Monday, 31 December 2012

Year's End

As 2012 draws to a close I found myself taking the Nomad out for one last shred of the year. Jetlagged,  festively bloated and wrestling with the lurgey, I took a trip to China Camp to eek out the rest of my vacation. As it happens the trails weren't in much better shape than I. The last three weeks have apparently seen a lot of rain. Still, the sun was shining and the dirt, though sloppy, was inviting. A quick frontside loop ends another year's riding. Next year I'm aiming to step up the downhill and trials malarkey. Lets see how it pans out.....

Monday, 17 December 2012

Yer Tiz! The 5th Annual Chrimble Ride

It's that time of the year again! It doesn't seem that long since the fasties and pasties rocked up to the Forest of Dean trail centre, but as it turns out it was a year ago. So this weekend I took the Rose out of it's mothballed state and headed south for the 5th Annual Chrimble Ride! This year we were whittled down to the core with only me, Jim and Mikey up for some dirt. But what we lacked in numbers we made up for in riding by doing two solid rides over the weekend. Trails of choice were the new loops at Ashton Court, 50 Acre Wood and Leigh Woods in Brizzul.

Ashton Court is where I first discovered a love for two wheeled fun not long before I left Blighty. Set against a backdrop of the beautiful mansion and the (gert) lush countryside, the trails have undergone a transformation since I last rode them. Gone are the rooty, sloppy singletracks. They've been replaced with a professionally designed and built network that mirrors much of the old but adds a lot of new features. The trail surface is made up of hard packed rock so it's bullet proof in winter. Just as well given the British weather.

As Bristol isn't exactly mountainous the elevation gain isn't that huge so there's not a lot of help from gravity on the descents. Therefore the trails have been designed to encourage riders to pump their way through the flowey burmed corners and whoop filled straights. It takes a little getting used to and you have to be dialed with good technique, but after a while the whole thing starts to feel like a dirty big rhythm section and with some elbow grease (well, quad grease) you can carry some decent speed. Mikey and Jim ride these trails every week so I had to work hard to keep up. Plus the Rose kept me on my toes as it's modest tires lost traction over the slick rocks.  The tight, banked turns definitely highlighted some cornering weaknesses I still have, but on the second day (riding the same trails) I started to get a feel for pumping through them and keeping my speed up. Something to keep working at over the next 12 months and hopefully bring back to Briz' for next year's ride!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Rocks of Ages

This lovely sight greeted me at SFO as I prepared to leave California for my annual Blighty trip. The SF MOMA put on a large display to show the birth and rise in popularity of our wonderful sport. From the very first Stumpjumper, through to this year's carbon Santa Cruz Syndicate team V10, the burly beasts of old and new are celebrated. A nice treat to stumble upon and a fitting bookend to another fantastic year of NorCal shredding.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Cheers Then!

... or, Thanksgiving, as it's called over here. Four whole days with nothing planned beyond some awesome riding and pumpkin pie refueling. Sorted. As is now tradition, the long weekend was kicked off by getting up before sunrise on Thursday and meeting a few hundred other MTB enthusiasts at the Fairfax Java Hut for the annual Appetite Seminar ride. This year I feared I'd be on me tod as Chris couldn't make it and neither could Aaron (recently back after a lengthy summer's abstinence from the dirt.) However, Rosson was riding with his Zeitgeist crew so me and Sam tagged along. I was hoping for a mellow ride, but was actually quite thankful for the spirited pace set by the Zeit' boys. Note - by their standards, it was a mellow ride.... but their mellow is not far off my race pace so I had to push hard. I needed it though. As winter has crept in, my natural winter insulation has grown and made some of our usual rides tougher than they should be. A hard ride of 25 miles with 3500ft of climbing was just what I needed to keep the ever growing fatty sludge at bay.

The Turkey ride was a great start to the weekend. Muddy as hell, rocky and loose and loads of fun. On Friday me and Chris hit China for a quick loop. My legs were slightly cooked from the previous day and Chris was coming down with the lurg, but we layed down some decent shredding all the same. Conditions right now are epic. A steady mixture of alternating rain and sunshine has turned the local trail's dirt into beautiful loamey goodness.

The weekend was rounded off with a quick hangover clearing bez around the city on the Jackal and then a trip to Annadel to ride with Jaime. This weekend is the penultimate one before I go back to blighty for 3 weeks. I felt I made the most of it. The Annadel ride was quite outstanding. We sampled the new South Burma descent (flowey and groomed but not as much fun as the mental rocky goodness of the old Burma.) And I think I only hit my brakes 3 or 4 times on North Burma (highly unlikely but it felt that way...) What a great (almost) end to the year's riding!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Solstice Revisited

Marin's Solstice trail has somewhat plagued my riding conscience for the past couple of years. I've only ridden it once before, not long after I got the Nomad. I managed to fall and smash my ribs before we'd even hit the steep stuff, so the rest of the ride went downhill from there (though not in the "rad" way I'd anticipated.) So I limped away, tail tucked between my legs, having skulked down most of it on foot and feeling shamed that it had beaten me. Since that time, the previously illegal trails which lead to Solstice have been made bike legal and strava times have been popping up from the likes of Aaron, Chris and Dave. Time to get back out there. A rematch was long overdue. So this past weekend I met up with Dave and we climbed the (somewhat) newly created 680 trail so that I could face my demons.

In truth, the vision I had in my head compared to what Solstice is actually like was quite distorted. A couple of year's riding confidence (including some decent downhilling) helped to put the trail's steepest, techiest sections in perspective. Rooty, rocky and definitely challenging, a quick walkthrough scout confirmed that it was all totally doable, perhaps not at breakneck speed, but nothing to worry about. We did the loop twice. By the second lap my brakes were cooked. I could barely stop the bike. But we had a great run, and we even met Mountain Biking Marin's Celia Graterol, who joined us for the final descent. Good stuff. Solstice still has a couple of features I wanna master, but the rest of it is fun, a little sketchy but nice and steep. My perception has changed. Which pleases me. It's a good sign that my riding has progressed.

Sunday, 28 October 2012


It's almost the end of another year's riding. Downieville, Whistler and trips to Northstar are fading into fond memories. A few pictures and one or two scars are all that's left. It'd be easy to think the best of it is over and done with. Just get on with the weekly rides on the local trails until next year's season kicks in. But northern Cali' still has some real treats to offer, and this weekend they were indulged in. The tinder dry, talcum powdery trails have been doused with some intense, but scattered rains to create the best, cake batter-like singletrack. Mix this with some loamey earth and a carpet of fallen leaves and you have a recipe for some epic riding.

It won't be long before the woolly thermals are needed and more rain turns the cake mix into muddy goop. Then we'll be grinding the fireroads of Tam' as we wait for the usual haunts to dry out. Until then, we've got a few more solid sessions in perfect conditions to enjoy. Gotta love California riding!

Sunday, 7 October 2012


That's how I feel. Like I've been out too late, indulged a little too much and got beaten up on the way home. Fortunately, I escaped a rough night on the tiles and instead spent the day at Northstar. Me, Chris and Dave headed to NorCal's downhill mecca for the final weekend of the season, eager to catch the last dregs of dirt before the snow comes and we have to sit and wait patiently for next year's mayhem.

Burly bikes at the ready, we rode the first chairlift through to the last. A full day indulging our passion for the gravity end of the sport. Me and Chris had rental Glorys. A little rattly, worn and somewhat worse for wear after a season's abuse, the stout beast still did me proud. I'm a big fan of the Glory. Simple, tough and built like a tank, yet floaty light once you get it airborne. I think I'll be investing in one of my very own next year.

After a couple of warm ups on Livewire we decided to explore some of Northstar's other black and double black runs. I typically shy away from double black diamond (or "expert" runs.) I find myself playing mind games and creating fear instead of flow. But after a week at Whistler, and knowing this was our last ride of the season I summoned up the sack to have a crack. First, we hit Boondocks a few times. Steep, extremely rocky and full of nerve testing features, I didn't manage to clean the whole thing, but I definitely made progress over the course of the day.

After hitting a few double blacks, the single blacks suddenly felt a little smaller. A sensation we exploited on Gypsy, Little Trees and Pho Dogg. I hit drops that I'd never attempted before and flowed through the rough stuff with less of the usual adrenaline heightened hyperfocus and more of a fun induced grin. Progress indeed since our trips earlier in the year. I do want to step things up next season though. I'm not quite where I want to be (for a start I'm usually a decent click somewhere behind Dave and Chris!) My jumping confidence needs work and I want to clean the bigger stuff on the double blacks. But I shouldn't ignore the progress I made this year - especially on the technical riding. It's been decent, and a huge benefit to the regular trail riding we do.

At the end of a fantastic day I was just about done. My wrists and hands were battered and screaming and my weary legs were about to give way. Dave suggested one last run. The lifts were closing. Something easy.... like Boondocks top to bottom! The sensible me wanted to return my rental steed and call it a day. But I couldn't resist sealing the season with one last rip down a gnarly trail that, only a few months ago, I was too scared to attempt. So we rode it - I almost rode all of it. A little frustrated at myself for walking the steeper stuff, I vowed to come back next year and hit it harder.... hopefully on my very own brand new downhill bike!

Sunday, 30 September 2012


The very last race this year, and my very first Did Not Finish. It's been a couple of years since the last Tamarancho Dirt Classic. I was happy to see it make a return in 2012 and stick to the same format - a  couple of flowey, technical loops in and around our favourite night time haunt mixed with some brutal fireroad climbing. The first time I did the 'Classic I blew up. My heat rate was jacked and I felt terrible. I was hoping this year's race would be a chance to put that to bed and do a decent ride. I'm not exactly in race shape at the moment (a few short weeks of injury mixed with beer and chocolate biscuits soon got me back to my normal podge.) But I felt strong enough to have a decent crack at it.

We started at the boyscout camp and climbed the short ascent to the top of Serpentine. From there, it was the usual 'Rancho loop (but in reverse) until we hit Broken Dam. Then, a switch to fireroad and the dreaded Dead Heifer climb. As expected, as soon as we all hit singletrack there were the usual bottlenecks. Plus I ended up behind riders who were a little too slow to fully let rip, but not quite slow enough to blast past when opportunity arose. So I spent the first part of the race riding my brakes more than I'd like, but still enjoying the flowey goodness. Dead Heifer was hideous. Even worse than I remember. I felt grateful that the course had changed slightly so we only had to climb the fucking thing twice (as CAT 2 racers.) Not that it really mattered. Unbeknownst to me, my day was rapidly coming to a close.

After we crested 'Heifer, dripping and beaten, we dropped back into the 'Rancho loop via the B-17 extension trail. Excited to be descending again, I misjudged a tree's proximity. Clipping my bars just enough to send me flying, face first, into the dirt and the poor Nomad into the ravine below. After huffing and puffing the bike free I realised the derailleur cable had snapped and I was stuck in the top gear. Ak. My day was done. Deflated, I coasted back to the finish line, grabbed an overpriced burrito and relaxed in the shade until the other fellas finished.

Ah well. It's been a great race season. I can't complain. And I'm glad I hurt the bike and not me. A quick trip to Big Swingin' Cycles and the Nomad is ready to hit dirt again. As am I. Next week we journey to Northstar for the closing weekend. Another finale for the MTB year.... Then it's just a few months of muddy mayhem before we do it all again!

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Cream Crackered

I have every sympathy with Spangles in this picture. Climbing the dyno at China Camp is rarely a treat. On this day it felt especially brutal. That's what a few weeks out of the climbing saddle will do to a rider's fitness - especially when one of those weeks was spent downing beers alongside downing ski runs.

All good though. My digits took a pounding at Whistler so I decided to let them heal a bit. Today was the first XC ride since the trip and, aside from the tanking fitness, it felt great. A few Strava PRs (including knocking 20 odd seconds off my previous Hitler descent) offered some reassurance that the break hasn't harmed my skills too much. Next week's Tamarancho Dirt Classic is going to suck though. Cat 2, which means 3 times up the Dead Heifer climb..... Eesh...

Wednesday, 12 September 2012


I've got a little creative project on the go. I want to publish a mountain biking book through Blurb. A coffee table version of this blog, but without all the waffle. Just pics. I've been squirreling away possible picture candidates and now realise that filling a book requires lots of decent snaps. So the thing may not come to fruition for quite some time. But here's a little taster of what'll be inside. I want some strong portraits of the fellas and I think I have Spangles already. Letting his usual affable demeanor slip for a split second, I captured him staring into the eyes of the beast. Maybe it's anticipation of the gnarly trail ahead. Thoughts of past crashes mixed with the grim determination to push on and tame the trail. Or maybe he's simply holding in a fart. Either way, I think this one will end up in print.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Dirty Feckers

Well.... That's it. Another Whistler trip done and (we're all) dusted. After a day's rest and a fistful of Advil my poorly finger and thumb did me proud and managed to hold it together for two more days of riding. After warming up on Crank It Up a couple of times I started to get into the rhythm again. Still shy from the crash, I eased off the jumps, but a couple of runs down Freight Train had me enjoying the technical riding and feeling good again.

The last day and me and Chris took to the Top of the World trail. An extra 1000ft or so of descent and staggering views promised to be a treat. I'm certainly glad I had my nice new camera to soak up the mountain panoramas, but I wasn't stoked on the trail. Tight and technical, it felt like a potentially fun XC trail but on the burly bikes with all the gladiator gear it felt awkward and frustrating. I was quite glad to leave it behind and hit the regular downhill goodies.

After the Top of the World, we hit Freight Train then veered off to explore some of Whistler's techy black runs. I don't recall all of them - we did bits of Duffman at some point. But they were all a hell of a challenge and great fun. A couple of near spills kept me on my toes, but we picked our way through and emerged at Lower A-Line unscathed and grinning! We then decided to try Dirt Merchant. Supposedly Whistler's best trail, Dirt' is groomed, flowey and lovely. A few steep drops here and there add spice, whilst big, gapped jumps test the mettle of the expert riders (me and Chris took the chicken lines on these features.) But Dirt' certainly lived up to it's reputation.

This trip has been awesome. I was lucky to escape with minor injuries and keep on riding. A necessary slap on the wrist, but it did kill my confidence on the jumps. I never felt the same sense of flow I had last year where jumps were objects to hit hard and enjoy. Instead I felt trepidation each time I tried to face down a black run tabletop. A shame, but something to work on next season. I definitely felt strong on the technical stuff. Trail sections that felt scary last year were fun and smoothed out this year. I love the challenge of seeing something steep and sketchy and picking a clean(ish) loose line through and popping out in one piece, ready to hit the next section. We also did more exploring this year. This place is huge and full of awesome treats. Next year I'll hopefully be coming back with my own steed and a little more confidence on the jumps.... I can't wait!

Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Right now I should be saddling up the rental V10 and getting ready for another day's awesome shredding at Whistler Bike Park. Instead I'm sulking in the lodge, wincing as I type with damaged digits. This place brings the best out of your riding, daring you to go a little faster and harder with each run. Each jump perfectly cleared, each steep techy section pinned and cleaned gives you that extra bit of confidence. But every ounce gained has a price to pay. The currency? Respect! Get a little too cocky and the mountain will rein you in. So far we've managed to get away with a few squirrelly launches and sketchy landings to keep things in check. But yesterday I pushed a little too hard ... and here I am. Hoping my hands miraculously heal before the week is out so I can experience one last blast down the mountain.

We're half way through the trip and have so far hit up old favourites like Crank It Up and A-Line as well as exploring some of the more technical blue runs on the lower half of the mountain. Yesterday, me and Chris decided to head higher and hit Freight Train a couple of times. I remember feeling well out of my comfort zone on Freight' last year, so I was determined to feel a little more confident this time around. My jumping is still not quite dialed on the black runs. I've been hitting the blue jumps with grinning abandon, but the lippy, less forgiving blacks tend to expose the weakness in my technique so I've shied from attacking them so far.

I'm loving the technical rough stuff though. I've realised that the groomed, bermed jumpy trails are a lot of fun, but its the more organic, rocky, rooty stuff that really gets me excited. It feels more like "proper" mountain biking (whatever that is.) I guess because it's closer (if not a lot bigger and gnarlier) than what we normally ride on our local trails. Freight Train has some lovely tech sections and, apart from one or two sections where I lost momentum, I managed to get through unscathed and grinning like a loon.

Most of A-Line was closed for the day, so in the afternoon we hit Crank It Up a few times to get our jump fix. I started to feel really good about getting air and hitting the jumps at speed - rarely braking between whoops and tabletops. Some choice nuggets of advice from Mike Brill rattled around my noggin as each jump became more fluid and enjoyable. The last run of the day and we aimed for one more blast down Crank' before the obligatory post ride beer. And that's where I went arse over tit..... Coming into the first jump waaaay too hot, I cleared the transition by a good few feet and landed on the flat. I've never caught that much air before and it felt great! But the landing sent me scuttling into the rocks, my ride collapsing beneath me. The gladiator costume did its thing and saved me from a trip to ER, but my defenseless hands weren't so lucky.

I managed to smash my index finger and thumb. Hard. I don't think they're broken. Just badly bruised... almost as bruised as my stupid ego for thinking I could hit jumps that fast. Still, a valuable lesson learned. A little humility at this place can go a long way to keeping you in one piece. Hopefully a combination of rest and some painkillers will mean my Whistler experience isn't over and done with for this year.... we'll see...

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Here We Go Again....

Time to pay our respects and visit mountain bike Mecca - Whistler Bike Park!! We're here for 6 solid days of uninterrupted (injury notwithstanding) shredding. Today we flew in, picked up our lift passes and mooched around the village. Killing time, eager for the morning when we get to grab out rental Santa Cruz V10 steeds and go and hit the finest bike park trails in the world. Bring it!

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Dirty Faces

That's what we had. Battle weary, sun kissed and caked deep with California dust. Yep, our faces told the story of this year's Annadel Bike Monkey Race. Last year I had some teeth yanked so had to rest up while the other lads took up the challenge of a few hours in the dust. This year, I was set. I'd even done a cheeky pre-ride the week before. So I was super excited to finally get to ride my favourite NorCal trails with a couple hundred like minded souls and see what I could do.

We started out en mass from Bike Monkey headquarters in downtown Santa Rosa. A couple of miles of police escorted riding must've been one hell of a sight. We buzzed along, our knobbly tires on asphalt like a swarm of angry wasps. Once we reached Howard Park it was time to set the clocks and hit the dirt. The race was on!

We worked our way to Channel Drive. Jostling eachother out of the way, any slight widening of trail was used to gain an extra place. I took things easy as I was keen to warm up. But I also knew that none of the climbing was that steep or sustained. So kept the pressure on the pedals, inching ahead of slower riders. The mass kept bottlenecking though. Anytime we hit something remotely technical, things would grind to a halt. Disappointing, and slightly odd. Maybe we had one too many casual MTB riding roadies amongst us. This pattern carried on as we hit Richardson and then North Burma. I'm never especially aggressive with fellow racers, but I couldn't help but gnash my teeth as people refused to pull on the descents. Hmm.... The buzz was getting somewhat killed and the climbs were even less appealing than usual as I knew the descents were going to be throttled by discourteous, timid arseholes riders.

Still, I felt really strong. The pre-ride helped a lot as I knew when to settle back in the granny and spin out to catch my breath, and when it was worth surging ahead up a techy climb overtaking as many people as I could. Forewarned is forearmed as they say and today was proof. As we crested the South Burma climb, I pushed hard to Lawndale. Determined to have a good crack at a fast descent before the final climb out. After a couple of early overtaking moves I found myself with Annadel's (arguably) best trail all to myself. Dust hung thick in the air masking a clear view, but I felt familiar enough with Lawndale's curves to drop the hammers and enjoy the lovely flow.

Hitting the little step jump at the end of the trail, I landed in the Lawndale car park just shy of 2 hours in. I could feel a few twinges in my legs but a welcome rest stop and water douse reinvigorated  me enough to push any thoughts of cramp to the back of my mind and push on. A couple more salty pills mixed with a Gu gel and I ended up feeling fine for the rest of the race.

Once we climbed Shultz I knew the homestretch was just around the corner. A little more techy climbing through Ridge, and then a fast blast down Marsh and Canyon. I checked the Garmin... 2:45. I'd entertained a fantasy about coming in around the 3 hour mark (our pre-ride was done in 3:20.) With 15 minutes to go it seemed almost feasible. A few Strava PRs are proof that I rode like the clappers and came in seconds under the 3 hour mark. Woo hoo! Great stuff.

This year's Annadel race was certainly a highlight in terms of how good I felt. I felt strong all the way around (a stark contrast to the Howell Mountain Challenge a few weeks before.) Never did I feel like my fitness was hindering my riding. I climbed strong and passed enough people on the descents to know I was riding smooth and fast. Good stuff. Just a shame about those feckin rock shy lycra bunnies clogging up the fun bits ;o)

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Fat Fellas in Lycra....

.... is one of the major downsides to the mountain bike race scene. Getting stuck behind some bloke who looks like a ready-to-pop sausage is not a pleasant way to spend an already grueling grind up a hill. But that's about the ONLY thing about the Downieville Classic XC race that I can find fault with. Everything else was, as hoped and expected, outstanding. This year's was my third in a row and with all the snow gone we were back to the full 29 mile (or so) race route. I was keen to see how I'd fare against my time from two years ago. Chris, here for his first Dville race, was keen to experience firsthand the wondrous trails that I'd so misty-eyed talked about.

We got up early on the Saturday to digest electrolyte goop and Weetabix carbage in preparation for the day's assault. The Nomad, freshly tuned, dialed and primped, looked awesome. I felt pretty good too. Skipping the marathon felt like a wise move. After an earlier in the week cheeky 'Rancho night loop, everything felt solid. My legs, save for some residual soreness, were like coiled springs. This race is easily the highlight of the biking year for me so I couldn't wait to ride out into the beautiful morning sun, hit the best trails California has to offer and see what another year's riding experience brought to the table.

The long, long climb to Packer Saddle was it's usual steady grind. Nice views mixed with the occasional challenge of balancing at a slower than ideal pace behind the masses. A few calculated spurts of energy got me past the slower riders and kept me at a good pace. I knew I'd done this climb in around 1.30 previously so kept that in mind as a target to beat. As we hit the margarita aid station I felt a twinge in my legs. All my systems felt good... maybe just some muscle pump. Luckily the bikini wearing beauties handing out drinks kept my mind off my lactic acid levels as we hit the first section of singletrack.

I definitely felt faster through Sunrise Trail. Thoroughly warmed up, the change of pace was welcomed by throwing the Nomad around the twisty corners and enjoying skills developed from the BetterRide clinic. Once we hit the Baby Head Rocks section I dropped the hammers, hunkered down into a fighting stance and let the dual 6inch travel beast do it's thing. The Nomad skipped violently in places as I was forced to take rougher lines to overtake people. A couple of recent Northstar sessions served me well though and I kept both tires planted. After a brutal, but awesome run, we were free from the jarring rocks and onto some fireroad relief. As we climbed towards the Pauley Creek descent my earlier muscle twitch made it's presence felt with some hideous hamstring cramping. Not even halfway through the race and my legs were crippling my chances of a decent ride! Pissed off that the electrolyte guzzling hadn't done shit, I decided to ride through it. Nothing was going to ruin this race. Not even my own stupid anatomy!

The Pauly Creek Trail was incredible. Fast, but loose, rocky and rooty. I love this kind of singletrack as it forces you to commit to a fast line to make it fun and safe. It's no good picking your way through - especially not when you have a few dozen fellas barreling down on you. I don't think I've ever overtaken as many people on a race section as I did here. Icing on an already delicious cake! After Pauly, more climbing and my cramp came back with a vengeance. Knowing what was to come, I eased off, stuck the Nomad in the granny and tried to spin out my lactic acid drenched legs.

Third divide. The most amazing trail of all time. I was taken to see Return of the Jedi as a mere 5 year old kid. The wide eyed wonder and excitement brought about by the speeder bike sequence was to be rekindled here, in Downieville. I swallowed my cramping pain and dropped in. Unbelievably I had the whole trail to myself. A couple of well timed overtaking moves at the top of the last climb gave me all of Third's epic, magic carpet strewn dirt to enjoy solo! Save for the constant hanging dust, the trail conditions were fantastic. Daring you to go faster and faster, I couldn't believe how much fun I was having - or how hikers manage to survive unscathed out here. At times I struggled to keep a low attack position due to my pesky cramping quads and almost went over the bars on some of the bigger technical sections. But the grin was too much of a draw to let bad form or muscle pain stop me from going as fast as I could. I kept telling myself "just grin and bear it... leave off the brakes... stop wanting to sit down at a time like this! This is INCREDIBLE! Woo hoo!" ;o)

After Third Divide, I was feeling spent. Knowing the big stuff was out of the way I cruised the last climb and sailed down First Divide. One last fun, flowey descent before the final welcome into Downieville's main street. I felt shattered, but elated. This place brings the best out of my riding and this year was no exception. Coming in just shy of 3:20 I knocked almost 20 minutes off my previous effort. Clear signs of progress! But most importantly, me, Chris and Rosson all came away grinning, unscathed and looking forward to next year's race.

Monday, 30 July 2012


After last week's disastrous race at the HMC I was faced with a stark truth : running and riding don't mix. At least not for this mid thirties desk jockey. So.... I decided to can the marathon and focus on the riding. With less than a week to go before Downieville I didn't want to overcook my quads and go into a difficult race pre-exhausted.

With the running race out of the way, I was free to join Dave and Chris for another cheeky Northstar day out! Perfect training for the Dville descents, plus some more warming up ahead of next month's Whistler trip. Awesome!

We spent much of the day hitting our favourite trails ; Livewire and Gypsy. Plus we added in some Big Trees to mix things up a bit. My rental bike had some major brake issues and needed bleeding after the first run. A quick trip back to the shop and it felt much better. But not quite as dialed as I'd like. That's the problem with rentals, they're always a bit knackered. Everytime I go to N* the arguments for investing in a downhill rig become stronger.... Maybe next year.

We had a great day. In fact we rode for a solid 5 hours or so. Dave and Chris were touching clouds and hitting some big features. I followed, for the most part. But I still felt my sense of self preservation keeping me nice and cosy in the comfort zone. Maybe I had the upcoming bike events in the back of my mind. I deliberately eased back to save injury spoiling the goodies to come. Or, more likely, I'm just going at my usual slowly slowly pace of learning. Either way, I need to be hitting those jumps with more confidence if I'm going to get any faster. But I do love hitting the rocky rough stuff. Especially on those big burly bikes. Next weekend I'll be doing much the same but on my trusty Nomad. Downieville here we come!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Grin and Grind It

A couple of years ago I first rode the Howell Mountain Challenge. Fresh from a decent run at Downieville I felt strong and managed a decentesque time of 2:15. This year, the HMC fell a couple of weeks before Downieville. The perfect warm up for one of the race highlights of the year. With a couple more years riding experience under my belt I expected to do better than I did in '010. However, as I readied the Nomad and kitted myself up I felt distracted by the morning sun which was burning strong already. Me, Chris and Spangles had done a China' loop the day before and, although fairly leisurely and early, it had managed to trigger the all too familiar heatstroke headache and nausea. So as I hung around with my fellow Cat 2 riders waiting for the start I felt somewhat queasy in the rising heat. Not good.

As we set off from the start everyone fired ahead. Lost in the spirit of racing and keen to get into a good position. I took a steady launch from the start line (knowing I ride better with a warm up) and eventually caught the throng at the first hike-a-bike section. Heading out of the college grounds we hit a long stretch of fireroad. The perfect way to thin out the masses. After that, some twisty turny trails through the trees. This section was a lot of fun. Constant ups and downs and some tight corners meant gear choice was key to keeping a good click. And it was shaded. I started to feel in the zone as my nausea was lost to the thrill of riding dirt! The wooded section opened up to a fireroad connector to some awesome open singletrack. A little like China Camp's front side flow section, the trails had nice flowey corners and long, fast straights. Plus a few rooty drops and rocks peppered the trail to add interest.

After the turns... came the earns. A short steep climb followed by a long sustained ascent. I managed to stick the Nomad in the granny and grind it out. Slightly cooked, I started to feel under the weather again. The grin inducing flow had masked my below par condition. But now I could feel something wasn't right. As I hit the three roller coaster rocky sections near the end of the first lap, things started to go downhill - in every sense of the word.

The end of the first lap, at the aid station, and I downed as many cups of lovely cool water as I could before I started to drown. And then I emptied them down my back and neck - trying to cool down and reinvigorate my weary state. I almost considered bailing. Almost. I didn't feel great and knew it was going to get worse. But, I cracked on and decided to forget about getting a decent time and just enjoy the trails. However, I steadily felt worse..... My systems didn't seem too bad. No cramping, cardio felt ok. But I was losing the will to ride. Every steep climb defeated me. My mind swam with thoughts other than trying to crush the dirt. My heart wasn't in it and my head was too hot and sore to fight it.

As I reached the last big climb before the end of my second (and last) lap, I played good samaritan to a Cat 1 rider with a puncture and no means to fix it. As he busied himself with my spare tube and pump I was glad of the chance to sit down and gather my frazzled self before the final push. I actually managed the last climb (no great achievement given that in 2010 it barely registered in this blog as a steep climb) but today it felt like a Herculean task. The last mile or so to the end line was almost insane. I could barely manage Sunday stroll pace let alone race pace. Still, I had a lot of fun on the descents during lap 2. The corners were perfect for practicing the BetterRide skills. Open and smooth but a little loose, they dared you to leave off the brakes and use good technique to rail them. Great fun.

I came in around 2:45. Even minus the puncture stop I finished a solid 20 minutes slower than last time. Bah.... Oh well. Maybe it was the heatstroke. Or maybe training for bike races AND the SF Marathon is proving too much for my mid-thirties carcass. Either way, I'll be back to ride the Howell Mountain Challenge next year. Sometimes I compete in races and realise I'd never ride those trails were it not for the atmos and fun of racing. By themselves the trails aren't all that. But I'd happily take the trip to Napa to ride the trails at Angwin on any given Sunday. There's just so much good stuff there to shred. Next year I'll just have to make sure I get a decent rest and a good night's sleep beforehand  :o\

Saturday, 14 July 2012

There Can Be Only One....

Here's Rosson. Stoic. Resolute. Yet somehow elegant as he stands beside his agile slayer. Us mere mortals, those who ride suspension back AND front are instantly crushed by the two stroke prowess of this legend as he powers his nimble steed through the gnar. Leaving us to stare bewildered and in awe at his dust.

What I mean is, Rosson came with us to China Camp and feckin' smoked it on his sodding cyclocross bike. We got there nice and early. Dewey moist and ride perfect cool. I even got some PRs on my favourite descents. But there's nothing more likely to prick the ego than seeing a fella on a curly barred bike with skinny tires fly past you with a grin and a wave....... Good times ;o)

Sunday, 8 July 2012


I'm feeling a bit battle battered after yesterday's Northstar trip. But it's a shame to let a whole day pass without spinning some pedals. So I cruised around the city on the Jackal ; dropping stairs, hopping curbs and lovingly posing the bike against the city's urban art landscape. Joy ;o)

Seeing Stars

There's me and Chris there ; posing with our Giant Glory rental steeds. This weekend we took another trip to Northstar to hit up some DH gnarly goodness. It was Chris's first time at a bike park and a good chance for us both to get prepped for Whistler. Like last time, I shied away from all out aggressive riding. I like my progression on the steep stuff to be steady, controlled and measured. Plus I'm paranoid about injury ruining next month's races. But we had a great time taking on the usual flowey treats that Livewire has to offer. Plus we rode a few of the techy trails like Gypsy and Flameout. Rocks and boulders provide one hell of a workout on a DH rig. We were both blowing hard after a few runs. But I do love riding the rougher, wilder stuff. Feels more like "real" mountain biking as opposed to the groomed fun of Livewire. That's not to say Livewire can't bite though, as I found to my cost.

I started to feel better about the jumps and kept pushing to clear instead of case as many as I could. Just as my confidence peaked, I found myself airborne and on target to land in a tree. Bad line choice and target fixation conspired to wipe the grin off my face in an instant. I managed to abort on landing, missing the tree, but both feet came off the pedals as I hit the NEXT jump. No chance to hit the brakes before I became airborne again. Bracing and wincing I came down both nuggets first onto the back tire, buzzing my nethers and causing the steed to wash out, sending me face first into the dust....  Luckily a torn jersey and bruised pee pipes were all I limped away with. A fair warning that as much fun as this DH lark is, you have to keep on it mentally. These big boy trails don't suffer fools gladly. Still, a great day on the slopes was had and our excitement for the Whistler trip was stoked even more. Good stuff ;o)

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

'Murica Day

Because these Americans like to celebrate their big day properly (by taking a day off work) I had a bonus day of riding this week. I decided to put it to good use and drag my arse up and down Mount Tam to try and build some climbing bombs ahead of next month's Downieville and Annadel races. I tend to avoid Mt Tam in the summer. With all the lush singletrack available elsewhere it seems a waste to hit fire roads. But, shamefully, I'm not that familiar with the trail geography on Tam and it IS the perfect place to train for long climbs. So I mapped out a route that had plenty of verticals, and headed out into a baking hot 4th of July to educate and flagellate myself.

Thankfully, the sun's heat was offset with a lovely cooling breeze. Just as well as my ride ended up being over 5 hours long. Not exactly race pace, but I had to keep map checking to make sure I was en route. Also, it seemed a shame to hit East Peak and not have a sit down with a Twix and a can of fizzy sugar. I'd earned it.

My route ended up being a big figure of eight. Starting at Deer Park, I worked my way up to 5 Corners, then down Shaver Grade to Eldridge. From there, I took the fun, whoop riddled fire road to Railroad Grade..... A steady grind took me past the West Point in, up to East Peak and then back down Eldridge to Bon Tempe lake. I felt pretty good, even though I was rocking flats and by now had 4k of climbing under my wheels. So I continued my plan of hitting Rocky Ridge, then onto Shaver... Then back down to Deer Park. Rocky Ridge is a fun descent, but you earn it with a steep, nasty climb. I started to feel the first twinges of cramp, but a couple of well timed rest stops got me up and over the summit.

A nice, long, dusty ride. Just what I needed and a great way to spend a bonus day off. And it's all money in the bank that will hopefully make D'ville even more enjoyable than it usually is.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Nut and Bolts

This weekend saw Northstar open it's doors and lifts to the dirt loving downhill crowd. After last year's mishap I felt like I was owed some good riding karma so I jumped at the chance when Spangles suggested we go up for the day. We managed to rope in N* veteran Dave and newbies Aaron and Theo. I haven't done anything big or gnarly since last year's Whistler trip so I was a little nervous, but keen to try out my new downhill setup. I've tried a few different armor/helmet/Leatt neck brace combos and nothing seemed to really gel. The Fox Titan body suit is awesome, but it interferes with the brace.... So I dumped it and went with a simple 661 top with basic chest and shoulder padding. Fox Launch elbow pads and a sexy new POC back protector hydration pack complete the costume and add decent protection without hindering movement or moving the brace out of alignment. I also bought a new matte black 661 helmet which has a profile which better suits the Leatt and - more importantly - looks frickin' cool.

So, game on! I decided to leave the Nomad at home and rent a Giant Glory. The Nomad has just had a bunch of work done and is feeling tip top. I know from experience how brutal DH is on the poor thing, so I decided to spare it from punishment. Also, the slacker geometry of the brutish Glory would make for a safer day's riding.

We did a couple of warm up runs on some blues before hitting Northstar's signature trail - Livewire. A big, groomed, burmey beast with plenty of tabletop jumps, Livewire is Northstar's own A-Line. Perhaps not as long, or the jumps not quite as big, it still offers it's fair share of thrills and - if you're not careful - spills. After a couple of somewhat timid runs, we all started to loosen up and feel the flow. Theo - his first time on a mountain bike (!?!) was a complete natural. Aaron - as predicted - started to hit the jumps with abandon, catching some seriously impressive air. Me and Jason both started to find our Whistler grins, clearing jumps and getting back into the downhill flow. A great pre-cursor to this coming September's trip.

After a few more Livewire runs, plus a trip down the awesome, techy Gypsy, we were done. Legs cooked, arms brake pumped, faces dirty and smiling and all of us without injury. A Perfect day's downhilling! I definitely rode like a bit of a passenger. Nervous of hitting things hard and writing myself off for Whistler, I took it easy and exercised caution. But I felt good. The jumping technique is rusty, but still there. My BetterRide training kicked in a few times too which felt good. And the way the bike melted over impossible looking drops and rocks felt amazing. Hopefully we'll get a few more days up there, with Chris along for the ride too, before we head to BC in a couple of months.

Edit : Here's Dave's GoPro footage from the day.  This was my last run and I was definitely feeling shattered, so wasn't exactly pinning it. That said, I still need to get up higher on those berms and lean the bike more.... Next time!

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Christening the Jackal

The Nomad is waiting on new brake bits so I had to call upon another steed for some dirt shredding this weekend. The sensible option would be to chose the Orange. I've ridden it countless times on dirt before. She's proven in the field. But I couldn't help thinking how much fun it would be to try the Jackal out. So, with that in mind me and Spangles hit the front side of China for a spin. Yep, Jason managed to rescue his bike from the ever growing dust cocoon it's been residing in for the past year. It's good to see him taking baby steps back to the the dirt. Him not being quite in tip top shape meant he made a perfect partner to my unconventional choice of ride. Especially as I had to stand for most of the climbs spinning my tiny cranks. It hardly meant for a blistering pace (as Strava over there on the right will testify.) But it was a great quad burner of a workout.

The Jackal's front fork is designed to absorb big hits from burly jumps. Not to provide plush cush' over XC trails. So the ride was somewhat harsh and the bike jittery. But once we hit the flow section I was able to hunker down into a fighting stance and throw it around a bit. I learned a lot about where my cornering weaknesses are. My left corners are coming on a treat, but my right hand ones never feel as positive. Having a smaller, lighter, more responsive frame meant the feedback was clearer. Less sleigh like than the Nomad I instantly spotted where I go wrong. Awesome!

I can't imagine taking the Jackal to dirt very often. It's not exactly suited to the climbs for a start. Plus I'm having way too much fun using it for the urban riding. But it's proven once again to be a great learning tool for trail riding. Plus that Seabright Blue does look kinda cool covered in dirt!

Saturday, 2 June 2012


A couple of years ago I did SoNoMas and, frankly, hated it. I spent more time pushing my bike in agony than riding it with a grin. So I resigned myself to never doing it again. Or so I thought..... I've still not blown the cobwebs away from working looong hours and then doing location work. And now that I've ticked over 35 on the tachometer I'm finding it harder than normal to get my arse back in shape. This need for some punishing rides, coupled with BikeMonkey's offer of a shorter (24 mile) course had me filling out the online registration and driving me and the Nomad to lake Sonoma early this Saturday morning.

Even though I'd signed up for the "beginners" course, I still expected a brutal challenge. 24 miles isn't a huge distance, but we'd be climbing 5000ft of tough, steep, anaerobic singletrack. So as we rolled out en mass, I took it easy and used the initial road climb to warm up gently. Not wanting to spike my heart rate and induce any pain just yet. My main concern was cramp, so I had a camel bladder full of undiluted Gatorade. The first sip made me wince with it's sugary sweetness. By the end I craved water and hated the taste of artificial berry goodness.

The short route meant we bypassed a fair chunk of the 35 mile course near the beginning, before rejoining for the last two thirds or so. This meant getting in the way of the uber fast long riders and having to dive into the shrubbery to let them past. Frustrating I'm sure for them and a constant annoyance for me. But unavoidable due to the geography of the place. I was enjoying the riding though. The first time I did SoNoMas it was so traumatic that I couldn't appreciate the singletrack very much. But today, knowing I didn't have such a marathon task ahead, meant I could focus on the riding and soak in the flowey singletrack. Mainy open and grassy, or tight and wooded, the trails were fun. Not awesome by Annadel or China Camp standards, but a decent compensation for the constant bursts of climbing we had to do.

My plan of taking it easy and pacing myself worked well up until around mile 18 or 19. And then I could feel an all to familiar squirm in my quads. By the mile 20 aid station my legs were locked in contorted spasms of cramp. This continued for another couple of miles making the climbing miserable. I started to get frustrated - with myself for cramping despite all the pre-electrolyte loading I'd done - and with the poor Nomad. Stripped of lube from a half dozen creek crossings and caked in dust I cursed as it dared to squeal and groan in protest.

Fortunately my suffering was short lived. The climbing was done and we had one last descent before the home stretch. Feeling glad I hadn't signed up for the long race option, and enjoying the rocky technical features of the last trail, I popped out of the singletrack and returned to the finish line via a final road stretch. My Garmin hitting just shy of the 4 hour mark as I reached the end. Utterly spent but feeling pretty good.

I'm starting to realise with the racing shizzle that I'm better off sticking to those that better reflect the type of riding I actually enjoy doing. Anything longer than 3 hours in the saddle becomes a serious grind for me. Don't get me wrong, I like the satisfaction of earning my descents, but the descents are why I ride. Races like SoNoMas are awesome for those that like pure XC and have the bikes and legs for it. But that's just never going to be me. Still.... Annadel and Downieville are coming up soon. Hopefully today helped lay down some fitness foundations for those beauties.

The pictures of yours truly are by Nick Gaetano and the talented fellas at Daydreamer Creative Cinema These guys are doing an awesome job of photographing the Bike Monkey events. More of their work can be seen in THIS SoNoMas race report by Red Kite Prayer (which also includes a picture of some fella pulling a half arsed manual across the finish line....)  ;o)

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Larkin' About

The Nomad is at the shop having a few bits and pieces replaced ahead of this coming weekend's SoNoMas race (I know.. I know... I had a crazy moment a while back and signed myself up for the sodding thing.) Anyway. While the Nomad is out of action, me and Chris took our weekly night riding to Fort Mason for some concrete based trickery. Right on my doorstep and full of great progression features, it's a great place to get familiar with throwing the Jackal around.

I love my new bike so much - it's awesome! So stiff, twitchy, nimble yet burly when needed. And it's a joy to cruise around on as I soak up the San Francisco sun. The perfect birthday gift to myself ;o) Chris has great trials skills. Mine are at infant stage. But I'm getting a good feel for loosening up on two wheels - which is why I bought the Jackal in the first place. J-hops, track stands, drops and rear wheel lifts are all coming together slowly but surely. And my wheelies and manuals are getting there. It's amazing to feel that weightless point where the bike balances perfectly on the rear wheel. So satisfying. I'll keep at it and see how it improves my dirt riding. In the meantime, enough with the fun. It's time to run myself ragged at SoNoMas......

Monday, 14 May 2012

Days of the Jackal

Here she is! My new steed! The Santa Cruz Jackal in lush seabright blue. I've been thinking about getting a cheeky DJ bike for a while now. Not so much for the dirt jumping, but more for cruising the urban landscape and pulling a few stunts. I figured it'd be a good way to learn a few trail transferable tricks and provide an easy way to get a bit more riding in each week. So last week I went down to Santa Cruz and picked up this burly beauty.

Today was the maiden voyage so me and Chris took to Crissy Field to catch some rays and session some concrete features. As Chris skillfully flung his Inspired 4 Play around, I felt like a complete noob pulling a few manuals and bunny hops. I have a looong way to go. But there are tons of progression features right on my door step, and every step up and tail whip I master will improve my dirt riding on the Jackal's big sister. Short, twitchy and nimble, I love my new bike. It's so responsive. Every move, hip twist and weight shift gives instant feedback - on both good and bad technique. It's a great learning tool, and loads of fun. Plus, being in an urban setting means you're never too far away from a nice beer garden and a few cheeky Coronas ;o)

Saturday, 12 May 2012


Another weekend sees another day out with a few hundred other riders all joined in the collective competitive spirit of MTB racing! This time it was the Rockhopper Race in Vacaville. The race was to take place at Lagoon Valley Park. Open, grassy and full of rewarding, flowey singletrack and punishing fireroad climbing. Me and Chris signed up for cat 2, which meant two 9 or so mile loops with about 1600ft of climbing. A decent ascent, but still less than 20 miles of dirt overall. Even in my less than race shape I figured I could have a decent crack at it.

As we queued for our bibs it was announced the start time of the XC race was to be until delayed until 11:30, meaning we'd be riding during the hottest part of an already sweltering day. Once we got geared up, strava'd up and sunscreened up we set off in waves across the start/finish line and headed out into the heat. The race started with some twisty climbing and a little descending, followed by a steep, dusty descent before opening up to some more flowey singletrack. A great way to thin out the throng. I opted to switch on the Nomad's propredal to help with the climbs on a not very technical course. Lap 1 and the steed didn't feel right. Skittish and unsure I was convinced it was the different cush setting rather than my own nerves, so I went back to normal and all felt well again. I'm really starting to notice how subtle changes like this can really affect the bike's handling. A good thing as it means I'm becoming more connected to my riding.

The course was a lot of fun. A few steep sections and some chunky rocks here and there threw in some interest on what was otherwise a fast, smooth and flowey track. The climbs were tough though. Mainly fireroad, we were left exposed to the brutal heat of a Californian summer's sun. At the end of lap 1 Chris - sensibly - bailed. We'd already tended to one poor girl who had collapsed with heat exhaustion. I was determined to crack on though. I need to whip my arse into shape and it's days like this that will help that along. So as I crossed the start/finish, I pushed on into the searing heat and tinder dry dirt for a second punishing lap.

My second lap was actually better than the first. I really settled into the riding, acclimatised to the heat and found a low gear that I could more or less comfortably grind on the climbs. I left nothing out on the trails though. By the end my quads were squirming with cramp and I felt wrung out. Perfect! As I crossed the line for a second time I felt great. Pleased with my riding at least, if not with my finish time (around 2:30 hours - hardly race pace but a decent ride pace.) Also, I felt the benefits of the BetterRide course yet again. On the switchbacks I used good techniques to clean the uphills and smoothly rail the downhills. And on the steep, loose and dusty descents I had full control under braking whilst others skidded uncontrollably with arms locked out and worried looking faces. Money well spent yet again! And money in the bank in terms of getting back to bike fitness. Tomorrow, I'm out on my new bike for some urban shizzle..... I'll post pictures soon so you can see her. She's a beauty!