Friday, 23 January 2009

Riding cycles

You could say bikes are bikes. Riding a bike is just riding a bike. You could even say cycling is a repetitive activity. If this was actually true would we, (The Obsessive Ones) still be doing it? I doubt it! I often stop and think, ‘Hang on; this is a completely different experience to last year…. But I’m still just riding a bike’.

BMXing to school as a nipper, learning to bunny-hop. Crashing in the woods on my first mtb desperately working out how steer the thing across slippery roots (something I’m still working on!!). Doing some distance in the Lakes. Learning to read a map. Getting a road bike. Backcountry riding in big foreign hills. Pedalling fast. Focusing on climbing. Getting a REALLY fast road bike (not ashamed to say that really grabbed my imagination a couple of winters ago). Going back to those hairy Lakes passes that seemed unrideable in my teens and pinning them. Endurance racing. Hang on; best spend this winter focusing on technique… the cycle goes on.

It’s always a bike but the focus continually changes. Technique. Exploration. Bike type. Friends. Locations. Styles. This is what keeps things interesting.

Well, the next bit is called the ‘See What I Can Do’ phase. By average rider standard I think I’m fairly fast. Not surprising considering how much time I spend on my bike. But, (and it’s a big but) I can get a heck of a lot faster. This has dawned on me since I’ve changed my approach to training. Sorry, since I’ve actually started Training in a purposeful manner. When you just ride (and nothing wrong with that!) it’s easy for fitness to get stagnant. It’s easy to feel you aren’t and can’t get any faster…

Things have changed in just the last two weeks. Mr Newton has already encouraged me to push myself…. (100m full tilt running intervals after 40 miles commuting anyone….?) In the last few days I’ve started to feel real physiological changes. I couldn’t have guessed at some of the stuff Will has prescribed… and I’m sticking to it. To the letter.

I sense this has come as a bit of a surprise to my friends and team mates…

Going to Canada is an exercise in See What I Can Do. It would be crazy to take any other approach given the investment. Recent developments have been encouraging. No, I meant eye-opening and massively motivating.

A new phase. The cycle continues.

Needless to say the fish moniker will no longer be relevant folks....

Saturday, 17 January 2009

Mountain Biking makes you brave...

Before mountain biking grabbed my full attention, it was surfing. I surfed a lot and all over the world. Sometimes I scared myself stupid. Being milliseconds from going over the falls at 10ft Lakey Peaks is a heart stopppingly scarey experience... add to that the fact that you are only wearing a pair of shorts as protection from razor sharp coral and you can see it takes balls to commit to a big wave...

Thing is, when I got back into the surf in Indonesia this summer (after a long break) it seemed a little less intimidating. I remembered that 99% of the time, when you fall off a surf board you just get a good dunking and rolled around a bit. Even at Shipwrecks, a shallow ish break that was well overhead, I felt very confident despite having had many years off a surfboard. A few sessions and I was back to my old ripping self!

I pondered why I felt so calm. Was it because I had been mountain biking for so long now and that, in contrast to surfing, 99% of the time when you fall off a bike, (at any reasonable speed) it does flippin hurt? (due to the proliferation of sharp / hard / pointy things to merge with).

I felt smug with this Evolution of Surfing Bravery....

And then recently I found this photo. Look at it closely. Think about the weight and the power of the wave. Think about the reef below that is so near the surface it's warping the water to that extent....

Maybe I'm not so brave after all...

And yes; it did all go horribly wrong. Think I'll stick with the biking.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

New Beginnings

My third season of competitive endurance racing is on the horizon. I am pretty pleased with some of my results so far but there are too many minor places on my C.V. I now know I can get podiums… but I want to smash some big rides and races. This is going to be a big year for me; I plan to knock out killer rides on the Coast to Coast and at the Adrenalin World 24hr Solo Championships. These are my two objectives which I will not compromise by over racing or riding.

In ’08 my enthusiasm got the better of me. Three 24hrs in three months was way too much for somebody who wants to perform at his best. This came to a head at Sleepless in the Saddle. Without meaning any disrespect for my fellow competitors, it was by far the worst I have ever ridden and I have never felt so bad on a bike. I know now what a nightmare a 24hr race can be when body and mind collapse…. and I never intend to go to that dark place again.

So far I have ridden and raced by feel only. At times it’s served me well. For next year though I’ve decided to take the plunge and hire a coach. I don’t expect this to be a Magic Wand by any stretch of the imagination but I’m willing to try something new, and a structured approach will help me take the guesswork out of training. My coach is called Will Newton. He coached Rob in the run up to him winning his age category at the 2005 Worlds. Already he has given me some excellent advice. I am confident I’ve chosen the right man for the job…

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

A Day in the Freezer

There is no better time to ride a bike in the Yorkshire Dales than the depths of winter. No really... stay with me here.

Many trails have a solid rock base, the huge skies seem even more commanding than usual and the bridleways are quieter than a Yorkshire man when it’s his round. Add some clear skies and permafrost inducing temperatures and you’ve got a recipe for A Grand Day Out.

Reeth has long been my base of choice for exploring the Dales and it also happens to be on the route of the Coast to Coast. So I arranged to meet Partner in Crime, Paul Errington, to have a weekend of reccy with the odd jar of Black Sheep thrown into the bargain.

We hooked up at 9am in Reeth village square. It was cold enough to induce rigor mortis...what would it be like on the tops! Desperate to warm up we looked for somewhere to grab a coffee... a conversation with a local shopkeeper (clearly for Local People) convinced us that freezing or otherwise, we were probably safer on the deserted fells...

We started climbing up behind Grinton. What a brutal start... The term False Summit was invented in the Dales and can be applied to descriptions about almost any hill in the area. After what seemed like an age we turned off right onto the ice covered bridleway. Pre cold snap water had obviously been welling out of the ground in such volume that it formed great pillows of ice. No way across. You just had to pick around the no go zones sometimes to end at an impasse surrounded by huge swathes of the slippery stuff. Once over the top the miles long downhill to Low Houses was generally free from ice... but belting down at full tilt there was always doubt in your mind...

The bridleway then joined a minor road before it doglegged further down the hill.... looked simple on the map. However, this is why reccy is so important on an epic ride like this... the bridleway was right in front of us... but could we find it? It took a heck of a long time to be sure of our route... the bridleway had actually been destroyed in a land slide and the maze of boulders were hellish tricky to clamber across when covered in ice and snow.

Heading up the valley towards the bottom of Tan Hill the rink size patches of ice increased in number…. The lower slopes were frequently unrideable and this set the tone for the slog up to the road and the pub. It was only the dusting of snow higher up that gave some grip across the ice traps…. far preferable to warm and wet though….

We realised just how cold it was as soon as we stopped climbing outside the pub… we dived indoors for a bucket of chilli and chips. Convinced that this would act like some kind of ‘Shield of Steel’ against the arctic conditions, we stepped back outside….

After a cosy fire stoked pub the cold hit us like erm… a cat or a badger! Within a couple of pedal strokes it was difficult to breath…. follow this with a couple of miles of road downhill and we were both virtually stunned into silence (in a kind of Tazer style).

The next bridleway turning had a nice big sign. That pointed straight down a rubble strewn bank and into long grass. Great. No sign of any trail. It’s days like this when you relish a nice long climb so we abandoned mission to continue another day, and turned back to enjoy the warmth inducing ascent back to the Tan Hill bridleway.

This is one really long descent made nice and fast by the rock hard ground. It won’t be like this in May and will be a really tough section if it is sodden. Unfortunately I had a mechanical and Paul had rear brake problems… we had to pick our way down. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing because with the amount ice around a full speed charge would have definitely ended in catastrophe…

Happy with another good chunk of reconnaissance under the belt we span back in darkness to check in to the Youth Hostel in Grinton.

However, due to the current economic climate and the importance of supporting local businesses, we dragged ourselves back down the hill to Reeth for a pint or two of local produce. I can live without Woolies but no Black Sheep is unthinkable.
Thanks to Paul 'Sharp Shooter' Errington for some great photos and chilled out company.

Friday, 2 January 2009

My 2009 Ironhorse Bootleg 3.0

In 2009 I’ll be riding and racing my new Ironhorse Bootleg 3.0. It’s perfect for an endurance racer who leans further towards the trail bike side of the fence. It’s a clean, elegant single pivot design that is light but not fragile; quick from A to B but not compromised in technical situations. The active rear end matches the Reba Race forks perfectly to give a velvety smooth ride.

This is roughly the build I will be running for my big rides next year; a 24 hr attempt at the English Coast to Coast in May, (St Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay) and the Adrenalin Solo 24hr World Championships. I will also be riding this bike in some 10 – 12 hour races. It will need to be capable in a variety of situations. The bikes already been ridden on some seriously techy Lakes trails and around the sinuous singletrack of Kirroughtree; handling and balance is spot on.

I’ve pimped the bike up with some tasty personal spec choices. The emphasis has been firmly placed on strength, reliability, and durability to reflect the nature of the rides I’m planning in ’09; it is going to be punishing on bike and body.