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)