April.

The start of the climb is literally at the end of the road, the tarmac ends and the dirt begins. You quickly cross the sheep pastures then the landscape begins to change in character to a more rugged austerity as the hillside grow in front of you.

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The sparse heather covered hillsides hide burns that cross the trail, they grow and recede with the rains, thankfully they are never more than a quick rinse for the bike.

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Bike wash.
Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride adder
Genuine snakes in Scotland.

Once that climb has been defeated its time to make your way back down. From the top you can climb further and explore other back country options that take you into Glen Tanar or down the shooting estate fire road into Tarfside.

Or, do like I did, turn around and burn straight back down the way you came.

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Being a historic walkers path your not going to find berms and lips to send off, but if your out here your not looking for that kind of riding experience. What you will find though is a very, very fast  trail, with plenty of ruts and drainage ditches to get playful on.

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The 5km+ of descent quickly fly by, and all to quickly, the heather fades away with the grassy pastures on the boundary of farm and heath coming back into view.

All in all a great wee section of trail to build into a larger loop, or, if your short of time but want a taste of some wilder riding riding, enough to scratch that itch.

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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.

Danny hart face book conversation 1.png

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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Train in Vain

Returning to work is not without some advantages,
There is an excellent on campus gym for a start.

Back to work with a bump, sort of. I work at a university so returning to work after my paternity leave during the summer break meant I had a gentle reintroduction to the workplace. With no classes or students to keep the mind occupied I thought I would take the opportunity to get some consistent and planed training done in the run up to the  Tour De Ben.

I had a 10 week period in which to build some power and overall conditioning, not a huge amount of time but not so little that good progress couldn’t be made.

stravaiging-training-plan-mtb-scotland

I broke the time into two 4 week cycles with a unloading rest week in between and a final tapering week in the run up to race day. Each week gradually built on the intensity or volume of the previous week mixing intervals and weight training to get the most out of the available time I had for training. I predominantly would be getting gym time in during my normal lunch hour, this meant that 45 minute sessions up to 5 times a week would be the back bone of the plan.

Each week has two weight training days spaced 48 to 72 hours apart to allow for recovery whilst getting the best impact for those workouts, with interval sessions on a spin bike making up the remaining three gym sessions. Outside of the gym, I tried to get one or two rides on the bike a week but with the quickly darkening nights these rides were no more than 2 hours tops.

by the time this all added up I am able to get between 6 to 7 and a half hours training in a week. It soon adds up and I have been trying hard to structure the week so I was getting quality, as I wouldn’t have the volume training of longer rides.

The weight training days also incorporated floor and free weight workout routines from James WilsonJames runs a website called Mountain Bike strength Training Systems where you can purchase training plans and workout routines that are specific to mountain biking and specific types of MTB racing. He has been the fitness couch to an impressive roster of riders ranging from US National winning XC riders through to Aaron Gwin. The online part of his business means that the average rider can also get access to a structured plan for training for our sport.

For people like myself who are not able to commit that amount of time, he has a series of 15 minute workouts which he calls his “15 Minute Trail Rider Tune Ups” 0r 15M-TRTU, not the snappiest of titles. These sport specific routines focus on building mobility and working the muscle groups in areas that relate specifically to areas of being on the bike, like cornering and standing pedaling. I am enjoying the routines and I am finding it a fairly easy 15 minutes to add onto normal workouts or when the wee man is asleep.

All said and done whilst I feel I am in better condition for all this, the true test comes on the 24th when I try to beat my previous best time. If all goes well or I’m mad enough to try, I might make my secret goal for the day. The good thing about a secret target is there are no expectations and regardless of your time when people ask if you did you can just say “yes…”.


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Fungle Road Infection

A evenings ride towards the end of summer, some final days of late northern light to play in, but be sure to be home before the street lights are on.

With the wee man settled and the chores done there was still enough light for a stolen hours or so of riding, yearning for some wilder terrain than the local woods (the local woods has some fairly wild trails mind you) I loaded up the wagon for a raid on the infamous Fungle Road single track.

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The Fungle Road is an old drovers road that links Aboyne and northern Deeside with Tarfside and Glen Esk, it is a classic stretch of natural trail mixing rough LRT with single track, fast descents and steep, persistent climbs. but when people refer to the Fungle singletrack, they mean a ribbon of perfect natural trail that nestles between Ballochan and Aboyne. It is the kind of rare naturally occurring single track that perfectly blends flow, speed and light tech with some drops to keep you sharp. It is the kind of trail that when you have a clean run, it instantly becomes your new favourite trail.

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Parking up at the Forest of Birse Kirk I set off with Sven for a hardtail mission, this ride was about attacking the climbs and getting some pace on a prolonged natural trail, it certainly wasn’t going to be volume training but it would be a fun jaunt. The sky was showing the first signs of dusk as the hillsides darkened with slithers of golden light streaking illuminated ribbons across the heather. It wont be long until the get you home lights will be mandatory kit once more.

The south climb from Birse castle is very much the lesser of the two options, it may only be a cat4 climb, but on a very sandy track which only adds to the effort. Thinking ahead to the climb out from Mamore lodge in a few weeks time, I concentrated on keeping my weight balanced and the power even, ground it out and focused on the work. Once your elevation is earned its a quickly sprint to the trailhead, the sky’s where still light but the ground was quickly darkening as the late evening light was starting to pale out.

Dropping into the trail I rode within myself to begin with, having not been here in over a year, a lot might have changed in that time, would it still be passable or even worth riding? I soon forgot these question and let the bike run as the trail was exactly as I remembered it. Speed was easily gained with a narrow heather dodging rut giving way to rocky stream bed followed soon after by a root strewn, drop filled wooded trail. The bike was flying, a full sus would of been faster but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable.

that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.

The sensation of every once of power, every hip shift, wrist flick all having a direct and instantaneous output on the bike as you feel the trail through your hands and feet. Looking ahead and working as one with the bike to make the trail as smooth and fast as possible. A full sus may of been faster, but the connection of a hardtail on natural terrain is just indescribable and whilst a well set up full susser can feel like this, those who know, know.

But like all those who “know” know, that deflating feeling, like the battery is just running out as the bunny claps the cymbals lethargically one, last, time.  Tubeless fails can happen to the best of us.

Sorting the puncture took more air than I would like and far more time to seal than I had. CO2 carts’ and mini pumps combined as I resorted to walking out of the trail hoping that by shouldering the bike and leaving the pierced section of tyre at the bottom of the wheel would bath it in enough sealant to stem the leak, I hoped. Reaching the landrover track the hills where dark and the sky threatening, the hiss from the rear wheel had ceased but the tyre was almost flat, pumping it back up to road bike pressures and cursing my misfortune I was ready to try pedalling. The air seemed to be holding and some how my phone had signal, I sent a message to my wife asking her to still love me when I got home much later than I had promised and tentatively saddled up and slowly built my speed to make sure things where as they should be.

Soon I was careening down what I had just climbed, skipping over water bars and dancing round rocks, trying to stop myself having to much fun incase the sealant failed and the rear gave way again. Cautions aside I was soon passing Birse Castle and scaring the livestock as I made it back to the carpark. What was meant as a short training ride had escalated into more of a  training exercise than anything else, however practising remote servicing in anger is never a bad skill to keep sharp.

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That said I got a unexpected personal best on the climb landing a 20 out of 196, and whilst I wasn’t going to be PB’ing the singletrack on the hard tail, I was feeling fast and the bike was running smooth, silver linings and all that.


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Mount Battock

Standing silently behind Clachnaben, Mount Battock looks a innocuous little peak behind its more popular sibling.

Not one to be underestimated, it is nearly 200m higher than Clachers and enjoys unbroken views in all directions. Sometimes, all you need is a proper hardtail hoof, a stiff climb and to go 40-50km on the way back down.

On these sorts of rides I like to listen to music, tunes help me keep a good rhythm in the climbs and off the anchors on the way back down. But a playlist on random can be a funny thing, when your going full gas and Belle and Sebastian’s “The Boy With the Arab Strap” comes on, it is a little incongruous to be on the attack, if you know what I mean.

So heres the soundtrack to a ride, a great climb (almost) up a stonking big hill and a fast charge back down.

Clachnaben Mount Battock cycling
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Gold Lion
Glen Dye Mount Battock Mountain Bike
Get Innocuous – LCD Soundsystem
Glen Dye Mount Battock Cross Country Scotland
Without You – Junip
Glen Dye Mount Battock sheep shed
Hey – The Pixies
Mount Battock Climb out of Glen Dye Mountain Bike
White Light – Gorillaz
Mount Battock Climb Enduro Scotland
King Of The Mountain – Kate Bush
Mount Battock Shooting Cabin
Crimes Against Pop – Motormark
Mount Battock desert Mountain Bike Scotland Stravaiging
The Beat That My Heart Skipped – Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip
Glen Dye to Mount Battock Mountain Bike
Under Your Spell – Desire

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Dad with bike – Will Race

The countdown is on to my first proper race of the year, the Cream O the Croft Enduro.

For past races I’ve put in a reasonably structured gym plan complimented by a more haphazard “time spent on the bike plan”. With no access to a gym and time on the bike being my main source of training, a slightly different approach to race training was needed.

Being a stay at home dad, any training comes second to looking after the wee man. But when I started trying to work out a basic training plan, I realised that he was far from hampering, he was maintaining my base fitness. Using the Garmin Vivofit my wife got me I discovered I was covering upward of 70km on foot a week, that is some serious base miles right there. With time spent on the bike in the evenings it started to add up to a reasonable amount of training time.

Training has been happening in three ways, walks, short evening rides (30-45 minutes) and bigger weekly rides. With the space to train identified it was time to structure it a bit more deliberately, I broke my training down in to a few rough parts.

  • Base miles – these are made up of walks with the wee man.
  • Intervals, to be done as an evening ride.
  • Longer ride with skills focus

Base Miles

The base miles are a fairly straightforward affair, at least once a day I take the boss for a hours walk. To make that time useful for training and more importantly, engaging for him, a lot of those walks happen in the woods, going uphill. A fairly typical walk can involve a track walk of a downhill trail or exploring new hills whilst getting the boss out in nature.

Trailwalking
4.2km 215m elevation

Intervals

The interval rides are taking the place of gym work, where previously there were circuits focusing on building strength and recovery, now I’m beasting myself on the bike instead. Knowing there would be a climbing and more XC orientated stages at the race meant sprinting and prolonged efforts on climbs would need attention.

Climbing Intervals

Interval rides aren’t that exciting, but they work, I can get a 30 – 40 minute ride in the evening, ideal for some intervals. I divided the intervals into climbing and sprinting sessions. The climbing was a straightforward smashing up a steep short climb and recovering on the descent, then repeat.

Sprint intervals
A bit all over in the middle…

The sprints are a block of 30 seconds full gas 30 seconds recovery for 5 minutes, 5 minutes recovery, repeat. There are plenty of philosophy’s and ways of structuring intervals and I’m no expert, but I tried to base them on race conditions. Sprints will benefit a enduro style stage as well as an XC stage, if a stage has a climb mid stage it probably wont last longer than 30 seconds and probably wont be as steep as 10 – 15%!


Main Bike Time

These rides are the main time I get on the bike, each ride as well as being time getting back to pace also has a skills focus. For example, on a recent ride at Tarland the focus was braking before corners and features as well as improving jumps. Tarland is a great place for honing some skills as you can session a whole trail pretty quickly.

The main areas that I’m trying to work on are;

  • Body position, stop riding like its a 1990’s XC race, straighten my back, hips back, shoulders low and elbows out.
  • Brake properly, finish before corners and features, slow in fast out.
  • Be smoother and braver, to not startle at drops and blind lips.

I have started mixing my local loop up so that it forces me to tackle these weaker areas, making me deliberately practice and session the features that are hard.

We all have commitments, other priorities on our time, making time for fitness or skills training can be hard. Sometimes looking at it a little more creatively will reveal space to train that you didn’t realize was there, and every KM is one more than everyone sitting on their couch.


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Clachnaben

An iconic Aberdeenshire hill with a wild and punishing descent, a loop of Clachnaben is nothing short of a mini epic.

We all love wild natural rides, big days on big hills with big distances. But sometimes you want the feeling of remote riding and the challenge of truly rugged terrain, but only have a few hours to spare.

Clachnaben Stravaiging MTB Scotland

With its distinctive tor of rock visible from as far as Aberdeen, Clachnaben is a popular hill for walkers and trail runners. It benefits from a well maintained path, with substantial water bars and when required, uneven but substantial stairs. Which comes as a welcome relief as the sustained climb hovers between 15% to over 25% gradient. Once at the top looking down, when that gradient starts being measured in the negative, it becomes one beast of a descent.

It is a modest loop when measured in kilometres, at 15.7km its not that far. But when you take into account the 582m elevation gain, it takes on a much more formidable guise.

Clachnaben loop OS Map
Expect the loop to take two to three hours.

The loop starts in the walkers carpark and rounds the shoulder of the hill. Climbing from the rear so to speak, before topping out west of the summit. Then downhill essentially all the way back to the carpark.

I was blessed with blue skies and temperatures in the 20’s, the ground was baked dry and dusty with a light (for now) wind keeping things tolerable.

Following the course of the river into Glen Dye, the first leg was a fairly sedate and fast spin on smooth fire road. Its not long before I reached the natural rest break of the Charr Bothy. Worth a visit as part of a longer trip, today it merely provided me with some shade before rallying myself for the climb.

The climb is a hard one, the sandy track giving little traction with a slow zig-zagging grind being the only option. It starts as it means to continue, with the gradient rarely straying out of the low 20%’s. Gradient isn’t usually a measurement mountain bikers concern themselves with, its a “Roadie thing”, but its something that you come to fully appreciate whilst on this trail.

The traction slipped away in little roosts of sand

The heats oppression was only slightly moderated by the wind that started to grow with the Elevation. The traction slipped away in little roosts of sand with each pedal stroke as my resolve to stay in the saddle started to slip away. My heart rate monitor (a very thoughtful gift from my wife) was not needed to tell me how hard my heart was working, I knew how hard it was working as I tried to breathe through the work.

Stalling out completely on the loose sand, I was glad of the rest and resigned  myself to push the rest of the way. It was not far before a reminder (if one were needed) that the climb is a suitable challenge for even motorised vehicles.

Glen Dye ww2 Plane wreck

Peering over the heather the frame of a crashed WW2 aircraft stands in equal parts of rusting steel and immaculate aluminium. The wreckage, deemed to difficult and costly to remove, has been left for time and the elements to reclaim. Crash sites from this period are a surprisingly common feature of our hillsides, but serve as a poignant reminder of past sacrifices.

The final push of the climb was a more forgiving affair, with slight undulations and short downs giving free speed for the next up. Hauling myself to the top, the view offered a suitable reward for my efforts, literally being able to see my house from here.

My first run of the day is usually a bust. Its not that I’m not warmed up physically, but it usually takes me at least one trail to both sharpen up and loosen off. Not a luxury availabile on this ride, in front of me lay a 2.2km descent that I had to get right first time.

Starting with a technical mine field of rocky steps and water bars followed by drifty sandy trails and narrow steps with genuine exposure at times. All this before entering a rooty narrow wooded section with blind turns that are usually occupied by sheep and/or ramblers.

At this point in a post you might expect to find a POV video of the descent, a short edit of the day perhaps. Due my own ham fistedness, I managed to turn my Drift camera’s lens into portrait mode, smooth. So stills it is.

Breathing deeply in and out, it was time to clip in.

Rolling in slowly the granite steps were an uneven jumble of square edged drops and awkward turns, staying as light as I dared on the brakes, the key was to keep momentum. The grip of the granite slabs became punctuated with sandy trail, the acceleration was incredible, as soon as I stopped feathering the anchors the bike just took off.

The back end let loose on the corners, the rear tyre buzzing the heather as I relied on the bike to find grip. Bunny hopping water bars and looking as far down trail as I could, I rounded the shoulder of the hill. Taking on a series of exposed narrow stairs it was slow in and fast out.

the prolonged descent had steam practically pouring from the pistons

The brakes were starting to lose their edge, the prolonged descent had steam practically pouring from the pistons as the tree line fast approached.

A robust lattice work of roots encroached on the trail, the game changed as I entered the wooded section that was more within my comfort zone. Letting completely loose the anchors I was popping over the roots and down drops, this short section was over far too soon as it has real rhythm and pace, when dry. All this fun comes to an end when you reach a deer fence, a quick hop over a stile followed by a mellow pedal for the final push back to the carpark.

A clean run, no matter how fast, on this EWS worthy trails always delivers a sense accomplishment and adrenalin that only comes from a mountain bike.

Good times.

Clachers Profile

February

The rains have eased, the waters may have subsided, but the trails are still saturated.

The heavy sodden ground can be a blessing and a curse, the falling mercury freezing the ground hard and fast rolling. As the thaw creeps in and the ground softens, traction is easy to find, but too far into the melt and a mud bath ensues – you can’t have it all.

It was a month of regular rides and of building pace, revisiting old trails, riding them in a way that only served as a reminder of lost speed and gains to be made.

Mostly it was a month of having fun on the bikes.

Stravaiging Enduro Scolty February

Stravaiging Enduro Scolty February 11

Dropping-in-DH

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 3

Stravaiging Enduro durris February 7

Scolty DH 2

Mount Keen & the Fungle

Mount Keen is a good day on the bikes, doubly so when taken with the Fungle road.

The loop is a long shift taking in everything from some superb singletrack through to long tough climbs and fast fire road descents. Its has been a tradition for me to do the loop at least once a year for a while now and I’m still undecided whether it is best tackled clockwise or anticlockwise.

Clockwise, you unfortunately climb the absolutely sublime Fungle singletrack but Descend the north side of mount keen, which is as testing a natural descent your likely to find. Anticlockwise you get the ridiculously fast LRT down from Keen to Tarfside with its water bars giving you ample opportunities to boost off of, as well as the glorious ribbon down to Birse Castle finishing off with the Fungle in the downward and correct direction.

They both have their charms

It is a great litmus test for fitness and as training loop for events like the Tour de Ben Nevis, the route being only slightly shorter with essentially the same climb, albeit on a faster course than the Tour De ben’s.

My course record was clockwise as 4:21:22, If I did the Tour at that pace I would be incredibly happy with my fastest Tour time being 5:33:15 in 2014. Frustrating as I knew that race could of been faster had I ran it smarter and keep my food intake up and drank more to avoid cramping, but we’re not here to talk about failed race strategy.

Here are some shots from the loop collected over a few years.

Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 15Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride bridgeMount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 18Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 17

Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 20 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride Hill Fog 2 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 1Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 21 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 22Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 4

Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 24 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 26 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 27 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 28Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 9 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 8

Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 5Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 10 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 12 Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 7

Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 11Mount Keen Stravaiging Fungle road Wild Ride 13

Mount Keen ProfileMount Keen Map

Into the Mountains

stravaig strəˈveɪɡ/ verb

gerund or present participle: stravaiging

  • wander about aimlessly.

    “stravaiging about the roads”

     

    It is more than that, the act of straviaging through the land is reason enough in itself.

    If you are stravaiging in the hills you are not traveling over them, you are moving into them, into the Mountains.

    A subtle but profound difference.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014

No Fuss’s Tour De Ben Nevis is one of those events that makes first timers question why they entered.

But this is no bucket list race that you simply tick off and move on from, it gets under your skin. Once raced and short term memory loss helps you to forget the lactic acid and oxygen debt, you are left only with the memory of a real adventure. Of a truly wild route, with some spectacular scenery and the nagging mistakes you made that you know you can improve on, next time.

Any bike is both the perfect bike and totally the wrong bike for this race. A XC whippet will get you so far (pretty far in fact), but a 140-160mm enduro weapon will get you further on some of the special stages. Your final place is based on points earned from each stage so bike choice and tactics play a big part of your day. Are you racing some stages and winching the distance, or racing the distance and losing time on the gravity stages?

Tough call.

Ready for the off Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Race Fort William

This was the second time I had entered the Tour, I had ramped up my training with gym work and a lot more long distance training rides on natural and rugged terrain. I was feeling fit and the bike was riding well.

The previous year it had rained for a prolonged period in the run up and it showered throughout the day. This brought on certain challenges but kept the temperature and the dust down, the wet conditions made the loose land rover tracks a good bit firmer and easier to climb on. This time the sun shone down with the mercury hovering in the low twenties, the trails were bone dry and some key climbs were loose and dusty.

Pipe band Tour De Ben NEvis 2013

The race always starts with an atmosphere that is unique to the tour, the sense of pent up tension is palpable as the racers follow a Pipe band down Fort William High street in a rolling start. Reaching the start line the race breaks with the contenders going full gas up the road climb that helps to thin the pack out. The race is self seeding, so you quickly discover how optimistic or unrealistic your performance expectations were.

You gain height fast during the first few kilometres, climbing the road out of Fort William towards the West Highland Way the pack naturally thins out. Upon reaching the end of the tarmac, the long, loose and rocky road begins, the races rhythm changes and the work truly begins.

The undulating trail is flanked by some jaw dropping scenery that helps to distract from the fact that you are still climbing. The usual bottleneck at the start of the first of the special stage gives you a nice break and a chance to refuel and taking in the view. You clock out once you get there so the queue doesn’t affect your overall time, its not far off of one third of the race route, but you would be a fool to think the rest will be straight forward, that was the easy bit!

Start of Stage 2 Tour De Ben Nevis 2014

This stage is a descent from the WHW down into Kinlochleven, it starts on open hillside and is rough, rocky and loose with the kind of water bars that would stop a small tank.

It is a trail that will bite you hard in the tubes if ridden clumsily and requires your A game to take at race pace. Having brought my A game the previous year and still flatted hard I was determined for a clean, if not a competitively paced run.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Race Stage 2 Kinlochleven descent
A uncharacteristically mellower turn

Dropping through the rocks and keeping it light on the rear wheel I was passing fellow XCers with tyres around there feet as they had been bitten by the trail. A tyre change on the stage could be considered a tactical error as the clock is still counting, last year I shouldered the bike and ran the remainder of the stage, another tactical error as it was a waste of energy when the stage (and arguably your race) was already done.

On meeting the tree line the trail mellows, slightly, with a wet roots and rock adding to the mix with grippy wet loam in the damper turns with a final sprint down a shaley rut.

Dibbing out I was instantly hit with cramp in my hands and calves, this would a recurring feature of the rest of the race. The hands eased up with some ibuprofen  to keep it at bay. My legs were another story, fives minutes of crippled crouching and I was able to straighten my legs enough to get back on the bike, it was going to be a long day.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 2 Scotland

I think preferred doing it in last years rain.

The next stage was the first climbing stage of the day and one many riders will be familiar with, the long haul out of Mamore Lodge up to Loch Eilde Mor is a 3.5km thigh burner with 135m vertical gain. Easy, knuckle down and grind it out, or so you would hope. The unseasonal heat had turned the land rover track into a morass of bone dry sand and pea sized stones that robbed you of all traction and momentum,  having to keep changing your cadence so you wouldn’t dig into the trail meant the burn was pretty fierce. All under the blazing sun that still showed no sign of remembering it was the end of September, in Scotland. I think preferred doing it in last years rain.

Not far after the end of the stage was the river crossing and the fabled hike-a-bike climbing stage, at least the dry weather was on our side for the river crossing. The previous year it was thigh high this year you could ride straight across, well, almost.

The Goat track that forces you to shoulder your bike goes 250m up a narrow rutted peat bog between Meall a’ Bhuirich and Meall Mor in a mere 2.7km, before a sprawling delta of slab and rock take you down to the bothy and the second feed station. When saturated with a fortnights worth of rain the previous year it felt like a full on rout. Curtains of rain washed over muddied and broken riders who were sinking into mud and peat, this year, who know what we would find.

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The Indian summer had dried the bog all the deepest pools and was a quick scarper up the stair like ledges of turf and stone. The cramp was never far behind as the acid build up caused me the hunker down on more than one occasion. Cresting the many false peaks it was starting to look like something you could ride down rather than climb up. letting the bike run and using the trail, the decent from the saddle was a total blast of natural terrain. Line options were abundant with some sneaky dead ends to catch you out, it rewarded heads up and looking long down the trail.

Reaching the bothy, the barbeque was in full flow, quickly feeding up and changing socks it was a short spin to the 5.5km of unbroken descent on fast and rough Landrover tracks down the other side. Back into the respite of the forest after a day without shade, the relief from the heat was soon tempered by yet more cramp followed soon after by the slow, creeping, hollow feeling of being on the edge of bonking (ahem).

slow, creeping, hollow, feeling of being on the edge of bonking (ahem)

For cyclists that have never properly bonked, it is a feeling of near desperation and helplessness that makes you want to lie down by the side of the trail, and to wait for the woodland creatures to finish you off. Your body has run out of fuel and has nothing left to give.

Once you’ve bonked its too late, you cant get back to feeling fresh and recovering on the ride, the best you can hope for is a limp home. Eating like mad and pleading with the velo gods that I could eat enough, fast enough, to arrest the bonk and get enough steam to get me home. I tried to block out the knowledge that another special stage was at the end of the forest slog.

Crossing  the classic Puggy Line at the Nevis Range the noise and fury of the SDA downhill race roared over head as we Tour De Benners quietly made our way underneath the track.

Making the final push to the top of the stage four, it was a mix tape of brilliant trails linked together with a punishing fire road sprint. Starting With Blue crane and bomb hole then on to Nessie before dibbing out.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Stage 4 Nevis Range Race

The final push is through to Torlundy and onto Fort William, the race actually ends before you reach the main road to keep riders safe and not racing on the roads. That said the group that had built up at the end of the course couldn’t help but slowly build into a sprint to the finish.

Totally smashed and grinning from ear to ear, it was time to collect the timings and make plans for next time.

Tour De Ben Nevis 2014 Race Route Enduro