Monday, 27 September 2010

Tahoe Weekender

Our planned end of September Tahoe weekend had been anticipated for a few weeks. A day of downhill madness at Northstar followed by a XC look at the Hole in the Ground trail. As lady luck would have it, Northstar was playing host to BikeSkills that weekend who, in turn, were offering various clinics. One in particular was almost too good to believe : Downhill Techniques with Steve Peat, Cedric Gracia and Gregg Minnaar! A full day's training and tutoring from world class MTB royalty! The class was an advanced clinic, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. I might be out of my element, but at least I'd be able to explain my broken bones by telling people I'd done it riding alongside Steve Peat ;o)

We arrived at Northstar, padded up and grabbed our steeds. Rosson, Spangles and In Soo were off to hit the trails for the day while I rode, nervous but excited, over to the Bike Skills tent. Our hero's were running late so I took to Livewire to get a feel for the bike and warm up. I'd swapped the standard flats on my rental Glory for a set of nice, new Crank Brothers Mallet pedals. With a big, flat bed and spindle they seemed a good mix of security and downhill practicality. They did a fine job and definitely helped with my confidence on the jumps.

Back at the camp and those of us taking the course got chatting while we waited. The clinic was to be lead by Karl Rogne. A really nice guy and excellent, patient teacher. Karl guaged our ability level as he chatted to us. For an advanced clinic, I was pleased to see a few others were more intermediate or cross country biased. Once Steve, Greg and Cedric arrived we hit the trails for our first lesson.

Lesson 1 : Cornering. After introductions and ride position basics, we sessioned a section of slightly burmed trail to work on cornering technique. I was all ears as this is an area that I really want to improve. We took it in turns to hit the corners, trying each time to incorporate the guy's advice. Keep your weight in the pedals, not the bar. Keep your centre of gravity over the bottom bracket by dropping the outside foot and weighting it. This keeps the bike pushed into the dirt. Also, lean the bike, don't try to lean the body into the turn. I've always tried to lean into turns, like you do on the road, but Greg explained you don't have the same traction or speed as you do on the road so it's much safer and easier to lean the bike and let it rail.

After a few runs at the corners it was time to head back to base via the Karpiel trail. Karpiel, which starts as a single black and ends as a double, is a lot of fun. Burms, jumps and big, rocky sections. I struggled to keep up on the rough stuff but Steve Peat had good technique advice. We learned about unweighting the bike ; When approaching rough rocky sections, pump the suspension and let the bike recoil and lift. Use this elevation to skim over the rocks, chose flat areas, or rocks, to pump again and unweight. Not really a bunny hop, but more a way of gliding over rocks rather than hitting them with blunt force - which is what I was doing. This is a great technique and one I kept employing. It makes rock gardens much safer and, crucially, faster! You almost don't believe it will work, but then you brace yourself for rough, and you sail over it with no dramas! This clinic was awesome!

Lesson 2 was jumping. We found a quite trail and sessioned two of the jumps. Again, our instructors demo'd and then gave feedback as we took turns hitting the jump. "The lip is your friend" repeated Cedric over and over. I asked Cedric about technique. I've always had problems trying to dictate the bike's path on a jump, but the opposite is really what I should be doing. Let the bike take a natural arc. By itself it won't screw up, so let it do it's thing. The important thing is to let the bike come up to you as you crest the jump, and push the bars down gently as you hit the downside. This advice, and my clipped in shoes, made the jumps much more fun and less intimidating.

We then took the morning's lessons and put them into practice on Livewire. Bikeskills had a camera crew on hand and, fortunately, I managed some sweet jumps whenever the lens was pointed my way. I was clearing table tops with way more confidence than before, but was still struggling with the bermed corners. Whenever I'd try to push it and not brake, I'd understeer. My front wheel would dig in and I'd fight to keep upright. So I couldn't help but brake on the corners - not good form. A laundry list of instructions were rattling around my head : drop the outside foot, lean the bike in, keep the arms light, weight in the pedals... A couple of times I nailed it and really REALLY felt the difference. The bike felt like it was on rails and a little moment of eureka was had.... but I couldn't quite get the muscle memory to hard wire it. My default would kick in and I'd be back to bad technique. On the last run, I took one of the steep left corners and, determined to rail and not brake, wiped out. My front wheel disappeared from under me and I overshot the corner - head first - into a boulder garden. Taking a dizzying whack to the head, I was thankful for my sturdy helmet saving me from the unthinkable.

After lunch we hit Livewire again to work on our jumping and cornering technique. I was completely dusted (as Steve put it) covered in trail dirt from my fall. By the end of the day most of us looked the same. Battle weary but grinning. I asked Karl about the cornering and how my wheel was understeering. He pinpointed the problem - I was turning the bike into the corners, not steering it. A big difference. "Push, wait and let the bike turn.." I'd been turning the bars rather than letting the bike lean over and steer itself. I still struggled with the technique, but tried to focus on pushing with my inside hand rather than my outside... This seemed like a good way of making sure I steered rather than turned. I still have a way to go, but I feel armed with the theory now. I just need to put the graft in until I successfully commit it to muscle memory.

The last lesson of the day was line choice through challenging terrain. We picked a section of the Sticks and Stones trail - a double black diamond. Steve, Greg and Cedric all demonstrated their line choice and made the steep, rocky descent look effortless. Most of the group had a crack at this section and did a great job of getting down it. I had a go, but baulked. I crested the top and all I saw were huge, bone crushing rocks. My brain wasn't processing line choice or pumping backsides for extra speed, it was wondering if my Kaiser would cover the inevitable spillage. So I walked it. It would've been a great end to the day had I cleaned it, but some things can't be taught in a day, and confidence on double blacks is something I'll have to work at and earn - for now.

We took the rest of Sticks and Stones back to camp. Karl followed me and gave tips on my riding position. I always keep my knees really bent to keep my centre of gravity low. But Karl showed me how awkward I looked compared to a straighter legged, more commanding stance. Great advice and much needed as we descended the rest of Sticks and Stones.

Back at base and I had to rush to catch the final gondola home. Missing a picture op' with the guys - damn. But the memories from that session are far more valuable than digital snaps. Solid pieces of concrete advice from the sport's best exponents. Riding a trail, with Steve Peat right behind giving critique, really is quite a surreal experience. But I intend taking all the info that was absorbed that day and applying it as best I can to the trail.

Day 2 and we hit Hole in the Ground. A beautiful, scenic loop on some of the best trails I've ever seen. Superbly well maintained and carpeted in places for longevity, this is a dirt lovers dream. The terrain is mainly rocky, with some steep technical drops and rock gardens. The climbs aren't severe, but the altitude is a killer. The first few miles of climbs were brutal. It felt like I was riding with a girdle. The thin air mixed with heavy trail dust left our lungs burning. But the trail is totally worth it. In Soo dropped behind while the 2 Jason's motored on ahead. I did ok, but for some reason my heart wasn't in it. My mojo has been lacking for the past few weeks. I need to get my Downieville self back somehow. Long hours at work and not enough quality time in the saddle have taken their toll physically and mentally. So I really didn't ride my best, which was a shame given these were some of the finest trails in Northern Cali'. Ah well. The whole weekend taught me there's a lot still to learn. Or at least, a lot to practice. But I'm in the best place in the world to do it. I need to shake myself out of this funk and enjoy the trails. Make some progress and feel good about my riding again. Thanks to Steve and the guys, I at least have the knowledge to take my riding forward. Once the movie I'm working on finishes, I'll have the time too. I can't wait!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Monkey Business

What will likely be the last race of the season for me, was the first race at Annadel for almost 25 years. Another Bike Monkey organised event, the race started at Spring Lake and took a winding, 25 mile route through Annadel's signature, epic trails. The locals turned out in force to make the most of racing some of the finest dirt in the area. Me and Spangles met up with Chris, a new riding buddy who I shared a few tortuous miles with at SoNoMas. Rosson was also there with the rest of the Zeitgeist crew. Riding singlespeed, Jase did another fine job coming 7th in his cat. Race report from him on the Zeitgeist page to follow. We all set off at 9:00am sharp. A couple hundred riders kicking up golden illuminated dust was an awesome sight. I wanted to pause to take pictures, but there was racing to be done...

Unbeknown to us, last week's pre-ride was pretty much on the money. We'd managed to ride most of the trails picked for the race. Starting up Canyon we worked our way to Lawndale. Based on my last couple of rides I was extremely worried about my performance. I really wasn't in good shape at SoNoMas and suffered badly. Last weekend's ride was tough and a clear sign I need some downtime. Since then, I've been working long hours, not resting enough and eating chips with everything. Not ideal race prep. But as we started the steady climb into Annadel State Park, I felt pretty good. My heart rate (always a good indicator as to how a ride will pan out) was in the low 170's where last week I'd been pegged in the 180's. Lawndale was it's usual wide-grin fun. Fast, flowing and, for the most part, shaded, it was a great test of my new Julbo Dirt photochromic glasses. They performed excellently. In fact I barely knew I had them on most of the time.

At the first rest stop I met Chris. We rode together for a few miles until we hit South Burma. Feeling fairly strong, but sleep deprived, I appreciated the pick up in pace to get me through the tough, technical climbs. I don't think I've ever ridden South Burma as fast as I did on the race. Double fisting both grips for extra support I pointed the Nomad south and held on. Such a fun trail, both me and the bike were in our element! Once we'd done South Burma it was onto the final stretch to Rough Go. By this stage I started to wane and lose focus. A couple of rough rock spills and Gu shots later and I was back on track. Ready to hit the crazy boulder garden for one last shred.

I came in (according to Garmin) a whisker over 3 hours. Spangles did another fine job coming in around 2:40. Chris was a little after, and ahead of me. Could I have done it quicker if I'd not been so wrung out from work? Possibly.... But only by a hair, if that. My climbing pace was a little off, but I honestly don't think I've ridden Annadel as fast as I did on race day. My cornering speed was better, I hit the rough stuff with confidence and pumped the track for as much flow as I could get. Still room for lots of improvement. But as a finish to this season's epic racing fun, I'm totally satisfied with my efforts. For now, its back to the usual routine of riding for fun, not preparation. But there's always the cyclocross season coming up.... Rosson assures me I'll like it. And there's nothing quite like the buzz of meeting up with a field full of like-minded people and strapping a race bib to the bars... ;o)

Garmin route and info HERE

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Anticipating Annadel

Next week it's the Bike Monkey organised Annadel 2010 race. 25 miles around our home turf. Details of the course are sketchy. We know there's a descent down Rough Go to the finish, but the rest will be revealed on the day. To prepare, me and Spangles took a trip up Santa Rosa way to hit the trails and get prepped for next week's fun.

We took the familiar climb up Canyon and then Marsh. I reckon this will form part of the race as it leads to the main trail heads... My guess is it'll be the first real climb. We then hit Lawndale. Unlikely to be on the race course as it dead ends, but its too much fun to miss. We looped back to the top of Marsh and then hit South Burma. I have a feeling we'll do both South and North Burma as part of a figure of 8 route.... We'll see. But I hope they have South Burma on there. Such great variety and some excellent rock garden goodies to test the mettle (and suspension.)

We finished the ride down Rough Go. Bike Monkey has pre-warned people about this finish and it's easy to see why as soon as you hit it. Technical doesn't quite do it justice. The singletrack is not steep - it'd be lethal if it were. But it's littered with so many boulders and rocks you have to make the route up on the fly. And fly you must. One small loss of momentum over those big rocks and you'll ruin your whole day. Great fun though. Threading through this weird, alien looking landscape, daring to keep looking ahead and ride faster, relying on latent skill to deal with the immediate terrain. This will certainly be a tough end to the race.... Not a trail I want to attempt riddled with cramp and carb crashes. Hopefully my prepping this week will offset that handicap. Watch this space for a race report!

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

From The Archives

Found this while looking through some pics from recent years. Bob's Commencal on the left, Jim's Kona Kula on the right (since been half-inched) Sexy Stu's Scott front and centre, and my Orange (styling "fenders") up top. Taken after me and Jim rode from Brizzul to Bradford Upon Avon to meet up with Stu and Bob for a fellas night out, and then a little Sunday leg stretch. We stopped off at The Lockside Inn to grab a massive plate of fried veggie goodness with extra chips. The booze and food to riding ratio was never going to get our race weight sorted, but what a great weekend!