Hillbilly

Thistly Cross

Saturday 12th January, Winton Castle, East Lothian.

It’s 7 am and I have the car packed and coffee poured and now its time to drive to the South East of Edinburgh and into the rolling farmlands of Pencaitland. The fabulous grounds of Winton Castle is the destination for the second last race of the Super Quaich Series.

Roll the car over the sheep shit field and get a front row spacing. (My only front row placing at any racing this season.) Head for the potting shed and get signed on and numbers collected. Drop the pit bike off and wander along taking in all the delights of the new course on route back to the car.

Finally get everything sorted and I roll me and the bike along to the start area, I still have a little bit of time before the start of the race, this gives me a chance to try the downhill off camber section just after the first corner. The off camber its self isn’t a problem but as you come to the bottom and round the tree, it becomes a bit bumpy and a nasty looking rut is waiting to eat your wheel as you descend the next little hill. As per normal, this on the first lap could be a bit of a bottleneck if you are far back in the race.

MC Jammie has us called along to the start line at 10:50 am. I manage to get into the third row and being on the left side of the tape this is going to give me tight turn into corner number 1. Eric Easton gives out the safety brief and invites the local riders and helpers to come and claim thier rightfully owned place on the front of the grid. (now in row four)

After a few radios call back and forth we are 30 seconds away from racing my first race of 2019!

Breeeeppp of the whistle and we’re off, its flat out along the smooth tarmac heading for the timing van, I am slightly boxed in from the rider in front of me and losing places on my right. I look for a gap, pull out and get my legs up to full speed as we take the left turn and point the bike down the embankment.

The first 20 riders or so are battering downhill and I make up some places as we ride the off camber. A short sharp climb has me out the saddle and its a struggle to get to the top, turn left and now for some flat gravel watching out for the potholes as ride under the shadow of Winton Castle on our right, as we head out to the gun range in the woods the speed soon picks back up.

In the woods, things become quite technical as we wound through the trees, the dry conditions made it dusty under the rubber and if I wasn’t careful then my front wheel was always ready to try and slip out from underneath me. Some cool ditches to ride/run came next. The first one was easily ridable if you followed the ruts. The second one was much deeper so that had you off the bike and running it. (except for some of the smart arsed A riders)

A long ride through some bramble and weed clearing at the edge of the woods took you along to lake (way too big to call it a pond) and navigate over the double hurdles (barriers) and past the pits. Race along the single track path and face a trio of climbs that takes you up and onto the tarmac and past the timing van for lap number one.

As always the race strings out and I’m roughly about sitting about 16-17 place. Ride the off camber section well and struggle up the hill to the big house. As I ride along the gravel I decide that I’m pitting and swapping my Cross bike for my MTB. The MTB should have more grip but most of all it has GEARS!

My first off comes as I ride into the woods, the front wheel slips out and the bike goes down, I manage to jump over the bars. (heaps of practice doing this so I’m getting good a bailing out) Right the bike and run to some flat ground where I get back onboard and ride ditch number one. Make it back to the pits without falling off again. Switch to the MTB, lose about five places doing this but in my head its worth it. Now have some gears, this shouldn’t be so hard now. Wrong!

My tyres are a way to hard! I had pumped them up to the max to bead them in a few days beforehand and never thought to deflate them slightly. Due to the tyre pressure, I wasn’t getting a grip in the dust and it was a bit treacherous cornering at any kind of speed. I couldn’t be arse stopping to take off the caps to let some air out as I was on the chase to recover my lost positions. I struggle on and decide to make another pit change.

Come round to the pits and dump the bike, the Cross bike is out for the last few remaining laps. Lose more time fucking about with the bike change and this lets Ross Johnston of HTCC sneak past and now he’s my target for the race. Ross in the past few seasons has been my nemesis, he tends to finish a few places above me so to see him ride past was a wee boost that I was doing alright in the top third of the race. For the next few laps, we would swap places in various parts of the course.

Onto the final lap, I get caught up behind some lapped riders and Ross pushes on ahead. With the gap widening, I try and speed up. Ride to the first trench, I don’t stick to the main rut that has formed, for some reason I gone to the right of it. Bad choice Bryan, as this line choice has me off the bike with a big hit! I snag a root or something and it stops my bike dead in its tracks. I, on the other hand, continued through the air and land on my side and head. (That’s why we wear lids, kids!)

Ross continues to distance himself from me as I roll about the dusty floor. I dust my self down and get back to riding the bike. No more offs, please! Head for ditch number 2 and run through with the bike held high. Still in the sadle as come to the lake. Hop over the barriers and have no legs left to ride all three hills, push the bike up the last two and it’s up onto the smooth tarmac and head for the finish line.

Roll over the line in 21st positions and swap my chip for a can of Erdinger 0% lager and it’s the best post refreshment I have ever tasted!

Huge thanks to Colin Shearer, Eric Easton and all the Thistly Cross Crew for having us and of course to the King and Queen of Winton Castle for letting us rip up their grass.

Last round of the Super Quaich is at RGCX, Sunday 20.1.19 and hosted by the Albannach crew.

For full Photo Album click the link below.

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Camber Cross

Super Quaich Round 2.

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The car is packed and ready to hit the beach today. Irvine is situated on the West Coast of Scotland, yeah the windy part of the world with multi-weather fronts per day.

We arrive at the carpark with a small dusting of snow covering the grass, the youth riders have just fought through some snowfall during their 15 minutes of racing. The course is open for the B race to have a warm up and see what’s on the menu today.

Sandwiches with camber, cucamber are today’s offering from Walkers Cycling. This is a new course for the Super Quaich race, and it’s a tester before next years National Trophy round. Two sand pits and a multitude of off camber riding, throw in some hills for good measure and you have a tough course served up. Good news is it’s not too soft underfoot due to the fast draining sandy soil.

As the B race gets under way, they race off at a frantic speed on the way to the first sand pit. We watch and learn as the riders bite into the sand(witch) and see what lines are best to avoid/ride. First section is pretty rideable as long as you have some wiggle room, the second one after the downhill descent is rideable, again if you pick the right line! Kevin Pugh is back racing his cross bike, he comes into the sand in third place. Selects the wrong rut,comes to a hault and is off running with sand between his toes and bike held high.

As the B race battle on in the winter sun, we head for sign on and then go sort our race numbers out. Drop the pit bike off and grab a few pictures while making my way back to the warmth of the car as the cold is creeping in.

I mentioned the changeable weather, didn’t I! A snowstorm rolls in as me and G roll away from the car towards the racing tape. It’s brutal, we try and take in a quick lap of the course with the snow stinging your face no matter the direction of travel. My chin is frozen with the bite of the sharp arctic blast. Gary is nearly in tears as he can’t speak and lost all feeling in his pinky fingers. Then we find out the race is being held back for 20 mins.

What! Twenty more minutes riding about in this weather, makes me understand how the athletes in Pyeongchang are dealing with lycra, outdoor sports and cold temperatures. Just as quickly as the snow came on, its soon blow past leaving a dark steel sky, and we soon got shouted forward to the starting area.

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I get a decent spot in the starting bunch, Discard my jacket and trousers but keep the sunglasses. (Ever the optimist) Gary is about five people in front of me, don’t think he will be that close come the end of this race. The countdown begins as we wait for the whistle.

Breeeeep we are on and racing at the new Irvine Beach Park.

We have a good starting area, an extensive flat grassland soon gets the 87 riders up to racing speed and the dash to the front commences without too much fighting. A right turn has you lining up for the first bottleneck, a small incline with a left turn slowed the riders in front down. I stick wide right and take the long road around the corner as the inside riders tiptoe around the bend.

A few more bends are ridden then we come to the first of the sand pits. I’m still on the right-hand side of the course, and glad I stuck with that. Some riders get into a tangle on the left and stop the race on that side dead in its tracks. A few of us on the right manage to sneak past they play in the sandbox.

A short blast uphill then a sharp left at the top takes you on to the first of many camber section for today. We snake our way around the lower slopes of the hill at the far side of the pond. I’m still making decent progress in the race. As we come to the 90° right turn, I switch from riding to running. LRM_EXPORT_20180211_204835.jpg

I say running it’s more jogging and sliding gradually to the bottom of the camber and along the scrim and barrier tape. Without toe studs, I’m like a dog on lino in these parts. Can’t get grip, so I get back on the bike and see if that’s any better. Manage to ride slowly to the uphill run. And from there is more camber and running/slipping until you reach the highest point of the course, turn 180° right and line yourself up for a big drop down and along to sandpit number two.

I practised riding this sandpit once, I fell right over the bars, so I decided to run it every lap, saving the embarrassment of me going face first into the sand. Swing off the bike and run the sand holding my bike like a huge handbag. A flying remount and I have managed to take a few places coming through the sand.

I’m in a group of five as we ride past the pits and over the line. I am just going to hang with this group and see if I can last the pace of the A race. Tackle the double hurdles, and now the group ride up to the uphill yeah uphill switchbacks. I haven’t got the gears to ride this, I opt for swinging off and run my way up the hill. Remount and I’m soon riding back down the hill, I lock the rear wheel, this sends me into a skid and right out the tape! Come to a stop and get back in between the tape, now to chase back into the group as they ride past the hurdles and on to another uphill section that looms overhead.

As said, I’m optimistic. Good job I kept the sunglasses on, as the afternoon light is soon cast over the course and brightens my mood for a short period in the race. Then the hill run kicks me back to reality, and I’m soon suffering once again.

Us bitches blaze on past the skate park, past the pits on the way to the sand pit. Then back onto the never-ending off-camber section.

A few more times around the course, my little group soon crumbles, a few push on, and a few fall back. I am now riding solo again. Head along to the first sand pit and for the last time, and I see Gary for the first time since the start line. He just comes through the second sand trap and is heading for the finish line. We give each other a shout and cheer, and roughly at the same time that changeable weather kicks back in.

The snowstorm returns, softly at the start but by the time I have reached the high point with the chambers behind me, the wind picks up and the snowflakes increase. I blast down the hill for the last time, run the sand pit and hop back on the bike. A 30mph headwind with snow in the face is greeting me, I try and push the cranks round, and round, slowly I gain some speed to get me out of the worst of the wind.

I’m riding past the pits and the weather is killing me. As I hit the tarmac, I find Andy Ingles on my tail. Another sprint finish is on the cards. Both of us get out the saddle, and the line is coming up fast, Andy is creaking ahead, I am out of gear and spinning at my fastest. He soon pulls away and takes the line and 43rd spot.

44th from 87 riders isn’t to bad a result from me. Last year I would have been down at 60s-70s so an improvement. Imagine if I stopped eating shite and pushed my training. I might actually be top 20-30.

Gary finished in 23rd spot and became my pit bitch for finishing ahead of me, although he done well by getting my pit bike and jacket. But forgot the trousers with the car key. Bloody useless these young ones. LRM_EXPORT_20180211_202629.jpg

That’s Garys Cross season over, and he’s been a natural at the racing game, some excellent results and a lot of experience gained for 18/19 season kicking off at the tail end of the year.

Clare and I have one more race, RGCX is our last bike race. Then we swap tyres for trainers and take on the hill running races. With our first being the Hill Billy Trail Race. Hosted by CX racer Brian Yates.

Thanks to Michael Martin, Bill Kennedy and George Stewart for letting me use the images from the race.

Huge thanks to all the Walkers and their cycling team, thanks to the marshals who braved the cold and wind to let the racing go ahead. This will be a great National Trophy Round looking forward to the beach again in October. received_1907882002872509_20171118142324756.jpg

Riding The Fat Tyres.

MTB Days.

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A break in the Scottish Cyclocross season gives me a chance to change up the 33mm Cross tyres for the large 2.1-inch Schwalbes to hit the local snow-covered hills.

I am grateful I decided to keep the triple ring up front on the Dirty Harry MTB. By spinning in the little 22 tooth cog I can ride the 90% of the grassy slopes in the Kilpatrick Hills, this gets me to the playground of singletrack and fire roads.

Gary comes from an MTB riding history and is desperate to take me out and show me his G-string but more worryingly he’s talking about his Mangina! When talk of taking me up the Khyber Pass, I really started to worry about being alone in the woods with him. Lucky for me these are just the names of the Strava segments. (Mountain bikers and their weird humour I suppose)

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The trails up in the Kilpatrick Hills have some great singletrack riding amongst the heather strewn hills, but the G-string section is a lot more technical for my standard. A lot of arse crack hanging an inch off the back tyre and rear wheel skids gets me down the switchbacks in one piece, with only the one little tumble in the deep snow. Navigate through the darkness of the Pine Forest and come out to where the trees are being cut down and turned to massive piles of logs by the roadside, we pick our way over dead branches and carpet of needles as we head down to a small pond. We are now at the ass crack of the G-string, a lengthy climb back up to the Loch Humphrey on the logging roads is ahead of us. (Glad again to have the wee 22 upfront)

Next ride out on the fat tyres takes us out along to Mugdock Park, Milngavie. The rain is coming down quite persistent, It’s going to be a somewhat wet ride today. Gary wants to let me loose on his Mangina trail. This is another bike handling level up on my limited bike handling skills. Some very technical riding through the Pine Forest starts us off. The constant up-down, up-down of drainage ditches between the rows of trees have some deep ruts and exposed rocks just waiting to have a fight with my rigid front fork and hardtail MTB. Gary is alright and scoots along on his full suspension bouncy bike like its a freshly laid tarmac road.

The good thing about Mugdock trails is the coffee shop halfway through. Stop off to top up our caffeine levels then swing back into the saddle and ride back out into the sleet. The quick stop didn’t help to defrost our frozen fingers, back on with the wet gloves and try to warm up again as we ride the next section of the Mangina trail.

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A lot of wooden bridge riding comes next, and when we come to a massive fallen tree, the local trail builders have put this to use, they have built a wooden ramp to get you up and over and back riding the trail. Gary rides it without a hitch, me on the other hand, I ride around the long way as I know my skill level and just now it wasn’t going to be put to the test on this obstacle.

We come to the end of the trail, we take the decision to turn around and ride back the way we have come. Today we had planned on getting to the end of the Mugdock trails and then ride over the heather moors and hills to join back in with the Kilpatrick Hills, then towards home. The low lying clouds put an end to these plans. We would be riding up into the clouds as we made our way home. It could become a bit of a hazard as we don’t have any GPS equipment with us apart from our smartphones. They can be temperamental with the weather and not the best equipment to pick up a strong signal and aid with navigating the deer trails to get us in the right direction of home. The safe option was to turn around.

Riding back along the trails gave me a little bit more practice and helped build more confidence in my bike handling abilities, but I’m a long way off being comfortable and taking drop-offs and jumps just yet. The more I get out and ride these things the better and more natural It will become on the bike. Hopefully, some of the skills I learn will help during some cross races as well. Transferable bike skills, we should all have them.

Mountain Bikes Belong in the Hills, not the shopping run to Aldi.

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The 10 K Runner. 

Going Hillbilly Today.

5th March 2017. Dalmellington, Ayrshire.

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I have signed up for some trail running to keep me from gaining my weight in pizzas over the offseason in cyclocross.  I think a lot of people stick to racing bikes, be it MTB enduros or slicks and race on the road.  For Clare and me we are going to the hills.  Racing in some hill runs and cross country events.  Hillbilly 10km race is to be our baptism of fire with the running folk.

During sign in, they have a slideshow of the course playing on a big tv.  There was also a large map on the wall showing the terrain.  Both these were a great help, as it meant we could see how the course would pan out today.  These two things were new for me at races, it was an excellent idea.  The slide show would be a good idea at cross races, showing the course features, if it could somehow be rigged up.

20170309_203820.jpgAfter the race briefing, we head down to the start line just outside the gatehouse.  The race begins after the hooter at 11 O’clock, and 138 runners are off at all different speeds.  I managed to get quite close to the front before the start, with a fast pace I soon move up the groups and roughly am about 20/30 position as we run along the canal side.  Think we run approximately 3km before the road turns up, with the gradient going up it also begins to turn rougher underfoot.

The first hill of the run is up and along a farm type road then makes way to a muddy path with some good amount of muddy puddles to splash through.  This is more of the terrain I have been running on and more enjoyable than the first 3km along the flat tarmac.  Splatter my way to the top of the hill, and now it’s time to not fall on my arse as I hit the descent.  I always thought this would be the easy bit of hill running, it’s not!  I am too busy concentrating on not standing on ankle breakers of rocks and dodging the mud to think about how fast to run going down.

No rest at the bottom of the hill, as soon as I get down there the next hill begins. Head back up the hill, more of a nature trail path we follow winding all the way to the top.  Great encouragement from the local army cadets marshalling the course.  What goes up must come down.  Descend down a very potholed access road past some stables (lift to the finishing line on the back of a horse could be good).

Last km now.  Cross the road and clip the kerb, sending me sliding on my knees along the grass.  The guy behind me overtakes while stifling a laugh.  I get back up from the mud and begin the chase along the nature trail.  I can hear the cheers as the front runners take the line.  I know I am close now as I see the bridge over the canal, round the bend and I am on the home straight.  Try to get my tired legs up for a sprint for the last few hundred metres to cross the line.

My 10k race is complete.  Collect my little finishers medal and down some much-needed glasses of water.  I crossed the line in 47 minutes, coming in at 33rd position out of 138 participants.  Clare crossed the line in 61 minutes and in 91st place.  A great run in 10 layers of running tops!

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Bring on some more Hills.