Intro-(En)duro

Wetter Than an Otters Pocket.

The inuagural No Fuss Intro-(En)duro was held a few weekends back at the hallowed ground that is the Nevis Range. Hallowed however it may be, one thing the ground certainly was, was wet!

The forecast had been for heavy snow fall with a weather warning for the day preceeding the race with only rain and/or snow on the day itself. That however did little to deter over 200 riders from turning up on the day.

The race itself had a bit of a so called mash-up format to procedings. Whilst being an enduro, it was an enduro with a twist. The course was made up of three relatively short stages that all shared the same access road and finished within a stones throw of one another at the car park and a coffee. The twist was that each stage can be run as many times as you wanted with only your best times counting.

The race was pitched as being a race for those who wanted to dip a toe in the enduro waters. But judging from the vans and rigs rolling through the car park, this was not the first rodeo for the majority of those turning out to race. A pre-season race to get through those winter blues.

What the race was however, was destinctly un-racey.

The stages were hard packed and impervious (mostly) to the weather. They were fast flowing blues and red graded trail centre fair. So whilst lacking in technicality, the shortness meant that times were tight, with sub 1:45 times necessary to be at the sharp end.

What the race was however, was destinctly un-racey. With everyone able to repeat stages and socialise at the cafe created a really relaxed atmosphere. Groups could split up and run different stages but meet up again for a catch up at the bottom. Mechanicals were a non-issue, sure you lost one run, but you were back at the car to get it fixed and go again, day saved.

The weather was to put it politely, absolutely horrendous. Vearing from rain to snow to stong winds to sidways rain. But again, you could wait out 20 minutes to get warm and get back at it without penalty. Your dibber could only store 9 runs, which again, you could easily clock up in the time allowed without breaking yourself.

Enduro racing is probably at a bit of a tipping point. Racing a whole series is an expensive affair both financially and in time commitment. For a race series to continue it needs fresh blood. It needs new riders to enter the races, even if they are only trying one or two, an organiser can’t rely on repeat racers to sustain. That is why I think single weekend festival style events are so popular, its a lot easier to justify one big blow out weekend than four or five smalelr ones across a year.

And that is where events like this come in. Not sure if your up to it but want to try it? Then this is a gateway event. Something to let people get a taste for runs between the tape and hopefully, they will come along to a national race or two. The format has potential, but might be hard to roll out at some venues. But as for relaxed racing experiences, this one like the rain, was horizontal.

Rear Guard Racing

Back Markering

The last few years have seen the growth of the grass roots enduro races put on by Doon Tha Brae Events. This year however they held the inaugural Aberdeenshire Enduro Series. Three races held over the late summer on some of Aberdeenshires best natural trails.

And whilst the prospect of every stage of an entire series being within half an hours drive from home was tempting, I took a different approach. Volunteering as a marschal and being the course back marker for each event.

Never rained but poured for this poor guy.

As the back marker, I would be one of two who would be sweeping the course. Making sure all those racing were safely off the course and helping out with anyone who was having a bad day.

So being course sweep seemed like the perfect compromise.

This sounded like the perfect setup to me. All the atmosphere of being part of a race or event and the focus of riding a taped off trail. But none of the self imposed stress and pressure of being on the clock.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love racing, you will never feel faster than when you are racing. But I am not very good at racing. I enjoy it, it is a hell of a lot of fun, but you don’t have to be good at something to enjoy it. I like watching marathons, but I’m not about to run one. And part of the reason I’m rubbish at racing (apart from generally being slow), is the stress of being on the clock, So being course sweep seemed like the perfect compromise.

The first race was the Aboyne Enduro, it was a great course with ideal weather both on the day and in the run up. In short, perfect. The stages were in prime condition and the crowd were in high spirits. Now as a course sweep, there are certain fringe benefits that you don’t get to enjoy in the same way as you would if you were racing.

Like being able to session a section of a stage because theres a photographer and you just want to try for a better shot? Or why not push back up and do that drop again, get that line dialled better second try? You have the time, why not enjoy it!

You also have the dubious pleasure of helping people who are having very bad days and trying to help them out if they need it. From minor mechanicals, to wheels so badly tachoed that the axle wont even come out the hub (that one felt like an expensive phone call from the bike shop). Now whilst I genuinely had no schadenfreude from these unfortunate events, the best stories tend to be the dramatic ones.

The main thing for me that was different from almost all my other race experiences, was just how much more social the whole experience was. When racing by myself, it has been a fairly solitary experience. You have chat with folk, but mostly, I’m either in my head or the pain cave. Without this, having time to kill at the start of each stage and with the agency of being a marschal. Striking up conversation and generally having a some banter with other racers and marschals was a highlight.

The second stage was a hilariously slick Hill of Fare. There was less drama on the mechanical side of things, thanks mostly to Bennachie Bike Bothy having a service station mid race. Less drama meant no one was having a really bad day, so win win.

The third stage was going to be at Drumtochty Glen. A venue that I knew best, and one I was really looking forward to and as the course looped around itself, there would be a good atmosphere on course. Unfortunatley, things would conspire against me being on course that day. A casual little hernia surgery got in the way of that.

So we while have to come back next year to collect the full set.

Dunkeld Enduro

“Fancy entering the Dunkeld Enduro?”

Was roughly the conversation that led of me trailing down to Dunkeld one damp saturday morning. My brother in-law (Jonny) was looking for events to enter and Dunkeld’s trails have bit of a reputation, as does the enduro, so it was an easy sell.

The Highland Perthshire Enduro takes place in the early spring on three of the hills over-shadowing the quiet little town of Dunkeld. The trails around Dunkeld are infamous for their steep natural character, with each hill having its own distinct flavour. But as I drove into the town, those hills were shrouded in rain and low cloud. To say this was going to be a wet day was an understatement, the lint in an otter’s pocket was drier that the trails that day.

The first two stages shared a climb up Birnam hill with the popular Rake & Ruin and Pink Floyd trails setting the tone for the day. Rake & Ruin was a fairly mad cold open and left you in no doubt as to what the riding would be like for the rest of the day. I have never ridden mud like this, the mix of thick clag and slick greasiness that kicked up and hit you in the chest as you drifted both wheels was something special. It was was more like skiing than riding, with both wheels on full lock you didn’t slow down. Wild. But after somehow not crashing, I made it down.

Now cramp is a right bastard; the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding.

after making the climb the second time whilst awaiting my turn at the start of Pink Floyd, the mantra of “Ride Don’t Slide” was repeating in my head. This was by far and away my best stage of the day, after this it was all downhill.

The opening straight had ample grip and I was loving the speed on offer. Popping off of rocks and through compressions the bike was just motoring. More motivation to let the bike run came from the decreasing gap between me and the rider infront. After a brief low slide off the track as I entered the trees, I was back on the hunt letting the bike drift into corners as I learned how much traction I had to play with. The gap was narrowing.

Stage 2, the high point of the day.

I called “RIDER” which was a first for me at an enduro, (normally something I am used to hearing shouted at me!) and overtook the boy infront. Making yet more good progress I got over confident, overcooking a berm in the process. By the time I was back on track the guy I had passed was once more in front. Nope, not having that. Attacking yet again, I knew the end wasn’t far away, so putting down what power I had, I hollered “RIDER” overtaking him in the last few hundred yards.

Careening out of the mud bath and past the dibber, it wasn’t long before Jonny finished the stage. He had had an absolute mare, with so much mud hitching a lift on his drivtrain, his cranks, his rear mech, everything had jammed and refused to turn. Nightmare.

Did I mention it was muddy?

However all this was bittersweet, as the begining of the end for my day started during that climb to stage two, as the first twinges of cramp started creeping and dancing around my calves. Now cramp is a right bastard, and once I have cramp on a ride, the only cure I have found that works for me, is to stop riding, my day is done. Not really an option during a race, so I hydrated and refueled as best I could and tried to push through it.

Stage 3 was a very different affair, Doug’s and Dan’s Trails may lack gradient but are beautifully dug and crafted flow trails. Perfect catch berms and features help you carry speed, whilst they are tricky to ride fast blind, they are bloody good fun! And once more traction evaded me, I blew through a berm and ended up running downhill, again.

This was going to be a very demanding day.

Then came the long 9km transition and climb up the fireroads of Craigvinean to stage four and five. This was the 9km that broke me. Added to this, was the cut-off time for stage 4, if you didn’t make that, you were bumped from the full enduro to the lite verison of the event.

“I’m fine keep going!”

The cramp built and built, and my energy levels fell lower and lower as I was increasingly struggling to push through it. And what was albiet a sustained fireroad climb, turned into a death march. Strava afterwards told me that this climb was no steeper in gradient and only fractionally longer than the climbs on my local loop. But when the body is needing to stop, climbs you would happily spin up extend beyond the horizon. I am not embarressed to say that it was during this climb that I decided that the full enduro was not going to happen that day. After stage 4 my day was over.

Meeting Jonny at the top, he could see it in me, even if I wasn’t on the edge of a cramp addled bonk (not as sexy as that sounds) the clock was against us.

“Theres a really good chippy in Dunkeld”

” That sounds magic”

Stage four was a series of linked trails with the odd fire road sprint mixed in for good measure. One last push, soak up the cramp for one last trail then limp back to the carpark, thats all I had to do. One. last. run.

Dibbing in after Jonny I was hoping for a clean cruisey run, not far in Jonny got taken out by a sniper rock, hidden deep in the mud. After making sure he was OK I was back in front. I tried (as always) to keep light and let the bike work, to take it easy. The quality of the trail however encouraged me to push, I should not of pushed.

As the gradient began to mellow out and the end felt within reach, the fire in my thighs tipped over what was tolerable and my legs more or less locked up. Not being able to absorb the ground or counteract the bikes movements, everything became sketchy and painful. Rolling off course I lay down and my legs curled into my chest. “I’m fine keep going!” was my pained answer to everyone coming down behind me. Crawling back onto the bike I rolled through the time gate and lay back on the ground letting the lactate acid drain slowly out of my legs. Breathe.


Now a few hard lessons were learnt that day;

  • I have lost fitness.
  • Just because its cold and wet, doesn’t mean you can’t dehydrate.

But my primary objective of beating Jonny, against all odds had been achieved, somehow.

ME25:16.11
Jonny26:13.49

But the disaster aside, I took some positive things from the day, my riding felt good and the bike worked well, with no issues or mechnicals. My goal of landing mid-pack in the results wasn’t that unrealistic either. While the Lite Enduro was a smaller field, when going through the results on Roots & Rain I was solid mid pack until the disaster of stage 4. With a 4th on stage 2 being my best stage result of the day. There is however, always more to work on and definetely one to redemn myself on next time.

Growing Pains – The EWS & Doping

The EWS was (and possibly still is) the wild west.

Not the bad stuff about the white man’s manifest destiny, but the open, wild space where the spirit animal of early downhill had found fresh pastures. But with the announcement earlier this year that the UCI is going to adopt the series, was too strong a trigger for many Pinkbike warriors to resist. They would bring about certain standardizations and (god forbid) rules that would kill what the discipline was, “the spirit of Enduro” would die and whither on the vine.

It was too easy to make Ratboy hiding the bong jokes to see what was coming, yes, drug testing, but also positive results and the inevitable hard questions.

The EWS when it was founded reached out to the UCI. The UCI at that time was not looking (or willing) to adopt enduro as a discipline. That meant, that the EWS was unable to issue the hallowed and iconic rainbow stripes to its champions. It also meant that certain other duties where left to the individual federations of a races host nation. Duties such as anti-doping screening.

With the structure of the EWS being what it is, with each race run by different national organizations and federations, the rules and format at each event can be different. With each race organizer having a different opinion on some of the finer points.

This in the first few years caught out some of the riders at the sharp end of the league table. Riders have been hit with penalties due to infractions that some would argue, wouldn’t have happened during a different race. What constitutes shuttling during practice for example.

On top of this, the penalties for similar infractions have been, varied. Fabien Barel received a five-minute penalty for shuttling at Crankworx back in 2013 compared with Adrien Dailly, Dimitri Tordo, and Florian Nicolai receiving twenty seconds in Colombia earlier this year. Whilst this isn’t comparing apples with apples, it is certainly something to think about when you take a step back and look at the EWS over its 6-year history.

These growing pains were however necessary, for the teams, privateers and the series organizers, to work out what the EWS was and is going to be. As the series has matured, teams have gotten wise and become more attune to these variances, with fewer of these mishaps befalling the top riders.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

From the start there has been a strong statement against doping within the EWS, Chris Ball is very clear on his position on the matter. But with the anti-doping screening programs being delegated to each individual host nations federation, consistency has arguably been lacking.

Consistency in the application of both the testing and contents of the rules regarding doping is something that should have as few inconsistencies areas as possible. One person’s asthma prescription is another person’s positive test response after all.

This all leads us to the anti-doping testing at the Olargues stage of this years series.

What we know so far;

  • 9 male athletes were tested.
  • The tests were carried out by the French Anti-Doping Agency (AFLD).
  • 2 riders samples returned “adverse analytical findings”
  • Jared Graves & Richie Rude have confirmed that they returned those findings.
  • Four of the others tested have confirmed their tests came up clean.
  • 3 unknown athletes have not come forward as yet.
  • The AFLD have yet to release their findings and any sanctions.
  • The UCI did not oversee these tests.
  • The UCI may restrict sanctioned riders from racing next year.

So why have we had a round of testing now? And why none of the female athletes? Well the lack of females being tested was due to no female anti-doping officers being present, again the lack of consistency is evident. The AFLD may have opted to test at this race precisely because the UCI would be doing so next year. They may have wanted to appear proactive and not ignoring the event. This is pure conjecture and we will never know why this race.

Why have we not had more people caught in the past? Is Enduro inherently more clean than other mountain biking disciplines? Probably no more or less so, but regular testing doesn’t currently exist. In fact Rude implied that this was the first time he had been tested whilst racing the EWS, which for a two time world champ is kind of incredible.

As the standardized anti-doping test regime and infrastructure of the UCI comes on stream with the EWS next year, the contents of the banned substance list and the true ingredients of the supplements used by athletes will no doubt be poured over by the teams. The level of rigor on the nutritional aspects of the athletes will level up so to speak.

These positive tests results obviously do not mean that a calculated act has taken place.

Cedric Gracia told a story in one of his vlogs about doping in early French XC racing. The essence was that during a race someone from the crowd held out a bidon. He took the bottle whilst passing and his Dad basically saw this and tackled him off the bike. The reason being, you don’t know what is in the bottle. It could be just an isotonic drink, but it could also be a banned substance. It could be an over the counter supplement that contains a banned substance. A deliberate act of cheating would not have taken place, but Gracia’s career would potentially not have happened if he had tested positive.

Something of this nature may have happened, feed stations are an important element of a race day nutritional strategy. This with the fact that other riders in other disciplines have provided positive samples due to a supplement not listing all the ingredients it contains give plenty of scope for how this could have happened innocently.

The fact that they were once team mates and training partners, as well as both sponsored by Rhino Power supplements. Will no doubt raise some eyebrows. However, even without the confirmation of guilt, the fact is that these test results may impact Grave’s return to racing and Rude’s plans for the 2019 season if not beyond.

Whilst this whole episode is sad to see, I am not really surprised that it has happened. We just have to wait for the full findings and any sanctions to be published.

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.

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.

Screenshot_20180603-123930

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?

Fungle to Keen

One of the wonders of living in Scotland is the landscape in which we live.

 

 

Sometimes, you need to step out and journey into those hills. Riding with a former student I taught, (Callum Grant) we took in a 45km route that sampled flowing natural singletrack, warp speed loose fire roads and a hike a bike up a Munro.

This route was an attempt to tie together some classic trails and descents whilst racking up some respectable distance and climbing. It would be the longest day on the Banshee and a good bedding in for the new fork. It would also be a good indicator to see if the TDB would be fun (or even achievable for me) on the longer travel bike.

Starting in Aboyne we climbed to the start of the iconic Fungle singletrack via New Mill. After this perfect ribbon of Aberdeenshire trail, we climbed up onto the slopes of Baudy Meg. From here it was a rip roaring descent on a loose and ever so slightly fast fire road down into Glentanar.

Then it is a long grind past the tree line to the foot of Mount Keen (the most easterly munro in Scotland), then comes the hike-a-bike. You can try and ride the first part of the climb, but I always decide to try and conserve energy at a fairly early stage and push. Hiking up the rutted, washed out and rock strewn climb lets you fully take in the tech this descent has on offer.

More than once during the hike-a-bike I reminded myself that I’d only ever done this descent on a 100mm HT.  The additional squish that my Spitfire offered, would open up a lot more possibilities and line choices, hopefully preventing the need for too much vitamin I by the time I was back down!

The descent was a wild ride, starting from above the Grouse buttes the trail is fast, sandy and with enough rocks to keep you focussed on line choice. Once you get to the buttes though line choice becomes a whole other story. The trail morphs into a delta of washed out ruts, the peat and sand cleaned from the hill side revealing a mine field of loose rock and boulders.

With drops and wheel grabbing holes littering the trail speed may not exactly be your friend, but the front brake certainly was your enemy. Focussing hard on the trail ahead , I was feathering brakes and shifting weight, all whilst trying to not get drawn into a rut that would result in a dead end or a wheel killing drop. Venturing onto the open heather whilst initially appearing smoother, still had some surprises as all it did was disguise the rocks and holes on the hill side.

After a few close calls we rattled over the cattle grid and back on to a wide and rough as you’d like it land rover track. this was a short and simple strip of orange rubble with enough snipper rocks to keep you guessing, a strong tubeless game is a must for this descent.

With the heat of over exerted muscles building in my thighs we were back to the river at the base of the hill. With adrenaline and stoke high, the long drag in became a fast pedal smash back, with both of us surprised at home much elevation we had gained on the approach to Keen.

After reaching the tarmac of the south Deeside road, its a short spin back to Aboyne. The weather had played fair, The trails were fantastic and the Spitfire had done itself proud, another great day playing bikes in proper hills.

Fungle to Keen via Baudy Meg

Now this has complicated matters as now I have to decide on 160/140mm or 100mm XC HT for TDB, #MTBproblems

29ers – Are we really still talking about this?

The internet has calmed down and the storm over Lourdes may have passed, but the fact is, 29ers are here in DH. Deal with it.

It was going to happen, we all knew it would, we had all seen the instagram posts teasing us with hints at what was coming. We had heard rumours of 29 inch wheeled downhill bikes at the onset of the last few seasons, but 2017 would be the season.

The components had finally caught up with the frame design and geometry lessons learned from enduro and AM bikes. And once Fox had their 49 fork, well that was more or less the last piece in the puzzle of making a 29er DH bike happen and work.

People equate the UCI Downhill World Cup to the Formula 1 of mountain biking, and there is mileage in the analogy. but in reality, it is a very different animal in many respects. F1 cars are specific custom built by the teams, and you would never, ever expect to be able to buy one. Sure the trickle down of technology will eventually get there (adaptive suspension anyone?). But you accept that they are a different species to what we own and drive.

In the nineties and early noughties, it would not be unsurprising, in fact it would be almost expected, that the pros would be racing bikes that you could never have. One off team frames, prototypes testing suspension ideas, custom made components, drive trains that were not standard and would only work on that bike. Bikes like the iconic Honda RN01 and Miles Rockwells Cannondale Fulcrum are probably the two more famous examples.

Pushing the technology and what was thought possible on a pushbike. We wanted to see the engineering, the exotica, the unfeasibly skilled riding unattainable bikes.

In all other disciplines teams have to submit any technology being used for approval before it can be used, not so in MTB. So why are all the teams running more or less stock bikes? The UCI have rules stating that bikes raced on the circuit have to be readily available to the public. Within those rules, the manufacturers have used racing as a R&D proving ground and the bikes we ride have improved dramatically over the years because of that.

So why the shit fit over 29 inch wheels?

People have been genuinely furious about the Santa Cruz Syndicate debuting a 29er at Lourdes. Some of the hate has come from within the pro circuit, the Syndicate having apparently broken some gentlemen’s agreement that all the factory teams would show their hands at the same time. But this is racing, if you intend to use a 29er for worlds at Cairns later in the season, why not battle test it for a whole season?

“But it gives you an unfair advantage”

This is not a single manufacturer race series, this is not the Specialised WC circuit. If it was, each team would have the same frame at the start of the season and may the best man win. If you want to eliminate any advantage gained through different bike designs, then you have to give each racer the same equipment.

Fabien Barel famously said that is was “70% the rider 30% the bike”. So why would you get angry if a team tried to improve the 30% that can be adjusted through engineering? Bike designers, Team mechanics and the riders who can articulate what the bike needs to do to be quicker have been doing this as long as pro racing has existed.

For the fans who see this as some kind of bike industry conspiracy to enforce “another new standard”. Get over it, I’m sorry but its true. The fact that “standards” exist in cycling for components is a minor miracle. The fact that one hub wont fit every current production bike? Not really surprising, I’ll still sleep at night and I’m sure you will too.

If we applied the same component standards concept to say, the motor car, we would not have the same range and capability within cars. Hope created an entire new hub width that is specific to the HB211 bike. This allowed them to not compromise the design elsewhere and for the hub and rear axle to be a more integrated part of the overall engineering of the frame. Like how a car is designed…

But ultimately I think as soon as someone podiums on a 29er, we can finally stop having this discussion. JEFF STEBER of Intense fame had this to say in an interview with Dirt back in 2014.

“I always think back to when Doug Henry was the first to run the YZ400 F (four stroke MX bike) during a whole season of supercross and outdoor. He roared against a field of buzzing bees (2 strokes) and he focused on riding that bike for its strengths. After that season of huge success the rest is history. 29 DH needs a Doug Henry and a team willing to take it on and prove it to the world.”
Perhaps the Syndicate is that team.

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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I Just Bought a T-Shirt From Danny Hart

I Just Bought a T-Shirt From Danny Hart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Aspirational Object

As part of my work at the art school I was asked to contribute to a digital Wunderkammer.

A Wunderkammer is half way between a small museum and cabinet of curiosities, this German “room of wonders” will be used as a learning exercise for our first year students. I was asked to add two objects, one personal and one aspirational, my personal object was my custom painted Specialized frame that I wrote about here.

My aspirational object was a very special anniversary edition Yeti frame.

Anyway I decided to post the short here as well.


Yeti are a bicycle maker that only produce mountain bikes, that singular focus is actually an incredibly rare thing. They were there from the start, founded in 1985 by John Parker when he sold his Indian motorcycle to buy a jig and some tubing. He started building frames and bikes that were at the very peak of design and performance for their day.

They are a brand that have developed a cult following called “the Tribe”, this following is so loyal they cross the globe for the annual Yetimeets with special anniversary meets going as far as Nepal, the home of their namesake.

Being there since the beginning of mountain biking means racing and Yeti have always raced. They brought a level of factory support and professionalism to their race team in the late 80’s and early 90’s that did not exist elsewhere. A small outfit in reality, their race presence has always been that of a much larger company, they have also boasted a rider rooster to match that ambition.

Yeti were there at the first UCI Mountain bike World Cup. The first female mountain bike world champion was Julie Furtardo on her fully rigid Yeti FRO (For Racing Only).

The early racers like John Tomac and Furtardo piloted the distinctive turquoise and yellow machines in both the downhill hill and cross country disciplines to successive victories.

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Picture Credit The Pro’s Closet

The infamous Missy Giove made her name ragging amongst other Yeti’s a early full suspension ARC ASLT, simplistic and unrefined by todays standards but jaw dropping for 1993. Mountain biking in the early days was punk, it was tribal and it was on the edge of extreme sport counter culture, Yeti fitted right in.

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Picture Credit Yeti Fan

30 years later and some things have never changed, Yeti still race, they still support the uppermost talent of the sport and they are still that boutique brand from Durango.

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Only 250 frames were ever produced.

The racing may have changed focus to the new discipline of Enduro and the  EWS  but they are still at the top of the field. In 2015 Richie Rude won the Enduro world series on his SB 6C, with team mate and the previous years champion Jared Graves winning the last race of the season.

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Picture Credit Pinkbike

This long introduction leads me finally to my object of desire, 2015 was the last year that Jared graves raced for Yeti, he also won that race. After over a decade on the iconic bikes a year later and its still hard not to picture Graves in the Turquoise and Yellow.

You can’t collect racers but you can collect their bikes and my object for the Wunderkammer is the bike (no doubt in Graves’s own collection) in the 30th anniversary colours that he piloted in his last winning race for Yeti.

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Picture Credit Pink bike


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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.

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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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Race Routine

It’s great when you can travel from home to a race, you have all the support and kit there to help set you up for a great day on the bike. But more often than not you have to travel, and as the adage goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail, sorry, Boy Scout.

Preparing for a race covers a whole host of elements, from physical training and mental preparation, bike prep, nutrition through to travel and accomodation logistics to name but a few. In this post I’m going to cover the week running up to a big race, what I do to prepare and when, as well as outlining my race day routine running up to the start line.


7 Days to go

With 7 days to race day, chances are it is the weekend, you might want to get one last big training ride in before resting up over the coming week. Conveniently the weekend also gives you plenty of time to get your bike race ready, a good place to start is with my earlier post on race Bike prep.

Hopefully your bike received the all clear, however if anything has been flagged up as needing replaced then you have the time to order any new parts to get your steed back to full health before the race weekend.

On a side note, try not to stack it in the week running up to a race, just a suggestion.

Other things to do are to ensure any travel and accommodation arrangements are made and you know how to get there, you don’t want a stressful drive to ruin to start of your race experience, after all its meant to be fun!


3 Days to go

With 3 days to go your training should be in full taper mode, so instead of lounging on the sofa its time to pack your race kit. This is a basic list and should only be used as a starting point. It is always better to pack something and leave it in the car than have to scrounge around the carpark for a bottom bracket tool 30 minutes before the start of the race!

  • Bike (obviously)
  • Helmet
  • Knee pads and armour if it is a gravity race
  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Gloves
  • Sunglasses
  • Jersey
  • Shorts and Bib if you are so inclined
  • Winter/rain clothes (being caught off-guard can make for a miserable race) including base layer, arm/leg warmers, etc.
  • Post-race, warm change of clothes (change out of chamois as soon as you can)
  • Back pack (if using one)
  • Bottles, use N+1 to work out how many you need
  • Heart rate strap (if you use one)
  • Race food
  • Post-race recovery drink/snack
  • Post race beer (if not driving)
  • Electrolyte drink or tabs
  • Plenty of water
  • Spare wheels ready to race
  • Cycling computer (if you use one)
  • Bike floor pump
  • Tools: Ensure you have tools for all parts of your bike, bare minimum take, Allen key multi-tool, flathead & Phillips screwdrivers, electrical tape
  • Spare tubes, tire levers & CO2

With your race kit packed its time to give the bike one last check. This is especially important if you needed to order any parts for your race bike after its thorough going over earlier in the week.


Night before

So you’ve traveled to the race venue and got your self settled into your dig’s, tomorrows the big race and its time for the race routine to kick in. Not staying at the race venue and traveling the morning of the race? No problem just just do the final count down at home.

10 under the ben campsite
Mountain Bikestock

If at the venue and its possible, go check out the course, if its a downhill, go walk the track, if its a XC race go walk or ride a lap.

carb loading
Two Teas McGhee

Time to eat, carb load like crazy, pasta and a lean protein like chicken or tuna is a great place to start. Don’t over do it and don’t eat anything that your not familiar with the last thing you need is stomach issues from a dodgy curry, keep simple and carb filled. Lay you race day kit out, pack your back pack if you are using one, set your bottles or hydration pack out, you know it’s all fine as you checked it when you packed it on day three but peace of mind leads to a good sleep and rest is important.


Race Day

Breakfast time! this meal sets you up for your race so make it count! A balanced mix of slow release carbs and some protein for the win. So a big bowl of porridge followed by a fruit salad with some greek yoghurt and coffee for me. Some people like eggs as well, but I’m not an egg guy.

Hydration before your race is just as important as during your race, make sure you include electrolyte drinks in your pre-race hydration especially if its a warm day.

Get to the race venue good and early with at least an hour to spare, as soon as you arrive get yourself registered and collect your race number.

Run through the final check list

  • Number pinned
  • Tires pumped and pressure checked
  • Computer on bike and HR monitor on
  • Full bottles
  • All the food you need
  • All multi tools and spares needed packed

Allow time for a proper warm up, stretch up slowly working through all the major muscle groups, a quality warm up should take at least 30 minutes. Do some sprints as well as some climbing where possible, the more intense the race is from the gun the more intense the warm up should be.

The hour before your start time have a final snack, a banana or a gel with caffeine is ideal.

Get yourself to the start line early and get a good position if its a mass start, if the race has a staggered start then be early for your start time.

And finally, have a good race.

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