Monday, August 29, 2011

Road Trips on the Horizon - how geology makes the mountain bike experience

You have got to love a good road trip. You pack the car up to the brim with bikes, gear, food, tools, spares and head off to a new location to ride the bike. As a mountain biker, heading to a new location to ride is an awesome experience. You are pretty much taking your existing skillset honed from hours of practise on your local trails and seeing what you can do at a new location.
There are so many things that change from your standard riding locations. Different geology types produce different types of dirt (and/or rocks) which requires slightly different riding styles or even different tyres to be able to cope.There are also differing vegetation, logs, drainage components and other unique peculiarities that throw up a new challenge and stimulate the senses.
You have a pretty good handle of the riding conditions of your usual trails. For me it is the sedimentary dirt of majura, the volcanics of ainslie, bruce and stromlo that have shaped the way that I ride. The sedimentary dirt of majura is fast and nicely hardpack. You can rail corners, you don't need brand new tyres, and you can go super fast. The volcanics of Stromlo, Bruce Ridge and other areas around the ACT are super sketchy when dry, often have lots of rock, and are a real handful to ride fast. In order to get the most out of the ride, you need good quality rubber that allows for copious amounts of grip (or mad skills).
Back in 1993 I raced a national Round in Perth. The conditions on the ground were insane. They had this pea gravel that was impossible to ride when you weren't used to it. It was the sketchiest stuff I have ever seen. The rally car drivers have the same issues over there, so it is good to know that when you are trying to roll rubber over it, it causes some angst!
A unique challenge that I have faced for the last 5 years is the terrain in Adelaide at Eagle on the hill. Based in the Adelaide hills, this park has been carved out of an old quarry. They usually build quarries to do a couple of things, which includes getting rock! Eagle on the Hill is sketchy. You arrive after flying down, and try and ride the trails after being off the bike for a day or so, and you feel out of sorts. There is also a fair bit of rock on this course. At the end of the weekend, you have to get new tyres. They are just shredded, often with the knobs hanging off the tyre or just missing. I still love racing here though as it requires really good dirt skills to ride it fast.
The You Yangs in Victoria are based around a nice granitic mountain of sorts that pops out of the horizon outside of Geelong. You ride a fair bit of the course here on the rock. The resultant weathering over time has also produced sketchy terrain that requries you to pay attention at all times. I raced here a couple of years ago at a National Series. The practice day was awesome, in the dry, wicked trails to benefit a skilled rider. Come race day, the rain came barrelling in and turned the place to muck. There was still pretty good grip, but the energy sapping phenomen that water does to a trail became more apparent.
This weekend I am racing at Parkes in central NSW. The Back Yamma volcanics have weathered down nicely across the plain to produce some sandy trails that also have small semi-rocky outcrops to reward a skilled rider. The grip is pretty good, but the speed that you are doing the race at can cause some really hairy moments. The motocross bikes have also contributed to the excitment generated here, with false berms made of sand in a lot of the corners! So many tripod moments.
The main thing I am looking forward to this weekend is a DRY race!!! The last few I have done have been muddy. It's not that bad, but a wet muddy race equalizes a field, promoting strength to push against the soggy ground over skills to ride fast over loose material. The other good thing about the Back Yamm Bigfoot course, is that it is FASSSTTTT! Sub 4 hours for a 100km course. Road race type tactics, lots of logs over the tracks. It is truly a unique race that's for sure.
The attached photos are from the Back Yamma event last year. I loved the atmosphere of this event. Such a chilled event headquarters, kick ass course and good day on the bike. Just a matter of fine tuning a few things this week in my training, doing a course recce on Saturday and then lining up on the Sunday. Let's bring it! There are a really good number of fast dudes coming up from Canberra for this race. With any luck it will be just as fast as last year!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Riders who have left an indelible mark on how and why I ride a bike

They say that sports people may or may not be a good role model. My leaning on this is that life is not one-dimensional and that you should take a bit from everyone you meet or see. However, whatever they may or may not be as a ‘person’, the way that they conduct themselves on or with a bike can leave a great lasting impression.

There are always a number of these sorts of riders, who just leave a positive impression on you over time. You may only remember the small percentage of what they did, or how they did it, but it was enough to make you notice. Often these impressions are gained when you are in the early stages of pursuing your sport and they shape the way that you would like to be. Other times, it might be another sort of X-factor that stands out. It may a certain style they portray, or just a single way of doing things that impresses an impressionable mind.

I have made a list of the riders I believe have shaped the way that I have tried to make myself as a cyclist. The vast majority of these were definitely those around at the point in time when I first started racing mountain bikes which was in 1989.

John Tomac
Flattop, brash, fast, big X-ups over jumps in XC races. JT did it all, XC, uphill, downhill, bmx, and road. When I was a very impressionable 15 year old, I mimicked his style as much as I could, even down to the hairstyle and sunglasses choice! The first MTB racer to pull a 6 figure salary back in the early 90s, he definitely raised the bar on professionalism in the sport. Coming from a BMX background he took to the fledgling sport of MTB, and gave it a character of its own.

It was impressive seeing a rider who could get results in each discipline. I waited each month for the latest copy of Mountain Bike Action to come in from the USA to see what races he had done and read about his battles with Ned Overend. Even more impressive was how he doubled it up with the Road racing he did with 7-Eleven/Motorola. I am sure that everyone would remember him running the drop bars on the mountain bike!

I finally got to meet him when he came out to Australia for the Mountain Bike Titles held at Thredbo. Custom bike, disc rear wheel, and mad skill earnt him the ‘Australian Champion’ title for the downhill. Cool guy to talk to and lots to be learnt from him.

Ben Monroe
Ben was a rider in my club back in Brisbane, who was awesome as a junior and a senior racer. As a junior he was untouchable as essentially he was a ‘man-child’ at the time! Ben was Australia’s first MTB world champion in 1989. To achieve this, he piloted his fully rigid, cantilever braked, toe-clipped Raleigh down Mammoth Mountain in the US of A faster than anyone other Junior. A few weeks later I was lined up against him as he crushed the Junior field in both the XC and the DH at the Australian titles at Pierces Creek just outside of Canberra.

Watching him the next year also compete successfully against the Elite guys in his first year was extremely impressive. He was extremely talented on a bike. One time at Yarramundi in about 1991 or so, I saw him doing no-handed wheelies up the bitumen climb prior to the start of the downhill race. This was with Toe clips! To keep the bars straight, he said that it was due to the bearings in the headset having pitted themselves and created an rigid steering lock (we are talking about 1991 components here!)

I tried for ages to replicate the no-handed wheelie. I got it, but it was super hard and required nerves of steel!

Lawrie Cranley
When I was 16, I wanted to work in a bike shop whilst I was studying first year at the University of QLD in order to support the bike habit. Edward Street Bicycle Centre (Bikestyle) was the hot shop in Brisbane at the time and had the state’s fastest racers all working there. Lawrie owned the shop with another guy, Brian Johnson, whose sons all raced in Europe. Lawrie split his time between the road and the dirt, and hooked me up as part of the shop team based on my early results.

This was awesome for me, as at 16, I was part of one of the most highly respected teams in QLD and also looked after by Powerbar (which Lawrie also imported at the time) and Velocity rims (good friends of Laurie). He explained a lot about how the cycling world operated and how to present yourself whilst racing and also how the sponsorship game actually worked. Good advice at a young age.

Lawrie also encouraged me to race in the local Elite ranks when I was 16. He said it would pay off in the long run. So, after 2 races in the Sport class, I moved up and didn’t look back. The feeling of pushing yourself against the best and comparing abilities was the best motivation to keep trying to get faster.

Pete Smith
Pete was one of the fastest MTB racers in QLD in the early 90s. He pretty much cleaned up both XC and DH in the Elite ranks at the state level and got himself a DH National Title also. He also showed me how to strategically train for racing. During uni holidays I stayed at Pete’s place and I learnt how to eat, train, and ride a bike with a bit more precision. We would hit up the Mount Cootha Trails most mornings, leaving before dark in order to get back around 8:30. In the afternoon, there was running sessions to mix up the training and get the most out of the aerobic capabilities. The nutrition side of things was a good thing also learnt here, as it reinforced the importance of being self sufficient with good quality foods.

Pretty much back then the racing was split up into Brisbane, Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast. You could pretty much race every weekend at a different location, and we did. Pete knew everyone across the state and ensured that there was always a crew to ride with.

The first road trip I ever did, was down to the 1989 Australian Mountain Bike Titles at Pierces Creek outside of Canberra. We loaded up a Tarago with 7 guys and hauled a trailer down from Brisbane to the Canberra. We all raced the uphill, the downhill and the cross country on the one bike and had a blast.

Pete also had a kick ass moustache at the age of 21. There’s not too many moustaches on the scene at the moment.

Craig Fisher
If you could do it on a bike, then Craig was doing it bigger, better, or probably had invented it. Craig was originally a BMXer, then a MTBer, then a BMXer, and now does both. He also just won a BMX World Title in the Masters Class. He held the world record for a bunnyhop at about 45 inches. The most I could ever get was 30 inches!

When I was racing BMX, Craig and I would train for races at the different tracks in Canberra and Sydney as well as secret jump trails around the ACT. Craig refined how I jumped a BMX bike in order to enhance speed down the backside of the jump and maximise track craft. We also worked on specific track skill which included being able to handle the semi-contact nature of the sport. He also pushed me way more than I could ever do by myself, ultimately making me better in the long run.

The most amazing thing I saw Craig do on a bike is a tie with 2 things. 1/ I saw him bunnyhop his DH bike up a kerb, and flick the traffic walk button with his back tyre, and 2/ I saw him ride across a telephone pole log that had been placed across the swimming pool outside the hotel at Thredbo. Hans Rey had just tried it and fell in after half way, and the log was wet and greasy. Not easy!

Graeme Allbon
Graeme is a major talent on the bike, whether it be road, track or MTB. With a VO2 max in the mid 80s, he was and still is a machine. I remember watching him battle Damien Grundy in the Elite ranks at the 1989 National XC championships. He got the win on the day with a tactical move that he later told me about. He said that Damien’s sprint wasn’t that strong, so he waited and got him on the last lap. From that moment on, I knew it was important to know your opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.

He was part of the strong GT squad back in the day and ran a full XTR, Titanium GT Zizang, which at the time (1992) was worth $7000!! It was the best at the time. I got this bike the next year as a hand me down and realised how much a bike actually could make a difference. Sometimes it is about the bike!

Graeme pretty much laid down the rules for doing long rides. Back when I was in the last year of Junior ranks, I met up with him at his place in Watson (2602!), and we rode out to Mount Corree. I am pretty sure I covered about 135km on the mountain bike that day, and took in one of the highest peaks in the ACT. There were a few more of these rides that we did, exploring the back roads in the Brindabellas clocking up awesome summer miles on the mountain bikes.

Huge mileage back in the day, learning how to fuel the body and also pace the efforts over a long period of time were key things that I gained from riding with Graeme. He also has a killer instinct when it comes to racing, which when it comes to winning races, is something that can’t be bought on EBAY!

Dylan Cooper
I once heard a commentator announce Dylan as ‘Canberra’s local hero’ at the Brindabella Challenge MTB race in 2006. That pretty much sums it up. I think that just about everybody in Canberra who rides a bike knows Dylan. He pretty much oozes PROness. He looks good on a bike, he gets results, the ladies love him, and he can party like a madman! Tick, tick, tick and tick!

Dylan was wearing black socks in the road bunches 10 years before it was considered cool. Being half Argentinian, he has a year round perfect tan. At the 2008 Adelaide National round he wore a full white kit in the muddiest Short track race ever, and won.

One thing that stands out majorly about Dylan is the way that he races every race to win. Not too many people do that these days, which is a shame. He also pretty much races every race going, whether it be a local dirt crit on Thursday afternoon, or a World Cup race. Some guys only do the big races, but he puts in at the local club races and that is where we all begin. This way the current juniors know who to watch if they want to learn about the way to do things right.

Dylan is still the only person to ever beat me riding a singlespeed. A fully rigid one at that. So you know that he can propel a bike well in a forward direction as well as handle a bike at speed. If you ride either with him on a training ride, or against him in a race you know that you will be faster down the track because of it.
Another thing that Dylan does is talk to everyone at the club. You don’t have to be cool, fast, have matching gloves, shoes and helmet, or the latest bike. He is just happy to shoot the breeze about whatever is the topic. Again, you don’t see many fast dudes doing this, so it stands out when it does happen.

So that is 7 people over the course of the last 21 years who have made a fairly major impact on me in the sport of cycling. Of course there are others that I thought long and hard about, who almost made the cut off. Again I would like to reiterate that I still believe that sportspeople may or may not be a role model for life, but how you see them on the bike or the way that they interact with you can leave a lasting impression for what can be a very long time.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Stop. Hammer Time.

Thanks to Cyclenation for the photo, and to shorty for tagging it for me!

Husky 100km race report

Husky 100km Race Report

The 3rd round of the Real Insurance Marathon Series was held on the 7th of August in the quiet town of Callala Bay in NSW. The town's temporary population swelled considerably by the influx of guys and girls keen to ride the awesome trails down this way.

We stayed in the spacious George Bass Motor Inn after cruising the car down from Canberra via Braidwood and Nelligen in a shade over 2 hours.

At race HQ I picked up my race number and dropped off some bottles for the feedzone on Saturday afternoon. I also checked out the start and end components of the race course just to see what was in store for the vital 1st and last few kilometres.

Then...... the skies opened up and pretty much didn't stop! 10mm over the course of a few hours drastically changed the mudscape of the course.

At 6:30am Sunday morning Ben was going mental on the microphone getting the event atmosphere going whilst people started trickling in. This always gets me awake and feeling like it is all happening.

At about 7:15am, all 100km riders were marshalled into position and given the usual riders' briefing. About 10 minutes later we all started off down towards the back of the golf clubhouse to start the race. We could see the race timer ticking down slowly and this added to the anticipation.

Smack bang on 7:30am we were off and the large group of Elite 100km racers made the mad dash off in pursuit of the next 100km and 4-5 hours on the bike. The first 1km was beside the golf course and there were sticks and branches flying all over the place as we sped across this area at speeds approaching 40km/hr.

The sharp left hander that led to the first bit of singletrack was almost a gentlemanly affair as no one wanted to pull and dumb manoeuvres, which was a good thing! The pace was still kept extremely high as the first singletrack was negotiated and we then spilled out onto the first bit of open fireroad.

This is where the big puddles (mini-swamps) started to come into play. At this stage of the race we still had the bunch together with Matt Fleming and Dylan Cooper driving it forward. Not surprising, it was only the first 2km in.

Fast forward onto the 10km mark after many more mini swamps, some amazing creek crossings and the group had been whittled down to the initial selection of Matt Fleming, Dylan Cooper, Mitch Codner, Troy Glennan, Anthony Shippard, Brendan Johnston, Justin Morris and myself. There may have been one or two others hanging in at that time.

Matt actually had slid out on a corner and had everybody overtake him, whilst he got his stuff together and got back on. When he got back with the group, he actually went straight through on the next available fireroad and kept pushing it. When I next looked up at the next bit of fireroad, he was noticeably absent and like the previous weekend at the 3 ring circus, had ridden off the front.

At about the 20km mark, Matt was off the front – out of sight, the secondary selection was now made up of Dylan, Troy, Anthony, Mitch, myself and Brendan (trekkie) was now starting to feel the elastic snap. Dylan went back to see if Trekkie was going alright, got the word that it was not a good day, then came back up through the group and we kept rolling.

About 5km later through some sweet singletrack, Dylan and Mitch put the hammer down and were able to start pulling away from Troy, Anthony and myself. Leading up the KOM point, Troy was leading Anthony and me into a mini swamp at the lowest point before the climb. This swamp looked really nasty, deep and the lines were not really apparent. I think Anthony and I were watching Troy with baited breath to see what would happen. Troy didn't disappoint and his wheels stuck like superglue and over he went into the boghole! Anthony and I quickly unclipped and ran through the swamp, remounted and began the climb.

I looked back and Troy was back on the bike getting going again, so that was good. Anthony began getting away a bit up the climb and I didn't see him again after this point. About 5-10km later after the first 2 hours of racing, I was starting to feel the effects of the crazy fast start and had set back into slow diesel mode while the body switched over to other fuel sources after burning through all the stored glycogen.

Every now and then I could see Troy in the background with Justin chasing him down. They caught up with me a bit later and Troy was able to ride past up a fireroad. I did my best to get on his wheel, but he was pushing just that little bit extra that you can't really get to. I did keep him in sight and within 20 seconds for ages through the next bit of singletrack, but soon after he was gone and on a mission to get to the next group in front.

The first 50km seemed to take forever with the course being really soggy. All thoughts of a 4hour race were out the window well and truly by now. I was doing the mental calculations trying to recall my tachymeter readings to figure out the duration of the course now. I pretty much came up with the figure of a 4 and a half hour bare minimum. This was going to be a bit tight with the food I had brought along that's for sure!

At the 60km mark I started to notice that the trails were getting a little bit more wormy, especially with the muddy clay. This was not surprising as it was where the 50km riders had joined the track. Pretty soon after, I started picking up the 50km backmarkers who were also dealing with the slick conditions.

I had some guys ask me what the go was when I went past them. This included a mate who I was sure entered the 100km. At this stage I started stressing that I had missed a turn and done extra kilometres. LOL! The mind gets turned off a bit during races and sometimes can't comprehend things out on track that are not the bare minimum of a race plan. It seems that some guys in the 100km had missed a turn which took a good 10-15km off their race!

When the 80km mark came up I decided it was time to empty the tank (relative of course! – the cupboard of energy was pretty bare) Again I was working out the calculations of time – hopefully within an hour for this block.

When the 95km sign appeared, I was stoked. It was all pretty much a slight downhill all the way to the finish. The lush grass at the golf course took all the energy I had left to just get across it.

The feeling when crossing the line was one of relief. Muddy races take so much extra energy to do. You are constantly fighting the bike to keep it upright, pedalling requires more power to go forward at the same speed, mentally it is just taxing as you just have to be 'on' all the time.

In the end, Matt Fleming won the race in a time of 4:24, with Dylan Cooper and Mitch Codner rounding out the short steps of the podium. I finished in a time of 4:38:30 which was good for 6th place.

The course was extremely tough with the mud. That is probably one of the understatements of the year. However, the satisfaction of achieving a finish with the conditions thrown up against you are what will be remember for years to come. I would almost go as far to say that it rates up there with the 2010 Capital Punishment 100km as being pretty epic.

As I sit here typing this the next day, my body feels as though it has been hit by a truck. I do not have many muscles that are not sore. My skin is sandblasted, and there are tree branch whiplash marks on my arms. I also have those annoying thorns stuck in some of my knuckles.

Some numbers to ponder over

Time: 4:38:30

Distance: 100km

Calories burnt: 5500

Average Heart Rate: 162bpm

Maximum Heart Rate: 188bpm

1st hour heart rate: 175bpm

Gels consumed: 10

Bottles consumed: 5 x 750ml