We're just back from racing round 2 of the Brass Monkey series, which was the first time we've put a number board on a bike in 18 months. There's no real reason for the lack of bike racing, it just got to the stage where nothing really floated our boats, and we'd inevitably be working on those weekends when anything piqued our interest. Occasionally we'd find something that was on a weekend we had free, looked pretty exciting and different, and we'd get as far as the 'enter now' page before inevitably snorting an emphatic "HOW MUCH!?", spraying our laptop with phlegm and bile. People have suggested events to us, encouraging us to go and do the 'Tour de Somewhere Expensive', but the entry fees for these races tend to be equivalent to several months of what you might call bike-packing, but we still call camping. When we use our traditional formulas, where hours driven are roughly equal to hours raced, and price per hour of racing is less than a tenner, the Brass Monkeys always come out as great value...as long as you finish the race.
We decided to race our rigid single-speeds, which we got a few months ago, second-hand in a dodgy deal behind a shipping container. We wanted cheap bikes that we could ride year round, not worry about leaving outside the co-op, and bikes that reflected the kind of riding we do now, which is more about cruising and exploring, happy to get off and walk when the going gets tough and the knees go crack. We ride them a lot, and still don't really understand anything about gear ratios, which seems to be vital to single-speeding, gear ratios and beards are de rigeur and we fail on both counts although Maddie tries hard on the beard front. You can't help but get drawn in to the ratio discussions, and being competitive you want to join in on the 'who's got the biggest ratio' competition, despite the fact that a) most of them are lying and b) the rest live in Norfolk and have quads like Chris Hoy. Our bikes came with really low, twiddly gears, we are spinning like a Kenwood Chef on anything other than a 1:4 climb, so I caved in and got a slightly bigger gear, a mere 2 teeth smaller on the cog, how hard could it be? First ride out, and having lost two teeth on the sprocket, I also lost two teeth from my head from grinding them off on the first climb. The hills go from comfortably hard, hill-climb grinders to eyeball popping, tooth grinding, quad rippers.
But the elderly among us have history in this area. Those that remember double chain-rings, and even triple chain-rings (oh, the weight!) and rode regularly in groups will have experienced the Battle of the Big Ring. There's no disguising the click of the left hand shifter (the weakling's friend). When I rode in the Chilterns for all those years in local clubs, every hill would see the unspoken Battle of the Big Ring or, if it was exceptionally steep, his younger, punier brother - Battle of the Middle Ring. We'd all start the hill on the same chain-ring, and conversation would stop as we all knew what was going on. Then it would be the man-test of how long we could stay in that chain-ring, without whimpering, before the humiliating, unmistakeable sound of 'ker-chunk' as you are forced to change down. There's nothing you can do to disguise the sound of shifting down a chain-ring, which even on the most expensive groupset has always been borderline agricultural in its subtlety. You can fake a cough, start talking loudly, or drop off the back of the group, but still everyone knows what you've done. Shifting down a chain-ring registers on the Richter Scale. It is accompanied by a visible drop of the head in shame and snorts of derision from your riding companions. You're left to dribble up the hill on your own in your little chain-ring, stand apart from the group at the top and though your knees might be intact, your self-respect is not.
But I was persuaded that big was better when it came to single-speed racing, failing as ever to learn from previous, innumerate mistakes. Some time back I went along to a local hill climb on my fixie. I took my fixie as it is my only road bike, and I thought perfect for the task. Now me and my fixie can get up anything, in our own time and at our own speed, and only occasionally needing a lie down at the top. Like walking a Jack Russell, you and your faithful short-arse dog will tackle all sorts of terrain at a leisurely bimble, stop at the top for a brew and a biccie, lovely. But ask you and Stumpy the Wonder Dog to cane it up that same hill and I guarantee that the dog will have wrapped his tits in within the first twenty paces. Come race day I 'happily' rode the hill to check it out, waited for my two-up start spot, the gun went off and I went ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE! I could happily grind up the hill all day long, but once I tried to whack in a big effort I blew my doors within seconds, coming to a complete standstill with quads on fire and resorting to zig-zagging up the remainder while my opponent was on his way back down. Riding home after the event, I rode away from everyone else on the hills, utterly bewildered as to why me and the bike couldn't muster a decent effort between us.
Come the Brass Monkey, and having no ability to learn from my mistakes, I pitched up with the bigger of my two gear options. Preferring to swan around the car park, chatting to equally old, bewildered friends than warming up or pre-riding, and relying on assuming that there won't be anything too technical in Minley Manor, I didn't see the course until lap one. All well and good, great course, steep climbs needing some grunt but how cool is it overtaking expensive bikes on a £200 hacker? Smug, moi? Lap two and three come and go with minor backache and worrying levels of leg tiredness. I've always reckoned that you've got a given amount of hills in your legs on any given day (x). At race pace, you can reduce that number by half (x/2), and clearly racing on a single-speed halves that number yet again (x/4). After two hours of the four I was toast, having already reached my x/4. I started walking up the hills started soon after, which is the kind of behaviour I have always abhorred and considered on par with make-up for men. I played those mental games we play -"ride the hill this lap, and you can walk it next lap" was a common negotiating tactic. With two laps to go I wanted to sit down and have a good cry, so instead I stopped for a snack, a back stretch and a stern word and off I pootled with the determination to maintain the drive time / ride time ratio, like the true tight-arse that I am. As we always say, 'anyone can do the last lap', apart from the single-speeder I overtook near the end of said lap, pushing his bike on a flat,grassy bit. It turned out that at the time he was the third place rider, an accolade I therefore inherited as I huffed and puffed slowly past him.
So we survived our first single-speed event. We learned a lot, but like Guy Pearce's character in Memento, I'll have to have the lessons tattooed onto me before they get mixed up in all the other nonsense. It's great that I can remember all the words to 'Bat out of Hell', but sometimes I wish I was wired differently.
I am prepared to admit that the weather outside is shocking. The wheelie bins heading off wind-assisted down the alley look like March of the Daleks, and they know they'll have the last laugh when their contents are strewn all round the hood, so the neighbours can see who among us has eaten the most shit over Christmas. I think it's what Jesus would have wanted, so I've done my bit by speed eating chrimbo cake since November. They say that you are what you eat, but no matter how many Heroes I inhale, it doesn't make any difference. I probably need the right situation to arise and I'll be on it like a tramp on chips; the first damsel in distress or cat up a tree, I reckon my inner chocolatey hero will emerge, but I'll probably be too fat to be any use.
As the magic reset button that is New Year's Eve passes, and we wake up the next day without magically becoming 20 years younger, fit, flexible and motivated, the wind lashing the windows doesn't exactly lend itself to pursuit of physical excellence. New Year's resolutions last only until the first news report of Storm Bernard with dire warnings to stay indoors, buy crap online and vegetate.
We're not much better. Our garage is full of bikes that we love to tell people are "ideal winter bikes", and indeed our rigid, single-speed mountain bikes and fixed road bikes are the perfect cheapo bikes for smug winter training. Unfortunately, we are still the weak willed, weather dodging cyclists that we were before we had those bikes, and with our determination never to sit on a turbo trainer or rollers again the net result is limited cycling, but no saddle sores. I might be cultivating the beginnings of middle aged spread, but at least my bare arse is more presentable than when I was riding a lot.
But sod the Met Office, what do they know? Today we went for a run, in the middle of Storm Elanor, which is the most miserable name for a storm so far this winter. Met Office give a severe weather warning, advise us to avoid exposed coastal areas at all costs so where do we go for a run? On the coast path if course! The thing about any kind of outdoor fitness is that it takes us back to those primal, chasing down velociraptors days. Even when you're mincing round that 4 miler on tarmac, round the block from your house, you're still channelling Conan the Barbarian. Add in some severe weather and there's no escaping the fact that you are one hard-core muddy funster, battling the elements when the rest of the Walter softies are rearranging their sock drawers. Go to the woods for a run at the moment, and you've got yourself a mud run whether you like it or not. You'll be up to your knackers in mud, water and something smelling a bit canine, jumping over fallen branches, on all fours up and down slopes, laughing like a loon. People pay serious money for this kind of action, you might not get a medal and a photo at the end but you won't get stung for a tenner for a burger.
The great thing about the UK is the weather. There, I said it. When the severe weather warnings happen over here, we can say with some confidence that it won't really be all that bad, The likelihood of a tsunami, hurricane, earthquake, blizzard or anything remotely life threatening is pretty remote, Carol Kirkwood can be totally earnest with her warnings of death and destruction and we can gleefully shout "Bugger off, Carol!" and head out the door into severe weather (by UK standards). Think about the poor sods in Dubai, who had to import tons of mud for their Tough Mudder event! Yes, they imported mud. We have this incredible natural resource that we spend most of the year moaning about and hosing off our legs, and they are paying a fortune for it in Dubai, presumably only for it to dry to dust and blow away within an hour.
The incredibly gullible Americans have developed yet another health-boosting theory called grounding or earthing. Here, the simpletons claim that exposing your bare feet or hands to the earth will have incredible health benefits while simultaneously draining your bank account as you need to be guided into earthing by a qualified instructor, probably called an earthworm. Again, those of us that brave the dangerous outdoors in the winter find that rather than consciously touching skin against the earth, the earth graciously comes up to meet you as it is sprayed up your legs, on your face and forced into every orifice. You'll repeatedly have to 'earth' your hands to prevent you 'earthing' your face.
So get our there and run, even if you're not a runner. Just going out for a jog, walk, wade and swim in your local woods will make you feel better than looking mournfully at your bike collection rusting in the corner, and is infinitely more human than going on Zwift. If you need someone to guide you through the process, we are available at ridiculously extortionate cost.
RIP Sharon Laws.
It was with deep sadness that we learned of the death of Sharon Laws on December 16th at the age of 43. We didn't really know Sharon, she was one of those elite athletes that would occasionally turn up at a mountain bike race from road or cyclo-cross and proceed to rip the legs off the cross-country purists. Maddie shared a start grid with Sharon a few times, and I would have met her when working registration at the Nationals and it's a damn shame that we won't see that happen again. Sharon's palmares and history in the sport is stunningly impressive and she crammed everything into an all too short and belated career, with a work ethic that puts us all to shame.
This isn't one of those call to arms, or demands that we all immediately get off the sofa and go for a ride in Sharon's name, it is just an acknowledgement that an outstanding member of the cycling community is no longer with us. If anything, it's an inspirational example of how you can achieve greatness in a sport without being on the British Cycling talent pathway since you were on a balance bike. If you get chance to read her story, I highly recommend it.
found this blog hiding in a file somewhere. better late than never?
As previously reported, Kevin Yim fell off his bike while pre-riding at Soggy One (2017), and turned his arm into a meccano set for the surgeons at Derriford Hospital to put back together again, which they duly did and now Kevin has all the titanium he ever requires. We're not sadists, we hate it when people fall off during our races, and spend the next week in all manner of critical incident debriefs, which is not the most romantic over dinner conversation a couple could have. I have no doubt that the sneery, sceptical critics would say something along the lines of "You must be used to people crashing by now!", but let's examine the evidence.
We've been organising mountain bike races for eight years or so now. If we ignore the National XC for the moment (because XC racers clearly aren't ready for our jelly) and look at the last couple of years of Soggy events, the figures stack up like this -
An average of 150 riders competed in each round of the Soggy Bottom and Summer Soggy Series. Since the winter of 2015, we have put on 10 regional MTB races, so 10 x 150 gives us 1500 bums on bikes. (Nice work SW racers BTW.) In these same regional races, we have records that indicate that four people had to attend hospital for a check over, and three were sent home with some paracetamol, and told to stop wasting the NHS's time. One, the aforementioned Kevin Yim, had to stay in for treatment and some proper drugs. I'm happy to be contacted by other riders who got home and realised that they'd broken their backs, but those are the figures as best we know them.
That gives us a figure of 0.2% of riders at these events needing to go to hospital for either treatment or a 'mummy kiss it better' intervention. With the incidence of injury at youth rugby, for example, somewhere in the region of fifty people across a similar number of participants, I reckon that we're doing pretty well. We used to quote a figure of 1% of racing MTBers requiring treatment when looking for first aid quotations, but in the spirit of beating your sat-nav's predicted arrival time, we love the challenge of beating the stats.
So Kevin, while you are recovering, you can rest east in the knowledge that you didn't fall off because of anything you did, or any fault with your bike, you were actually just knocked off by statistics.
Statistics are really useful in other aspects of XC. The once raging debate of the technicality of XC courses are a great example. The UCI guidelines state that XC courses should be 100% rideable. I reckon this must have been written somewhere without the level of rainfall in the UK, as I can think of many courses that had impossible sections for all the riders once the mud got hub depth, but the principle is a good one. So what percentage of riders do we think should be able to ride ALL the sections of the course, i.e. how many racers should be able to ride all the 'A' lines on a given circuit? 50%? 25%? 100%? In my head, as long as ONE racer in the field can successfully ride all the 'A' lines on a race circuit, then you have a course that is 100% rideable. If 75% + of riders can consistently ride the 'A' lines, then surely it's no longer an 'A' line worthy of the name?
We then have the awesome interface of people, statistics and fake news, which brings us the myth that was apparently circulating, of 200 people making complaints after the Newnham Nationals 2016. There were less than 600 people in total at the event, so more than 1 in 3 people complained about the event? And people believed this!? We actually received zero complaints, to our faces. If there were 200 cowardly custards complaining to their MP, the Daily Mail and British Cycling once they got home, I do wish they'd come over for a chat on the weekend. I'd have given them something to complain about!