Comrie Cream O the Croft

Comrie Croft is a privately owned trail centre and campsite, with a focus on sustainability and serious green credentials, it is also the home of a surprisingly tough enduro.

The Cream O’ The Croft is a three day bike festival held over a weekend in June, the highlight being a 9 stage enduro race held on the Saturday. Muckmedden Events was the race organiser, their Fair City Enduro being such a fun event and with Comrie being two hours from me. Well, it would be rude not to race.

Arriving on site I was immediately struck by the atmosphere being more like a boutique festival than a mountain bike race. The camp site had as many families and kids running around as hardened racers and privateers. That isn’t to say that there wasn’t a stacked field in attendance, brought home to me as James Shirley’s Radon Factory Racing van parked next to me whilst getting the bike ready. This was going to be a serious day on the bikes.

Registration was a quick affair, no queues here, leaving plenty of time to take in the event village. The festival meant there was plenty of attractions for those not racing. Indoor and outdoor bouncy castles, face painting, Segways and a 60 foot slip and slide were just some of the family friendly attractions. This and the food and beer all added up to make the day a great one for little and big ones.

I was in the fourteenth wave which gave me plenty of time after the briefing to stretch off and warm up before my start time. The waves left like Swiss trains, and without delay we left the village and started up the climb to stage one.

wave set off

After a social climb stage one had the usual queue, people shifting and squeezing tyres. All whilst trying not to make it obvious that they were watching every rider leaving the gate to watch for the best line

Stage One

Starting from the highest point on the trails, and with a big audience watching, it was hard not to go full gas straight from the off. Large exposed slabs of rock were punctuated with water bars, loose rocks and punchy climbs. It was a long stage and the pace of the start was hard to maintain, I’m still not pacing properly on stages!

I made a few little mistakes and it wasn’t long before “RIDER” was being called from behind. Approaching a group of stationary riders and taping, I could let the acid in my legs ease as it was the end, or so I thought. The stage crossed the start of stage two, I was only half way through! Digging in I passed a few people on hardtails on the descent and made it finally to the end.

Stage 2 Enduro Comrie croft scotland

Stage Two

Making my way up to the start of stage two was a quick affair, were I found that I wasn’t the only one caught out by the physicality of the first stage. The banter was drowned out by people coughing loudly and producing substantial lung biscuits at regular intervals.

The second stage was the “XC Stage”, sharing much of the character of the first just with more climbs and prolonged pedaling. This stage had many man made rock gardens of the type that look like stepping stones, the kind specifically designed to rob you of momentum. Keeping light and popping over the water bars the fatigue started to build. I started relying on the bike more and more, and once more, “RIDER”. With a rabbit to chase more depth was found in the legs as I tried to keep him in view till the end of the stage, I failed but I found more speed for the last leg!

Crieff Comrie Croft Scotland Nature
Stunning views graced every climb.

Whilst the day started overcast the clouds soon boiled off and with the mercury rising, keeping fluids up was quickly becoming a priority.

Stage Three

This stage was the blue trail, flowing with small drops, berms and moguls to work through. It was a fast and fun stage, bone dry and easy to wash out in the dust if you let your concentration lapse. I had a clean stage except for one thing, the start. I fumble trying to clip in and took what felt like an age to hear that reassuring click and was finally able to get the power down.

My goals for the day were to focus on body position and ride clean, aiming to land in the top 50% overall. One thing however was becoming apparent, I need to work on my starts. I was losing to much time trying to dib in and get shifting, I was struggling to clip in and wasn’t getting any power down as I was trying not to slip a pedal. Not good, and definitely room for improvement.

Stage four

This was the climb stage, it was a single track slog that led to a fire road grind. It used the climb that was the spine of the days route and I cursed myself for not paying enough attention to where the stage actually ended. This resulted in me leaving to much in the tank, with the end of the stage coming up sooner than expected. Frustrating as climbing is usually a stronger area of my riding, live and learn.

Five and seven shared a starting point, one went left the other right. The site is compact for a trail centre with it making best use of the available hill, but this compact nature meant every stage had a queue. Not necessarily a bad thing as you had plenty time to recover, as long as you kept yourself stretched out.

Stage five

This was easily my best and favorite stage of the day, a sentiment echoed by many of the other riders. Starting in tight trees with narrow rooty and rocky trail with serrated rocky drops and chutes. Before breaking the treeline and opening up onto warp speed trails that scythed through the long grass the before dropping down the hillside to the shared end point with stage seven.

I finally got a good start, clipping in and getting good power down from the off. I went smooth but not full gas, as it was all to easy to clip a bar or get taken out by a sniper rock on the narrow rutted trail. Keeping momentum on the short climbs as the light started to grow, the trees thinned out and I let the bike run whilst cranking hard. The acceleration was immense, few trails combine tight technical terrain and high speed hill side, and this one was just immense.

Dibbing out, I was breathing hard and knew I’d done well (for me) and left little still on the hill, it was onwards and downwards to stage six.

Stage Six

This stage presented a total change of pace and a test of handling skill, a line of table tops joined a pump track. The stage was two laps of the pump track, you could pedal up to the first jump, then it was pump and jump for the two laps of the track. A 15 second time penalty for any pedaling after the first jump kept things interesting.

Stage 6 Pump Track Challenge

I (like a good number of riders) got a few laps in on the pump track before the race briefing, so I was confident that I would be able to make the two laps without penalty. Sprinting hard out the gate to get as much acceleration whilst I could, I was cleanly over the jumps and into the pump track. It went well but I lost some momentum towards the end of the second lap, still, no time penalties.

Blue Skys Comrie Crieff Scotland

By now the sky was a deep azure, with the thick heat and sound of crickets  chirping their song along every trail, you could swear we were racing on the continent. Back up the climb that was a recurring feature of the day and to decision rock.

Stage Seven

Whilst waiting my turn in the line, word came up that someone had crashed at the first feature, a rocky chute with drops almost immediately after the start. This prompted half the queue to go for a short track walk to see what the sapling trees were hiding from us. It was a nasty rock garden with the smoothest line ending on a massive awkward stump waiting to grab your front wheel. Forewarned is forearmed, so it was back to the line to await my turn.

The stage was similar in character to stage 5, it had a big unrollable drop half way in and some sharper climbs but a similar style and mix of trail. I got a good start again and made a clean job of the first few features, they were similar to my home trails and fun to ride. I made a total mess of the first sharp climb, losing all momentum and in a totally wrong gear it was faster to get off and run. Clipping back in for another rocky chute it had cost me time, placing 17th on stage 5 and 25th on the seventh. Still making mistakes that I don’t have time to claw back time on, it was over the drop across the hillside meadow before crossing a stream and over the line.

Stage Eight and Nine

The final two stages were two laps of a duel slalom course, swapping over so you raced both lanes. Randomly joining up in the queue with a female rider with a rather serious looking Giant I knew she’d be quick.

Stage 8 9 Comrie Enduro Duel Slalom

The start was like the run up to the pump track, flowing brakeless jumps, berms and moguls before a series of flat turns on freshly cut grass. I won the first round, it is probably fair to say she won the second but it was close racing both times.

James Shirley and Mike Clyne gave a lesson in dibbing out on the final stages and posted wins in their respective categories.

The party atmosphere was building in the event village with the beer flowing and the side “races” kicking off, like the kids granny ring drag race or the adults balance bike drag race. The weather had played ball and the organizers, sponsors and local producers had covered themselves in glory, top day.

With the racing over it was back to the registration desk to get my times and see where I currently stood. I’d landed at 33rd overall when I checked out, a time I wish I could pretend would stick. In the end I was 71st out of 172 overall.

I’d achieved my goal for the day of being in the top 50% overall and had improved on my previous enduro result. My other focus for the day will still need work, but with new things learned at every race there are always things to carry forward to the next one.

Next stop, Tour De Ben?


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Tarland

With the spring rain keeping the natural trails slick and muddy a little dry trail action goes a long way.

There isn’t a trail centre in Aberdeenshire, the nearest is the Glenlivet trail centre near Tomintoul. We enjoy a plethora of every style of natural trail, just not a lot of weatherproofed hardpacked trails

The Tarland Trails are a collection of three graded trails and a expansive pump track out in rural Deeside. Its not as big as a full trail centre, but its not a small “bike park” either, it sits comfortably in between. The three trails are roughly 0.5km each starting and stopping at the same place, this gives you great value for time as its a quick winch back to the start for another run. You wont be clocking up any huge miles or big vertical gains/losses, if your looking for that in a ride you have plenty of other options.

pump track Tarland Trails Mountain bike

Tarland Trails Pump track mtb stravaiging
An expansive pump track is a highlight.

Due to the fact that I just don’t ride that sort of trail very often means jumps and getting an aggressive lean in berms is a weakness of my riding. With improving my skills being on the agenda for this year it was time to pay the trails a visit.

The trails were only recently opened but they were badly damaged by flooding in January and have been closed for a rebuild. Back open the drainage improvements and tweaks have set the trails in a perfectly groomed and smooth state.

The blue is a ribbon of fast brakeless flow,

The blue is a ribbon of fast brakeless flow, crafted berms are punctuated by smooth jumps and rollers that encourage you to jump into the turns. It is an unashamed flow trail, perfect for younger or new riders, but the more experienced will still find their kicks trying for that perfect run.

The red has the same fast flow of the blue with added rock gardens and drops. Smooth berms are joined with flat turns that do their best to break your momentum, so you have to keep your concentration for a clean run. Some jumps are armored with hand placed slabs of granite on the up and down slopes, this gives you the added challenge of pumping the jump and bunny hopping a rock garden simultaneously.

The orange has all the charms of the red, only with the rock gardens making way for some impressive tables and the odd awkward double to catch you out.

The big surprise for me was how physical the trails were, unlike the more gradual undulations and gravity assisted nature of a blue trail at say Glentress. The Tarland trails whilst not having the vertical drop turn the trails into an extended pump track that has been beefed up into a full blue or red run. An argument could easily be made that my fitness isn’t what it has been, (having a baby will do that) but the additional pumping and pedaling required really does make for a very physical if short trail.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 21.25.33
On the edge of the village they aren’t hard to find.

If you are looking for something a little different than the usual Aberdeenshire fair, or for somewhere to session some turns and jumps then you could do a lot worse. It might not hold you for a day but for a few hours fun it is worth the visit.

Street Sport Pump Track

Street Sport Pump Track Northfield Academy

My work at Gray’s School of Art is involved with a diversionary program called Street Sport, the program brings a portable football pitch to areas where sports facilities aren’t readily available for kids to get involved in positive sporting activity. Street Sport also runs arts and creative learning sessions along side the football.

The program has been shown to reduce disruptive and antisocial behavior as well as introducing a healthy lifestyle to the kids who engage with Street Sport.

Recently the team with support from partner agencies from across Aberdeen looked to expand the program with cycling and a weekly portable pump track session to engage with a wider audience who don’t just want to play football.

To help secure the funding a portable pump track was set up at Northfield Academy, an area that Street Sport already operates within so that pupils at the school could sample the pump track to help build interest.

We used the session to film a pitch video that kids and young adults at the school will be able to watch, they will have the opportunity to vote on it and other potential projects in their area.

Portable pump track street sport aberdeen Stravaiging northfield aberdeen 3

I used the pump track event as an opportunity to hold an on location filming workshop with some of my students who produced the video above which was used to support the application for funding. Filming and document in live environments is a difficult skill to simulate in the class room so whenever events such as this come up I try to get the student out the school and on site for some real world experience.

Hopefully the demo event and the video will be enough to excite the pupils of the school and win their votes so the project can run for a full year.

Portable pump track street sport aberdeen Stravaiging northfield berm high side bmx aberdeen 5

Portable pump track street sport aberdeen Stravaiging northfield BMX aberdeen 6


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