words of wisdom

Man Too Hot.

Super Quaich, The Third Round.

Roukenglen Park, 18.2.18.

Albannach and the Unicorn tamer Jim Cameron are the hosts of the last Super Quaich party.

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Roulenglen Park isn’t my best course, but I always look forward to it as my Mum and Dad come and join the ranks of the Two Wheel Army support crew. (also help with Victoria getting the kids out from the trees) This year’s race is a bit later on in the race calendar so no snow this year but there is still a nip in the air.

Clare is racing in the B race today, the crew and I turn up just as the race has begun. Kevin Pugh and Craig Lewis Hamilton are at the font of the race as they come through the trees and into the main support bowl. RGCX has an excellent location for spectating, 95% of the course is watchable from the sign on the tent. (this year the burger van is on hand to feed the faces of all the spectators)

Clare is slogging through lap after lap for the hour’s race. A head full of determination of not getting a DNF on her last Cyclocross race of the season. Her grit and fighting spirit gets her around the course and rolls over the finish line celebrating that she is the last rider home. Well, news for you CC, you didn’t come last, and you beat the course. That’s always the right way to end the race season.

My turn to race approaches, I say my goodbyes, and I am wished good luck as I ride down to the start shoot. I find myself late to the party, squeeze past the bunch and nestle in the right on top of a sand pit. Great, more sand! I thought I had seen enough at Irvine. Chat away to Owen Philipson, then four by four we get moved out the sand and up behind the 20 gridded riders. While chatting away we don’t hear the briefing, and before we know it, the front has burst apart, and the race is on. It takes a moment to hear the Hoot Hoot Hoot of the starting horns, but they are going off, now It’s my turn to race.

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Sprint up the slog of the tarmac hill, suck in lungfuls of oxygen at the top. Navigate the muddy lines and other racers in this condensed area. Come through the trees and out to the open grass, take a quick left and ride along the treeline and then a right turn has you coming back on yourself. The bike soon dips down, taking in the fastest part of the course, a quick descent heading past the spectator bowl for the first time. Drive up the incline with the rear wheel slipping and sliding all the way and turn right and into the woods. A narrow path keeps us all close and fighting for space. Thanks to those pesky B racers they have churned up the grass and made it sticky and slippy slog. I slowly grind my way through the first section, and as I get into the next HTCC old guard Julian passes by, he forces me off track with a close pass, and I’m leaving patches of skin from my leg in the thick bramble bushes.

I like riding the last section of the woods, I always seem to ride this part quite fast, and I gain some place as we exit the woods and ride past the pits. My tyres roll over the timing line for the first time as we race down and around to the first run-up. It’s a short, sharp climb. My feet skid and slide as I run the mud/grassy incline. Dig my feet in a little deeper, and I get to the top of the hill, again taking a few places as I remount the bike and the TWA crew shout me on.

Run the next half of a hill as some riders go past still in the saddle, (why is it called a saddle when its attached to a seat post?) then ride along to the hurdles. Were still bunched up as we turn and dismount for the double magenta barriers. A lot of riders remount and ride along to the new downhill section. Me on the other hand, I keep running until I reach the brow of the hill, back on the bike and freewheel to the bottom of the hill. Some tremendous sweeping switchbacks line you up for the second longer grassy climb. I usually have to dismount and run this hill, but do you know what, I’m going to give it a bash and try to ride this sucker! And I do! I struggle to the top by some zig-zag riding and seeking out grip, also lots of sheer stubbornness helps at this point. The growing crowd also helps with tones of encouragement to all riders tackling the hill.

Back in the saddle (seat) and ride through the mud soup, that takes you into the trees once again. This links you back up with the tarmac start shoot, I have to walk/run the last of the bog as by peddling I don’t seem to be getting anywhere fast. Get to the tarmac and back to riding a bike race in a bike race. It’s being to string out and riding the top wood section I can pick a decent line with some free space ahead. I am gaining on a small group just a few seconds out in front. Deep down I know I won’t be able to hold on to the group as this course isn’t my fastest to get around.

Eventually lap after lap I run out of gas, I hear two laps to go as I come round to the timing van. (great commentary by @mikefixerpayne) Which probably means one and a half for me as I’m sure David Duggan will catch me again. I manage to ride the big hill a few more times but slowing every time I complete it. The last two times I manage 3/4 of the way up. I don’t have any lying down in the mud today, always a good race when that happens but I do regret wearing gloves and arm warmers.

Man got too hot! Halfway around I have stop and strip my arm warmers down to my wrists to cool down. Then at the spectator’s bowl, I pull up to remove my gloves and warmers altogether. I hate being too hot! It distracts me, I think about it too much instead of concentrating on racing. Also, I get a bit nauseous if I am too hot. I lose a tone of time to the riders in front of me by pissing about, but at least I feel some much-needed fresh air.

David does catch me again, just as we entered the woods behind the pits. I now know my race will soon be over as David is riding along to get the checkered flag and the win. I have someone in my sights, a Johnston Wheeler is slowing, this spurs my legs on and the speed is up as we come through the last section of woods. At the end of the woods and entry into the pit area, he slips and goes down. I dig in and pass him on the inside. Kept the power going, ride around the bend and into the last corner. A quick glance over my shoulder and I see I have some space on riders at my back, let the bike glide over the line in 64th spot and to complete RGCX and my Cyclocross season.

Huge thanks to all the Unicorn helpers and event organisers, RGCX is always special.
Thanks again to Michael Martin again some incredible pictures and also to Graeme Cross for some classic black and white images.
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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. 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 slidding gradually to the bottom of the camber and along the scrim and barrior 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 embaresment 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 over head.

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 they 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 startline. 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 grat National Trouphy 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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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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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.

South Park.

Tweed Cross.

27.8.17 Tweedbank Park.
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An early rise to see who had won the most talked about boxing bout in the world, but the fight hadn’t even begun yet as I got ready to head off on a drive South to help the guys from Happy Trails Cross Collective stake out the course for one of the first Cyclocross races of the year.

Arrive at Tweedbank Park at 7 o’clock (or as the border folk say ‘Seaven’). My legs need a bit of stretch after sitting in the car for the two-hour drive. Park up and wander along to find the HTCC boys. The crew are already working away getting the park into shape, final racing lines being talked and walked through before the final taping is completed. I get busy with some tree trimming and shifting bags of stabbers around the course. As the last bit of sponsorship tape is tied (Orbea) I’m itching to get on the bike and have a ride of the course.

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As the final bit of paint is coming out the can, MC Maddy Robinson shouts the riders over to the freshly painted start grid. The first race of Tweed Cross is about to kick off with the B racers clipped in waiting for the whistle to blast. Maddy gets them underway and they have a nice long left bend on the firm grass to get them all up to speed, the fight for space is on as they head to the start line. Jackie Chan is off to a flyer and should remain out in the lead for the rest of this race if he can keep this speed up and avoid incident. I head over to Tempest Hills to help dish out some encouragement, abuse and after the first lap some beer hand-ups from Tweedbanks local brewer, Tempest Brewing Co.

With six laps complete for the lead riders it doesn’t bode well for me when one of the race organisers describe the course as ‘brutal’. I am really excited about putting my self through a brutal hour of racing, Not! Jackie did manage to keep the speed up and took the win, Robbie Mitchell was second over the line with Graeme McBirnie filling the last of the male podium places. Ladies winners were Alicia Lawson taking first place, Caroline Harvey coming in second and Jamie Nicholson taking the third spot. Well done to all racers and winners.

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Get a few warm up rides in and have a feel for the course. The racing line has been dialled in with the B race. I love the Tempest hills. Also, the big grass swoops at the start area are smooth and fast. I don’t love the dirty bits as much. In the dusty brown areas, it’s hard for me to ride slow with the gear I am on. I manage it in warm up but how I fare during the race at a faster speed is yet to be seen.

We gather at the start shoot, the grided riders get pulled out to the front of the bunch. Me on the other hand, I hang at the back of the bunch, I know my place in this race. Nerves kick in, I am starting to feel out of my depth being In the A race. My thoughts are, jump in at the deep end and prepare for October 1st when the Scottish Cyclocross kicks off for 2017.

MC Maddy gets us boys sorted out, a massive blast of the whistle and the guys fly off the line. I, on the other hand, forget I am in a race and have a slow start to whistle blowing. I am lagging behind as we cross over the start line and fight to remain in touch with the boys just in front of me as we leave the grass bends and head into woods.

In amongst the trees, there was lots of fun to be had if you weren’t on a bike and breathing like an asthmatic with one lung. In here lurks two sand traps and a dusty bank to ride up. The sand was firm and compacted due to previous race and riders ahead of me so wasn’t too hard to ride. The bank, on the other hand, was tough on the legs. For me to ride it, I had to hit it hard to get to the top. After grinding to the top of the mound it was a downhill left and avoid the tree roots. I am sure that blue paint over the roots attracted my wheels every time I went past. Bump out the woods then the next challenge was the double hurdles.

Still, in the battle of the back markers, I clear the barriers without a hitch. Next on the list of Southern fun was ‘Redneck Hill’. My least favourite part of the course because I couldn’t ride it fast, and in the later laps I couldn’t ride it at all. The hill consisted of dust, roots, line options, trees and some sharp turns. I have got another weakness to my limited racing skills now. Ride away from the Rednecks, in doing so it just brings you into more pain. A soft grassy ride up into another tight wood section that slows me down, then it spits you out along some welcome tarmac.

The smoothness is short lived as you ride up onto a grass bank and along past the pits. I get some speed up, trying to claw back onto the wheel I lost by going so slow through the woods. Another small grassy lump which attempts to deposit you into the trees if you are not careful. Then came my favourite part of the course, riding in an out of the woods of Tempest Hills.

This was a great area for me, if I could just leave the brakes alone it would have been much better. I still bottle it at hitting corners at speed, so Martin Steele drifts off into the distance as I potter around the last few bends. A quick jump for Trump and it’s on the edge of the saddle and pick up some speed as I come past the back of the timing van and turn and burn for the line to take my first lap, Nick Jupp still stalking me from behind.

Five more laps, one off and I take the checkered HTCC shirt. I am knackered and in desperate need of a drink. Head over and trade a few Tempest beer mats for some cold beers. The best way to end a race in my eyes. I lasted around three laps of racing with Nick, but in the end, he broke me on the dirt climb just after the sand traps. He kept pulling away as we hit the barriers and then the gap grew bigger as I toiled at Redneck Hill. Once he was away, the lead riders came through for the first time. With each rider catching me I lost time on him as I slowed or stopped to let them through. My race became against the course and clock now.

Tweed Cross you were indeed “BRUTAL.”

Podium placing was a hard fought battle, Jeremy Durrin taking the top spot, Gary MacDonald taking the second step and David Duggan stepping up to third.

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A great use of imagination was used to put this course together, the use of all of the topography the park could offer. I am still in awe of what a pretty flat park can produce for a cross race. The HTCC organisation should be very proud of what they put on here. Their first race they have hosted had a lot of boxes to be ticked and people to please to get this race on the go. The numbers and quality of the riders that turned up for this race were outstanding.

From all the novices to the best of Scotland and International stars we can’t wait for Tweed 2018. #TWEEDBANKSY

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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. 

Duels in the Dunes.

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 Round 5 of Scottish Cyclocross Series takes us to a wee trip to the beach. No bucket and spade to play with today though.

Wandering up to sign on, I see that there has been already a change from last year’s championship course. We won’t be riding past the stench of the portaloos today as the car parking area has been extended. Meet up with Kevin Pugh for a wander around the course taking in what else is new/been cut from last year.

Vet 40 men are just starting their race, head up to the run-up and shout some words of encouragement to the riders or hill runners at this point. Stevie Jackson was the first one to the run up still with the yellow test seat on his bike, must be the longest test for that seat ever. Craig Hardie is hot on his heels while the rest of the racers snake out along the single track.

While the V40 battle it out it’s my time to get my bikes seen too. The debate over my tyre pressure begins. Dump the spare bike into the pits then head along to see the conclusion of the V40. Craig Hardie rolls over the line to take the win just four seconds ahead of Stevie Jackson and John Woodrow takes the third spot. A good bit of racing by the auld yins!

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Warm up lap complete, I make my way to the start line. Gridding places are sorted and I find a spot and settle in. Only 69 riders in today race making it feel like I am near the front compared to last few races. Whistle blasts and so do I, Craig Lewis-Hamilton shoots off like his namesake and I go with him, trying to keep the same pace into the first corner.

Then I run out of gear on the single speed as we pass the commentators van and he pulls away. Hang a tight right, and we are on the climb. Last year this was a huge strength sapper for me. Today though I am going up the ever changing colour of grass pretty well.

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Crest the hill suck in air and get my breathing slowed. Now onto a great addition to the course, some nice little rollercoaster bends with a little dipper at the end warming you up for its big brother once you tackle the long zig-zags. The Big Dipper (The Big Diaper as I called it last year, I shat it every time I rolled over the edge) is next up. Gain speed, roll over the edge and drop down to sea level, as soon as you hit the flat its back on the peddles and keep the speed to blast up and over the top. Yasssssss! Conquered that sucker!

One legged peddling came next, with two areas of off camber awesomeness. Feet back into pedals and up the valley path towards the sea with the dragon watching down from your left.

Turn right and along the tight single trail, one eye on the ever looming run-up. Dismount at the foot of the climb, and it’s time to try and attack the hill and move up positions. My new shoes don’t have toe studs, so half way up the slope it turns soft and slippy. (I have a plan for this, the penguin walk.) Feet are out to the side, searching for good grip. Making headway to the summit. Over the top and back onto the saddle, rolling down and around to another fast downhill section. Up past the pond and take the path to the beach.

Just as last year, hanging on to the left-hand side of this monster of a sand trap was the best and firmest line. Seem to be riding it well, the single speed has a significant advantage here as I am pushing a harder gear than I would be if I had gears, giving me great momentum. Get to the deepest section of sand drive hard and push around the left-hand bend taking you out and along where we started. A few quick corners, past the timing van and finish line, then it was time to drive up the hill again.

Every time I got to the hill, I was out the saddle driving all the way to the top. Definitely my strong point today. If I didn’t pick people off, I seemed to gap the person behind. Really enjoyed the rest of the course once the hill climb was behind me. Even looked forward to tackling the “Big Dipper” on every lap.

After 8 laps and being lapped twice it was race over, I wasn’t too sure I would see the finish today. Like most people this time of year I came down with the cold a few days before the race. I was still coughing at the start line and after Lap 1 and seeing 8 more laps to go, I really did think of chucking it. Maybe if it was another course, I might have pulled up and had a DNF, but what Scott Kerr, Brian McCtcheon and the Walker Cycling Team done with this bit of grass and sand, it was incredible! Loved the new parts of the course and also they supplied the right kind of weather too.

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Well done to Harry Johnston keeping it a clean sweep for the series. Gary McDonald sprinting home to take second from Rab Wardell in third.

Huge thanks to all who shouted encouragement to me as I struggled on.  I came into this sport not knowing a soul, yet now after last season and this it is good to hear so many people shout ‘Go, Bryan’. It can be a massive boost helping you struggle on to the next lap. Feel like I am part of the family now.  Sorry, Jim Cameron, you will have to put up with my parody posters for a while yet! Haha!

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Thanks once again to Michael Martin and Cameron Mason for the images.

Next up for TwoWheelArmy is the Scottish CHAMPS! At Lochore Meadows.

 

 

 

 

Gangs Of Cyclocross

Callender Park, Falkirk, Scotland, 9th October 2016.

Round 1 of the Scottish Cyclocross Series.callender-park-1

The gangs assemble at another park in Scotland, readying themselves for terrible battles that lie ahead. Cuts, bruises and dramatic falls are to come in the next few months of an ever growing gang population. 600 people assemble today to battle it out to be crowned the first winner of their fight, taking the bragging rights to the next park.

As I make my way to the sign on tent, register myself and represent my team in this first pitch battle, I see a lot of gangs have congregated under their banners, staking out their little patch of turf as their stronghold for the day.

Walkers are next to RCCK who are eyeing up Leslie Bikers Boutique. Pedal Power seems to be jammed in between the two. On the fringes, Ayr Burners are looking thin on numbers with people switching alliances on the day. Albannach always seem to multiply in numbers at every park, HTCC  swarm about looking for an opportunity to make their colours noticed. After this, you have the unattached fighters, eyeing up the influential groups deciding who’s colours they might wear for the rest of the battles to come.

I head back to the car and get my fighting gear ready and tooled up with all I need to survive in an all out battle for an hour. Then it is down to the battlefield and to the line drawn in the dirt. The big hitters are all at the front of the bunch, whilst we wannabes are content for spots at the back of the pack. The nerves begin to build, eyeball the surrounding people looking for any weakness, find none!  Rules are being laid out, some people ignore them as they are too focused on the mayhem that is about to come down on them, get ready for the call for action.

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30 seconds and we will be let loose! I get my foot clipped in, other is firmly planted, ready to drive off. Eyes focused on the person in front of me, body weight leaning forward and ready for the charge ahead.

BANG! We are off! I drive off with my foot and keep my eyes on the guy in front, whilst scanning my periphery for the dangers coming at me from both sides. I see a space and move left into a bit of clean air and now I have control of my battle. Get onto the grass on the outside taking some places and look ahead for the next bend. Manage to get into a decent gap which allows for me to take the racing line around the bend. Still in the middle of the crowd by the time we ride the gravel path taking me past the timing van. Next to tackle is the Big Tree Bend. Keep left on this as looked the smoothest way up, it also gave to a good line around the roots at the top.

Descend the hill and now it is time to hustle up along to the stairs, good little drag from the Big Tree Bend to the stairs.  Grippy grass enabling you to get the speed up, seem to be gaining and closing gaps with each stroke of the pedals. Dismount the bike, run up the steps, then with a flying leap I remount back on to the bike, taking a couple of spaces as I go.

A few more ridable areas taking you up to a short sharp incline, apply the power and you were up and over, taking you under the canopy of some large trees. Then came the great downhill speed section, miss the kerbs at the bottom of the hill and you are then zipping up to the hard part of the course. Long grassy uphill section that was slightly slippery due to the morning dew and the other 500 riders being on the course before us.

A dashing decent through the little wood section taking you down to a big swooping lefthander, pinging you out at the foot of another climb sucking all the speed out of your legs. Next part was so much better than 2015.  Organisers had still kept the switchbacks but this year they were lengthened, making them much more rideable but still keeping a degree of technicality about them.

Come off the bends and you are past the pits, heading past the main crowd arena. There was an amazing amount of support today, as the dry conditions made this race more pleasable to watch. Two more bends and then it was the drag up the grass take an 180-degree turn and shoot back down the gravel and take a lap.

All was going well, kept moving up the field and felt good. Then disaster, I hit the kerb on the downhill section.  My rear tyre was a little underinflated before the race so with the bang it pinches and now inner is punctured. Gutter!

Race over? No way! I came to Falkirk for a fight, and fight I shall do! Off and running to the pits (jogging)(very slowly) I came with a pit bike. My new single speed cross bike would be getting its maiden voyage. I had to run roughly half a lap and survive. I took an age to get to the pits, I was burst! Big thanks to Harry McGarvie for taking care of my bike while it got to the end of the pits and mounted my second bike of the day.

OMG! How hard did the remainder of the race become? With the gears, you can slightly get a rest on some parts of this course. With the SS it was a battle all the was around. But battle I did, I was super happy with my next lap as I managed to ride the whole course, well except the steps. I wasn’t in this fight for a position now, it was just survival mode, trying to make it to the end of the hours racing. When I received the bell indicating that I was on my last lap the goal now was to ride the whole course and not have to run any hills.

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When that last drag up the hill to the switchbacks conquered I knew I had achieved my goal. Try and pick up the pace want to get this over with but also try to take a lap back from some riders that passed me. Hit the last 180-degree turn and with the line in sight I pick it up again and take the flag. I take 84th place, rather disappointing.

Job done! Seems like I have to do things the hard way the past few races. So I am grateful I managed to get a good hours worth of training in and also knowing I can race a single speed if need be.

A huge effort has been put in with Davie Lines and Franco Porco to create a great course in a great park for a great cyclocross community.

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Thanks, guys and also to all the helper’s marshalls and to all that stayed to cheer on the racers.

Next up for me is Halloween Dressup time at HalloX.people2

Thanks to the photography skills and images in this post from Michael Martin, The Pressoom and Anthony Robson.

 

 

Here Kitty,Kitty.

Weekend Kit, Commuter Kit, Race Kit or Just Cycling Kit.

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Probably like most cyclist out there I have a drawer of ever-expanding cycling kit, along with pre/post race kit.

It’s funny looking back to what I thought was a reliable and comfortable kit to wear for my first ventures out on the road bike.

I did buy some cycling shorts, £20 was spent in Go Outdoors for some Lycra and the tiny bit of padding.  These were then covered up by some old sports shorts as I felt a bit exposed at the tightness and flashing my skinny legs.  After a few weeks, I braved it and left the sports shorts at home and even bought my first proper cycling jersey with pockets on the back enabling me to ditch the Camelbak too.

After feeling a little bit more of a proper cyclist I invested in a pair of bib shorts.  I would never go back to shorts after wearing them.  The main reason was for comfort but also knowing that the rider or car driver behind you can’t see your ass crack, along with the added bonus of feeling like a wrestler from the early 80’s in them when you look in the mirror.

Once I started racing this is where the drawer seemed to multiply in kit overnight.  I bought some ASOS kit, which I kept as my Sunday best.  It felt good pulling on some quality threads and rolling up to the line in your cycling finest.

I got Cross, Cyclocross.

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With Cyclocross my kit expanded again due to the amount of mud, sweat and tears.  I went back to some cheaper bibs and tops for training due them getting trashed with the great Scottish weather.  With the bibs and jerseys, along came arm warmers, leg warmers, base layers, jackets, a huge amount of socks and umpteen pairs of gloves.

Pre and Post race clothes became the next thing on the list.  With Cyclocross taking place in the Scottish winter months, warm waterproof clothing became important.  Keeping you warm and dry while you wandered in the rain to the sign on area and having something to keep on and keep you semi-dry for a warm up lap or two.

Pre/Post Crit racing and Road racing clothes were some new sports tops and trousers with decent zips enabling you to strip down quickly after the turbo warm up and roll up to the start line.

A blog was born.

With the blog, I progressed to creating Team Two Wheel Army.  So the team would need some kit to race in and hopefully promote the blog at the same time.

If like me you only want to create one of a kind kit then you will get a lot of companies replying with “Sorry we have a minimum order of ten garments, so you will have to find nine more riders”.

Kalas have been great.  They didn’t see it as a problem I was only a team of one.  Or that I had no idea what I wanted or even a colour.  With a few emails, I had a few ideas and then eventually the kit was finalised and on the cutting table.  A few weeks later, I soon had my very own team and its own cycling kit.  A very proud moment.

Along came a Fixie.

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I finally thought I had all my Cycling kit sorted, but then came along a chance of a fixie bike.

This now flung a spanner in the works.  I wanted to ride the fixie to and from work, but also will be the bike I nip to the shops in and just get out and enjoy a quiet, easy ride.

With this I don’t think I need the aerodynamics the Lycra brings, so now it’s time to dig out my baggy shorts and t-shirts, trying my best to look cool and hipster.

With the cool clothes in mind, I began looking more and more at images of Fixie riders on Instagram seeing what brands and style were out there. This is I stumbled on a post from My bike and I. mybikeandi.co.uk

First of all, I was looking at the Caps.  As on the Fixie, I have ditched the helmet and the wind is creating havoc with my hair.

I sent a little post on their Instagram page, I soon had a reply.  After a few email exchanges, it looks like I shall be getting a new cap to tame the hair, also a new t-shirt to wear while riding the bike or wearing before my races.

The contact I have had with the new budding bike clothing company, I have been really impressed with what I have seen and the vision for the future.  I think they are onto a winner with their brand and hopefully, Two Wheel Army can help promote some more of the products in the future.

Thoughts!

What are your thoughts on buying cycling kit? Do buy the full team kit of Sky or your favourite team?  Some call this the full kit wanker!  Or do you stick with the high-end of the market and only wear Rapha?  I would like to hear your thoughts on this subject.

Feel free to leave a comment. 

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