Night Racing

Bute The Brute

Bute Cross, Rothesay.

Saturday 15.9.18

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The blog is back, but not by popular demand!

The first race of the season for me, the lone Two Wheel Army rider again. Clare and Gary have chucked racing for more better things in life. Eating cakes and munching Pizza I think.

Dust off the Cross bike on Friday night, the kit bag is sorted now, All I have to do on Saturday is just bundle my loyal support crew into the car (until they are old enough to stay themselves, they get dragged to the races haha) and drive to Wemyss Bay and board the ferry to Rothesay (Isle of Bute).

As I stand to wait to embark the boat, some familiar and ugly mugs who turn up at Scottish parks on damp cold weekends from September to February start to appear in the queue. It’s great to be back! The cars soon fill the ferry deck, now the two wheels are allowed on board and store our bikes on the great new bike racks that the crew pull out the cupboard.

My boys head to the upper deck to go shark spotting on the short crossing to Bute. Surprisingly we don’t see any, but we did spot a mahoosive jellyfish (I thought it was a poly bag at first). Twenty minutes later we pull alongside the harbour. The Ferry soon empties of vehicles and bikes. A short wander past the Castle and up to the Leisure centre to sign on and get my first race number of the season. Sort my pins out and I take in a quick lap before the V60, V50, Woman and Junior get called up to the start line and it’s not long until they are let loose an start their race season.

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That time has come! The nerves, excitement, fear all start to rumble about your head and the pit of your stomach as 4 pm approaches, It’s time to ride to the start line.

As I stepped up in age group (or down don’t know how it goes) I recognise a few faces but not as many as normal in the open race. I know one face, bloody Davie Lines. (though I would escape being lapped by him for a season, haha) Just as the faster riders are sorted and us not so special ones fall in behind, low and behold the wet stuff from the sky comes down to christen us and the first race of the season. Feeling sorry for our old bones the commissars will let us go in the next 30 seconds.

Brrrrrreeeep goes the whistle and season 18/19 is a go!

Foot clipped in and power-down on the pedal, my unfit body starts the sprint up to the commentary box and to the voice of Morven Brown rocking the mic and shouting us through the timing/finishing line. I am doing well just now, not the last rider and my bike still holding together, result!

Take the first corner on the inside and with a dab of the foot, I’m through along with the other 56 riders all still on the bikes. Another long sprint past the football game on our right we ride down to where we have just started. The long fast straight soon has us racers strung out as we cross the gravel and push round to the metal bridge.

A bottleneck soon appears here as we slow to ride over the slippy metal surface. The speed soon kicks back up as we ride out onto the field and take on the S bends. Struggle up the small incline with the red ash tennis courts on my left. Then come to my nemesis, the slow corners of a chicane (always think I am going to wash out and ride way to slow).

The run-up is next, I try to ride as much as possible but come to halt a third of the way up. Dismount/fall off and a peddle to the shin soon gets me moving again. (will be running it from now on). On top of the run-up is a great wooded trail along to the sharp hairpin bend and shoot down the slope trying not to get myself tangled in the fence at the bottom (as I nearly do a few laps in).

Now I am on the hard part of the course for me, soft grass! Need to ride this part mostly out of the saddle to keep my speed up, in doing so it’s killing my legs and lower back. Some gravel paths come next, I ride past the big tree covering my fan club as they hide from the rain, and now head up to the start line to complete lap one.

Things go quite consistent from here to the finish 6 laps later. I consistently go backwards in placings, consistently get slower going up the run/walk up, and the pain in my lower back consistently lets me know its needing oiled or something.

After a lot of determination to keep riding the bike with its bar tape peeling off along with the very low front brake hood angle. (that made my hand slide off going downhill towards that fence every lap) I happily managed to cross the line after 47 minutes of a 40-minute race in 47th place.

A few changes have been made since my last race here two years ago. I quite liked doing the neutralised ride up from the Castle, then the mad dash over the stone carpark as a start. The turns on the red ash tennis courts were removed, but I don’t mind not having slower turns to do. Another missing part was after struggling up the run-up we went down into the woods, a thin natural trail was great along with the fallen logs that had to be jumped. Don’t get me wrong the course still had its challenges and was a great addition to the series races.

After reflecting on my first race back, I now know, there will be some great battles at the back of the bunch this season with the HTCC crew (happy trail cross collective) as were all fat and slow now, not just them.

See you all at the next one, Callender Park 7.10.18

Thanks to the Organiser Stewart and his band of helpers from the Bike Shed. Rothesay’s Weekend Of Cycling has something for everyone, so next year get yourself over.

Thanks to Richard Croasdale for the capturing and letting me have use of images at the run-up.

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Full results are found here.

Head to the Facebook page to see the full photo gallery.

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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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Northern Soul.

Scottish Championships Knockburn Loch. 3.12.17

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Beep beep beep beep, the noise of the alarm at 6am gets me up and out from the comfort of a warm bed. Drag the poor dog out into the cold, and I wake up to the morning of the Scottish Cyclocross Championships.

The early alarm is for me to get some food made then load the bikes onto the car, double check I have packed everything before I go and pick DNF Dougan up at 8am. We have just short of a three hour drive up Aberdeenshire and another new venue for me this year of Knockburn Loch.

Break some crusts of cow shite as I roll the car over the field and into a cow pat free zone in the already busy Knockburn Loch Outdoor Sports Center and it’s just clicked past 11 am. One of the earliest times I have been at the races. The regular routine is to tumble out the car, get my numbers on and then race. With this one, the long drive I wanted to get here and get blood to my legs by having a scout of the course and see a bit of racing.

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The start of the week brought some snowfall to the course, turning it into a white wonderland. A rapid defrost midweek took it right back to a standard green and brown tone just in time for race day. Now the course I have in mind is going to be a mud fest with the quick thaw. I am wrong as its actually holding out really well as I take in the V50, Women and Junior race. The ground is still hard under the top inch of grass so the mud fest might not be on the cards after all.

The battle to be crowned Scottish V40 Champion has just kicked off and I now have just over an hour to get my numbers pinned on and sort myself out, then get to the start line with a little detour of a few laps of the grass velodrome.

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Sixty-nine riders line up for the Scottish Open Cyclocross Championships, while the top twenty riders or so get gridded the cold wind picks up, and I am eager to get going and get a bit of heat into my bones. After a long hold, the whistle finally blasts, and the race begins. We are off to a flyer as we batter along the grass and sprint down the start shoot. From walking the course I planned to keep left of the course, I manage to execute my plan, and this gives me a good line to shoot up the small incline and then hustle along the soft ground making our way to the woods.

Still riding on the left of the course as we narrow through the entry gate into the woods. Davie Hamill is just in front of me and has the same idea in mind. Both of us dismount and get running when the speed slows, and the bottleneck grows. I gain a few places while pushing the bike, but a lousy remount kills my momentum, and the positions are soon lost. The wood section has a great flow to it, your eyes have to be peeled though as there are plenty of roots waiting to knock you to the ground. (Gary found this out later on in the race)

A fast pedal past the pits after negotiating the first slippery little hill takes you over the bridge and around to the back of the Loch. This brings you to the highest and hardest part of the course. On the first part of the climb, my bike is making some spectacular crunching and grinding noises. My freehub will need a wee looking at, it’s not engaging when I put some power through the pedals, making it skip just like last year at Bute. I lose a heap load of places while I nurse the bike up to the top. The climb isn’t over as I get to the top, we hang a right, and now a slippy grass incline is on the menu.

I use a bit of advice before the start of my race, I got told to get off and run the short muddy downhill section, and then keep running when the gradient turns uphill again. The bike stays on my shoulder as I drop down between the gorse bushes, then keep on trudging to the top of the never-ending hill. As I crest the summit of Knockburn Everest, a magnificent sight comes into my eyes. A 200 meter decent, and is a joy to behold.

It is also a joy to ride, but the mud flicking into one’s eyes isn’t so helpful with where you are pointing the front wheel as you rattle down the hill. Ride around the Loch and back over the bridge passing the busy pits. Now comes the fans favourite. The sand trap! Ride up and over a red gravel hill, try to keep the speed up and power through the sand/gravel, hoping I don’t come off and make a fool of myself in the cat litter box. Manage to get to the end of the pit without incident and ride out into the finishing field.

Ride past the finishing line and with George Stewart’s advice being spot on about the hill climb, I decide to take him up on his other words of wisdom. He told me that the S bends behind the timing van are cut up and slightly slippy under the tyre. Again that the best option is to get off and run them. Roll down the first hill the swing off and get my running legs going. Back on the bike on the last turn and ride down the long grassy decent, back to the left of the course as I ride the hill up and along into the woods once again.

The woods were a joy to ride with a bit of space in front of me as the race spread out as the laps grew. The hill climb became harder and longer with each passing lap. The 200 meter decent never changed with every lap. That was always a blast to ride down, but I know a few people didn’t enjoy it as they shipped their chain as the battered down at high speed. The cat litter tray I managed to ride every lap except for the final time, where I ground to a halt and dropped down like a dead fly. (But thankfully most of the spectators and cameras had moved around to the finishing field) The S bends I enjoyed every lap, as I kept it simple and didn’t even to entertain the thought of trying to ride them, a 99% chance that I would fail and end up in a tangled mess at the bottom of a hill, with running them it gave me a chance to gain a lot of time on riders ahead of my front wheel.

I get lapped once while I am plodding through the course and as always I am in awe of how fast the top riders can get through a lap. My bike holds out for the full race, and the weird crunching noise doesn’t return in my 6 laps of Knockburn Loch which is a huge relief. I take the finishing flag after 1hr 6mins of riding and finishing 47th place. The other two-wheel-army rider Gazza came in 35th in his first champs with is an excellent result for the novice rider.

Huge, huge thanks to Gordon Watt and his merry band of Deesiders that bring a heap of Northen Soul to Cyclocross racing in Scotland.

Huge congratulations to all the Scottish Champions and to every rider who rolls over the start line week in week out. All results are here.

All the best over in Mull with round 6 of the Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series and also the Santa Cross Champions on Sunday.

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Goldie Lookin Chain.

Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series. Round 4

Lochore Meadows. 19th November 2017.

The direction of travel is Eastward today, taking in my first trip over the new Queensferry Crossing as Gary and I head for Lochore Meadows. The course usually is muddy in sections and has a hunger for rear mechs hangers. It has also grown a split opinion on its main feature, The Spiral Of Doom. I like the feature, and it makes this course a bit different to others and uses the limited space well.

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Arrive at a very full carpark, but plenty of space in the overflow area where I manage to track down Scott McKendrick and get my new kit hot from the printer. Advertising Direct knocked it out the Country Park once again with the logo for CycleForm, and TwoWheelArmy added to the new Endura kit. Time to fill it with little holes and blood as I try to pin the numbers on the sleeve and back.

Hydrate with a hot cup of tea and take in the start of the V40 race while the pit bike gets dropped off. With the cold night and frosty morning, it has helped keep the course running quite firm, so it’s not too badly cut up with all the racing of the morning and early afternoon. The regularly sloppy parts seem rideable from watching the lead riders of the V40s pass by. One new feature added this year is the stairs to run at the old ruin. With the firm course, it looks like we will be in for a fast race and maybe I will add a few pumps of air into my tyres.

The senior open riders assemble at the start area, I finish off riding a loop of the dizzying spiral and head to the start. I hang my jacket along with plenty of others amongst the branches of the trees, from a distance it looks like a poorly arranged Christmas tree. Gary squeezes up a few rows in front giving me my first target of the day. The front riders get gridded, and with the shuffle of the pack, I manage to move forward one or two spaces and find myself to too far off Gary’s wheel.

The race briefing goes down, we are told all to behave, no hitting or spitting and the pain will last for just over an hour. Then the whistle goes, and we are off. Well, to be honest, I didn’t hear the whistle blast! I just hear the sound of pedals meeting cleats, then I see that the riders out at the front are on the move. Get myself going and charge down the lefthand side of the course, fighting for space as we hit the first corner. The first turn is a bottleneck into woods, we come to slow roll, I manage to stay on the bike and ride out of trouble. We are still all in a fight for space as we drift into the small but tight S bends just after the double-sided pits.

Jump off the bike as it bunches up again and run the S bends still elbow to elbow with the mid-pack crush. After the bends, you usually have a 50-yard slog through ever deepening mud. Not this year, it was still soft underfoot, but you could ride it if you had space, I didn’t, have to stick with the running for now! Ride past the other side of the pits with the next obstacle to come will be the barriers. Just as I fight to take some space, my bike chucks off its chain. Disaster! Pull over and get the chain back on to the cogs. Can’t believe I am dead last in another race with a shipped chain. Ride to the hurdles, and with two turns of the cranks, the chain is off again. Refix it, hop the massive barriers and try the riding thing again.

The same thing happens again! Two turns of the cranks, and it pushes the chain off. Apparently, the chain tensioner isn’t happy at being in a race today and doesn’t want to put through the torture of a cross race. I have two options bouncing about in my skull. Number one is just to call it a day and get a DNF. Option two is to run the remainder of the lap and get to the pits for the spare bike. Shoulder the bike and get on with running as I am not here to give up.

I have a bit of a jog now, over three-quarters of the lap I have to run, just as well I have been putting extra miles by running with the dog in the mornings. As I hit the spiral for the first time, I get to see the backmarkers finish the last few bends which leaves me all alone at the edge of the impending doom. It was a slog running at the of the tape for about five minutes on a constant left curve. Get to the eye of the spiral and turn and run the continuous curve on the right for another five minutes to get to the exit. Just as I am finished the spiral, I get lapped by the top three while still being on my first lap. This is was a strange one! All I can do now is target the pits and get my bike changed and aim for a finish.

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Finally, I get a break, I have forgotten the pits are double-sided. That means I have run my last on the first lap, change bikes and I am glad for a seat. I am still being lapped as I cross the line for my opening lap. Head down and push on hoping I might get fortunate and by the end of the race I could even take a position if I try hard enough.

Lap two, all is going well, my tyres feel a little too inflated, making riding the mud a bit sketchy at times. Ride the spiral of doom well, manage to hang on to some wheels as the top guys go past. On lap three I tackle the mud better and running the new stairs are my strong point taking two at a time. The blue gravel sprays overhead as my speed increases along the newly laid path, take the left turn and try to power down the tarmac.

Ping! My goldie looking chain snaps! Well, that’s just GREAT! My race is now over!

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Walking up to get my jacket from the tree, Gary scoots past in a small group. He feels sorry for me for a fraction of a second just as I did when he had his DNF.

Gather my bikes and broken bits, walk over to timing van and hand in my chip. My first DNF of the season and hopefully my last. Another two bikes to fix, but at least they are minor fixes, annoying all the same though. Last year the bike ran well, and the only mechanicals were two punctures. Hopefully, that’s the bad luck out the way for the remainder of the season.

Hang about the start line to shout, jeer and laugh with the Happy Trail crew. Gary rolls over the line in an impressive 35th position and in an exhausted state. The boy is not bad at this racing thing, and he can only get better with more practice and course knowledge.

Pack up the car and head home with Gary chewing my ear about my singlespeed and how shit my backyard bike mechanics are. (Bike mechanics in a car for over an hour talking about broken bikes must be some sort of cyclocross extra time torture. Next time he’s on the roof, and the bikes are in the car)

Plean is up next. A new venue for Two Wheel Army.

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