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Riding The Dream At Plean.

Plean Country Park. 26.11.17

I have wanted to write this blog for a while. A blog about a race where I turn up, finish without any incident or mechanicals then I end the hour within the top 30 riders. Well, I finally get to tell you about it.

Plean is a new course for me, I have seen the footage on YouTube, and every one of them has snow and mud involved. Today is no different. A small covering of snow has dusted the car park, and it’s a little thicker as I wander through the woods on the way to pick up my race numbers.

The course from what I have been told has been shortened due to heavy ice on one part deeming it a bit of a hazard. From the practice lap and dropping the pit bike off, I get a feel for the course and that feeling is slippy. I am confident that the soft grass and fast decents combo will be taking a few people down if it’s ridden too fast. So leaving out another hazard for us to contend with was the right call by the organisers, (Stirling Bike Club)

Head to the start line and strip off the manky waterproofs and prepare to race. Look around, there is a small number of riders at the line in today’s race. I think, even if I come dead last I will still have one of my best placings in the senior open race. I just hope the bikes hold together and no DNFs today.

Some good news for the skinny guys, we aren’t being held for too long at the start line, meaning they won’t be shivering in the cold for too long. That’s the bonus of my bigger belly, extra winter heat! The whistle blasts as soon as the griding has been sorted and the fast boys power away.

It seems I am going backwards, I run out of gear on the start and lose distance on the bunch as we descend down to the first turn. A right corner takes us up through a thick carpet of leaf litter with the bare skeletal branches keeping us in the shade overhead.

On the climb is where I claw back a few seconds, manage to get back onto the wheels of the guys in front making me feel I am back into the race. Speed along the snow, past the pits and now it’s time to pick a good line through the spacious but very soft ground taking you to the first of two fast grass downhills.

I keep right as we shoot down the hill, bang on the brakes to take the inside of the corner and away from the soft ground on the right. Rise out the seat and climb up the hill to repeat the same move over again. Keep to the right of the grass, to try and bang off the mud build up on the bumps. Brakes on and ride the tight inside line. This time two barriers have to be negotiated before I ride uphill once more. None of this bunny hopping malarkey from me. So off the bike and run over the two small barriers, then back on to a grind up the hill.

The next descent was a bit sketchy, multiple lines to choose from but they all seemed to try and spit you out of the course, or worse down into the small burn as it narrowed taking you around a fast right-hand berm. Blast through a muddy sinkhole, then time to shoot down through the woods on a loose gravel path. At the end of the gravel, I dismount and slog up the muddy run-up. The encouragement never faltered from this marshalling point and spurs you on to the top of the deepening mud.

Get back on the peddles and swing around the condemned building in the park, and past the timing van. Time to suck in some much-needed air and not let the Stirling rider get too far ahead, as we ride down to the foot of the first climb up to the pit area.

Managed to keep on the guy’s wheel, then overtake as I passed my pit bike. A lousy line and some colourful language escaped from my mouth that shocks the English HTCC spectators as we battle through the mud. My wallowing in the mire allows him to sneak past once again. I am on his wheel for the remainder of the lap, Stirling rider receives great encouragement from his bike club as we both run the mud up to the tarmac.

I take the chance and overtake as we ride the first climb, I push on a bit harder and manage to gap him as we journey through the mud, I control my race line this time, which in turn controls my corrupt language. On the drop down I stick to the lumps to try to clear the mud on the grass decent.

I hike through the mucky runup, and as I pass the marshall and sporting a smug smile, I ask where his rider is now after gaining a bit of distance on the chasing Stirling rider. Just go to hope it doesn’t come back and bit me later on in the race. Go past the finish line for another lap and get shown the 9 laps to go. Whit!! Nine laps. I am not feeling so smug now.

I feel I can’t manage another 9 laps at the moment but settle in and time to take each lap as it comes. It’s a short course today, so it’s not long before the leaders come past. Then they do so another twice, so my nine-lap fear turned into seven laps slog. All in I complete ten laps within the hour.

I rolled over the line covered in mud and boogies in 24th position, which sounds good and gives my Statage ranking a tremendous boost, but it was only out 30 riders so when you say it like that it doesn’t seem that impressive.

Gary lapped me on the second last lap, he completed 11 laps while the winners have done 13. He rolls over the line in another impressive 17th place.

Plean you were a dream. Let’s see if I can make it the same for next week at Knockburn Loch and the Scottish Cyclocross Championships.

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Thanks to Karly Millar, Falk Meier for the use of the images in the blog post.

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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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Educating Monsters

Lapierre Scottish Cyclocross Series

Round Three, Fife College 22.10.17

The Kingdom Of Fife is our destination today. Load the two bikes, new power washer and pick up a nervous but very excited Gary Dougan. He’s breaking his racing virginity today and hopes that’s all he breaks today.

We arrive into a full carpark under a welcoming blue sky. Head on down to heckle the V50 as we make our way to sign on and receive our timing chips. A brief walk of the course while the V40 get ready to race the mud, shows Gary is in store for him at half-past two. Just as we leave the car for a warm-up ride along the road, the darkness rollovers and a wall of rain moves in. You couldn’t script this any better. Blue skies all the way through from Glasgow, park the car under golden sunshine and then it starts to drizzle down half an hour before our race. Gladly it’s just a passing shower, and just as the last lap bell sounds for the V40, the blue sky’s are back again.

Once the Bryan Donnelly has just finished rolling in the mud, it’s time for me to head up and settle into the start area. I pick my usual spot at the back, look around for Gary. Can’t see him anywhere, then spot his mug up within the top twenty. Good skills in sneaking up there mate. Set Garmin, clip one foot in and get ready to race.

A blast of the whistle and we are let loose. Fife College has a broad grass start area, pan flat but somewhat soft under the wheels (A Scottish record of 689 signing up to ride through this area so it’s no surprise it doesn’t stay very grassy or flat of for long.) Just as I was hitting top speed, a rider goes down, luckily there is plenty of room and doesn’t become a new hurdle for the riders on his rear wheel. Back on the power and bang! The chain drops, manage to freewheel to the barrier tape without incident. A quick scramble and the chain is in place, but where I stopped it is mud central, I have to leg it to dry land. I get to the first corner in dead last position and up to my ankles in mud. The only way is up from here I suppose.

By the second corner, I have taken a few position back, and when I hit the hurdle, I take a few more places as me and a few riders hop over the single barrier. Flying remount back into the saddle and get back to turning the single gear. The bike isn’t happy at all. The chain is skipping with every few turns of the cranks. The inevitable happens as I apply to much pressure and the chain jumps off again as I exit the singletrack and out to Burrito Boulevard. More oily/muddy fingers as I get it back on. The plan is now to nurse the bike around the course and make it to the pits in one piece.

The chain is skipping and clicking as I ride past HTCC Encouragement Corner. Then a few more gingerly passes around the grass turns and straights. Ride out onto the tarmac home straight, most riders can get some speed up, not me, as this bike is slowly breaking under me. Cross over the timing mat for lap one. Next to come is the run-up, get to the end of the tarmac swing off the bike and run the hill. With my bike firmly placed on my shoulder, I start to run through the mud aiming for the pits. There is no hope in hell I could ride through this slop to the pits with very limited power.

Dump the Cross bike and Lift the MTB in a race daze. Just as I am about to leave Gary comes running in. He has just punctured and was hoping to lift my pit bike. Unfortunately, I beat him to it. Tell him to grab my Felt, let him know he will have to nurse it through the race, as the chain is jumping like a kangaroo and dropping off. He’s back racing again, not for long though! His race brain takes over, as he tries to overtake me on the soft grass, he whacks too much pressure through pedals and snap, crack, and some weird noise! My mech hanger is snapped! Can you guess the bike mechanic who is now fixing my bike?

A DNF for Dougan. I feel bad as I carried on and he couldn’t complete his first race. That feeling lasted for all of three seconds, as I remember I have now gained another place. Silver linings and all that.

Complete a full lap without incident, Hated the stone and rocky barrier switchback turns after the pit, just because I am crap at turning but also seemed to get caught by the lead riders here on a lot of laps, so slowed down to give the fast boys extra room. Ramp up the speed and back onto the slush of the start area, power down the left side as close to the outer fenceline as I could get. There is still some grass here that offers up some decent grip. Turn and hug the course tape riding as much of the mud as possible heading for the notorious “Clay Corner” half a foot of mud awaits to steal your shoes if you haven’t strapped them up to the max. Off the bike and plod through the sticky mud until I find the harder ground of the off camber section, back in the saddle and shoot down the road and turn into the big field and ride along and eye up the lonely barrier.

I am getting into a rhythm now, only a few laps to go. I feel can get some decent speed through the straights of Burrito Boulevard. Then comes the joy of trying to ride Encouragement corner but could never master it, so I resort to running it the last few times and save some face. Into the last lap, my energy levels are at an all time low and the last lap bell is a joy to hear. Get into the last singletrack section, I try and chase down the riders in the distance as my little lads and Victoria shout some much-needed encouragement. Ride into the last segment of the Boulevard turns and crack! Chain drop! I can’t believe this! Try to get it back into place but its jammed tight. Out of options and out of time, lift the bike and run for the line.

Cross the line with a second broken bike and finish in 71st place.

After gathering my breath I annalise my broken bikes, Cross bike has snapped mech hanger, but also a new chain tensioner might be on the fix list. The Dirty Harry MTB has lost all the inner chainring bolts, wedging the chain in between the chainrings. How that has happened, I haven’t a clue? Just as strange as a pedal being unscrewed by the course tape! Monsters are at work in Fife College.

Thanks to Paul Davies and Dunfermline CC for hosting round three.
Thanks to all photographers for their images I have used in this blog.

One Century, One Gear

Ride To The Sun.

17th June 2017, Carlisle.

Ride to the Sun had interested me for a while, so when Clare messaged me about going to this year’s I jumped at it. With a chance to ride a Virgin (train) for £8.50, I was even more eager.

Meet up with Clare at Central Station, she is using her powers of persuasion and negotiating to get our bikes loaded onto the train (apparently have to book your bikes on board).  We get offered the next train with the bikes being stored in the cargo hold, so at least we will get down to the event.  We are told to wait and see if the two passengers who are booked on to our original train turn up, if not, then we get their spots.  Kill a bit of time chatting to the staff, telling them why there are so many bikes going to Carlisle.  They think were mental and wish us well in the final minutes of the cut-off time for bike passengers, soon we are told to get ready to board as we are getting the spots as the other bikes don’t turn up on time.  It’s great to be getting out of Glasgow on time.

Time to sit back and enjoy the train ride down to Carlisle.  Just little over an hour later we pull into a sunny Carlisle.  Grab the bikes, and get our bearings, time to navigate to the shadow of Carlisle Castle at Bitts Park.

 

Clare has arranged to meet a few people from a meetup group she is a member of, one girl turns up.  Before we set off, I have to change her front inner tube, that turned into an hour of changing tubes and trying to locate the monster that is eating holes in them.  Find a huge crack/hole in her rim and think her ride is over before it has even begun.  One of the organisers comes to the rescue with a track pump and also hands over another inner tube (3rd now).  He also donates a five-pound note to her rim to block the hole and hey presto it works.

An hour later than intended, the clock passes 8 pm.  Clare is armed with the directions, and we point our front tyres north and set off to ride to the Sun, Edinburgh here we come.

We had planned to head off with a group, to cut down on the chance of us getting lost but due to leaving later we were in a bit of a rush just to get moving.  The new plan was just to get out on the road and hopefully, we pick people up, or when people pass we can tag onto the back of them.  We manage to get onto the right road, a few fast riders ride past wishing us luck, especially me on the single speed.  We look around, and the Irish girl has been dropped, just Clare and me now.  Soon we roll into and through Longtown, This is where things fuck up!

We intended to stop and look at the directions,  if we did then we would have noticed the mistake we were about to make!  In our excitement of being out riding, we have a brain fart, we follow the road right and continue on the A7 heading to Edinburgh thinking this is the right way.  Wrong!

We are riding at a decent pace and the miles to the border are tumbling down.  Stop off for a quick selfie at the Welcome to Scotland sign.  The mood is high as we as we cross the border into Scotland.  Deep down I am feeling something is not right, in my mind, I am thinking this road is far too quiet of cyclists.  There is meant to be over 1000 people riding to the sun, but on this road, there seems to be only two!  We ride into the village of Langholm, and this is where I ask the question.  “Do you think we have fucked up and went the wrong way?” A look at the directions and it’s a huge YES ya pair of tits!

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We have two options now! Ride all the way back to Longtown, then take the road for Gretna Green, like we were meant to.  Or shall we ride the B7068 road, taking us across into Lockerbie and from there we can get back onto the correct roads.  B7068 wins, Lockerbie here we come!

Thankfully the road doesn’t have too many steep inclines, but there are enough rolling hills to get pissed off with.  Darkness is also coming, and with this, it brings sleepy yawns and heavy eyelids.  After a few hours, we manage to crest the last hill and see one of the greatest sights so far.  Street lights of Lockerbie!  We let out a few yelps of delight as we feel part of the event now, but it’s also good to be into some sort of civilisation again.  A huge boost to the moral as we ride through the town and get on the B7076  and head north to Moffat and keep our date with the chippy.

A long and slow 17 miles later we hit Moffat.  Get to the chippy, it’s good to see some other folks on bikes outside, think we are the last ones to arrive.   The other riders pull away as we sit down to the last of the fish and chips, we are lone cyclists once again.  I am suffering big time, my head is pounding, obviously not drinking enough.  Also, I feel like shit, the consumption of a gel a while back doesn’t sit well in my empty stomach (might have been out of date?)  With the feeling that I was going to puke at any minute, I don’t eat any of the last supper.  By not eating it didn’t help me refuel for the remaining 55 miles to go.

Moffat from Carlisle is looked at the halfway point of the event, roughly 45 miles.  It’s also one of the last places for refuelling this late at night.  My Garmin was showing 60 miles covered, so we had ridden a massive detour to this chippy date.  Water bottles get refilled, and now it’s time to roll out and tackle the seven-mile climb up the Devils Beef Tub. (best road name ever)

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As we ride up, up and up, our moral goes down, down and down.  I pull over and stop for Clare to catch up, her lights blinding me as she creeps ever closer. One look at each other and we can tell we are both finished with this cycle!

This is not enjoyable anymore, it never was going to be super fun, but this is a struggle. We are alone on the high pass, in the middle of the night and the temperature is dropping as the minute’s tick by.  We have over nine miles to get to the Cyclorave at the Crook Inn, Tweedsmuir.  This is our next chance to eat if banana man is still hanging around dishing out the yellow fruit.  Can we make it?  We discuss what to do, the topic that Clare could get our emergency driver Jas to come and rescue us from our looming nightmare.  At one in the morning halfway up a hill, this is the best idea of 2017.  The SOS call is placed and we decide that a two mile ride back down the hill to Moffat is the best option as A. It’s downhill and B. it’s not that far off the motorway for Jas to come and get us.

We find a bus shelter to get us out cold, some locals head home from the pub and ask why the funk are cyclist waiting for a bus at this time in the morning  “you’re in for a long wait” they shout and laugh as the stagger up the main street.  Youtube and Facebook keep us entertained for a while as we have used up all our chat in our 65 miles cycle.  Jas pulls up after an hour, we load the bikes onto the car and seek the warmth and comfort of the car. (first time I have ever looked forward to seeing a BMW driver)

Was it the right decision to quit, YIP it sure was.  I had the onset of the Bonk and to think I would make the ride to Edinburgh on a few gels that I had left in my pocket was a joke.  Also, I was freezing.  I only had a lightweight jacket and an even lighter gilet to keep me warm.  This set up wasn’t even enough to keep me warm going up half the Beef Tub never mind descending from it.

A huge learning curve for next year.  Learn to follow directions correctly and not just blast up the road.  Ride with a bunch as you can share the riding on the front but more importantly enjoy chatting with folk, this should take the mind of the grind.  Take my saddle bag with a better jacket packed and pack a lot better food options, rather than out of date gels.  Last of all is to book the bike onto the train and don’t gamble on getting it at aboard the train at the platform.

Carlisle we shall see you in 2018.

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Mantra Mornings.

Dusting off my Mountain Bike.

Nine years soon to be ten, the bank of Mum and Dad paid for a half decent bike for my 30th birthday.  Ten years on I shall be withdrawing again to purchase a shed to keep all my bikes in (I know how to spend their money).  Having a bike let me escape into the woods and trails around Darnley Dams (it’s a park now, Dams to Darnley County Park).

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I eventually went further to explore offroad tracks.  First was a short cycle over to Pollok Park.  Trying out my skills on their little colour code trails.  Green was super easy, Blue pretty easy.  The Red had a couple of good bits, but after a few loops, it became easy and within half an hour you were done messing about in the woods.  I needed more!

Carren Valley became my next playground for the bike,  I loved the last section of jumps, flight path I think it was called.  Eventually found myself driving to Glentress a few times a week and riding Spooky Wood trail most of the day (the old hub in the forest with its huge slices of cake and great coffee, made it hard to get back on the bike once you descend the full trail).

Recently I have just got my bike back after foolishly rehoming it to a friend.  Glad to get it back and it shall be staying with me now.  It’s a burnt Orange Saracen Mantra 2.  It weighs more than my car, but with plenty of gears, this should help ease the pain of the heavy frame and fat tyres.

If you have read the blog, you will know I race Cyclocross.  For training rides, I head up to the Kilpatrick Hills.  My cross bikes are both singlespeed; this is brutal on my legs going up the hundreds of meters of grass and muddy hills on recent rides.  I decided to dust of the Mantra and take to the hills to see how the MTB compares to riding the same loops on a cross bike.

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I don’t know if it was my lack of bike riding recently or the extra weight and tyre width, but as I climbed the road leading to the hills I was breathing from places I shouldn’t have been breathing from!  This is me only getting to the foot of the Kilpatrick Hills, the offroad tracks up to Jaw reservoir was hard going.  Harder than the cross bike when it had gears.  There are some great trails for a cross bike around the top the hills, so with some suspension on the front, this ride should be even better.

It was, hitting rocky drops not think about, letting the bike ride the ruts and relaxing in the bike as I went was refreshing.  The wider tyres were excellent for riding over the boggy stuff.  I would normally get off and get my socks wet while carrying the bike over the boggy stuff as it normally grinds to a halt with the CX tyres.  The triple rings at the front came in very handy when things went skywards.  Rather than run/walk the hills with the cross bike on my shoulder I worked my way down the gears until spinning was not winning and I was faster walking.

The best bits came as I got to Greenside Reservoir, there is steep and rocky track dropping you from the brow of the hill down to the banks of the reservoir.  I used to have to jump off and pick my bike up and walk my way down, as a puncture on the jagged rock edges was guaranteed.  Not today though!  Arse hanging off the back of the saddle, I ride the rocks to the bottom.  Next thing to put a huge smile on your face was a great gravel road, power onto the pedals and get the speed up, I am blasting back down to the main road then down to the house.

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 Can’t wait to get back out on the heavy bike again as Mountain Bikes are GREAT!

Double Army Down to Doonbank. 

2nd Quarter Of Quaich. 

22.1.17 Rozelle Park, Ayr.

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A trip to Rabbie Burns neck of the woods today, Ayr Burners are hosting the second round of the Super Quaich Series.

Today I am joined by Clare Campbell racing in the B race.  I missed this race last year with being away topping up on Vitamin D in the sun, so I’m looking forward to getting to grips with the course and see what’s on offer fo an hour of pain in the park.  We go get our timing chips and numbers, while on the way we suck in the smell of freshly cooked pizza.  Pretty sure I will return after the race to sample what’s on offer.  Back to the car and we get on with getting set up for race day and Clare’s second Cyclocross race.

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A slow wander up makes us a late to get to the start line, have to head to the rear of the already assembled group.  There are 91 riders today, we exchange some banter while the other riders fall in behind us.  My nerves build with each second ticking on the clock, as we wait for the start of the race.  The nervous chatter dies down as we are told we will be let loose in 30 seconds.  Quickly tell Clare to get foot clipped in, while I battle with my cleat and pedal combo (some mentor me, can’t even clip in).

Before we know it the front is off and moving, it trickles down to us and it’s our turn to push off and get racing.  Today I shall try something a bit different from other races.  I am going to take it steady from the gun and try not to be blowing out my hoop after the first 100 meters.  It’s hard not to go and attack every bit of space I see and by following wheels it does mean I catch a lot of mud to the eyes (glasses would have been good).  We have a nice big bit of solid tarmac to start us off, this gets us up to speed before we hit the grass and off cambers to come.

Ride down to the first obstacle, a bottleneck happens as we are squeezed through a small gap in the hedgerow.  Off the bike and scurry through.  Hoist the bike up onto the shoulder and set off running uphill.  After making it to the top I am glad to see some downhill taking me around to another run-up.  This one being slightly steeper, I will definitely have to run this one every lap.  Doing well for positions as I still take it easy, feel good as I crest the climb.

Swing past the pits with a group of riders, a nice looping bend means I get to suck in some much-needed oxygen.  Next up is the triple steps, dismount the bike and with some big strides, you are at the top.  Do your best flying remount in front of the ever growing crowd and back to the business of peddling.  A small decent, 180 degrees turn to the right, you are out the saddle riding back up the gradient.  Hang a left and recover while you take the long bend and lines you up for the small wooded section.  Nice quick downhill through the avenue of trees is next. It gives your legs a quick rest before you hit a short mound to ride up, taking you out the canopy of trees onto the ever softening grass.

I am starting to find a good rhythm to my racing.  I peddle past Gordan Dalglish of HTCC (hope I make it on to HTCC TV ).  Next to tick off the list of must-haves on a cross course are the barriers.  Dismount and hop, run, hop and keep on running to find some firm ground for me and my one gear to get going again.  Back on the bike and we are into the woods again.  Ride up the start area and past MYlaps timing van engulfing the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and pizza.  A sharp turn and your weaving your way through the trees (like riding a speeder bike in Return of the Jedi, awesome part of the course).

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Out from the trees and around the off camber, trying not to get sucked into the black scrim that seemed to act as magnet for my bike.  Fast ride through soft mushy grass and now the hedgerow was congestion free.  Ride through the gap, now to try and ride as much of the incline as possible.  Halfway up it became apparent I would be quicker to get off and run.  I seemed to be riding this course well and singlespeed appeared to be well suited to this course.  Still keeping it calm and not feeling like death fifteen minutes in seems to be a good way to race.

After the third lap, the bike was clogging up with mud.  So with a shout to Victoria (my new pit crew) “You need to clean my bike” with a reply “Aye fuck off, you can clean it at home”.  I suddenly shout “No I need you to clean the shit off the wheels and cranks” as I dump my bike, strip off arm warmers, then take my spare bike.

At the bottom of the woods, I see Clare.  I am about to shout and give her some encouragement as I go by but she pulls off just as I get to her.  She looks fine and it’s not until the next lap she tells me her rear mech hanger has snapped. (well it was more like, “bikes fucked” as I go past)  Get to pits and Victoria is waiting with my bike, a quick change and I’m back racing again.  A great job was done for not knowing or having anything to clean it with apart from my gloves and arm warmers.  Though I did notice on the next few laps and one more bike change she was nowhere to be seen.

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Take the last lap bell and now I have to get a shifty on.  Got to try and make up some lost ground with my slow pit changes.  In am in a little battle with a Glasgow Green rider and just ahead is Russell Mowat from Walkers Cycling.  We hit the barriers neck and neck.  Russell gets back on the bike while I have to run a few meters as can’t ride the soft bit straight after the barriers.  He stretches the gap as we enter into the trees.  I give it my all as we both sprint along the tarmac with the finishing line rapidly closing in.  Russell gets over in 16th place and I take 17th.  Not too shabby from where I started.  Maybe just maybe there is something in this new structured approach to racing.  A little part of me does wonder if I could have finished slightly higher up if we got to the start line slightly earlier and we got a space at the front.

Feel a bit gutted for Clare, having been there and had this happen, it sucks big time!  She was not alone in the broken bike finishers as it seemed Rozelle Park had a taste for rear mech hangers that day.  The main thing is she rolled up to the line to race and gave it her all.  It’s all experience in the bag and will just make her want to come back and avenge the park that killed her bike.

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Huge thanks to JP Baxter and the Burners team for hosting this race, from what I heard the changes to this course were well received and made the course more flowing.

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3rd Quarter is at Foxlake on the 5th of February.

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Rocking Rouken Glen.

1st Quarter Of Quaich

17.1.17 Rouken Glen Park, Giffnock.

Albannach will be our hosts for the first Cyclocross race of 2017.  This race is the first of four in the Super Quaich Series.  The course is looking very professional with all the scrim and sponsor banners flying on Endura Hill.  The setup crew have done a smashing job turning the park into a Cross course.  I am always amazed at the vision the course builders have and how they manage to pull it all together and give us riders a brilliant day of racing.

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I shall be racing in the “B” races this series as I know I am not fast enough to get into the top five and earn promotion.  With that being said I will give it my all.  I manage to get one lap in to check out how the course is running, very different to the last two years.  The previous years have been raced on snow and ice.  Today’s offering is going to be a lot of brown stuff, as the snow melted the day before leaving the ground rather soft.

I strip off my outer layers and reveal my new kit for the season, blinding half a dozen folk in doing so!  Time to head down to the start line, fight my way through the crowd and sneak in front of a few people and share some banter with Happy Trails CC riders.  More riders assemble and the start shoot is getting a bit cramped for space and wheels are overlapping in every direction.  I just hope everyone takes it easy and we get off to a good start.

Toot,Toot, Toot we are off.  Well, the front of the grid are off and racing.  It takes a few seconds to filter through all the bikes until us riders further back get going.  I make a slow but steady ride up the climb, catching up to the riders who were around me by the time we get to the first corner, taking you into a small woodland section.  Once out the woods, you can build up speed on the open grass.  I take a few positions riding the lower line along the grass.  This is short lived, as soon we are about to enter the woods again my rear wheel spins out just as I hit the bend, nearly taking Ross Johnstone out as a result.  He manages to dodge me and rides past into the woods.

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Slog through the mud and leaves then it’s out onto the tarmac with a gentle upward slope for even more punishment!  Back onto the grass and I am shoulder to shoulder with Ross again.  I hear him click up a gear and I pick up speed as we hit the corner.  BANG!  I’m down and sliding on the grass.  Over cooked it in the turn and my front wheel slips out.  I am sure I hear Ross chuckle to himself as he rides down the hill.  Backup and onto the bike, trying to get as much speed out of the one gear as I can, giving me momentum to ride the incline and catch the riders in front of me.  I struggle to get my feet clipped to my pedals after my tumble, no option but to jump off the bike and run the hill.

Past the back of the pits taking you into more woods.  The first long section was a bit of a struggle again some nice big tree roots to navigate past.  The second section you followed along the side of the railway track with not a lot of room for overtaking.  The third part was good to ride, it opened up slightly and I managed to start to pass the people who rode past me while I struggled at the first section.  Out the canopy of the trees again and round the front of the pits, hang a sharp left and it was a sprint over the line and past MYLAPS Timing van.

Half a lap was gone and I’m doing good for positions, sitting around 20-30th.  The next half of the lap proved to be just as hard.  After crossing the line, you came down two nice flowing corners taking you to the bottom of the first run up.  Dismount the bike and start pushing the sucker up to the top. (what am I thinking, get it on your shoulder dummy)  My bike was now in the correct position and I get to the top and remount the bike without hurting my nuts.  Another slight descent takes you back up onto a grassy incline that levels off taking you into the downhill chicane bends.  I generally hate these, I am surprised that I actually ride this bit well and trouble free.  Once at the bottom and it is time to line yourself up to tackle Endura Climb.  Not a chance I am riding to the top think I manage a quarter of the way and its off the bike and run to the top.

Double hurdles are next to come, then it’s down the back of the course.  It took you through the edge of a tree line then throw in some severe leg burning climbing taking you back up to some more single track through the trees.  At this point, I am exhausted!  I know there is a tarmac climb coming up.  I’m off the bike and pushing as the singlespeed is getting a bit tough to ride all of this course.

This is how it goes on for an hour.  Trees, Mud, Trees, Mud, Hills, Running/Walking, did I mention the mud?  I have raced in muddier conditions but this mud just jumped on the bike and stuck like glue.  After a few laps, I had to spend a few minutes poking the mud out of my rear wheel.  This became a frequent problem on each of the laps.  I had a pit bike I could use, but the conversation in my head about only cleaning one bike rather than cleaning two won, so the bike stayed in the pits.

I managed to somehow ride six laps and finish the race in 48th position.  I really had to fight hard not to quit this race, the course was brutal with the one gear.  Two laps in and I was going to chuck it, but my little boys came to see me race so I stay on the bike and continue racing, one lap at a time!  I love racing RGCX as this was my very first Cyclocross race and being the park that I grew up playing about as a boy it will always be my favourite place to race.

Hanging around to take in the “A” race was fantastic, seeing some of these riders tackle the course I slogged around with such speed and skill was unbelievable at times.  Huge congratulations to all the winners, but also huge respect to everyone who swung a leg over the bike and participated in both of the races.

Huge thanks to Jim Cameron and the Albannach Crew for putting on such a great race.

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Next Quarter of Quaich is Ayr Burners Turn with Doonbank Trofee.

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Sunday Going Down The Spiral.

4th December 2016.
Lochore Meadows, Scottish Cyclocross Championships.

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My second year racing at Scottish Champs. Pretty sure I will not surpass last year’s position, but I shall give it my all.

It’s a nice crisp winters morning drive through to Fife.  Last year’s course was eating a lot of rear mechs for lunch.  I escaped incident free last year so hopefully by the time my race comes around the course won’t be too badly churned up and I’ll escape with my bike intact.

A quick warm up along the road reveals my front break is super loose.  Head back to the car and fix it as I’m pretty sure it will be needed at some point today.  Drop the pit bike off and head off to get to grips with the “Spiral of Doom“.  This part of the course wasn’t here last year but it’s made its return for the Champs.  Basically a lot of riding to your left for two minutes then ride to your right for another two minutes.  If I was to stake that out I would have been there for a week.  Well played Paul Zarb. 

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After a few dizzy laps of the Spiral its time to hit the start line.  I manage to squeeze quite far up in the grid.  My highest place of the year so far!  A quick brief was shouted out, now it’s time to wait for the bang of the gun.

BANG!  We are let loose, I get a solid start on the inside.  Keep up with the guys who were in front of me on the line.  It’s a mad dash down to the first corner, a tight left taking you into a small wooded section.  A bottleneck happens and we all slow to a stop, find a space on the outside and I’m off racing again.  Once out of the woods the low sun makes spotting the best line for the next turn a bit hard.  Ride over some soft grass and back into the woods and out into a small clearing.  Dismount off the bike, run around the sharp left and right chicane.  Stay off the bike and continue running through the mud out to the main arena where the low sun makes for difficult viewing.

The flat grass in the main arena gets you back up to speed, hang a sharp right and you’re now eyeing up the ever growing double hurdles.  A quick run with some big leaps over the hurdles, hop back onto the bike and get the gear turning again.  Ride past the timing van and over the finishing line with the sun burning your retinas.  I am with a group of riders as we hit the solid tarmac and race up to a sharp left keeping you on the tarmac heading back to the woods.  I lose some distance here, one gear can only get you so fast!  Drift to the back of the group as we ride under the canopy of the trees once again.

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Ride out from under the tree cover and past the pits and into the Spiral for the first time. Halfway through the spiral, I am closing in on the leader of the pack Ross Johnston from HTCC, taking some positions as I go.  Then disaster strikes!  I’m down on the deck!  I over cooked it on one of the turns and front wheel slipped out, back to the end of the bunch I go.  The group have a small gap on me by the time we go past the start line and into the woods again.  At least there is no bottleneck at this point again.  Manage to catch back onto the group as we come back into main areas and eye up the hurdles for the second time.

Take another lap and we are starting to split.  By the time the tight corners and woods are dispatched, we are back onto the tarmac path.  The front riders have pulled away again and now I am being caught by riders behind.  I know losing too much speed and time in the corners but I don’t want to push it and take a tumble.  Into the Spiral again and this is where I am making ground on riders (if you took the wide line there was more grip).  An Ayr Road rider is my target. I pull him back, but over the next few corners, he’s away again. This happens each lap (really need to work on keeping the speed up on corners or applying the power out of them).

Onto the last lap, I brave it more in the corners and keep some speed up (smooth is fast). Franco Porco shouting to me to keep the wheel of riders in front. It spurs me out the saddle, and I catch on to Darren Lindsay’s wheel (and his shrinking seat post) as we tackle the spiral, we catch the Ayr Road rider again.  Now it’s time to work my socks off and try and gain two places before we finish.  We hit the last wooded section, off the bike and run the bends, sling the bike on the shoulder and run the ever-thickening mud back out to the main arena.

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Only a few corners left and the double hurdles.  Head down and pedal like mad!  A clean dismount off the bike and attack the barriers.  I can see that I have gapped the two riders chasing me, now I know that I can’t lose any positions and could ease off.  I don’t!  I keep my head down and speed up, going for a fast lap.  Roll over the line absolutely spent to take 54th place in the Senior male race.  I think I qualify for V40 races with me turning 39 in a few days time so could be my last race as a Senior, could be wrong though.  The sound of a 40-minute race looks much appealing.

That’s my racing done for 2016, but have the Super Quaich Series starting in January at Rouken Glen Park to keep training for and also keep me off the Christmas cakes.

2016 it’s been eventful, started shite, broken bikes but finished last few races in one piece, which was my primary objective. 

Education in Cyclocross 

13.11.16 Fife College, Dunfermline.

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It is the turn of Dunfermline Cycling Club to host round 4 of Scottish Cyclocross Series. A new course for me this time around as I didn’t ride their last race they held here.

On the drive through from Glasgow, it was a constant wall of fine rain. Today’s ground conditions will be soft and slippy think I need to let the air out the tyres for this one. (I aways have them too hard).

After signing on and sorting out my gear, I head up and catch the start of the V40 men’s race. It is a frantic start, Franco Porco getting to the first corner out in front. After the last rider rides passed I start to wander around the course to see what’s in store today.

Mud, mud, glorious mud!  Though I don’t see any glorious mud in Dunfermline. It all looks rather sticky and very deep. Everyone keeps telling me singlespeed will be good for this course. Me, not so sure?

Gary McCrae takes the win in the Vet 40 race followed by Stevie Jackson and then a great comeback race from Craig Hardie taking the third spot. The V40 race is now over, time to make my way to start line.

Just as we are getting gridded the rain starts. Great! Just what we needed! Get settled in amongst the rear of the pack again.

Whistle blasts and we’re off.

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It’s bloody chaos!  I try to remember green is good, brown is bad. I hug the left-hand side of the course as close to the tape as possible.  The brown stuff becomes even thicker now it’s time to get off and run.

Running through ankle deep mud along an off camber section while one arm is flailing about, trying to not let the mud suck your shoes off is a pretty hard task. I managed to drag my feet through it and get back on the bike for a slight downhill chicane. I noticed this became a huge bottleneck when watching the V40 race. I decide to jump off and leg it down the outside of everyone and make up around ten places.  Result!

I don’t bother remounting the bike as just around the corner are two massive hurdles. Jump over these then it’s back onto the bike for a good downhill section, sucking in some much-needed oxygen.

Next part of the course was single-track through the trees. One nice little bomb hole to deal with, then you came to “Jump for Trump”.  Great efforts by the Marshalls encouraging people to catch some air. I bottled it every time!  I would end up in the bushes with a broken bike if I attempted it, so wheels stayed firmly on the ground every lap.

A few more soft zig-zag areas came next. I could ride these well if I got the power down, but once the mud got too deep, I would grind to a halt. Back off and running again.

Swing off the grass and onto some welcome tarmac. Blast up the home straight and over the line, my first lap complete. After the tarmac had run out, it was off the bike and assault the run-up.

Swing the leg off, dismount the bike. Attack the hill with small steps, so I don’t slip on my arse and have the bike land on me or bounce down the hill in a heap. After cresting the hill, I run the next long grass section. I don’t think I would have the power or momentum to keep me driving through the mud if I tried to ride this part.

All my hill running should be paying off today, I am keeping pace with folks with fancy gears (probably their biggest gear) that are still riding through the sludge. Get to the hard stone start area and its back on the bike and power down to ride as much distance to the off camber as I can.

This top grass section is my hardest part of the race, I was glad to get back on the bike and ride the rest of the course. After each lap I dreaded the run-up, I knew I was in for a long slog pushing the bike. After 5 laps and the bike being caked in mud, I nipped into the pits and brought out my clean bike.

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Big mistake, this bike weighs considerably more it also has a smaller gear on it. My next two laps just became even harder. This shows in my results by an extra minute added to each lap.

With me slowing in the last few laps it means I got caught by a group of riders, some are lapping me, some are taking my position. I have nothing in the tank to chase down, so last few corners suck! I felt I had flung away some good positions.

All in all, I finished in 69th place from 96 riders. Harry Johnston made it 100% win rate so far taking the win. Gary Mcdonald stepping up to his usual step on second spot and last podium place goes to David Duggan with third place.

Bikes were manky, I was manky but I loved that course, and it did suit a single speed.

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 Next up is Irvine and it’s Sand Dunes of Doom!

Huge thanks to all the Organisers and the Marshalls for putting on this round of the series.

Also thanks to Anthony and Michael and the rest of the photography crew for helping bring the memories of pain and tears through the medium of images.

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Happy HalloX

Cross has been a struggle.

With me having a slow start to the training regime, my results have been terrible in the few early cross races. I feel that It’s a game of catch up with everyone now, but my main goal is just to be able to last the hour of racing.

When I saw HalloX on the calendar it was something I really wanted to be part of. Main reason was it would be taking part at night. A totally new experience for me to race in the dark. Then fancy dress costumes were to be the attire for the night. I thought of aero gains and went for a Morph Suit.

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Get signed on, get my bike and I sorted out my lights. I have a head torch for lighting up my line of sight and main flood light on bars to guide me through the course. Leaving the car park you get glimpses of riders on the course, lines of little lights in the distance. Music is pumping and flood lights are showing off some remarkable costumes.

Meet up with Kevin Pugh and we take ET for a spin around the course, wonder if they two will fly over the barriers later. It’s a bit mental trying to figure out who you are talking to.

A. Due to the dark and being blinded by their head torch.

B. Can’t recognise them due to their costume.

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We are all like moths, follow the light in front of us along to the start line. All the miserable bastards that didn’t dress up are weeded out and moved to the back. Everyone is eyeing the person in front to see if the made the effort or if they could be part of the cull going on. I’m next to a BMX rider with ET in his basket and behind a Bee and a Sheep. We’re good.

Lights are on full, Garmen is set, Just waiting on the siren to mark the start of the evening’s race. RrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaahhhhrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrRRRR (something like that) We are off, and what a sight it must be to the spectators. It’s mental!  I keep up with the Bee and Sheep, lose ET at first bend then get passed by some zombies and other creatures. I struggle to get past some inflatable wings at the single track on the first wood section. The woods had a hidden surprise, the kids were here hiding and jumping up screaming scaring the riders that got too close.

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 There was a last minute change to the course layout with the discovery of a badger sett in the woods. Well done to the organisers for rerouting the course and keeping a good flow to the course.

There would be three main talking points on the course. First is the first set of barriers, they were pretty high. Glad I have long limbs and could still take them at a decent speed. Next was the zig zags just after the finishing lap, some uphill and downhill ramps then the double barriers onto a small run up.

This took you along to another super technical area. Tight bend taking you onto a short off camber section, cut back on yourself at the bottom then came Carnage corner. Uphill left-hand bend that then spat you out onto a long off camber section. This was the hardest part of the course due to the morning and afternoon rain making it soft and slippy. This part of the course was taking riders out for fun. The pressure was on to ride it as the crowd had gathered here and  the atmosphere was great if you made it a cheer went up, but if you took a tumble the crowd went OOOOOH!

I managed to ride it a couple of time before the hill eventually fought back and took me out the race. I rode the corner and was on the high line, then front wheel slipped out and I went down like a sack of potatoes. My right-hand shifter took the brunt of the hit along with a good impact on my lid. I didn’t realise my race was over until I got up and ran to the next section and noticed shifter was in two parts and totally destroyed.

Ah baws, another repair bill. I now become a spectator at Carnage corner.

My first night ride and I loved it. The course at Nether Pollok was a belter, no super big hills to kill you, but the open grass areas were soft and sucked the wheels down and you had to use a fair amount of energy to power through. I loved the barriers and Carnage corner was always a good challenge on every lap.

Look forward to HalloX 2017 now.

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Thanks to Jay Golian for letting his images be stolen and used in this post.