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!

Sunday, 6 May 2012


Aaah.... it's that time of the year when I get to strap a number plate to my bars, get up early, and go join a few hundred other like minded souls for some competitive shredding. Boggs 2012 organized by the masters of NorCal bike racing - BikeMonkey. This was my first time racing this event and I was excited. The format is a relay style lapped event where team members (or solos for the masochistic) take turns to ride a 7 odd mile loop at Boggs Demonstration State Forest. 7 plus miles, and just over 1000ft of climbing on some of the loveliest, flowiest trails I've ever seen. Awesome stuff.

Me and Chris (team Limey Bastards) got up at silly o'clock and drove the 2 hours north to Boggs. Chris took the first lap and I waited, nervous with excitement for him to return, high five and then send me on my lap. The course was mainly singletrack with some fireroad climbs and one ripping fireroad descent. But it was the singletrack that really made the day. Super smooth, flowey and with enough tech to keep things interesting - I loved it. I just wish I had more fitness to fully enjoy it. Race pace? More like fat kid at the back pace for me. The first lap was fine, but by lap 2 I was feeling it. I made the fatal error of wolfing down a loaf sized burrito and then going straight into lap 3. Big mistake. My fried legs wrestled for blood with my poor intestines as they both tried to process the abuse I was throwing at them.

Having a lump of concrete in my guts didn't help my already slow climbing... but the descents were still a lot of fun. Last week's BetterRide camp was still fresh in my mind as I leaned the bike into corners and kept my stance and vision in check. I felt a big difference and a renewed sense of oneness with the Nomad as I flowed down the lovely trails. Great stuff. I can't wait to keep working on the skills and drills and see how they improve my normal weekend rides at China and the like.

I'm not sure where the Limey Bastards placed. But we had a great day of sun, bikes, dust and hanging out with good riding buddies. That's really what the racing is all about for me. I do need to get some fitness back though. Especially as Downieville isn't THAT far away....

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Here's to Better Riding....

Having come into this sport at the ripe old age of 30-ish I'm at a slight disadvantage compared to the youngsters. I have plenty of enthusiasm and love for the sport, but not as much time as I'd like, or as my old frazzled brain and muscles need, to achieve a strong level of competency. So, I've taken to signing up for clinics and courses as and when they crop up on the calendar in the hopes of accelerating my learning. I've had success too, especially with the downhill and jump clinics. One or two "Eureka!" moments on a course can really help to boost my riding and get me out of a rut. I feel like my riding has been improving on it's own lately. My flow, body position and cornering all coming together slowly but surely. But it's not quite there. Certain situations still throw me off and cause great frustration. So I decided to sign up for an intensive three day camp with the guys at BetterRide in the hopes that I could finally push past these stumbling blocks and keep improving..... And hopefully keep Chris, Dave and the other fellas in my sights on our local descents!

I was drawn to the BetterRide course because it's focus is on core skills that can be practiced through drills - much like a martial art. By mastering the basics, and working at them regularly as part of a riding routine you become a more efficient, competent and therefore faster rider. Just what I was looking for. Day 1 and we were introduced to the two most important things in mountain biking ; having fun, and vision. Of course, it's all about having fun. But we were all there to learn how to improve so we can have more fun and feel less frustrated at our riding. That's where vision, as a first step, came in. By using drills and cones we were taught the art of looking ahead and tackling obstacles two or three at a time and trusting peripheral eyesight to deal with what was directly in front of our wheels. Vision techniques were then combined with a solid, relaxed body position which allowed for correct weight distribution and separation from the bike. After lunch we hit dirt, but not before instructors Dylan and Andy took us through wheelies and manuals. I've neglected to practice these skills in the past. I always made the excuse that my bike was too big and burly to learn on. Dual suspension bikes were not ideal for wheelie practice blah de blah... But after breaking down the techniques and giving demonstrations, we were soon riding the rear wheel. Dylan made a point about pushing the shoulders backwards and "throwing the monkey off your back"... With this in mind I was suddenly pulling wheelies! During the course of the weekend I kept playing with it and whenever I applied correct technique I'd manage a decent wheelie. Also knowing the (significant) difference between wheelie and manual body position means I can now work on those skills separately and hopefully get them trail ready.

I was excited about day 2 ; cornering! We spent the morning doing carpark figure of 8 drills, concentrating on one element of correct body position and vision at a time. Counter steering, dropping weight into the outside foot, getting the outside elbow really up and out and using the hips to keep on track felt really good. I could feel myself settling into a solid stance and the Nomad's front wheel behaved like it was on a rail. After some solid braking technique demos we hit Palo Alto's Arastradero Preserve to put the morning's drills into practice. I found myself hitting some of the corners a little too quickly and fell back on old bad habits to get me through. But when I did employ the new techniques I felt myself settle into a confident stance again. This, plus good vision techniques will really help me rail corners and hopefully improve my overall speed. I just need to keep doing those figure of 8 drills.

Day 3 of our intensive, sun kissed clinic and it was back to the carpark. This time rear wheel lifts coupled with wheelies and manuals to help us clear trail obstacles. And then, switchbacks. After some cone drills we hit Arastradero again to session some real switchbacks. Dylan and Andy gave some solid nuggets of information. For example on uphill switchbacks keep the chest down and vision up to keep the bike balanced as you look through to the exit. Also, gear selection should be for the tightest, steepest part of the switchback. Seems obvious but I often fail on uphills because I'm geared too high for the critical steep bit. On downhill switchbacks, again use good body position and vision, but use the brakes correctly to get through smoothly and quickly. Use the rear to scrub speed, and the front for control. Once you hit the apex, lose the front and roll out.... but don't reapply the front as it will screw up the turn by standing the bike up and pulling it off course. A small, but hugely significant tip and one that will hopefully speed up my Tamarancho descents.

I came away from the course with a few great nuggets of info that I can apply immediately and see results. But best of all, I came away knowing what I need to do, drill and practice to build a solid foundation of core skills that will really help me get smoother, faster and - more importantly (as the guys said over and over) have lots more fun!