Sunday, 31 July 2011

And Here We Go.......

We arrived. We're here. Whistler. Mountain Bike Mecca. Today we did a quick scout around the village to get our bearings, and lift passes. Seeing people fly down the final stretch, dusty and grinning, is causing my anticipation excitement levels to bubble over into grinning lunacy! The bike is pimped and ready (and covered in 1000 miles worth of bug corpses) GoPro is charged and the armor is hanging patiently in the closet ready for some downhill mayhem. Tomorrow, we get up early and hit it!

Friday, 29 July 2011

Dave's Goodies

HERE's Dave's video of a recent China Camp shred. Great times recorded for posterity :o)

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Lake Sonoma Series 3

The third (and last) Lake Sonoma series race was held today. Even though it's been a few months since the first race (and start of the season,) it really doesn't feel like it. A guess a 3 month break in NYC will do that. It did feel good to be back in sunny Sonoma again though. The first race was a lot of fun, if not muddy, and I remember looking forward to hitting the trails again in drier conditions. The race was the same 3 laps, 5 miles each, format. Not a lot of climbing, just lots of twisty turny singletrack. Lap 1, and I overcooked it a little and got stitch. I spent the whole lap in pain and unable to get into the trail. By lap 2 I felt much better and started to warm up a little. Dropping into turns, pumping the trail and enjoying the few drops and jumps on the route. I'd decided to go "race lite" and forgo the camel's sack for a bottle drop. Lap 3 and I made the error of not bothering with the second bottle, or ingesting more Guup. So a couple of miles in and I started to wilt in the California sunshine. My, already not too impressive, performance did not improve on the last stretch.

Today was lots of fun, but I definitely wasn't wearing my race face. I think I spent all I had at Downieville. It felt more like a regular ride than a race. Also, I couldn't help but look ahead to Whistler. Instead of focussing on keeping a good pace and catching people, I thought about employing Mike's tips from last week's clinics in the hopes of getting somewhere with technique before we hit the big mountain. And, I struggled to find the flow. The course felt like a fragmented jumble of twists, turns and switchbacks. No reflection on the good folks who'd designed it, more to do with my own state of mind. Spangles must've felt something even more extreme as he decided to bail after the first lap. Overall, I came last in my group (although my lap times were a lot faster than the first race - which is good.) I haven't raced much this year, but this marks the end of the season for me. I had contemplated racing SoNoMas, but today's jaunt reminded me that those trails can be brutally hard work (when you add 30 miles and multiply by 8000ft of climbing) and not very rewarding. I dunno, maybe they need a bit of mud to make them fun? ;o)

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Downieville Papped

Rocky Arroyo Photography were once again at Downieville this year. Here's my moment captured in technicolor glory. Good times :o)

Sunday, 17 July 2011

Jump Around!

Two weeks from now we're taking a road trip to British Columbia for a week's shredding at Whistler. I'm so excited I can barely think straight. Every ounce of skill learnt and enthusiasm gained for this awesome sport will be flexed at the world's best bike park. We've been talking about it and planning it for months. I have new tires, grips and other bits and pieces. Everything is getting dialed in, except one thing ; Me and jumping. I've watched my MTB dvd's over and over and it's clear that jumping is such an important part of keeping good flow at bike parks. Not to mention, it looks like a huge amount of fun when done properly. So, in order to dial in a little jumping confidence I got in touch with the guys at Mountain Biking Marin for help. I've done a couple of clinics with them before and have always come away feeling super stoked about riding and far more confident than I'd ever achieve under my own steam. So, Celia put a clinic together with instructor Mike Brill and me and Jason Spangles headed down to Pacifica to catch some air!

We arrived and I was a little concerned about my brakes. They've always been temperamental and today they felt especially spongey. Not good, but what was worse was my feckin' shoes.... still sitting in the kitchen airing out! I feel utterly dependent on clipping into the bike, especially on gnarlier stuff, and here I was about to push my boundaries with my comfort blanket left at home! I felt devastated.... but as it turns out, riding flats (and with slightly ineffective brakes) was probably the best thing that could've happened to me!

Mike and Ceila are both Whistler veterans so the clinic was designed with our trip in mind. We started out by warming up on the Mile trail. Not too steep, but fast and rutted, it served as a good way to warm up and let our instructors gauge where our riding was at. Mike gave me good feedback about loosening up my upper body and using my arms more. I have a tendency to stiffen, especially in armor, so it was good to have someone help me keep it in check and relax into the trail. We began by sessioning a couple of small jumps and focussing on breaking the technique down into it's component parts. First : we rolled the jump's face and then pushed the bike away from us as we crested the lip. No air, just rolling and getting used to the feeling of pushing the bike away. Then, adding a deliberate pump the front face of the jump before pushing away. The pump preloads the suspension so you can't help but get some air. Pushing away then helps to get the right balance point for control in the air. As we progressed, Mike stressed the importance of looking beyond the lip and eyeballing the landing point. Staying relaxed, focussed on the exit and keeping the bars straight will keep you on target for a nice, smooth landing. I felt pretty good and started to pump and little harder and pop off the lip to get more air. My fear of feet detaching from the pedals was yet to manifest.... focussing on the technique and feeling comfortable catching a little air meant the feet stayed where they should. I overcooked it a bit and took a couple of spills. Good though. I needed to experience screwing it up to know where the technique would save me next time.

Next it was time to hit the Boyscout jump section. Full of big, gapped jumps and armored up fellas on burly rigs, it's easy to be intimidated by this place. But we were in safe, encouraging hands. Mike had us get comfortable with popping off the jumps, but landing flat off to one side rather than trying to clear the gaps. This allowed us to progress each time until we were jumping higher up the front side and getting a good feel for the techniques. Mike's encouragement and my own growing confidence meant that I was soon hitting and clearing gapped doubles, including a gnarly 10ft drop jump that had me weak at the knees the first time I saw it. The feeling of popping off the front side, controlling the bike... feeling weightless and enjoying the moment, before smoothly landing the backside of the jump is amazing. Feeling good about the technique made it a little easier to drop the hammers, swallow fear and commit to the launch. Having crappy brakes also helped as bail outs were made that much harder ;o)

I would never have gotten to the level of comfort and confidence that I reached today were it not for Celia and Mike. Sure, I still have a ways to go before I'm hitting 20ft table tops, and it's up to me to get there. But the Mountain Biking Marin guys have, once again, pushed me to a new level in my mountain biking that I was never really sure I'd achieve. An extremely satisfying, awe inspiring day and I gained a whole new skill to practice at Whistler in a couple of weeks!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Rancho Night Ride

Last year, I remember doing a night ride straight after Downieville (all fired up from a great race) and sucking on the trail. Well, last night we went out to hit Tamarancho.... and the same thing happened. I just couldn't find my mojo. Screwing up switchbacks, picking bad lines, making schoolboy errors. I did the whole ride like a complete noob, until Alchemist (the last 5 mins of the ride) where I finally tapped into the flow. Still, as Dave put it, "it's Wednesday night and we're out and riding".... so I couldn't really complain. There's no such thing as a bad ride. Not really :o)

Monday, 11 July 2011

Look at this little bad boy....

Nice, new GoPro Hero camera. Such a fun little gadget. It arrived the day before we left for Downieville.... I almost wore it for the race but decided against it. Didn't want to have to faff with it for the first time AND shred like a loon. But I'll take it out this weekend. I wanna get some practice in before we hit Whistler. Find mounting points for some sweet angles and such. I'll post some vids once I have something cinematic to show :o)

Sunday, 10 July 2011


When I rode Downieville last year my aim (for this year) was to knock 10 minutes off my race time, which was 3 hours 37 mins. Well, the official race results for 2011 aren't in yet, buy by my Garmin friend's reckoning I came in at around 2 hours and 36 minutes. That's a clear ONE HOUR faster than last year! Woo Hoo!! So that's it! That's where this blog post could end.....

..Eeeexcept the race was made shorter this year due to unusually high snowfall. Despite the best efforts of the race organisers (and the efforts were spectacular given they had 30ft snow drifts to clear away to reveal rideable singletrack) parts of the regular XC course had to be bypassed. So, instead of the usual 29 miles or so, we did around 22. However, the dreaded "trail of tears" 3000ft ascent still greeted us soon after leaving the starting line. Last year I felt pretty strong and the climb didn't bother me so much. This year, I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd marinated myself in coconut water, electrolytes and slow releases carbs in an effort to stay fueled. Plus, I'd dropped a notch on my belt so my weight was optimal. But I've spent much of this season out of action.... Was I in any shape to climb convincingly and still have enough in the tank to ride the descents well? As the huddled throng left paved road and hit dirt, I was about to find out.

Only my second race this year (out of a total 3 that I'll manage to do) and one of THE highlights of the MTB year meant this race was extremely important to me. So much so, that my adrenaline went into overdrive. Afraid of overcranking at the start and burning out too soon, but knowing the trail was going to get narrow and loose, I raced ahead of as many people as the double track allowed. My heart rate kept dabbing into the 180's with every surge forward. Not a good start, but I felt fine and decided to dial it down once we thinned out and hit the long slog to Packer Saddle. However I kept getting stuck behind one dude or another slowly picking their way up the trail. So I'd surge past them into the loose, rocky crap, overtake and aim again for a "rest" section. A few times I lost control, the front wheel washed out and I ground to a halt. My legs a little more cooked from spinning like a mad man in shale. Over an hour into the climb and my heart rate had yet to drop below 176bpm. Hardly ideal, but I still felt pretty good and pressed on, eventually cresting the first big test of conditioning Downieville throws at you and hitting Packer Saddle. Now, for the downhill!

The XC course normally takes racers down the Sunrise and Pauley Creek trails. A great way to warm up the Kung Fu and the rock garden provides a good way to filter the men from the boys (or at least, those on longer travel full-sussers from those on hardtails.) But right now those trails are better hit with skis than rides, so we went straight into the legendary Butcher Ranch trail. Butcher' starts out lovely and flowey with some great whoops to loosen you up for what lies ahead. Fast and rooty, the trail soon becomes rocky and technical. A few "water features" also added to the fun, cooling our heels (and hubs) and stripping away all the lovingly applied lube and polish from the Nomad. She did a great job though. Feeling dialed and ready, I pointed the bike and it ploughed through Butcher's features. I balked at the waterfall though. This year, it really was a full on waterfall. Not being able to decipher line from razor sharp, wet rocky hell, I hit it too slow and lost momentum. So I walked the rest of it. Looking over my shoulder I saw one guy heroically clean it, another take a hideous face-first fall, and about 20 other dudes doing the same as me. Nothing to be too ashamed of then. But everything else, I cleaned.

Gaining more confidence with every smooth line choice my speed kept increasing. Soon, the race became a blur. Especially when we hit the Third Divide trail. Third' is epic. I remembered it fondly from last year and relished the chance to hit it with another year's worth of riding experience under my wheels. I could feel someone on my heels, and expected a request to let them past at any moment. But as I got lost in the trail I tuned them out. Focussing on picking smooth lines, pumping the track and under no circumstances, dabbing the brakes. Enjoying the thrill of going faster and faster on a trail that was designed to draw such lunacy out of it's riders. Eventually I realised I was alone, having dropped my pursuer through sheer speed!

After the fun of Third Divide, we hit the final stretch of dirt, then paved road back to the streets of Downieville. I was cooked, but felt great. No cramping, but my legs were spent. I'd given it my all and crossed the finish line confident that I'd ridden as hard and as fast as I dared. More importantly, I'd had the best ride of the year. All in all, the perfect Downieville experience :o)

Monday, 4 July 2011

You Gotta Earn Your Turns.....

Those were the written words of Adam as plans were emailed around the usual suspects for an Independence Day ride at Skeggs. And earn them we did..... This was the third ride in as many days over what has been a cracking long weekend. Sun, dirt and good company. There really is nothing better for the soul :o) Saturday I did a solo session at China'. I'm planning on making it a weekly ride. Easy to fit in (did the whole ride in 1.45hrs) and guaranteed to fit a perma-grin to the fissog. I started experimenting with dropping my weight into corners to load the suspension and gain grip. Where I might normally tap the brakes, I'd drop instead - daring to hit corners faster and trusting the technique. It totally works, and China Camp's epic flow section is the perfect place to practice.

Sunday was an early start and a trip up north to Annadel. After missing the Bike Monkey XC race last week, I was keen to make right with the place and shred. Annadel veterans, Jaime and Nick were along for the ride too, as was Lio. Over from Singapore for work shizzle, Lio had just bought a beautiful 29er Stumpjumper. Keen to try her out on dirt, we'd been anticipating this ride all week. Unfortunately, Lio had his pride and joy stolen the night before by some feckless cnut. Crushed, but not deterred he borrowed my Orange and off we went. Because he's here on business, he didn't have much riding kit. So to lend a hand, and to cheer the lad up I gave him my spare helmet : a hideous mushroom thing with primary coloured union jack livery. I'm all heart me.

Monday and it was time to earn those turns with Adam and Rosson. Having forgotten his bonce protector, Jason was pleased to inherit the "helmet of shame" (as it's now called.) Skeggs was it's usual awesome self. A little rainfall in the week had tempered the dust and made the trails cake battery and lovely. Adam took me and Rosson on a route I haven't done before. Dropping down Fir, to Manzanita, then Timberview, Salamander, then the usual Southleaf to Virginia Mill. We finished with Blue Blossom and then climbed out on Timberview. Over 16 miles of dirt, 3000ft of climbing and 2000 caloroids. My legs were cooked by the end, but I rode at a decent click. The fellas lost me on the climbs - how Rosson does it all on a singlespeed is beyond me - but I managed to keep them in my sights on the descents. A good yardstick of bike skills for me and hopefully some more reserves in the dirt bank for next week's Downieville race.