With at least three Moles (AndyW, DaveW and AndyC) signed up for the Forest of Dean Mini DH race at the end of February, a consensus emerged that it would be worthwhile to attempt some sort of practice to enable the Mole name to ‘walk tall’ within the DH fraternity (or something like that).
DaveW, Erick and myself found our way to Rogate, just outside of Petersfield in Hampshire, to met up with AndyW and his mate Jeff. AndyW has been here a few times before, and offered to show us what he knew of the area, starting with the easier trails at the far end of the lower section. Also joining us were some lads from Redhill, Xavier and his mates, which included Stuart and Phil and a couple of others whose names now escape me.
Dave & I had met Phil at the infamous Bordon Enduro back in November, where we all slithered about in the mud and I broke my hand and Matt ‘bonked’ epically (though luckily none of that was captured on camera).
AndyW started the day by handing out his spare padding to Erick (a fancy ‘pressure suit’) and me (some arm/elbow guards and a spine protector to complement my knee and shin guards and my fancy new full-face helmet – compulsory for the FoD DH). Dave was also sporting his new pressure suit and FF helmet. Unfortunately this additional protection still did not make me feel any more invincible.
We started the day by pushing our bikes uphill and across some of the main tracks; here I not only had to fight against gravity, but also the dead weight of my jaw that was dragging along the ground as I looked at some of the drops and jumps that graced this particular area. For info, AndyW and Jeff were both riding Santa Cruz VP Frees, Andy’s with Rock Shox Totem forks and Jeff’s with Fox 40s.
Dave was on his trusty Orange 5, with a bashguard replacing the big ring (having destroyed two rings in his first 3 months of ownership) and Holzfeller bars (£16 to replace his Easton Monkey Lites) and a 50mm Azonic stem (£20); all scientifically chosen on the basis that they were the cheapest heavy-duty kit that CRC had to offer. Erick was on his standard Lapierre Zesty and me on my Pace RC405.
Sure enough, Andy started us on some trails that were a little tight but nothing that I couldn’t handle, though I was noticeably slower than some. We tackled these a couple of times as a warm-up, before working our way across the hill to some trails with some steeper drops and jumps. Andy & Jeff, DaveW and the Redhill crew tackled these with enthusiasm, though Erick and especially me were beginning to think that the first trails we tackled were fine, thanks.
It seemed that despite the protection my spine now had, it still lacked steel. After a few more steeper trails, which saw me doing a lot of mincing around the more serious stuff, Erick and I opted to just ‘session’ a smaller drop to get the feel and balance of the process, before moving on to anything bigger.
You can see a short video of my pathetic attempts above, courtesy of Erick’s great little hand-held video camera. (carefully edited it to make the drop look bigger than a foot high). As you can see, this is really nothing more than the drops we tackle without thinking about on Telegraph Trail, for example; it’s just that in this seriously macho environment everything seemed more intimidating (to me at least).
Unfortunately it was at this point that Erick’s day took a turn for the worst. Perhaps fired with what in hindsight was over-confidence, he lost control after landing and targeted a tree stump with his knee. Fortunately the knee pads prevented a trip to A&E, but he was still limping badly on the way home, and will have resorted to a bath and ibuprofen for sure. His thumb also took a knock, so with the inability to pedal and brake, his morning was over.
Undeterred by this, I moved on to a steeper drop, working on the theory that by progressively moving up the hill I could tackle some of the trails that the other guys were certainly enjoying, judging by the whoops and the thud and clatter of a full-suspension bike hitting the end of its travel. After a few sighting runs and rolling around the edge, I psyched myself up for a full attempt.
Unfortunately my ability to hold the front wheel up over these drops, probably combined with my timid lack of speed, resulted in a nose heavy landing which saw me fall after travelling along on the front wheel (refer to videos from last summer’s attempts on Numbskull). Luckily the padding prevented any injury, the elbow pads saving my arm if not the jacket that covered them. My bike was less fortunate, the bars having rotated too far for the brake hoses, and the rear brake hose had pulled out of the reservoir. Was this the end of my morning too?
Between AndyW and Stuart, who had an impressive range of trailside tools, we were eventually able to refit the hose and find some additional length of hose by taking up some of the slack around the rear subframe mounting, hopefully preventing the problem from recurring should I perform yet another dive over the bars. After a bit of brake pumping, it was almost as good as new, so I set off for some more mincing on the wussy stuff before calling it a day.
AndyW, DaveW and the rest were all making full use of the area, though we all stopped to admire some guys who had clearly been here before as they impressively tackled some very large doubles and some mighty kickers which saw them launce to 10 feet or more into the air. Just to add further insult to Erick and my injuries, some little lads turned up (about 7 & 10 years old) to demonstrate their jumping skills. It was time for Erick and I to go.
We left Dave and Andy to it, and you can see some of Dave’s efforts on the video. I’m sure the Mole’s honour will be upheld by these two at the FoD. Maybe I will get a mention as one of the more ‘mature’ competitors. Thanks once again to AndyW for taking the time to show us the area and lending us some of his gear.