Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Grampian Tigers Restarts For A Second Year

Last year was a whirlwind of productivity as we started the Stonehaven chapter of the Grampian Tigers youth cycling club. A group of about half a dozen coaches spent the year working with children to develop skills across MTB, Road and Cyclocross disciplines.

This year we have kicked off at Dunnottar Woods and are leading children around the area, stopping to coach off-road skills. The year will also see children develop skills in CX and Road cycling with the added extra of grass-track racing which has only been possible through a successful funding bid and the support of Mackie Academy.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Back Into Blogging

I admit it, I've just been lazy when it comes to updating this blog. It doesn't mean that nothing has happened, quite the opposite. In fact my only excuse is that perhaps the reason I've not blogged is because there's been so much going on that takes up my time.

To fill in the gaps and report on what has been an action-packed 10 months all in one blog post would be a real headache so here's what I'll do, I'll gather some photos of the year and blog spread the next few blog entries over a few weeks.

In the meantime, here's some tasters of this year's action...

some injuries
car camping
 youth racing
 pump track
 Norwegian wilderness
 silly ramps

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Looking Forward

Isn't it lovely, that sound of crunching, fresh, undisturbed snow underfoot? Better still, the sound of tyres pushing their way through the piles of white and the heavy breathing as you try to keep the bike upright and limit the two-wheel slides? Yeah, it would have been nice but instead the winter so far has consisted of wet, windy, dark and cold days with little joy for the cyclist.

I did go through a brief phase of cycling to work but after a puncture on the way home, a pack of wet patches and no inner tube, I decided during my rescue drive home that it wasn't such a good start to the year. Instead of riding, I spent the rainy days filing my tax return online and trying to overcome my urge to give up riding and do something exciting with my life like being an accountant!

So what's better than riding bikes? Thinking about riding bikes, of course. Here are some of the projects and adventures that I plan to embark on this year. It's a kind of New Year's Resolution if you like but I prefer to think of it as some exciting things to look forward to!

Stonehaven Cycle Club

Plans are hotting up for a cycle club in Stonehaven. Likely to be a branch of Grampian Tigers, Aberdeen, there are some seasoned veterans of the sport involved and a wealth of knowledge and experience of managing clubs. It is expected that the club will cater for 7-12 yr olds initially but I hope we can cater for teenage cyclists in the future. I'm really passionate about harnessing the interest in this area and funnelling the energy into a real Stonehaven scene. Wouldn't it be lovely to have a Stonehaven Cycle Festival? Watch this space as that is definitely a future project I'd like to get underway.

Upgrading Qualifications

As part of the cycle club, I'll be completing my UKCCC Level 2 coaching qualification. This will be a new one for me. I love promoting cycling and as a commuter through London for several years I know a bit about urban cycle safety. As a teacher and Cycle Leader I can lead children safely but the one thing I have never been tested on is my technical riding skills. My guess is that if I can make it down black-graded runs and wild downhill sections on a hardtail and live to tell the tale then I must be doing something right. However, set me off at the bottom of a wet, rooty and steep incline and you'll soon hear some interesting sounds!

I'm also going to be doing the Cycle Trainer Plus course this Spring which will enable me to train the volunteers that deliver the Bikeability courses. I must admit that I do feel somewhat frustrated that I have to delegate the delivery of the Bikeability training to others' since I cannot be released from class time, maybe this will give me more time out on the bike with others and keeping my practical, urban cycle training hours up.


I haven't forgotten about the racing this year. I have chosen several races that I'm going to go in for. This year's Eliminator in June will be high on the fun-scale and is promised to be even better than last year. A dual track down the side of a hill, through a wood and into a barley field at the bottom was a recipe for big grins last year. I can anticipate a much bigger turnout this year so the pressure for a decent place will be on.

Muckmedden's Eliminator 2013 from Morrocco Media on Vimeo.

As well as the fantastic 10 Under The Ben race which I'll be doing again this year (though in a pair rather than solo this time) I'll be attacking the general vicinity of Ben Nevis as part of the epic wilderness enduro, Tour De Ben Nevis. I'll join hundreds of other riders spending a day riding up, down, through, carrying up and throwing myself off a number of features miles from civilisation and with no support team. Sound like fun!

Last year, I think my favourite race was the Highland Perthshire Enduro as part of the Highland Perthshire Cycling Festival. This year it seems to be billed as the Dunkeld Enduro but whatever it's called, I hope it's as steep, as fast, as muddy and as much fun as last year's. I'll be going for it to beat last year's time.

And finally, let's not forget the excellent ABZ Mates Races set up by the ABZ Mates Team as a friendly, free but highly competitive series of downhill races around Aberdeenshire. Having done 1 and a bit seasons, I think this year I should offer to host one around Stonehaven. I'm thinking an Enduro style race with sections through Fetteresso and down Cairn Mon Earn.

The Hill

I'm pretty excited about the hill. This year I am in the process of carving a second, parallel line to enable us to race one-on-one down our custom-built track. I've already spent a fair amount of hours properly laying sturdy trail surfaces, rock gardens, jumps and drainage so I'm hoping people enjoy it. I can't wait to organise a few more races on it.

A Forgotten Project

After a great visit to Glasgow's Riverside Transport Museum last weekend, I found what was last year's Holy Grail for me. I know that Rudge-Whitworth produced three colours of roadster bikes. I can't remember the first but one colour was black and one was a beautiful red/coffee colour. I rescued a bike a year or so ago and when I picked it up it had been hand painted black, and a pretty rough job too! Low and behold, under the black was this coffee colour. Unfortunately I wasn't able to restore the coat underneath and since the frame was very tatty anyway, I put it aside to await a respray. Well, having seen a coffee coloured, beautifully restored one in the museum, I have vowed to try to recreate the bike's former splendour. Here's what it used to look like.

Here's what I hope it will look like soon.

photo courtesy of Paul 'niniferrose' on Flickr

So all in all, I'm hoping that this year will be busy. I really hope that it leaves me time to ride the roads of Orkney with my Uncle when he visits and hit the high passes of the Norwegian mountains with Sven. You only live once and no-one knows when it will be time to check out. I recon I'll cram it in while I can :-)

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Some Tayside Inspiration

Today I did my first marshalling duty as a 1st Aider for the Tayside & Fife Regional Youth MTB Series. This was the first round and took place in Kirkcaldy. As a venue, it was perfect. Middleden Woods is directly opposite Kirkcaldy High School and contains a labyrinth of red and blue graded trails. The course was clearly marked and suited the 8 - 16 age range perfectly.

There were many MTB teams taking part and in all there were about 70 riders of different ages and abilities. Aaron Muckmedden and family were there, as was some familiar faces from his races. Series sponsors, Big Tree Campervans took down a lovely, shiny van from which the registrations took place. The series is run through Scottish Cycling and so it was great to meet Morven and Graham from SC and chat to them about the future of Aberdeenshire.

So, as the cogs were spinning on competitor's bikes, so were the ones in my head. After chatting to various people, it seems like the idea of a Stonehaven MTB Club is not so far fetched after all and could be a really viable idea.

In short, the following wee steps of progress have been taken to make Aberdeenshire a far more cycle-promoting part of the world:

1. The Fishermoss Primary School Off-road Cycling Club has begun.
2. There may be scope for a Stoney MTB Club.
3. The major Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route (AWPR) is to be completed in 2018 and, as long as the right pressure is asserted, should see the development of a cycle infrastructure south of Aberdeen. (No more cycling on the Stonehaven verge!!)
4. Scottish Cycling and Developing Mountain Biking in Scotland (DMBinS) will hopefully turn their attention on Aberdeenshire in the next couple of years.

So, it's all looking rosy for cycling in the N.E.

If you would like to be involved in the development of a Stonehaven club or have any experience and advice to offer, please leave a comment.

The dates for the Tayside & Fife Regional Youth MTB Series are:

22nd September – Dirt Crit at Middleden, Kirkcaldy
29th September – Dirt Crit at Dundee, Templeton Woods
19th October – Endurance Round at Hairy Coo, Comrie Croft (Enter this round at
10th November – Mini-DH at Highland Perthshire
17th November – Dirt Crit at Outdoor Education Fife
Event registration will be at 10am and the event will finish at 1pm.
Final details of event timings and course will be emailed in advance of the event.

You can enter online here

Friday, 9 August 2013

The Eliminator

Read this post in Gangsta, home boy!
**Warning: contains bad language**

I had been excited about this race ever since the seed of the idea had been mentioned on the Muckmedden website. The prospect of not only riding head to head with another rider on parallel trails but doing it through a barley field really floated my boat.

As the race date got closer, I began to scrutinise the photographs and videos on Facebook and wonder, was this really for me? It looks fine enough but what is the chance of me getting there and making a proper fool of myself? So, I hiked up the hill a couple of weeks before the race and sessioned the track. It was great; fast and flowy with enough in the woods to keep me on my toes. With the sun beating down on me, I set the second fastest time on Strava. Oh dear, I'd shown my cards too early!

Riding head-to-head with Rob over the top jump
Evidently the weather had remained kind and after pitching the tent on the Friday evening, we took a walk up the hill. A few changes had been made. A lovely jump had appeared giving a very smooth and fast route over the farmer's road and into the barley. The sketchy corner in the woods had been tidied up and ensured the fastest line over the kicker could be taken. It was, however, still a sketchy corner!

Reaching the top, my heart beat faster as I saw, what to me looked like a huge structure rearing over the hill, magnified by the hill's drop to the Tay. This was new. I wasn't sure if I was up for embarrassing myself in front of serious riders. After some practise runs off to the side I took the jump faster and faster and realised that it could be taken at full speed. I don't think I've spent that long in the air before!

Hitting the sketchy corner at speed

Racing head to head with Rob for qualifying times was fantastic. We seemed to be very similar and on the runs I completed, we were almost neck and neck. The problem was, there were far more runs that I didn't complete. My chain was bouncing off at every opportunity and with a worn middle chainring, it wasn't keen to go back on. This was really frustrating so I spent the following couple of hours bodging a quick fix. My chain wasn't going anywhere by the time I'd finished with it!

Family support
On Sunday it rained. It rained and rained and rained. The track was indistinguishable from the previous day's practise. What was worse was we were not going to get any further practise runs before eliminations began. This played on my mind as I was at the start line with my competitor who I had clocked as pretty confident. His confidence was not lacking at the start line - he was dressed as a rabbit, complete with ears! I had to push hard to chase the rabbit and once I slid out on the top stage I thought it was over. It was only once coming into the trees that I realised I could still catch him. So I pushed harder... into a tree. The first race was lost. If I lost the second, I was out.
Slippery conditions

Now, with a sense of the new conditions, I knew how hard to push it. I won all of my next races to the excitement of my family who new that I had promised to wear the Where's Wally onesie if I remained in the contest after lunch. Hearing the children shouting for Wally made this feel like real racing. Was I in Ft William? It felt like it!

The Where's Wally onesy comes out! Photo: Marek Styczen

Liv completed balance bike skills course while Beth won 1st
place in both skills course and xc children race (girls).
Before I knew it, I was in the uplift vehicle with 5 other riders. This was the final. 2 riders from each grouping. I was in group 2. I was in the final for group 2! All of a sudden it had got serious. I was tired and I knew I didn't have the power off the start. But for some reason I had been catching people before the first turn all day so as long as I took the inside line, I tended to get round folk. So this time I had a strategy. I stayed on his back wheel all down the first section, saving the legs. We shared the same line into the wooded section and I eased off slightly for fear of either of us sliding out. By the time I pumped down the last steep drop out of the woods I had given too much away. He was three or four bike lengths ahead. As he waved to spectators I put the power on. There was no way he was going to get away with that! I hit the road jump faster than I had at any other point that day, easily clearing the road diagonally and shooting me into the barley field and onto his tail. I was on his back wheel the whole way through except for the last turn when I hung wide and pedalled like mad. I was catching him. I could see that at this rate there was a very good chance I was going to pass him before the finish line. It was going to be so close... until disaster struck. With a slip of concentration I had drifter several inches to the left; enough for my handlebars to hit the barley. My speed was scrubbed instantly and any chance of taking the win was over. I would have been gutted but with not expectations and with that last race as the best and most exciting of the day, I couldn't stop grinning.

No grip but a soft landing. Barley field was one of the many highlights. Photo: Marek Styczen

The Muckmedden team really couldn't have got the event more right. Ok, there were teething problems with the format of the race and the weather could have been better but all of that paled into insignificance with the realisation that I was riding my bike all weekend, being supported by my family, my girls also being able to ride their bikes and compete and win prizes (which they did. Beth came 1st out of girls in xc race) and not only that but there were craft stalls, food stalls, movie screenings and local brew. I was in heaven! This must be an annual event from now on as it is worth every penny of the entrance fee. Well done and a huge thanks to the organisers and the other competitors who made it such a fun and friendly day.

My first ever podium place.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

10 Under The Ben

I've left this post a bit late to write so instead of a long, waffling rundown of the race I'll post up some photographs to give a little taster of the even.

(Nb: Disregard the Strava 'achievements' as they are not true. I had to add laps 2,3&4 by hand as phone battery ran out so performance data isn't up to date. Also, the time is inaccurate too. It took me much much longer!)

The calm before the storm. Nevis Range before the races.
As always, the event attracted a large number of riders.
A nice, fast, dusty section giving the legs a bit of a rest and releasing the adrenaline.
My facial expression remained much the same throughout the race. Concentration and pain.
Lots of opportunity to swing round into rooty descents.
And a little fast roll before a tight bridge that left less than an inch either side of my bars!
Probably about to be overtaken... again!
Probably my favourite photograph and one of my favourite sections. Keep the speed and be ready for the quick climb over the bank and back to dry land.
The speed is reflected in the grin!
Boardwalk sections kept my concentration. A few moments saw me almost come off the edge due to daydreaming and fatigue towards the end!
Jon said to style it out whenever I saw a photographer. This was all my body would allow me to do!

I placed 62nd out of 93 which I felt was acceptable for a solo rider!

See the results here

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Bike Week 2013

After a week in Nethybridge with Primary 7 children, the prospect of bike week the following week felt a little exhausting when all I really wanted was a rest. Well, nothing keeps the body going like fresh air and two wheels.

Dunnottar Woods skills course and woodland ride.


The week began straight away with a skills course and woodland ride around Dunnottar woods. Both days were tragically under subscribed and with the weather being so beautiful during both days, I was a little disappointed. However, my youngest daughter loved it and did really well on the Sunday. It should definitely be done again and I will organise others for the summer holidays with better publicity this time.

Balanceability Sessions at Fishermoss Primary School.

Having secured 10 balancebikes and a great kit of lesson plans and resources with the help of our Travel Plan Officer, we decided to try it out on our Nursery 'guinea pigs'. It went down a storm with children of varying abilities achieving success in our balance bike activities. I haven't permission to publish images of the children doing the activities but you can see the set up below. Great fun!

After-school Off Road Ride

 This was the big one. A ride that has cost me hours of planning, risk assessing, writing and rewriting permission letters and paragraphs of legal jargon but in the end I had half a dozen children signed up and eager to hone their skills on the skills course before heading off on a fun-filled ride along the old coastal route. The Nave route section we rode runs between Portlethen and Newtonhill with a range of different terrain. It was an amazing trip with children finding new confidence, overcoming fears and obstacles. The ride finished with huge smiles from children, parents and helpers and of course ME!

Why just do these things during bike week? No, I don't know either so I plan to run them again soon. Watch this space.