Friday, 30 July 2010

Tubeless Tinkering

My good friend and riding compadre, Jason Spangles has been busying himself making all kinds of useful bike kit out of spare bits of metal. In preparation for our upcoming races he's gone all tubeless using an antique extinguisher to pump his rubber. Check it out....

... Here!

Monday, 19 July 2010

Annadel - 71810

Bike Monkey Magazine recently announced they’re organising a XC race to be held at Annadel in September. Another race on home turf! We decided to prepare by hitting Annadel State Park this past weekend. We, being myself, Jase, Aaron and Scott. We also bumped into our old riding compadre Jaime in the car park who joined in for a while. Our last ride here was a complete wash out – literally. We hit the top of Marsh and the heaven’s opened. Our riding gear was totally inappropriate so we cut the ride short. Skip forward a few months into the baking heat and the whole place is dried to dust. Perfect!

We started out climbing Canyon towards the base of the Marsh trail. A relatively gentle climb made tough by the blistering heat. We continued up Marsh and made our way to Lawndale. A varied trail with a good mix of technical, rocky sections but always fast and sweeping. We had to spread out from each other to stop the dust clouds masking jeopardy. As Jason put it “at one point all I was doing was chasing dust and a shadow.”

After the grin inducing Lawndale we hit some more technical climbing towards Ridge. It’s been long enough since I’d ridden here to notice I was hitting these sections with far more confidence and skill than before. I put that down to time well spent climbing Tamarancho’s technical sections. Ridge trail was, once again, epic and sweeping. Very rocky in sections but the Nomad, as always, ploughed through where a delicate line couldn’t be threaded.

We finished the ride with a spirited blast back down Marsh and Canyon towards the carpark. Always a great way to end a day’s shredding at Annadel. One of the many things I love about the trails here is the descents. They’re long, fast and rocky with plenty of up-ahead visibility. You can hit the cranks and leave off the anchors with full abandon. The climbs are satisfying too – blistering heat aside. They never get that steep and the payoff seems to go on for miles. I’m coming to really appreciate the all-mountain geometry and set up of the Nomad too. It’s made for trails like this and eats them up when I have the confidence to let it.

The day’s riding was satisfying and fun, but not without its casualties. Scott’s front tyre was near to disintegrating the whole time. Haemorrhaging tubeless goo we slipped a tube in there, but he still had to ride with caution. Which pretty much meant the Trail Genie rode at a pace closer to us mere mortals. Aaron’s bike switched to single speed halfway through as his derailleur cable broke. I too had gear issues, but a quick lesson in bike maintenance from Spangles and they were good as new. I did get heat stroke though. A wicked combination of not quite enough water in the camel sack and the Santa Rosa sun cooked my brain to a medium rare. Still, good conditioning for the upcoming So No Mas ride….. 35 miles and 8000ft on shadeless trails in 100 degree + heat!??!? In a sick way, I can’t wait!

Friday, 16 July 2010

Thurs Night Ride 71510

Another cracking night ride in the bag. This time it was me and Aaron catching the dying rays of the evening sun whilst shredding around 'rancho. Aubrey had been riding in a dirt crit the evening before, and I was still somewhat Downieville fatigued. But tired legs were soon forgotten as we put rubber to dirt. Great fun. And a fine prelude to this coming weekend's Annadel ride!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Catchin' the Zeitgeist

Check out Eric's Downieville race report over on the Zeitgeist blog. I've ridden with these fine fellas on occasion. They're always knocking around the race scene in their fetching bunny outfits:

Zeitgeist Downvieville Race Report

Monday, 12 July 2010

Up in Downieville

This could be a very short blog post. I could summarise my Downieville XC race experience with one word - Incredible. And that would be almost enough. I'd pop a few black and whites on here and that'd be that. But I feel compelled to expand. If only to serve as a reminder to myself of how amazing this past weekend's adventure really was. PS.... I didn't get many pictures during the race. Normally I grab a few shots whilst hanging onto a tree, trying not to faint and/or vomit whilst forcing more electrolytes down my gullet to satiate the cramps. However, during this race, I simply didn't have the time :o)

So, on the Friday me and Spangles hit the road with various choices of cycle wear, scooby snacks and painstakingly detailed rides. We arrived in Downieville, grabbed some carbage and watched the town get set for the next day's event whilst we ate. The town had been transformed into a race village with banners and sponsor tents covering the streets. The atmosphere was near electric. We all knew we were in for a treat the next day.

Saturday, we got up early and took the short ride to Sierra City for the race start. After a bit of warming up and chatting to like minded folks, it was time to saddle up and jostle with the other sport category dudes. 9:35 arrives - and we start the epic 29 mile Downieville Classic Cross Country Race! Now, I'd been looking forward to this race for quite a while. More importantly I'd trained for it. Up to now, I've enjoyed the racing as an extension to my regular riding activities. They've been a good opportunity to ride harder and longer on trails I wouldn't normally hit. But I've been resigned to the fact that my skills and fitness would always mean the rides were extremely hard and that I'd never really be competitive. And that's been fine. Perfectly enjoyable and satisfying. But for some reason I wanted this one to be different. I wanted to see if I could get over the self imposed plateau and actually do well. So we've been doing rides specifically targeted at weaknesses and riding harder to build up some racing grit. Did it pay off? As we started the 3000ft, 8 mile ascent, I was about to find out.

Mile 1 is paved road. Mile 2 - you hit dirt. By mile 3 you're pushing your steed uphill with everyone else. Fortunately the pushing was shortlived. Back in the saddle and spinning the granny gear we snaked our way through the beautiful Sierras. But something was different. My pace was no longer being set by my fitness. It was being set by the throng in front. When opportunity presented I tapped into my plentiful reserves and overtook. Mile 4 came and went with water and goodies - I declined and kept on. Before I knew it, we were being offered bacon and margheritas (?!?!?) at the 8 mile aid station. This wasn't an exhaustion induced sight either. I was fine. The climb had taken place mainly in the shade - which helped. But putting mileage into climbs over the last few weeks clearly helped more.

The first section of singletrack is a rolling, bermed track through felled trees. Some neat technicals, switchbacks and jumps warm the kung fu up a treat. Next, its onto the famous baby head rocks. Now, this section is almost a blur. Partly because the vibration renders you senseless, but also because it was so... much... fun! I exclaimed - out loud - on more than one occasion "this bike is awesome!" And the first time those words escaped me was here. The baby head section is so freakin' fast. Big boulders, drops, ruts, loose shale.... What the Nomad didn't plough through aggressively it would skip over with amazing grace. A raking head angle, 6 inches front and back + loooong fast rocky sections of trail = ENORMOUS FUN!

Once you hit Gold Valley and cross the creek its onto the Pauley Creek trail. 17 miles of blissfull singletrack. Fast, at times sketchy and full of huge drops and hurdles that come out of nowhere. But you don't have time to plan a route or strategise. You're going way too fast and having too good a time. So I let the Nomad do its thing and employed some confidence to hammer the cranks and push on. I really only stopped a couple of times. The first one, a steep drop, I could've easily taken but for the two dismounted dudes picking their way down on foot. The second, a blunt wall that appears immediately after a blind bend. Doable if you're prepared but impossible for those of us without Jedi reflexes. But everything else I tackled with ever growing confidence. Looking ahead of the sketchy stuff, trusting that my brain had done the maths and my rig would fill in the blanks. Getting giddy everytime I skipped by some other dude who'd balked and decided to dismount. This was awesome!

After this epic trail, it was time for some more climbing. Up to the Third Divide trailhead. A full on downhill section covered in magic carpet to help with the sketchier sections. By now my brain was overloaded with riding joy. Blissed out at what had been - by far, my best ride ever. After this final descent, we hit the road into downtown Downieville to be greeted by a cheering crowd and a well earned beer!

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying the festival, sun and spectacle. My time? Based on past performance I was expecting anything up to 5 hours. Definitely over 4 hours. I pulled into Downieville just shy of 3 hours 38 minutes. The longest race I've done and the quickest time I've ridden by quite a margin. It's added fuel to my already burning passion for the sport. I still have a ways to go. Next year I want to finish in less than 3 and a half hours for a start. But I'm feeling the rewards from hard work - and a few hard falls. I can't wait to keep hitting the trails, working hard, and seeing what next year's race brings.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

July 4th Weekender

I did think about calling this post “Return of the Shredi” but I need to nip these lame film puns in the bud right now. However, I would’ve had good reason. As we approached a particularly Endor-esque trail Jason turned to me and exclaimed “if I don’t see any Ewoks on this trail I’m gonna be pissed!” Yep, it was a three day weekend and whilst our American hosts were off celebrating their independence, we decided to escape foggy SF and hit the trails!

I'd taken my Nomad down to Santa Cruz on the Saturday to get a pre-Downieville tune up sorted out. On Sunday me and Spangles decided to hit Skeggs to get some pre-race training in. In fact this was my first time riding there with the new bike so I was excited to hit the technical trails and fast descents with 6 inches of plush suspension at my disposal. Also, Skeggs has some brutal climbing so we knew a good training session would be achieved. We weren't wrong.

We took our, now usual, route of Fir, Resolution, North Leaf and South Leaf. We also looped back to hit Giant Salamander. A great mixture of challenging technical descents, ascents, singletrack and some epic fast double track. South Leaf is becoming my preferred trail of choice. Its full of jumps and whoop de doo's and nice railed corners but its reasonably wide and has grassy banks either side of the trail so you can safely allow the mental mist to cloud you and haul ass! ..... Great fun.

The price for all this fun? The climb back out. We took Timberview to Salamander. Man, Timberview is a cruel beast. It's steep, almost too steep to keep pedaling, but then it will level out just enough to pull the heart rate back from the redline and allow for a little recovery before the next assault. Yep, this trail is nature's own Divisadero Street. However, we were once again rewarded at the top with the Giant Salamander. I'd ridden this trail before, but the other way - ie climbing it. This time we were taking the fun route. Salamander has some really nice big, rolling jumps. But it also has an equally big abyss to one side of the trail. So caution, or at least the brake, has to be applied every now and again.

The fun was short lived however. We still had the climb out. For some reason we ignored the relatively forgiving Methusela and took the Fir route out. This trail is a fun descent, but a brutal climb. Steep and rutted it tests both cadence and patience. Once out, we took the short, fun Sierra Morena section back to the car. A lasting reminder of how great and varied this place is - and why it won't be the last time I'll be taking the Nomad south for some dirt.

Monday I met up with Aaron and Scott for a late afternoon session at Tamarancho. The weather was beautiful. Sunny, but not stifling. The light was great. Trail - bone dry. An epic ride was forecast and we were not let down. Well, Scott's tyre was. It flatted halfway round. Other than that we had a great ride. We took 'Rancho counter clockwise. This is fast becoming my new favourite way to ride the place. I'll always love hitting the B-17 trail descent, but climbing it means you get to descend Serpentine. Also, the Wagon Wheel rock garden is a goood challenge on the climb. I also had the pleasure of Scott riding my tail - making dog/mountain lion noises to inspire me to ride harder. All in all, a great way to spend the penultimate weekend's riding before traveling North to Downieville. Stay tuned!

Friday, 2 July 2010

Night of the Living Shred

Went for a ride to Tamarancho with Rosson and his buddies last night. Jase, Sam and Rich are all Cat 1 demons so I knew it would be a tough ride. It didn't help that I had mechanicals to deal with either. So for the most part I didn't see them - except for the sections where they'd graciously wait for me to catch up. Or I'd catch a glimpse of twinkling helmet light off in the distance. These boys ride hard and fast. But it was a great training ride. We started up Alchemist and straight up the B17 extension, took a left up the fireroad and climbed a little way to a great lookout point to briefly catch the dying embers of the day's sun. Then it was time to fire up the nightlights and tear back through Tamarancho.

Night riding is such a great experience. Its a totally different way of riding. You can't help but be wide-eyed and super sensitive to the terrain, the movement of the bike, bats flying at your full tilt.... everything. Its great for skills training. Especially at Tamarancho which is such a technical track. And riding with these fellas is a hard lesson in bike fitness too. Hopefully we'll get another nocturnal session in before Downieville.