Everyone knows that if you want to design something properly, you do it on the back of a beer mat / fag packet over beer. So in keeping with this proven engineering process, Dave W and I extended the logic to mountain bike theories and set about resolving the age old ‘suspension is compensation for talent’.
For those who were not able to join us in the pub on Saturday night (admittedly no invites were sent and we may have neglected to send out an agenda), the issue was soon resolved and the findings of the committee was that its horses for courses and to ride a full suspension bike really fast needs talent. So that should be the last we hear on the subject…
The journey to this staggering conclusion was only reached after a day of riding down a hill as fast as possible in conditions that can only be described as ‘Somme like’; and like the famous WW1 battle, casualties were heavy. The first casualties were my gears. Previous problems had surfaced, but some fettling and having tested the gears before riding they had seemed ok.
Choosing to ignore my suspicions and carry on proved to be a mistake however, as the introduction of mud soon saw the drive train give up the ghost shortly after the first run. Which leads nicely into my excuses.
I’m going to get mine in early – not enough sleep (sick child and wife), no gears, etc. But in reality I am horribly unfit and that’s what let me down. After my first race and full of the fire of competition I had sworn to train harder and do even better. A new role at work, coupled with the endless rain and cold pretty much killed off any motivation I had to ride in January, and with February passing in a flash, I find myself at the beginning of March fat and slow.
Dave however is not in the same physical condition and with whippet like speed he proceeded to bash out seven practice runs on the Saturday followed by two more for good measure on the Sunday. While I was wheezing my way up a very muddy slope to reach the start, Dave had reached the top and was running the top section.
Fortunately for me the track was only slightly different than the December race, with the section I crashed on being replaced with a wider sweep that took you across the firebreak and over some small drops, before sweeping back to join the lower section I was familiar with.
Track conditions were muddy but less so than December and the Maxxis Wetscreams I was running had more than enough grip, though I had to fettle the pressures as the track dried out. Dave’s Orange 5 was looking surprisingly DH like with a Swampthing on the front, High Roller rear, 50mm Azonic DH stem, Holzfeller riser bars and an E13 bash guard.
I put in a couple of runs of the top section, two runs of the middle and two of the lower before my energy gave out and I retired to the car to change my spring and then off to the B&B for an early bath.
Recommendations from some fellow moles meant that Geoff pulling out of the race didn’t result in me spending a night in the car. Emma was sent on ahead to secure the room and let Erin rampage around, making racing with a pregnant wife and a small child not nearly as bad as expected. We regrouped over dinner in the bar at the Fountain Inn which can only be described as functional and floral and over a few pints resolved the discussion that opened my ramblings.
A tough night for me, with both child and wife being sick at regular intervals meaning that looking out the window to rain nearly had me loading the car and heading home. However Emma was adamant I raced and so after breakfast and baby maintenance we got to the trail centre about 9.45am for practice.
Given lessons learned from the previous day I adopted a conservation of energy approach, only doing one full run before practice finished. Dave got a couple of runs in and had an interesting moment at the bottom of the table top where his entire bike stepped out and he luckily escaped a fall and collision with a tree. But he was looking fast and confident in the mud.
With time up for practice we headed for a rehydrate at the cafe before watching the race and slowly climbing to the start line. There is a lot of waiting around in DH racing and we spent a good portion standing at the top trying to stay warm and watch the line choices of the other racers. Before I knew it, time was upon us and I was standing at the gate watching the seconds count down.
With two seconds to go I crossed the line and pedalling through the mud, the words ‘steady’ and ‘breath’ were at the forefront of my mind as I aimed for a solid run with no crashes. A few mistakes on route but as I crossed the line and knew I had a solid time under my belt, no crash saw a 1:37.9 on the clock and I ended up in 24th place (20 seconds faster than my first race). I was happy with that, I just needed to hold that position or better it.
Dave’s strategy was the same as mine, get a solid run in on the first run, but he was caught up by a faster rider half way down who didn’t manage to get past cleanly on the narrow and technical section of track and they both collapsed in a heap. After untangling bikes and legs they both set off again, but there was an inevitable impact to both of their times, with Dave finishing in 1:56.5. Lunch beckoned, so off we went to the cafe for a hose of the drive train, and some sports fuel, tea and bacon and egg baps.
Dave developed a puncture in the bike wash and while he fixed it I took the opportunity to get a head start on the hill. Again I took my time watching the riders coming down, it was harder to work out where we were in the racing as in race 1 its number order (counting down) and in race 2 it’s by your previous time that dictates your start time. I watched the fast juniors through the sections but got to the top a lot quicker than I needed and watched the action. Dave joined me and again we waited for our start time.
One of the strange things on the second run is that when you’re walking up there are quite a lot of people standing around but being some of the last to run; by the time you get down most spectators have gone. You don’t have the same distractions as the first run, the odd camera flash in the eyes being the exception.
With a full run in the bag my second was my chance to better my time, I pedalled hard off the line but just before my first corner the gears slipped and I nearly went over the front. I managed to hold it and got back on for the second long corner, with gears not working I lost more speed but held my lines down into the road drop, another mistake and slightly off line meant hard pedalling (gears still slipping) into the middle section, gravity took over and I tried to keep off the brakes over the drops and across the fire break.
A small jump over some bumps and down into the rooty off camber section. Again another mistake robbed me of speed into the corner but I held my line and aimed for the gap next to the small tabletop. Clipping the tree with my shoulder came as a surprise but as I pedalled into the big table I had some speed left. Through the berms, over the road jump and pedal through the final berms. I crossed the line in 1:37.8. At least I was consistent. I ended up slipping to 28th.
Dave’s earlier off and slow 1st run time meant his start time for the second run was between two slower riders. He delayed his start as long as possible, leaving the gate just before the end of the countdown and achieved a clean run through the top sections. He lost some time after catching up with the rider in front 2/3rd’s of the way down; wary of another fall while passing, he wisely bided his time and passed him after the technical middle section.
The lower section saw both riders sprinted through the slop for the final table top, kicker and berms. With the spectators whooping, Dave finishing .3 of a second behind in 01:41.8
So, all in all a successful weekend of racing, we even missed all the rain that hit the South East.
Currently there are no more mini Dh events yet on the calendar but Dave and I are hoping for some more and maybe enter another series. Now all we need is a few more moles to join in…