All photo's are Copyright of Scott Swalling or the tagged Photographer. (Background photo Scott Swalling Photography).

About Me:

24Hr MTBike racer and general bike rider, climber and mountaineer. Good coffee drinker and cake eater (any cake, seriously, don't leave your cake laying around). Also, I like to try new things that challenge me.

Monday, 21 April 2014

Margam Madness 2014

I have heard of Margam Madness through the organiser Gareth Hayes, it is a newish 4 and 8 hour event on one of the most brutal, technical and brilliant courses I have ridden in the UK (it is a lot like racing some of the Adelaide, Mt Buller and Mt Beauty XC courses), trail riding with an XC format basically. My type of thing, although there should be a caveat there, something like the below.

"My type of thing, when I haven't spent two weeks recovering from hurling myself down a flint strewn chalk path at between 40-50kph."  But not to be one to make excuses, I put in what training/recovery I could because I was genuinely excited about these course.  It was a course for the complete rider, strong, technical, brave and fast up hill.  Something like XC use to be and again is becoming, thankfully!

So I packed the van and headed down, the day before, after sitting in some Easter traffic for a few hours I arrived, chatted to some familiar faces, did a lap to see what the course was like and sent Chris N the good news, it is brutal and technical.

 Bike prepped, big bugger hill we ascended each lap (from the left hand side)

But with the above it was also brilliant, fun and had amazing views.  The climbs where technical, loose and pain inducing.  Then you would tip over the top and head down either a sweeping twisty easy downhill track/natural trail or the infamous Black XC section (my favourite section) the section that in the race I somehow found a way passed to crashed riders and bikes. "Clive, I went for the gap, this time it was there"  :)

So race day arrived, it was sunny and I had slept very little, but hey, that has happened before, no matter.  I was in the Single Speed Cat, which would only have to riders, and I know Dave from the Gorricks. But as with everything, there is you Cat and then there is overall, I always push for good finishes in both.

So as more friends and familiar races arrived I prepared myself, stretch the known troublesome and bruised parts of my body and rolled to the start line.

Soon we were off and chaos would ensue at the first forest section, but from here things would sort themselves out and the racing was in general clean, fun and laid back, as was the feel with the whole event (this is a good thing), but that did not mean the racing wasn't fast.

I lapped consistently and in the lead for a few laps, but wasn't finding my normal power and fluidity on the climbs, so I dialed things back a touch, we had a long way to go. The race progress for another 1hr or so and I was joined by the other single speeder Dave, for a little bit.  But on the second flattest part of the course he opened a small gap, I closed this easily on the descent as he was running rigid forks (hats off to him) on the next small climb though, I could hold his wheel, in fact I had to jump off and run as I had no power to turn the pedals, but felt fine.

Over the next lap he would open a lead of about 5 minutes, but my problem wasn't getting any better of worse. As a couple of the Open guys lapped me, George Budd being the first and yelled encouragement, then would focus on taking it easy and hoping to recover, but I didn't. At the top of the hill before the Black XC trail, I stopped, chatted to the marshal and yelled encouragement at all those that passed, including Al and Chris.

Soon I duly finished my lap and knocked it on the head.  Being only two of us, I was assured a podium, but maybe not hugely proud of it.  But at least I did get out there and try.  I moved to to a support role for Chris after I had finished and cheerleader for Al, Jules and George, or was that heckler?  They can confirm which.  I also encourage Dave to keep turning that single speed as he decided to do one more lap even after I confirmed with him I was out (I am nice that way). :)

As the hours ticked by George more than confirmed 1st in Open, Chris' consistency and good riding gave him 2nd in Open, Al, cleaned up in the Vets and Jules had a solid ride (but not without its technical issues) for 4th in Vets.  I did indeed get 2nd in the 2 man Single Speed field.

 A cheeky 2nd place
(Photo: Al Fairbairn)

What an event though and as mentioned above, what an amazing course. Gareth and his team did and awesome job and I will be back next year, better prepared, rather than coming of an accident recovery, as I am guessing that is rubbish prep.

Congrats to everyone that lasted as long as they could, as the course was tough, but we all know what to expect next year, so lets train harder, work on our skills and lets hope that more XC courses follow this design.

Thanks Cycleworks, Weldtite, Wolf Tooth and Alpkit

Margam Madness 2015, get yourself there.

Aborted Southdowns Way at night.

The evening of Saturday 5th April Nick K and I sat on a train heading to Eastbourne to meet Chris and Al.  The plan to ride the Southdowns Way over night. The weather forecast had been looking increasingly challenging, but undeterred we had all headed down.

Cockpit for the evening

We met Chris and Al at Eastbourne station and headed off for our adventure. Nick and I had ridden the SDW single speed previously without nay issues. Chris and Al are both super strong and AL being on a Fatbike, just really evened things up a bit (not much).

Off the tarmac we started the first climb, relatively easily and we all chattered away as the climb meandered up to the top of the first descent.

 On the way up the first climb

Whilst it was not currently raining it had been and it was a bit foggy.  We started descending and at about 8km's into the ride, about half way down the first descent, I went down. I had been slowing down to alter my line for a better one and the front wheel washed.  I don't recall much about the actual crash apart from the moment if was in the air longer enough to realise I was about to hit head first and I managed to tuck my arms in (I had already rag dolled a few times by the this point I am told).

Once everything stopped I slowly rolled over, patted myself down, sat up, by which time the guys had arrived to help and I was checked over.  Heavily bruised cut up and very lucky thanks to my helmet, I somehow managed to continue on.  According to the guys the crash was massive and they feared I was going to be badly hurt. Saved by the helmet and the same greasy surface that had bought me down, I was extremely lucky.

Soon we continued on and not long after, the rain started, the wind got worse and the SDW and weather was about to throw a lot at us. We struggled up some wet climbs, walked some others, we fixed numerous punctures in the wet fog and wind as we went.

The punctures kept occurring in the most exposed positions, and everyone was feeling a bit fed up. But we pressed on.  However, soon there would be a bit of a sense of humor failure from us all as yet another puncture struck for Chris as the wind howled ruthlessly at us. Nick and I decided to start walking up the next hill to keep warm and managed to find some shelter.  Al and Chris, arrived walking, after some time.  Chris' stick on patches weren't adhering, so I gave him some Red Devils as I knew these stuck to anything rubber.  But putting the tube back in, Chris pinched it again.

Although we had some shelter it was still damn windy and colder than we expected and that had been forecast. So we continued slowly to the YHA (one of the tap stops) and hid in the day room, whilst Chris fixed all his punctures.

We had traveled 65kms in about 5 1/2 hrs, much slowly than we expected or liked.  Previously, Nick and I had ridden the whole 162kms in 9 1/2hrs.  With all us feeling cold and myself starting to feel sore, it was time to knock it on the head.  At the next bit of road, it was time to pick the best route home for us and head off.  Nick and I headed directly for Guildford. Chris and Al, for Petersfield and then Winchester, the original goal. But we would all travel by road now.  I also, made the call to Nik, to be picked up as everything was starting to hurt.

As Nick and I slowly got closer to Guildford, I started to struggle to turn the pedals, due to the pain in my right hip and left ankle and slowly fell behind.  However, in time Nik appeared in the van and a warm and comfy lift home was welcomed.

At home on closer inspection, my injuries where actually pretty bad and as I write this two weeks late, my ankle and hip still plague me a bit and I am guessing caused me some issues at the Margam Madness (see race report).

I was bruised, cuts and battered, pretty much tip to toe on my right side.  My left knew and ankle had been sprained and bruised and my neck was starting to get sore from the impact.  Surprisingly the bike was entirely fine, and I had only trashed a jersey and an arm warmer.  Although, my helmet was trashed, two deep slices from the flint on the track, and several breaks in the other places, it was clear that the helmet had done maybe more than keep my out of hospital, maybe a lot more?

So the SDW, will I go back.  Off course, the SDW is a special ride, even if you are never far from a farmhouse or village and at night when there is no fog, you can see the lights on the coast and inland.  It is a special place to ride.  It is this that help me pick myself up of the ground and keep going and if the weather wasn't so poor I might have made it to the end again.  But rest assured I will be back.

Thanks to Nick, Al and Chris for picking me up and checking me over and I am sure, for keeping an eye on me for the rest of the ride that we completed. Thanks gents!

Nik, sorry for the early morning call.  But you know it only happens when it has gone Pete Tong in a massive way.

(Sorry there are no more pictures, it was just too damn foggy)

Monday, 14 April 2014

WTC long term review

Some time back I promise the guys at Wolf Tooth Components a long term review, if you're not into bikes or bike gear freak, look away now.

Back in June 2013 I took delivery of my first WTC chain rings, 32t 104 BCD (one picture below), only a month before a 24hr race.  I mounted these as soon as I had them in my hands as I was completely over chain guides, the noise, the faff and the lack of reliability, unless you went for a free-ride style device.  Plus they always look rubbish on an XC bike.

Running a single non-drop ring like the WTC one however looks great! As above. Is a whole lot quieter than the alternative and the WTC ones work a treat.

So as mentioned I installed the first two WTC chain rings in June 2013, since then between them they have done close to 3500kms off road in some very grim conditions for far too many of those kilometres.  The area I live in, in the UK is a mixed of sand, clay, soil and chalk.  The sand is obviously nasty to any drive train and those who know chalk, know it turns into a gritty paste when wet and gets every where.  So it does its fair share of damage as well, so to see that after around 2000kms (there has been a bias towards one bike with a WTC fitted) with a fair majority done in the conditions mentioned above, that I will soon need a new chain ring.  Speaks volumes about the hardiest of these rings.  As with everything lightweight, you will lose some usage life, but the WTC rings have lasted longer than the Rhental rings I use to run.

So do they every drop the chain? No, I have tried, trust me I have.  At present I am running 32t in the following configuration. 1x10 on my 29er hard tail pictured above and my fat bike.  I immediately changed to WTC ring before I even rode the fat bike, due to the reliability and no fuss.  I also have a single speed configured with a 32t/18t and I am running the chain a little slacker than how I use to run my Renthal rings.  However, this means a little less wear and the chain still stays in place even on some of the roughest terrain.

The chain rings are more than light weight and durable enough, to be used for both training and racing, in all conditions.  Although they can be a bit noisy when wet sand gets in the mix, they do tend to run very quite in all other conditions, which certainly can't be said about chain devices and some other chain rings.

 Simple design that works.
Although the snow flake chain ring is pretty fancy.

Wolf Tooth keep the design on all the different chain rings they make simple and very functional.  The change rings come in a range of direct mount options SRAM, S-WORKS and a range of BCDs (that will even suit you CX bike) and colours. They have had so much success that the small Minnesotan firm, has been expanding it range to include GC 42t and 40t (coming soon) cogs for Shimano and SRAM, has a bash guard, chain ring bolts and a truing tool (which also happens to be a bottle opener).

Without trying to sound like a broken record or a salesmen, I have to say I have been very impressed with what a small firm has been able to produce and the way they keep expanding their product line with the same care and precision I have seen in the several rings I have in use at present.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A quick trip to The Peak

The other weekend I headed up to Claire and Ant, for a spot of grit action.  It had been a very long time since I had been on the grit and long time since I had climbed any rock in anger.  So I had not expectations.

On the Saturday at High Neb in pretty good conditions I soloed a few routes whilst Claire and Ant, climbed together. After a little Mike joined us and in pairs we started climbing a bit harder.  Whilst I managed Jeepers Creepers and another HVS to the right of The Logic book. Ant made short work of Quietus and then after some yoyoing he also got King Kong clean.

Not a bad day at all considering.  Routine service at The Travelers Rest for a feed and few beers in the evening catching up with friends and then it was time to zip up the sleeping bag.

Sunday we head to Curbar to the Apollo and Moon buttress sectors, with a few things in mind, but the weather was a bit warmer so route plans changed. Once again Claire and Ant jumped on a few routes, Claire starting with a certainly harder than Severe, but climbed it is good style. I went off and soloed a few little routes including a great route called Twin Crack done in the HVS style.

However, soon I was feeling a little wobbly, so I eased off ate and drunk and then, spotted/belayed Ant on Black Nix Wall, a nails slabby E1.  This is about the point things went a bit crap, on one attempt Any popped of low before the gear and I did my best to pull him away from a small boulder.  However he clipped this with his left ankle and gave it a good knock.  Although he did have a couple more attempts before sacking it off.

Next I bit off more than I could chew on a E2 called Soyuz, running out of steam due to bugger all climbing lately I soon popped off and took a decent lob.  Another attempt saw the same scenario and that was me done with routes for the day.

During my failed attempts Brian had turned up and I offered the rope to him and he made short work of the route and Ant on a sore ankle followed easily too.

For the rest of the day I joined Brian bouldering and even managed a couple of thin strong problems.

Despite being a bit rubbish on Sunday, it was a pretty good weekend and has given me some motivation to get back on the rock.  Now life just needs to give me a few openings to do so.

A few pics from the weekend are below.

 Ant take a rest on Quietus before the assault

Up he goes

 In the thick of it

Claire on the more than tricky Severe

First attempt on Soyuz, oops!
(Photo: Claire D)

Second attempt started stylish, ended the same way.
(Photo: Claire D)

Brian showing me how it's done on Soyuz
(Photo: Claire D)