Bristol Oktoberfest is an annual relay race held at Ashton Court. It’s similar to Bristol Bikefest which happens every July whereas Oktoberfest is held in, er, October. Bikefest is a 12 hour race whilst Oktoberfest is 8 hours. I’ve ridden at both events since 2010 in teams of 3 or 4 riders. The photographs in this post have been selected from various Oktoberfest years. Some were taken by Kevin Sheldrake.
I’ve taken part in a lot of relay races every year since 2011. I’ve ridden at Erlestoke 12 (12 hour team), Twentyfour12 (24 hour team) , Mountain Mayhem (24 hour team) and Sleepless in the Saddle (24 hour team).
Pre 2013 I’d always been part of a team of between three and five riders. I’d raced in the pairs category recently and really enjoyed pushing my pace up a bit (the Thetford enduro and Torq in your sleep). I’d talked about doing a solo for a long time but always put it off. The truth is that I’d always enjoyed the rest between laps too much as well as the social nature of the team races.
Finally the time had come to get on with doing a proper solo race. Eight hours would be fine. It wasn’t twenty four, it wasn’t twelve but it was double the 4 hours I’d ridden at the QECP Royal Rumble 2012.
I was confident that I could ride 60 or 70 miles off road in a day and I reasoned that 8 hours at 8mph would give me 64 miles, therefore I could easily do it. I felt inspired by seeing Jo Page cover over 100 miles solo at Torq in your sleep. Plus a seasoned racer told me that riding solo was less effort than pairs because you could warm up and just keep moving rather than keep stopping and then starting again. This made sense.
The trails in Ashton Court were redeveloped in 2011 when the mud was surfaced over plus some features were added such as berms and rock drops. See Bristol Trails Group for more information and the Ashton Court trail map via Bristol City Council website. I’ve spent some time receiving skills coaching from local shop Pedal Progression who are based in the Ashton Court visitor centre.
The Bikefest route essentially follows the full blue grade trail and includes the optional red loop. It is diverted onto the main field in place of a repeat climb at the bottom of the red loop. There’s also an additional section where the trail descends a large track and then climbs straight back up the next track.
Some large rocks were added to the trail in 2012 to slow riders at a path crossing. For the race a wooden scaffolding bridge is built over these. It took me a few laps before I found the correct line to get enough speed to jump off this. Big grins until I landed so hard that I expected a pinch flat.
It’s not a particularly tough route but I think that overall it’s pretty good. It has a few sections with a steady downhill gradient plus a lot of bermed corners, some rollers and few jumps. Some riders hate it due to the amount of tight singletrack and lack of overtaking places. I think the best section is along the wall – this is slightly down for a long time. The main quarry descent is a good section too. The most hateful climb is the golf course track after the gate house. The red loop has become a bit too eroded – I avoid the rock drop now because it has wheel shaped hollows at the end of it and is a pinch flat waiting to happen.
The organisers had issues with the council over mud from vehicles in 2012 and had to move the event village away from the camp site to the track junction. For Bikefest 2013 they’d negotiated a deal to use the Cathedral school grounds which are right next to the old camp site. Oktoberfest used the school field again, this time having the start at the top of the field rather than the bottom.
I was on site from Friday afternoon to set up the MBSwindon gazebos. That’s covered in the MBSwindon race report.
The race starts with a Le Mans run of about 300m to the bikes. I was casually ambling towards the start line when the horn was sounded and I was engulfed in a sea of runners. I decided that I should wait until some of the crowd had passed me before changing direction and joining in. For someone who hates running I was quite surprised by my turn of speed. I know from past experience that a lot of time can be lost in the queues that form at the start so that motivated me. Once on the bike I got caught in a queue for a short while at the end of the school field.
My fuelling strategy was to eat a Mule Bar per lap until I could no longer stand the sight of them and then to move onto anything from my stash of Carman’s Muesli bars, Trek bars and bananas. I carried some water with me in the ruck sack and also some emergency Nakd and Trek bars. I had hit the wall on my last lap at Mountain Mayhem 2013 when I ended up necking a bottle of Happy Shopper lemonade that a marshal gave me. I didn’t want to repeat that.
I hoped I could manage 10 mph (16 km/h) in the first few hours and gradually let that drop to 8mph (13 km/h). I set myself a pace that I knew I could hold for hours. I was pleased to see that I was easily managing 16 km/h. I called in to stop for food and Jerome, my nemesis, overtook me. He’s generally a bit faster than me but I can sometimes grind him down over a long period of time. I’d got off to a better start than him and I hoped I’d reel him back in later.
In the few minutes of rest my average speed had fallen to 15.2 kmk/h. Luckily I was feeling powerful and focussed and I easily managed to pull the average back up after a lap.
I was amazed to find that I was really enjoying this solo racing. I’d often watched solo riders go past the transition area at big events and thought how depressing it must be to finish a lap knowing that you’ve got to go and do it all over again. And then again. And again. And then again a few more times.
I knew I had to ride for 8 hours and cover around 65 miles. That was my task. All I had to do was keep pedalling. I didn’t have transitions or faffing to do. I didn’t have to sit worrying about being late for my next lap. I didn’t run the risk of letting anyone else down. I didn’t need to think about the future or the past. I just had to concentrate on the now. That’s a very yogic way of thinking.
This focus sustained me for several double laps. I did indulge in quite long rests between these – three or four minutes. I’m sure I could have cut these down considerably but I enjoyed them.
MBSwindon had almost 30 riders at the event so I got to see plenty of people that I know. It was great when I caught and overtook one of our 4 hour soloists plus a few of the slower team riders. It was encouraging that I was catching people regularly during the laps. I was also being overtaken by a fair few riders.
I’d say that the biggest complaint about the event has always been the narrow trails and overtaking issues. My gripe was with riders who expected me to just move out of the way when it suited them regardless of where I was. I’ve been on both sides of this and appreciate that being an obstruction is frustrating. My own experience is that most people can hear bikes behind them and will offer to move when there’s a suitable place.
I was at the bottom of the red section when an approaching rider instructed to move out of the way. The trail was about to enter the field where there’s a lot of room to overtook so I didn’t make a particularly severe change of path. The rider barged through the available gap and discovered a big tree stump in the edge of the trail. This caught his pedal and threw him violently off line as the pedal dug in. There was a loud bang. He turned round and looked at me with an angry face. I said nothing and did a special nonchalent internal shrug.
My policy is to not engage in discussion with riders on this topic – I once had a ride along argument with someone who thought he could tell me to get out of the way. When I found a suitable spot he overtook, shouted a sarcastic “thanks” and then crashed on the next corner.
There’s a story of a faster rider who was concerned about his ranking shouting “do you know where I am?” and the slower rider replying “yes. Behind me”.
At a previous Bikefest I was caught in a three man squash when someone else overtook me as I was overtaking. My front wheel touched the back of the pedal of the rider in front and ripped their shoe buckle off. They were not happy. That’s racing for you.
As time went on my average speed dropped slightly. It was close to 15km/h when I was overtaken by Anthony from Bristol Trails group. He said I was doing quite well – about 10th place in the old gits category. This kept my spirits up.
I’d been doing the inevitable mental arithmetic about how many laps I would do in the time available. Laps were taking below 45 minutes and I’d be starting my last lap at about 4pm so I was easily going to complete 11 laps . My average speed dropped down below 14km/h but that was fine – my original target had been 8mph / 13kmh.
I counted down my last three laps and kept myself entertained with the wooden bridge jump and the Pedal Progression ramp at the start area. I finished my 11th lap with 20 minutes to spare.
The results put me in 11th place out of 23 riders (47% of the way down). Each lap was 9.4km (5.8 miles) so I’d covered 103km (64 miles) in 7 hours and 39 minutes, giving an average of 13.5km/h (8.3mph). The average lap time was just under 42 minutes.
I never caught Jerome. He was 12th out of 37 in the male open category. I would have been 17th in that category (45% of the way down).
- Tom: 11 laps, 7:39, 103km (64 miles), 13.5 km/h (8.3mph), 42 minute laps
- Jerome: 12 laps, 7:51, 112km (70 miles), 14.3 km/h (8.9mph), 39 minute laps
Garmin connect map and results: 1st lap (part a, part b) + 10 laps. I spent 35.5 minutes resting over the 11 laps. That’s 3.5 minutes per lap and almost 8% of the total. My moving speed was 8% higher than 13.5 aka 14.5km/h (9mph).
My lap time performance is shown in the graph below.
A full squiggle analysis of the 8 hour event is shown below. This plots the rank (position) for each team in a category versus their average lap time. A steep graph means that a small improvement in time would make a large difference in ranking whereas a flat zone is the opposite.
The curves show that the male teams and male pairs are the most competitive categories. The male teams are the most competitive overall, from 3rd to 13th the pairs and teams are equivalent and then the pairs drop off relative to teams. Old gits teams start similarly to male pairs and then drop off from 3rd place. Solo male and mixed teams are next but rapidly fall off. Mixed pairs match old gits teams but beyond 5th place rapidly fall off. They are followed by singlespeeders, old gits, female teams, fat bikes, and solo females and female pairs, all of which fall off quite quickly.
The vertical dashed line is my average lap time. In my own category then I’d have to knock 6 minutes off my average time before I could make serious headway up the rankings. Below 35 minutes then there would a gain of 5 places per minute. It’s heartening to see that I wouldn’t have been last in any category.
My lap times at Bristol Bikefest 2013 were just under 32 minutes. Our team were 16th/62 which fits well with the squiggle graph below. If I could have sustained that pace for 11 laps of a solo race then I would have been on the podium!
I intend to do more 8 hour solo races in 2013 and maybe a twelve solo at Twentyfour12.