Muddymoles mountain biking in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

661 Mini Dh – Round 3, Forest Of Dean

Posted by AndyW | March 2, 2010 | 10 comments so far

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…


Filed under Rides in March 2010


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  1. Andy C says:

    Well done lads, that’s set the benchmark for a few more Moles to aim for. I intend to return, but not before I’ve invested in a set of boxing gloves to protect my ‘glass’ hands.

    To ‘Spot the Mole’ from the pic links, Dave is race number 33 and is pic number 181 in the first link (2nd row, 2nd pic) and pic number 196 in the second link (4th row, 2nd pic). Andy is race number 95 and is pic number 148 (4th row, 2nd pic).

    I was gutted not to be able to start, and even more gutted at the thought that I’d re-broken the same metacarpal that kept me out of action in the run up to Christmas. By Sunday morning I couldn’t grip the bars or squeeze the front brake, so it seemed sensible to get myself home and sort it out.

    It was a real shame, as the session with Scott Beaumont (National 4X champ) was excellent, and I felt I was really beginning to corner well, despite the atrocious conditions. He even had me getting the wheels off the ground on the tabletops (shock horror), but I didn’t have the cojones to take off at the road jump. Maybe I will book another session with him when the hand’s better.

    A&E didn’t x-ray me as they reckon it is soft tissue damage, and I do believe they could be right as it’s not as painful as I remember from last Autumn’s fracture; or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. I will see how it feels on Friday before I take another trip back to A&E.

    With bike thefts and injuries, am I the Moles’ lucky mascot?

  2. tony says:

    Great write up AndyW. However I sense that downhill racing could be a frustrating business! I have a question – what time gaps do you have? There seems to be a lot of catch and being caught by other riders mentioned in the blog. With just two short runs I’m surpised that this happens so much.

  3. Matt says:

    AndyC, bad luck mate! Can’t believe it’s happened to you again.

    Interesting that you’ve now been on a few skills courses (and have shown the most willingness to practice) so I fully expect before long you’ll be showing us the way.

    AndyW, thanks as always for the write up. And sympathy to your missus and daughter, had that with my son recently and it’s miserable for all.

    DaveW, hat doffed. Fast and skilled, not many of us fit that description. I’m just working on getting a bit fitter and a bit better!

  4. Andy C says:

    From these pink bike photos we can see that you guys were nailing the road gap that I wimped out on. Encore chapeau!

    Thanks for your vote of confidence Matt, but the reality is that training and practice don’t seem to be bringing the results. I will keep trying for as long as my body holds out, but I think what’s missing is basic aptitude 🙁

  5. DaveW says:


    I’m not sure of the gap. It varies I think. I was first rider in the Vets on Run 1, so the gap in front was minutes.

    However, I think it is normally 15-20 seconds (correct me if I’m wrong Andy W). There seems to be a 10 second gap and then a 10 second countdown for each rider. You have to go in the final 5 seconds of the countdown.

    If you get a clean Run 1, then you should be leaving after a slightly slower rider and before a slightly faster one.

    Your starting position on Run 1 seems purely random, so the scenario I encountered where the rider following me was very fast, but simply too old for the Pro/Am category was just bad luck I think.

    In my second run I ended up behind a 4X rider on a Dialled Holeshot, who was understandably slow over the rooty stuff, but shot off like a rocket on the 4X style lower section.

    I’m sure in 90% of cases there is no issue – I don’t think Andy W caught up with or was caught by anyone either in this race or the last.

    I’m not sure how it works on bigger races at e.g. Fort William… Anyone?

  6. Andy W says:

    Dave, You are correct, normally there is a bit of a gap between categories as they finalise the results. So the first rider in the category gets a bigger gap, then its every 15- 20 seconds.

    I seem to remember there being a brief gap and then the numbers counting down. You can cross the line at any point in the last five seconds. The guy at the gate told me to wait till 1 second so the person in front had a big gap…. I still went at 2 seconds 🙂

    Didn’t catch anyone up though.

    Andy C, I think you are being too hard on yourself, it’s very admirable that you are pushing your limits. There are a lot of people who never will. The thing to remember is that not everyone is great at every type of riding i.e. I can do a bit of jumping but will never be a dirt jumper. Keep it up you won’t regret it.

  7. DaveW says:


    I agree with AndyW in that it is good that you are testing your limits – that is the way to improve. And I have definitely noticed that your confidence and competence on the trail are improving.

    Something to remember with regard to coaching though, is that it is not instant. You start by understanding what you should be doing and then it takes a lot of practice to turn that knowledge into skill.

    It is easier to do this on local trails, or ideally at a trail centre where you will have lots of opportunity to practice technique and a feel for whether what you are doing is working, than it is in a downhill race.

    In a downhill race you are really relying on what you have dialled in already – you are going too fast to process what is coming consciously and decide how you are going to deal with it.

    This is why I was determined to get lots of practice runs in on Saturday, so I could work out what to do on each section and then try it a few times, so it would come more naturally in the timed runs.

    As MattA commented on the night ride last night, most of the core techniques and skills are the same, whatever style of riding you are doing. This is the great thing about the coaching I have had – I feel that what I lhave learned on the downhill track has improved my xc riding and vice versa.

    Towards the end of last summer I was feeling as though I was stuck in rut in that I was not improving significantly. The coaching has given me the tools and inspiration to renew my efforts and learn and improve – and in so doing has made me love mountain biking even more.

    Many thanks to Astounding Adventures for starting the ball rolling and to Ian Warby of FirecrestMTB for strenghening the foundations, covering some more advanced techniques and giving me some invaluable tips for the DH.

    If anyone wants to get faster at DH I’d recommend spending a few hours with Ian at Aston Hill.

    I’m also really looking forward to my session with Jedi (Tony Doyle of UK Bike Skills) to work on more ‘progressive’ aspects of my riding.

    The mantra – work on the skills to get better and faster and enjoy riding EVEN MORE!

  8. Andy C says:

    Thanks for the encouregement guys, I’m still enjoying my riding, just a bit ‘hacked off’ that I’ve picked up another injury. I will keep trying and keep smiling (as long as it doesn’t hurt too much ! )

    I have secret plans to work on the skills and emerge butterfly-like onto to the trails in a month or two’s time, it’s just that work and drinking keeps getting in the way.

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