Is Your Clutch Mech Affecting Your Suspension?

You know that little switch on your clutch mech? That magic little mute button? Well does that clutch affect your suspension?

I had a hunch that the clutch on my mech was inhibiting the initial movement of my rear suspension. We already know that anti-squat (pedalling) and anti-rise (braking) affect the suspension ability to do its job properly. So it is only a small leap of logic to assume that the clutch inhibiting your mechs movement, (thus affecting chain growth) is adding to that mix.

I’d proposed this question a few times and was always met with two responses;

“Yeah probably.”

and

“There are bigger influencing forces, like rocks on the trail! The clutch exerts such a small amount of force that it makes no difference!”

So with no way to prove or disprove my hypothesis the debate always ended there, that is until I had an extended loan of a Shock Wiz. The Shock Wiz is a suspension setup aid, it plumbs into the air valve of air forks and shocks, monitors them on the trail and offers setup advice and feedback. With the latest update to the app, this little unit now offers a far more nuanced tool for suspension tuning. It also offered the opportunity to experiment and get some data to further my curiosity on the subject.

Time for the science bit.

The experiment was simple, I had gotten my Shock Wiz score to 88% and I was feeling pretty happy with how it was all feeling. I would do a control run of a fairly typical piece of natural Scottish single track, then again with the clutch switched off. This direct comparison would show if the Shock Wiz detected a difference in the shocks behaviour.

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The test track was a lovely little ribbon of prime condition singletrack on the southern edge of Aberfeldy. Comprising of fast and pedally sprint sections, drops and root matrices, so providing a good variety of trail conditions to test on.  After a few runs it was time to consult the app and see if the Wiz had noticed a difference.

My prediction was that the Shock Wiz score would decrease and the low speed compression would need increased by a few clicks and maybe a few more PSI in the air spring. My thinking being that the clutch would inhibit rider induced movement and would be more active to small bump input.

 

So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension,

Whilst the suggestion after the first run was that with the easier breakaway more air pressure was required, however after successive runs it settled back to the green. So, my prediction was partially right, the compression was affected, but it was in the high-speed over my predicted low. So in short, yes the derailleur clutch does impact the suspension, now the question was, how much of an impact does it actually make?

Well the initial suggestion, with the mech activated was that the high-speed was far too firm, listed fully in the red. So by the apps measure, it needed adjusted by three or more clicks softer. Now the Cane Creek Inline, has an adjustment range of four full turns on HSC. So if we take one half turn to equate to one click of adjustment, three or more clicks is a significant tweak that the app is looking to make.

However with the clutch turned off the app was only looking to make an adjustment of one to two clicks, so maybe a single half turn. That is more or less in the right ball park in my view.

Something that I did find interesting, is the lack of a braking shudder feedback that I experienced with the clutch turn off. With the clutch on, when I was at full chatt through a rock garden I had significant shudder from my rear brake. My reckoning was that this was my shock and clutch fighting it out due to brake jack. With the clutch no longer fighting the HSC the shudder didn’t occur. Shock was able to do its job and the bike just monster trucked along.

Conclussion:

Did it make a difference to what I experienced as a rider? In some circumstances.

Was the bike louder? Well, yes.

Did I drop a chain? No, I have a chain guide and narrow wide front chain ring for that.

Did the the app measure an improvement with it turned off? Yes, the tuning score improved by 5%.

Will I run the mech with it switched off form now on? In some circumstances, yes I will.

Will this be a definitive answer to this question on STW? HAHAHAHAHAHAAHAAA, sorry was that a serious question?

Are You Tall Enough For a 29er?

Everybody knows 29ers are faster-rolling race winning wunder machines. But should you be riding one? Should we start to think about wheel size in the same way we think about frame size? ie, the taller you are the bigger the wheel size you ride?

In this Vlog I thrash the question out to start bit of a discussion

Tour De Ben Nevis 2017

No one is speaking anymore.

We have all staggered out, finding our rhythm as we pick our way across the peat bog. We have climbed past the point of making banter and conversation with our fellow riders, now we all just want is to pass the cairn and make it down to the bothy. The mornings rain is easing, but the effects on the course are fully felt underfoot. On passing the cairn everything is greased with a slick mud that makes the usually predictable granite an uneasy exercise in slipping the rear wheel round large loose rocks.

The staccato nature of what is rideable takes its toll, with the constant mounting and dismount burning through my thighs. My right leg is making a damn fine attempt in trying to cramp. Experience has taught me that once it has, it will become a constant feature for the remainder of the day.

No one likes the goat track, when people tell others about this race, the hike-a-bike is what they talk about, but I don’t remember it being like this.


6 hours earlier,

I was here for the 2016 edition, but when the weather was looking to be especially mental, I thought caution was the better part of valor and pulled out. Back for redemption in 2017 I was eager to run the race differently than I had before, going with a long travel full suss and pack-less over my previous attempts on a XC hardtail. This time I would be going full enduro (note, never go full enduro).

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Assembled on Fort William High Street, the customary rain fell lazily on 230 riders of all stripes. It is a self seeding event, so everyone is casually looking for riders that look a bit like themselves, in both bike and attire. Milling around with an air of sodden tension, we all await the start.

 

After a brief pre-race speech from on of the organisers atop a bin, we are informed that the river crossing is open, this is good news as the full course will be raced unlike the previous year. The pack tightens up as the trials bikes position themselves to escort us to the road in a rolling start.

I keep to the right of the peloton to avoid be snagged up by parked cars as we break off up the first climb of the day. The course starts on single track roads which quickly build in elevation as we make our way towards the West Highland Way. The pack starts to thin out but it is not until we move off road that the race really staggers out.

 

My strategy for this year was to go easier on the whole course and make up time and points on three of the special stages. The Kinlochleven decent, the climb to Eilde Mor and the final special stage on the Nevis Range single track. I knew that this would be a very different race with the bike I’d chosen (a Banshee Spitfire). I felt it was a strategy that could work well, if I was able to kept my average speed up where I knew I could maintain it.

Tour De Ben NEvis No Fuss Events Stravaiging 12

This started well with the mix of climbing and descending resulting in me hitting my target average speed of 12.9 KM/H perfectly. I may have reached the start of the first special stage later than in previous attempts, but the queue was shorter.

 

Feeling fresh and ready to go I dibbed in and cranked hard out the start gate. The bike felt great, floating over the loose rocks and tracking perfectly, hopping the water bars that have claimed so many riders in their time. I had forgotten how steep the trail was, keeping the bike light I built in speed and confidence. I was just passing my third rider as I approached, the corner. If you know this trail you will know the corner I am talking about.

He panic braked with all the anchors he could muster

It is a tight left-hander with a drop onto shale covered slab with a few water bars just before the treeline. It is usually typified by two or three riders standing to one side fixing punctures.

As I made the turn, in front of me was a rider who may well of been an experienced rider, he may have been a novice, regardless, was not expecting the trail to be like this. He panic braked with all the anchors he could muster, stuffing his front wheel into a water bar. This threw him out the front door and down the slope, his bike flying through the air and into the centre of the trail. With no where to go without running into him and crashing myself, I hauled hard on the brakes. With all my effort going into not crashing I hit the water bar that had swallowed his front wheel, I managed to lift my front wheel but this just meant my rear tyre took all of the force. Pffftt, sealant sprayed everywhere as it ripped a centre knob on my tyre, well thats my race strategy scuppered.

An inner tube it is then.

In what felt like deja vu from the first time I ran this race, I was shouldering the bike and running down the trail, as there was no point trying to fix it mid stage. The clock after all, was still ticking. Finally dibbing out the stage probably couldn’t have gone much worse for myself. Thankfully the guy that had crashed was unhurt, but he had snapped his front brake lever.

Vainly hoping that there was enough sealant left that some CO2 cartridges could re-inflate my tyre and let tubeless work its magic, I pushed my inflator onto the valve stem. With the rain coming on heavy frost instantly built up around the cartridge, the tyre was halfway there and another blast of CO2 would surely be enough. Engaging the inflator a second time resulted in the rainwater that had worked its way in whilst changing the cartridge freezing instantly and the inflator exploding under the pressure. An inner tube it is then.

With the help of one of the frankly amazing roving marshals, we fitted a tube and got my bike moving again.

One stage was done, but there was still opportunity to make up time and my place in the field, I would just have to push a little harder. Replenishing myself at the bountifully stocked feed station at Mamore Lodge, I made my way to the start of the second stage and the climb up to Loch Eilde Mor.

Taking a deep draft of magic potion, (High5 gels decanted into a small flask) I locked my shock and pushed in as high a gear and cadence as I dared. Knowing how long the climb is and therefore, how hard to push is a big advantage on this stage. My constant steady pace led to me working past 9 riders before the sweet little descent at the end of the stage.

The next job was to get to the river crossing and make the ascent on stage three, the infamous hike-a-bike. The trail followed the shoreline of Loch Eilde Mor, the standing water on the track was frankly insane and felt more like multiple river crossings. Climbing slightly higher lifted me out of the wet and I looked forward to the rowdy little descent down to the river. Not far into descent, I remember that I washed out my front wheel here in a previous race, as if the thought had been a curse, I felt the unmistakable feeling of a rear puncture.

Laughing at the predictability of it I thankfully wasn’t sitting for long before the same marshal that had helped me before rocked up. Within minutes the tyre was back up and at a ridiculous pressure to ensure it wouldn’t happen a third time. I was also informed that there were roughly 25 riders behind me, how on earth did that happen!

Descending like Bambi on ice, I make my way to the river counting riders as I pass them, each pass is a small psychological boost after the rain and setbacks so far. The river is flowing strong and deep, but it is a quick crossing. once at the start of stage three I pause to eat and get let my legs have 5 minutes of rest before what is the most physically demanding part of the course.

The stage kicks straight up at a ridiculous gradient, before mellowing out to a leisurely average between 10% and 20% incline. None of this is rideable, the sodden boggy hill side broken with burns turning into peat hags, making the hike feel like half an hour of attrition.

No one is speaking anymore, we have all staggered out, finding our rhythm as we pick our way across the peat bog. We have climbed past the point of making banter and conversation with our fellow riders, now we all just want is to pass the cairn and make it down to the bothy. The mornings rain is easing, but the effects on the course are fully felt underfoot. On passing the cairn everything is greased with a slick mud that makes the usually predictable granite an uneasy exercise in slipping the rear wheel round large loose rocks.

The staccato nature of what is rideable takes its tole, with the constant mounting and dismount burning through my thighs. My right leg is making a damn fine attempt in trying to cramp. Experience has taught me that once it has, it will become a constant feature for the remainder of the day.

No one likes the goat track, when people tell others about this race, the hike-a-bike is what they talk about, but I don’t remember it being like this.

Crossing the final stream before the dibbing out, the usual collection of partially broken bikes and riders are huddled around the bothy. The final feed station has run out of barbeque but still has plenty of other provisions. A quick feed and a refill of my bottles  was all I need before cranking hard into a headwind for the riotous descent down the Lairig Leacach. This is a fast 7km section of LRT, it is perfect for making up some time and to get drifty on some wide loose corners. Its all over too quickly though, even with the headwind, before entering the trees of the Leanachan Forest for the final stretch of the tour.

 

11.5 km of good fire roads with a modest overall incline were all that were left before the final special stage. I just have to keep the pedals turning to get there. I had made the mistake in previous attempts of not eating enough during this leg of the race. Having burnt all the reserves on the hike, the tank is running pretty low. The possibility of bonking on this stretch is very real, but thankfully my frame bag still held enough flapjacks and jelly babies to get me comfortably to the next dibber.

 

The final special stage consists of some classic sections of single track, Blue Crane and Cackle (those who know, know). I have ridden and raced these trails before, but there is always the question of how much is left in the legs after 60km? Thankfully, knowing the stage, helps with managing what effort I have left to give.

The clock was ticking loudly between my ears and I was keen the press on

The first section starts steep and rocky, with awkward rooty corners and tight lines between the trees before opening and speeding up. There are a few steep technical sections to keep you on your toes and it was on one of these that I found two riders off their bikes. Standing in the centre of the trail and not really going anywhere, my first thought was that a bad off had occurred just around the next corner. Waiting at the top long enough to ascertain the trail was clear after them, I politely called (to their mutual surprise) “Rider“.

With them stepping aside I dropped in, the clock was ticking loudly between my ears and I was keen the press on. The middle of this stage is a flat pedal heavy sprint, this is where to go full gas and max your heart rate one, last, time. Passing another rider during the sprint was another wee boost just as I made the start of Cackle. This trail is a lot of fast flowing fun, it has some board walk sections as well, but grip is in abundance. I was flying into the finish, having caught two more riders just at the end, we all dibbed out and let our heart rates come back down.

The final few KM are a smooth return to Fort William via the North Face car park and Torlundy. Most this is on quite roads or pathed cycle paths, that doesn’t mean that this is a gentle cool down. Most riders (myself included) find the temptation to sprint what is left in you, out of you, for those final few minutes too much to resist.

 

With the final dibber dibbed, it was time to stretch off, rinse the bike down and see how badly the whole affair had gone. I’ll be honest and say I wasn’t looking forward to dissecting my times, I knew I had been slower than I thought I would be. The punctures had slowed me down and caused me to lose some descending confidence in the middle of the course. But I they where not going to explain away a lack of preparation compared to previous attempts.

Much to my surprise, I had improved my placings on all the stages apart from the Kinlochleven descent! I had also jumped 200 or so in my total points. The biggest surprise was that the 32lb enduro bike was only 29 seconds slower on stage 2, who says big bikes cant climb!


Ultimately this is what the Tour is about for me.

I’m not going to bother the fast boys, I’m never going to break the top 10. It is a personal challenge to race against myself, to push hard on a demanding and challenging course that tests all aspects of my riding. It is a measure of where I currently stand as a rider, both within the MTB community, but most importantly against myself.

Will I race it again? If I do I will take what this years race has taught me and remember the lessons of past races and come back better prepared. Because however well you do, you can always better yourself at the next race.

Tour De Ben NEvis No Fuss Events Stravaiging 7

 

How to make a “Enduro” Kit Strap

Enduro racers love to strap spares to their bikes, why ride with a pack when you have duct tape?

But that option as useful as it is, is both messy and is a, unrefined solution. Companies like Race Face and Back Country Research have solutions on the market that address this, simple effective velcro strap solutions, albeit with a small pouch attached in the Race Face offering.

But these are in essence, a velcro strap, and they aren’t cheap either, so why not make your own?


Materials & Tools
  • 25mm Nylon Webbing
  • 20 or 25mm Stitch on Velcro
  • 25mm internal diameter rectangular loop
  • Sewing Machine
  • Scissors
  • Matchs or lighter

Method

To make a kit strap long enough for a spare tube and a CO2 inflator, start by cutting your materials to length. the measurements are;

  • Nylon Webbing 37cm
  • Soft Velcro 26cm
  • course velcro 5cm

The nylon webbing will want to fray at the ends, seal the end using the flame from a match or lighter. Carefully pass the end of the webbing over the flame and lightly press down on the end once the nylon starts to melt back to make a solid end to the webbing.

With the materials prepared it time to move to the sewing machine.

How to make a mtb kit strap 2

Start by attaching the rectangular loop. Thread the webbing through the loop and then fold over roughly 3 cm of the webbing.

How to make a mtb kit strap 4

Sew a square around the edge of the overlapping webbing going over the start point to ensure the stitching wont unpick itself.

Turn the strap over and attach the course velcro onto the opposite end of the strap from the Rectangular loop.

Then stitch the soft velcro on the same side and next to the course velcro.

And that is literally it, you have now made a basic kit strap for attaching those vital extra spares to your frame.

Enduro bananas

Whether it is a race day or just a epic ride into the mountains, an easy way of attaching those extra spares can make or break a day if the worst were to happen.

 

Bex Baraona – Privateer

Bex Baraona has had a pretty good season this year.

Finishing the Enduro World Series ranked 7th overall she was the highest ranked privateer in the pro women or mens categories. Being a privateer, she was without the support of a team covering the logistics and allowing her to focus on the racing. She had to manage all of that as well as other commitments, yet with all of that she attended each stage of the EWS this year.

I first became aware of Bex when I saw her in a Tom Caldwell video where she was absolutely hauling through some pretty slick and wet trails. Fast forward a year and she has launched herself at the Enduro World Series and made a pretty sizeable impression in her first year.

With the 2017 season already firmly in her mind she is raising funds to pay for the logistics of another full year of racing. To do this she is having a pretty special raffle (more on that later), so I fired across some questions for her on the past year and her thoughts on the current state of women in enduro.


Congratulations on your 2016 season, where there any particular stand out moments from the year?

EWS Round 5, in Valberg, was hands down the best race weekend for me. It was my best performance during the season with consistent 3rd-6th stage finishes, ending the race in 5th. Hell of a feeling when the current world champ, Cecile Ravanel, taps you on the shoulder and congratulates you for getting 3rd on the previous stage. Mint!

You raced at every stage this year, how important to the overall ranking is attending each race?

It is pretty important, not only for your overall result but also it helps you progress as a rider. My performance increased race on race and I’d say that was mainly down to learning at each round and feeling comfortable at the different venues.

Racing as a privateer is big commitment, how did you balance the demands of training and racing with your other commitments.

I was lucky in 2016 as I was a student, the training facilities are great, student finance is even better, but mainly it just allowed me to be flexible. However, I was in my final year so it was quite stressful to get my dissertation written and my exams passed. For me, university was more important at the time, as I had one shot to do it, so my training really suffered come exam period.

In the top 20 there are no privateer men but in the top 20 women there are 8, is it harder for women to get signed to factory teams?

I think the women are starting to get more recognised. I suppose it is all proportional, there are usually 300+ men and only 50+ women, so it makes sense that less are sponsored. That said, I think a lot of brands and teams are missing some amazing exposure and marketing by not sponsoring a female on a team. I really look forward to the day when I find a team as excited as me to promote the products, test and develop and ultimately win races and prove the equipment to be world class.

Are women at the pro level of enduro currently under supported by the factory teams?

I think there is a good number of supported women, however, I do think the EWS should require all affiliated teams to have at least 1 woman on the team- it would be great to see some guidelines and involvement from the top on the issue. In terms of salary and support, well that is given…you sell more bikes for the brand=you get paid more. I think the athlete has to find their strengths and roll with that. Are you a lifestyle athlete? A competitive athlete? Or a quirky/unique athlete? There is no problem with who you chose to be in the industry, I just know that I want to win races.


To fund her 2017 season Bex has calculated that she will need somewhere in the region of £20,000 to attend all the races and the support needed. By no means a small sum of money, people buy houses with deposits smaller than this.

Whilst sponsors are more than happy to support with products and in kind services, few are willing (or able) to put their hands in their pockets and provide cash funds. To raise the funds needed to attend the full season is one of the biggest challenges for any privateer. To raise her war chest Baraona is having a rather special raffle.

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A fixed ticket raffle with only 200 tickets available at a cost of £50 each, now that sounds a lot for a raffle ticket until you see the prize list. 101 prizes ranging from tyres, carbon wheelsets and a Transition Patrol race ready bike. So with a slightly better than 50% chance of winning, there is more than enough incentive for those who don’t even enter a Euro millions rollover.

More importantly you will be supporting and helping one of the UK’s most talented young enduro riders. Hopefully she will sellout her raffle and fully fund her EWS campaign, and hopefully, win the podiums and factory support she deserves.

Enter the raffle HERE  

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2016 – What a Year

2016, what a year, memorable, for all the wrong reasons, and some good ones too.

A years worth of riding, starting with a frozen Aviemore and a flooded Aberdeenshire through to dust and sun (honest). It was a year of extremes and contrasts, political upheaval and tragic loss, but for all of it the riding and escapism from all that bad news was always there.

It was also a year when I enjoyed 6 months of parental leave being a full time dad with my wee boy which was just the greatest time ever. Coming up in 2017 I have some exciting projects which I’m looking forward too and will share more on when the details are confirmed.

Roll on 2017, hope the world chills out a bit, but if it doesn’t you know were to find me.

Shed Life
Shed time

Cairngorm Golden light Dawn Winter Snow Clear Sky All Mountain Enduro SCotland

Dawn light over the Cairngorms.

DCIM101DRIFT

Clachnaben Tor

Mount Battock desert Mountain Bike Scotland Stravaiging

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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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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?


Elsewhere

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Progression – Chasing Form

Often when riding, I get the nagging feeling that even though I’m trying to progress my skills and become a smoother, faster rider. That last year, I was fitter and faster.

Turning the cranks, trying to move forward, deliberately practicing skills and sessioning challenging trails, yet sometimes I feel like I’m just going backwards. Mostly I am sure it is a confidence issue, I lack a certain confidence, not in my ability to ride at a pace but that my current “form” is always weaker than it has previously been.

For me, the doubt was probably always there, but it started to creep in more last year when my wife and I were blessed with our first child. As you can Imagine, towards the end of the pregnancy and for the first few months riding took a back seat with not many miles being clocked and my “form” began to stiffen in my mind.

But how much of these feelings are just that, feelings.

So much of our sport is psychological, intangible feelings of form and flow, yet anything we can measure and quantify needs to be placed within context. The condition of the trails changes with the seasons, meaning comparing any two runs made at different times should only be done with a pinch of salt.

As a tribe, mountain bikers have always tried to go faster, we have always raced, but when your racing yourself we do have some tools to help us measure our progress.

Lets do the math!

Pulling timings from Strava, I plotted the top 10 fastest times for two regular trails in chronological order. The first trail (Roots Manova) is fast, steep and with some proper technical sections to catch you unawares, the second (Log Ride) has less vertical drop and more pedal but still has plenty of teeth to bite you. Both are regulars and I have ridden them a few dozen times each so I know them well.

Roots manova top 10 times

Log Ride Top 10 Times

The trails are both natural in style so have eroded, been dug and have evolved over time. Runs two months apart can be on noticeably different trails, so as I said previously, any comparison has to be with a pinch of salt. All that being said, once the times are plotted chronologically we can see the trend.

The progression is visible as the trend is for the time to decrease, ie for me to get faster, and I would certainly hope so. I have been riding these trails for a good few years, and whilst erosion has made them more challenging, I would hope my skills would have grown to match the evolving trail. I can also see that my recent times, albeit whilst not feeling fully back to pace, are still landing within the top 5 of my times.

You can also see that whilst the trend is saying I’m getting faster, there clearly is a spell in the spring of 2015 when I was faster, on form. Once a level of speed and confidence is felt it is oft remember fondly in the rear view mirror and when the mojo is a little rusty, it can feel like the faster times where faster and you are more off the pace than you actually are.

DCIM100DRIFT

Strangely, I do feel that I am riding cleaner from a technical stand point, cornering better, braking better, hitting technical sections more smoothly. Just without some of the small amount of speed I once had.

Ultimately even without timing we know when we are riding fast and when we are just cruising. Not every run has to be a “YOLO” run, but it is important not to let the gremlins into your head. Once there, target fixation and doubt creep in, thoughts of past crashes and crashes still to come make you jam on the anchors. And that is when it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy, I’m off form so I’ll ride conservatively, I used to be faster here and that drop is bigger than I remember so I’ll just roll it, thus making you slower and stiffer on the bike.

Better to ignore past pace and just enjoy the ride and remember.

Its all in the mind.

 

Strava, its Complicated

Strava I love you but your bringing me down.

At first you understood, you were new and you were exciting but the longer you’ve been there the more complicated it has become. You made rides exciting and were a reason to explore and to try and better myself on the bike. You made it easy to equate that feeling of speed into actual performance gains, you encouraged a joined up type of riding, of keeping momentum and of going full gas when ever possible. You made me faster.

strava-4

But as time has past, things became routine and the excitement ebbed, and you made me ride differently than I would have ridden if you weren’t there. You changed how I rode for good and for bad, you changed how others (myself included) acted and behaved, you never said I couldn’t ride like before but it was always implied.

A trail becomes a race on the internet, against people you don’t know.

I know the foundation and the driving force of our sports progress going right back to Repack has and always will be racing, but racing is an event with real people. Fighting for a KOM with a stranger on the internet started to feel more and more like trolling.

You took away the exploration, the hard work of the trail builder became exposed by the “social” aspect, of segments and heatmaps. No trail is secret, no trail knowledge is local. If you have ridden it someone has named a segment on it and if the ride isn’t on strava for all to see, then it just didn’t happen.

Strava meme Picard

You changed how I and others rode a trail, parts of a social ride that have been there since the beginning, that in fact made you a better rider were forgotten as the invisible clock in your head was always ticking. Forget the view, forget sublime moments of clarity, forget stopping to shoot the breeze with friends. Forget finding a great set of turns or drops and pushing back up mid trail to ride them again, the clock is always ticking.

Sessioning is not strava.

But you did help make me a faster, fitter rider, you helped me track rides and build on weaknesses, you let me see when I did better or when feeling fast was just cruising.

All of this said I, like Heath Ledger, wish I knew how to quit you, Happy valentines day strava, I’ll see you next time I go ride my bike.


My strava account is still active but a fairly serious affair with Veloviewer has been going on for a while. Strava doesn’t mind as it knows I will always come home to it.

Tour De Ben Nevis – 2013

First time on the tour and the weather had been playing against us in the weeks and days leading up to the race, the day itself wasn’t looking to hot either.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging

Waiting for the rolling start to kick off I was wondering if my decision to stick with my XC rubber and to not go with mud spikes had been a good idea. it was to late for that now as the pipe band were warmed up and the procession down Fort William Highstreet that marks the start of the race had begun.

Reaching the start point the pace accelerated quickly as racers didn’t want to get caught by slower riders or parked cars.

Pipe band Tour De Ben NEvis 2013

The pack started to thin as the first climb was long road haul out of Fort William and towards the West Highland way, this road section rose and fell and rose again. The road was wet and slick with a few moments of two wheel drift on the fast descents as we finally went off road and the real work began.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 13

The rain had washed out the already rough West Highland way turning it into a rocky river bed, some sections had flowing water moving over the trail which retained a surprising level of grip if you trusted your tyres. The peaks of the hills that towered over the route were lost in cloud and fog, whisps of rain drifted down the hill on the race going on below them.

Reaching the queue for the first special stage (stage 2 stage 1 is the complete journey) I dibbed out so the wait wouldn’t affect my overall time. Taking a breather and a feed I nervously dropped my post as I started to notice the number of 140/160mm bikes around and worried that my 100mm HT was going to be under biked at some point.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 20

Reaching the head of the line a marshal counted me in, charging blind down a line that would be technical for me in normal circumstances, I had no idea what was round the corner. I was not expecting the waterbars gouged so deep in the rock that they could swallow a 29er whole, or the loose shale over everything. Picking my way through the rock minefield (rock garden is to gentle a term) pleased not to have been over taken, seeing the tree line up ahead it happened, I’d flatted the rear.

With the clock still ticking I shouldered the bike and made like this was cyclocross and ran the rest of the way. Passing a marshal who said something to me which I later decided was “your my hero” whilst being passed by several Orange Fives, I also ran past people wrestling with tubes in the driech conditions. finally reaching the end I dibbed out and looking around there was at least a dozen fellow riders fixing mechanicals and flats which I joined and performed a puncture repair at F1 pitcrew speed.

The game had changed, the flat had effectively ended my race but for the overall time, changing strategy I had to go full gas on the transitions and not do to much damage to my time during the remaining special stages. Easier said than done as the next two stages where climbs, tough climbs.

Having lost all our elevation in one not so swift descent it was now a prolonged climb out of Kinlochleven past Mamore Lodge, made all the more interesting as climb was the third special stage.

making steady progress on the climb and passing riders who had flown past me on the descent, I started to appreciate the wide spacing of my 8 speed cassette, the water washing the mud and grit from my drive train, it never skipped a beat the whole race. The now considered narrow ratio also necessitated a fast climb as there was no 36 tooth to fall back on, that said the granny on the triple up front saw plenty of action.

The race was starting to feel like a shared ordeal that only riders who had raced this year would truly understand, riders had the middle distance stare of a true physical ordeal. The full gamut of mechanicals where starting to rack up along the route with more and more riders dropping out, I even saw a race ended by a snapped Renthal single ring.

Reaching the end of the climb and the stage I could see I was mid pack and was keen to try and maintain my position. Clouds were still rolling off the hillsides with misting showers drifting over the route. The next transition was a straightforward and fairly flat landy track to a river crossing and the next and toughest special stage, a hike a bike up a peat bog.

Cresting a rise the river came into sight with a undulating descent to the river bank, letting the bike move beneath me and enjoying some free speed a sniper rock suddenly shot out the front wheel beneath me. Sliding out side ways a fairly substantial rock came towards my face in slow motion, “well here it comes” was the surprisingly calm thought that drifted through my head as I hit the dirt like a sack of spuds.

Abandoning their bikes other racers huddled round me, no doubt expecting a bloodied mess and a broken face. To everyone’s surprise I was completely unscathed, my wrist was a little sore but nothing that would stop me holding onto the bars. Checking the bike was fine it was onto the river crossing and the dreaded hike-a-bike up the goat track.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 14

Fording the swollen torrent the bank on the far side was no more dry or inviting than the river itself, the trail leading to the dibber and the start of the stage was a muddy unridable mess with pushing the only reasonable option. This was to be the theme for this stage, once committed to the climb it was a slow jog uphill with the bike on my shoulders, here the XC bike made sense as I was able to make good time with the lighter bike. The climb was without flow over a saturated and flooded peat bog. Hints of granite slab teased at what would become the descent as the vertical metres were slowly counted up.

Topping out the climb transitioned into a sprawling delta of narrow rocky ruts charging down towards the bothy and final feed station. A barbeque for a feed station is a fairly unique feature for any race, so a quick feed and change of socks before getting back to it.

After an incredibly fast storm down a drifty fire road it was onto a traverse through the wood land leading to the Nevis Range and the final special stage. This would be a fairly uneventful clocking of kilometers if it wasn’t for the second puncture of the day. Another fast tube change and I was back on in, but something was up, having had so many free kilometers on the fireroad I had forgotten to eat and I was starting on the road to bonking.

I knew it was coming, I could eat now but it would get worse before it got better. Forcing myself to turn the pedals the fireroad just went on to the horizon, the incline went back towards the heavens and the emotional breakdown and numbing of the full on bonk was in the periphery of my vision. Then finally, I reached it, Shangri-La, the promised final stage and a rest to allow the feed to kick in before the final sprint.

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 6

With my emotions returning to a harmonius state and with some more fuel in the legs the last stage awaited, this “Enduro” style trail incorporates some of the Nevis Range classics. Starting off with Blue Crane, Bomb Hole, Cackle and Drop and Nessie all making an appearance with a straight out fire road sprint in the middle. This 1.9km greatest hits mix tape has become a trail classic in itself and having visited it again on the big bike the red mist of a run between tape has always resulted in my PB time.

leaving the North Face car park and the final few KM to Fort William, you could catch your breath and allow your legs to recover but that wont happen as this is still racing even after 60km+. A small pack of similar paced riders had gathered together and none of us wanted to be the last over the line, it was purely pride making us hurt ourselfs on this final leg as the points system meant it was irrelevant who actually came first out of us. But right now that didn’t matter.

Rolling onto the opposite end of the High Street from which we had left that morning the circle was complete, Sven was done, I was done, it was done.

time  position points
 Stage 1
05:36:04  140 461
 Stage 2
00:11:17 290 111
 Stage 3
00:19:46 122 279
 Stage 4
00:59:13 168 233
 Stage 5
00:09:21 247 154

Total Points: 1238

Overall: 95

Tour De Ben NEvis 2013 Stravaiging 16