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.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

ABZ Mates Race Round 2: 6th June

Scolty                                                                   A very brief lowdown of the Scolty race: The weather was great and everyone was eager on this one. Scolty is a common venue for most local mountain bikers and I felt confident as I'd ridden this race last year. However, my body didn't quite feel up for it. This was reflected in quite a poor time. I won't go into the riders who did not understand the etiquette of letting faster riders pass. And I won't go into the details of how I couldn't follow simple route markers and had to ride a section twice!
It was a great route but very pedally and took a fair amount of effort. As usual, the folks organising the race did a blinding job and everything was safe and good fun. 

Chasing a tail. "Excuse me please sir" just didn't seem to work!

My times felt good but a twisted chain on stage 3 really slowed me down and affected my overall time. Therefore, the wine wasn't mine. Neither was the beer or the cheese and biscuits. However, as a stroke of luck, there was a spare chain. It was used, made up of different chains and may not have even been 9 speed. I still have it in my shed!

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Highland Perthshire Enduro - May 2013

It's not often that I go in for competitive riding. However, this year I have seen a few that I fancy, a test of fitness perhaps or a chance to try to beat my friends. Whatever the reason I couldn't resist the idea of a whole day of riding riding the hills around the Dunkeld area. So, I signed up alongside 159 other riders of all ages and abilities (some scarily high abilities too!) and proceeded to train.

On the day, the idea of 49k wasn't as daunting. The weather was good. I was not interested in breaking body and bike trying to get a podium place. Instead I was to enjoy a great day with my pals, riding just inside my abilities and sometimes outside of my comfort zone. Stage 1 included a beautiful ride along landrover tracks with views of Schiehallion and surrounding hills. With sun on my back and surrounded by riders keeping a comfortable pace we enjoyed passing blue waters and lush forest. Everyone was upbeat at the beginning of the timed stage and were keen to 'beep' their timing tag and set off.

Stage 1 was a muddy and slippery beginning to what became a fast and rocky straight-line descent to the finish timing gate. Laughing in the face of those without a big-ring I felt the thrill of the warm wind against my face and the tyres bouncing over the rocks at breakneck speed. An invigorating warm up to get the blood and endorphins pumping.

When we reached the top of the long (but not the longest) climb to the phone mast, nobody had any idea of the newly built trail that lay ahead of us. As this was a 'blind' course, nobody had ridden the route before and the second timed section had only been finished days before... before the rain. As we launched from the start gate the trail suddenly dropped into a very steep and muddy downhill. The rain had turned this descent into what only could be described as a flume with thick, gloopy mud. There was little control as riders attempted to stay upright and on the pedals in order to handle the roots and drops that we encountered. As I breathed a sigh of relief that I had reached the end of the mud in one piece I encountered off-camber corner after corner made up of loose, wet slate that seemed unpleased to be disturbed and through many a rider, including me, into the gutters of the trail. At this point riders all around were flying left, right and centre using speed and momentum to stay upright with some managing more than others. With the final flags in sight, I rounded the last corner to be presented with a very rooty and step-strewn route to negotiate, trying not to notice the catch net that had been set up to stop riders plummeting off to the right and down a drop that would take them at least 10ft to the road below.

It was this part of the course that tested my nerve and my skills. I was definitely riding outside my comfort zone but pleased to have pushed my limits and proved my ability.

Stage 3 was found at the top of a very, very long climb and I admit that after a valiant effort, I had to push up some of this. Upon passing a couple of walkers they helpfully informed me of the considerable length I still had to travel. To my delight, the route I was following was found sooner and after a cross country pedal across grassy moors I found the beginning of the timed stage. This stage began with a fast and straight descent along a whispy and sometimes elusive grassy path. Dry enough to keep speed, it was great fun trying to read the trail, trying to assess just what obstacle was to come and how to pop over it without too much loss of speed. Perhaps the beginning set me up with a false sense of security as it wasn't long before the trail entered the trees and I found myself on a more technical, woody, muddy and root section. With a moments hesitation before a small drop between two trees I found myself off the bike looking back in wonder. How did I end up in this position? The bike was wedged between two trees, sideways with my left foot stuck in the frame at 90 degrees. Luckily at this angle, my foot and ankle remained intact although I wonder if I would have been so lucky had I come off at a different angle. After some contorting and acrobatics I managed to untangle myself and with only superficial grazes, I carried on. Oh, and minus my cycle computer and sensor which had flown off into the wooded undergrowth. I doubt I'll ever see them again!

By this point the body and legs were feeling un peu fatigué and we were looking forward to the beginning of the final stage, the lower section of Dunkeld's local SDA downhill track. It was perhaps the section that the full-face-helmet-wearing folks with big, bouncy bikes had endured all the climbing just to race on. For us on hardtails, it was purely getting to the bottom alive that was our particular goal. If I could have pulled Joe, my trusty riding buddy, up the hill I would have. Not purely for the comradery but also because I was the reason he was flagging so much. You see, what I learnt that day was that the new BTR frame that he had just built up sits on my car rack at a different angle to my own bike. An angle that means that the front wheel is much closer to the car's exhaust pipe than I had considered. So, Joe's options were to ride with a fifty-pence-sized hole in his non-heatresistant tyre, take my tyre or borrow from a fellow competitor. In the true spirit of the event, he managed to source a tyre... of the significantly heavier, tacky, downhill variety! Sorry Joe :-/

Anyway, we made it to the bottom and back to the car park to receive our free bottle of water, race times (so far) and our well deserved rest.

My times are published here: I'm looking forward to the next races that I'll sign up for. Watch this space for those.

Photos to follow as soon as I pay for the rights to use them!

Friday, 3 May 2013

ABZ Mates Race - Round One

Riding buddies/fierce competitors

Following the success of last year, ABZ Mates Race launched a series of friendly races for those in the know. Word spreads fast when something is as good fun as this.

Round One was a blast down Kirkhill with gentle climbs and fast and furious downhill sections with everyone pushing for a good position. First to the bottom wins. It's as simple as that.

I didn't win but I didn't come last so I'm very happy.

Photos to come, hopefully. I look forward to Round 2 in June.