Tag Archives: 2013

Christmas training camp

Skyline Whites Level climb

Over the Christmas holiday I spent 8 days riding, 3 walking and had 1 rest day. I will be adding write ups on some of my favourite moments.

Each ride on average was 45km, lasted over 4 hours and consumed just under 1800KCal. That’s a total of 14,000KCal, the equivalent to 5.7 days extra energy for a typical man (2,500 per day). The average for the whole holiday was 1418KCal per active day.

I was very encouraged by how it felt. I didn’t feel any aches until the seventh ride, a punishing road and track ride through the Twyi Forest in mid Wales.

I went over the bars at Cannock when my handlebars clipped a tree and my upper body suffered no bruises or pain. I did bruise my ankle slightly which made walking a bit painful but had no affect on riding. I credit yoga and pilates for that.

Yoga tree.

I don’t want to appear smug or anything*, but consuming over 1400 KCal per day for 11 days and not really eating much more than normal meant that I lost a bit of weight over the holiday too.

*oh go on then.

Flooded river near Devil's Staircase in Wales.

I did all of the riding on my trusty Specialised Stump Jumper 26″ (alloy), now with working Rock Shox Revelation forks. These were amazing. The lock out broke towards the end though!

Strata Florida track descent.

Day Date Location Type Distance (km) Time Height KCal
1 25/12/2013 Trallwm Walk 9.52 3h11m 246 433
2 26/12/2013 Penhydd Ride 48.5 3h45m 962 1930
3 27/12/2013 Swindon Ride 35.0 4h6m 362 1130
4 28/12/2013 Cannock Chase Ride 20.7 3h46m 391 780
5 29/12/2013 Afan W2+Blue Scar Ride 53.0 5h46m 1029 2044
6 30/12/2013 Devil’s Staircase Ride 50.0 3h38m 743 1890
7 31/12/2013 Afan Skyline + White’s Level Ride 47.0 4h42m 734 1762
8 01/01/2014 Llanwrtyd Wells Walk 12.4 3h43m 266 610
9 02/01/2014 Llanwrtyd Bothy Recce Ride 64.1 4h31m 1176 2600
10 03/01/2014 Newquay (Wales) Walk 5.6 2h32m 102 265
11 04/01/2014 Rest day!
12 05/01/2014 Red Kite Frozen Devil Ride 46.5 3h59 945 2143
Total Ride 364.8 (226miles) 34h13m 6342 14285
Av per day Ride 45.6 (28.3miles) 4h16m 792 1785

I picked up a few Strava results along the way. My first KOM! I was a few seconds faster than three other riders on a track climb in the middle of nowhere in Wales. It still counts though, especially considering I stopped to take a photograph half way up the climb.

I also managed a 9th out of 58 on a descent near Swindon and more significantly 8th out of 71 on the radio mast climb. I don’t set out chasing Strava results but it’s great for a few to filter through from what I regard as normal rides.

Marlborough Downs with MBSwindon

Red Kite winter series xc race

Red Kite winter xc race round 3.This was round three of the Red Kite events winter series. See the write ups from Oct 2013  and Nov 2013.

The event was based at the familiar Coed Trallwm trail centre with another variant on the route. The wet weather warnings meant that the upper section of the trail centre was used in place of the tight singletrack that’s been a feature of many of the races. The cottage loop was included but with a short cut near the top.

I’d ridden 20km on Thursday and 30km on Friday and then had a day of rest on Saturday to go Christmas shopping. After a 1am bike maintenance session I managed a few hours sleep and set off from Stroud at 8am. I had a two hour drive ahead of me. A lot of rain had been forecast but I saw none of it in south Wales. After observing a stunning rainbow near Abergavenny the clouds opened and I wondered if the car was any good at floating. The rain stopped by the time I reached Crickhowel and it I was treated to a beautiful morning.  The journey took longer than expected and after stopping to move a disorientated pheasant out of the middle of the road I arrived with 10 minutes to spare. The race start was delayed by a few minutes to allow me to register.

Fallen tree in a forest.

Thirty seconds later we were off. As usual a group of riders shot straight off up the hill into the distance and I settled somewhere in the middle of the race procession. The damp and muddy track was very draggy to pedal through so I concentrated on finding my comfort point and erased any thoughts of pain or tiredness from my mind. The familiar top of the hill was now a false summit. A short descent on a slippery track lead to a power sapping ramp and then a climb  to the highest point of the trail.

Coed Trallwm mountain bike trails.

The upper section of the descent is actually pretty good as long as you’re aware that the last jump delivers you into the bottom of a ditch. The kicker jumps were a blast in the dry and when I was riding my Stump Jumper. In the wet and on my Camber I wasn’t enjoying them so much.

I passed a guy having mechanical issues and one rider moved over to let me past on the descent. Unlike many of the previous races I hardly saw any other riders after that. I occasionally caught sight of the rider in front but I wasn’t gaining ground on them. The mechanical guy caught me up, introduced himself and shook my hand. After following me down the cottage descent he powered off into the distance. I passed him a few minutes later as he grappled with a stuck chain. A few laps later he passed me again.

I wasn’t in the mood for beasting myself so I very carefully adjusted my pace so that I was working quite hard but I wasn’t grinding myself down. The best thing about this was that I actually felt really good!

I was very encouraged that I had balanced back ache. Often my left side will start hurting and limit how hard I can pedal. Today I had an ache on both sides and I was able to push on anyway without any worrying pain. This was very encouraging and hopefully means that I’m building strength.

My bike maintenance session had been well worth it – the gears worked perfectly. For about five minutes and then were back to over eager shifting in one direction and a lack of interest in the other. Considering I had a new chain, cassette and cable I wasn’t impressed. I think the wobbly jockey wheels are to blame.

Despite the extreme weather warnings no rain fell for the first hour and a half of the race. Then an icy sleet fell from the sky. I contemplated stopping to put my anorak on but decided to brave it out.

Results and prizes at Red Kite winter xc race.

The lap times were 29:50, 32:46, 33:37, 35:03 so there was a steady drop in pace as the race went on. Neil from Red Kite events told me that the fastest lap times were significantly down on normal – confirmation that the conditions were heavy going.

In my category I was 2nd out of 5 which was great. Map on Garmin Connect and also as gpx (view using bikehike.co.uk). Also on Strava!

The squiggle analysis below is very promising. If I knocked a few minutes off my average lap time of 32m:50s then I would be close to 5th place overall. I know that sounds like “if I was faster then I’d do better” but it means that better results are within grasp.

Results anaylsis of the Red Kite winter xc race round 3.

Stats for this and the previous races are shown below.

 Oct 2013 Nov 2013 Dec-13
Distance km 18.5 24.1 27.1
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13 02:07:46
Time hours 1.72 1.95 2.13
Elevation m 819 812 795
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3 12.7
mph 6.7 7.6 7.9
Energy KCal 991 1094 1170
laps  – 6 4 4
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0 6.8
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30 31.94
Elev/lap m 137 203 199
Elev/h m/h 476 416 373
Elev/dist m/km 44 34 29
Energy/hour KCal/hour 576 560 549

Red Kite winter xc race map round 3.

Another 100 mile weekend. Part 2 – Prospect big ride recce

This was ride number two of the weekend. I’d covered over 40km the previous evening on the Noah’s shop ride.

The plan for this was to drive to Swindon, meet up with Phil Allum and go and investigate and rate various pieces of trail that were intended for the Prospect Big Ride 2014. I designed the routes in 2013 & 2012 with a bit of input from others.

2012 2013
photos | maps photos | maps
gpx gpx
50.5 km / 617m 49 km / 610m
Prospect Big Ride 2012 map Prospect big ride 2013 map long

Phil and myself set off on our voyage of discovery on a cold morning. I know the early stages of the ride too well so it was great to reach the first descent and appreciate it. After crossing under the bridge at Ogbourne we had a list of places to visit. As we rode we discussed the various options and ideas for linking them together. Our vision was that the route had to be different from previous years and it had to incorporate the best bits of trail. Phil was clear that the rickety bridge track descent to Ogbourne Maizey was the best section in the area.

Prospect big ride viewThe ride was quite heavy going since we were pedalling at a good pace and we had more than 55km to cover and repeat visits to some areas.

We trialled an old favourite descent near Ramsbury. This got a thumbs up from Phil. I’ve got some video of it below. Back nearer to Ogbourne we rode up or down every bridleway on the hill. We agreed on the best parts and I knew that linking them together would require some effort.

Riding along I decided that with the Stump Jumper off the road due to knackered forks then only having one spare bike was really not good enough. I needed the n+1 bike. I decided that if Hargroves Swindon still had the ex demo Camber 29″ then I’d buy it.

We were not looking forwards to riding up Smeathe’s ridge but after a sit down we were ready and found it not as bad as we expected. it’s a funny hill – it really doesn’t work as a descent, probably due to the grass swallowing up the speed.

Specialized saddleWe took a slightly new route back to Ladder Lane. Phil engaged his full downhill speed here, leaving me a fair distance behind. I was still quite happy with my performance though – I am a bit cautious on downhills really but I have my crazy days where I’m a bit faster.

After a quick ride round the second half of the Croft Trail we were both knackered and happy to stop. The Garmin plot showed 61km, 730m of ascent and 2,100 KCal. Gpx file.

I called round Hargroves but my bike plans were thwarted – they’d sold the Camber 29″ a few weeks ago. I settled on a new saddle for the existing bike.

Prospect big ride 2014 route recceAt home I spent many, many hours drawing route options and measuring the distances. I ended up with a few main choices, Phil expressed some opinions and finally a decision was made. It’s an option we named “tangled route”. It is going to be 55km long with 710m of ascent – slightly harder than previous years.

Preview video from 2013 showing many of the good sections.

The photos below are from the event, marking out and recce rides from previous years.


Another 100 mile weekend. Part 1 – Noah’s Shop Ride

Daneway pub near Stroud.
Daneway pub

This was another weekend with three rides planned. I had covered 168km (104 miles) on the previous weekend over the space of three rides.

Ride number one was the Noah’s bike shop ride on Friday evening. The route sort of developed as we went along, so we rode up to Minchinhampton and then down the woods back into Chalford. We followed the canal path as far as the Daneway pub. In the dark and mist this was surprisingly entertaining. The bike lights picked out a twisting path through tight trees that emerged from the dark and mist.

We liked the descent in the woods so much that we did it twice. I had a vivid moment when I arrived a T junction with far more speed than I wanted. Somehow I managed to tail wag it off. There was also a big giggle with a steep bank back onto the canal path. The descent wasn’t a problem; the pitch black was the problem.

We followed some roads round to a great descent near France Lynch. With all riders feeling fresh we covered the ground at a good rate.

I was feeling so pumped up on the way home that I cycled up to the Winstone’s ice cream factory and tried out another descent that I’d been looking at on the map. Then I rode half way up the hill and continued home. I reached top speed down the road descent in Stroud, leaving a car behind at both sets of lights. That was amusing.

Map showing an off road ride near Stroud.Overall I felt in great shape physically. Which was nice.

I noticed that my front forks were not working properly on this ride. They were very harsh over small bumps. I reasoned that the six months since their servicing with no oil change had caused the issues.

Garmin connect says 45.00km, 590m, 16.1km/h moving speed, max speed 50.7 km/h and 1709 KCal.

Gpx file.

Local riding (for local people)

Riding some steps near Stroud
Steps on the Nailsworth It ride

This was a weekend of local riding. I looked at the map and realised that the area right outside my door was local so it would probably be ideal. I easily rack up 20 thousand miles per annum driving places and a lot of that is MTB related. I’ve been to all three corners of the isles and abroad to search out trails.

I’ve always been aware that there are some great trails much closer to home: Dursely, North Nibley, Randwick, Painswick and Cranham are all well known mountain biking areas. The time had come to  reduce the hours sat in the car and replace them with pedal pushing. This is part of my plan to develop my stamina – hours spent in the saddle.

The previous weekend I’d set the ball rolling with a 70km door to window ride with Gary Palmer (of local cycling group Dirty Saddles). This was a route recce for a future MBSwindon club ride . It was Gary who invented several local rides for the club such as the Painful Painswick trip and the Uley Novice Friendly ride. For more route ideas see the recent Nailsworth It ride and more in the collection of Cotswold rides.

North Nibley jump
Local trails the previous weekend


Stroudwater canal at nightOn Friday I cycled to local shop Noah’s Ark for a guided ride. Six of us went off on a sociable and quite speedy trip round sneaky local trails. Rather conveniently this included some areas that I had been studying closely on the map recently, particularly the bridleway and descent to Chalford from Minchinhampton. This was also the first time I’d followed the Stroudwater canal path all the way from Chalford to Stroud. I found that there’s a good set of steps at the end of the old railway line Rodborough. 


On Saturday I set off at at 9am to ride from the valley up to Standish car park to meet up with MBSwindon for “Gary’s Randwick Roller Coaster”. The previous Saturday had been plain cold all day. This week a warm glow was radiating from the sun and was available whenever out of the shadows. This gave me some insight into the mind of a cat.

Gary and the MBSwindon crew
Painswick Beacon MTB
Painswick Beacon

See the ride report on MBSwindon for details of what we got up to.

My extended route for the day consisted of:

  • Riding to the car park.
  • Riding half way back to where I’d just come from.
  • Doing the rest of the club ride.
  • Repeating the second half of the ride to show James and friends the route back to Painswick.
  • Doing the steep drops off Painswick beacon and returning via an alternative route*.
  • Checking out a bomb hole near Edge.
  • Riding home via some steps at Ebley.
  • Adding 11km on the cycle path to ensure I covered more distance than James (who rode from Cheltenham). It worked – I covered 70.00km versus his 66km.

*this started out as “you’re on your own so don’t do anything too dangerous” and then turned into “what the heck?”.

Overall these are all great natural trails with a range of entertaining features such as drops, a smattering of jumps and some big, optional ramps.

Standish sunset
View from Standish woods


MTB yoga
Mid ride yoga?

I spent the morning time wasting on Twitter and Facebook. It was 12:30pm by the time I set out on the bike. I think I was tired. I’d drawn a 55km route on Bikehike the previous evening. This combined a few well known sections with a whole load of new bridleways. I really wanted to see what the woods at Sapperton might hold in terms of sneaky trails.

I carried a good pace along the cycle path to Nailsworth and made short work of the climb up into the woods. As I pedalled through sticky mud I decided that I definitely felt a bit tired. The frequency of my stops and the amount of food that I was eating at each stop confirmed this.

It’s great when you’re out riding and even a fairly tame looking bridleway turns out to be fun to ride. Sometimes it’s just about being out there and enjoying the situation rather than looking for technical features. I’m always a little wary when on my own anyway – I’ve seen people break collar bones with innocuous looking falls.

Autumn leaves
Leaves and stuff on a bridleway

The bridleways up beyond Avening sapped my energy. It was a combination of a long and gradual climb and a sticky surface. I’d had a funny feeling when looking at the maps that the woods over the railway tunnel might offer a route to Sapperton. This turned out to be correct, with a range of paths leading past the tunnel air vents. It looked like the railway builders had dumped a load of their spoil in the woods too. I considered riding a steep rock ramp down to the track but decided against it. I almost fell off the rocks when my shoes slipped on the gravel. So maybe that was an omen.

Stroud valleys in the dusk.I had a good look round the woods at Sapperton but failed to find anything of great interest. I did see a lot of signs explaining that Lord Bathhurst was a very nice chap and welcomed walkers and horse riders between 9am and 5pm. I need to find out what the status is for bridleways through the woods.

It was mid afternoon by now and the light had started to fade since 2:30pm. Luckily I had my lights with me and these were soon needed.

I followed a great bridleway from Frampton Mansell towards Chalford and repeated the Friday night descent down to Chalford and on to the canal footpath. I approached the end of the ride with 51km showing on the Garmin and decided that 60.00km was necessary. I did a bonus loop round from Ryeford to Ebley and a trip to the steps for a moody night shot. This took several attempts. All good practice.

Mountain biking down steps in the dark.

After this I was very clear that my priority was to have some rest. The bike was given a quick wash and then I went inside to edit photos, maps, eat lentils and do some recovery yoga.

Overall that was a great weekend of riding and there’s still more that I need to explore. The stats below estimate that I used 5,600 KCal over the weekend. That’s over 2 day’s worth of extra energy to cover the riding. Maybe that’s why I feel quite hungry today.

Map showing 168 km of riding in the Stroud area

Friday Saturday Sunday Total
Garmin connect Garmin Garmin Garmin  3
Gpx gpx gpx gpx  3
Distance (km) 38 70 60 168
Moving time (hh:mm) 2:36 5:19 4:27  12:23
Elevation (Garmin corrected) (m) 333 894 460 1687
Calories (Garmin guess) 1100 2600 1900 5600
Av moving speed (km/h) 15.5 13.2 13.5  13.6
Max speed (km/h) 46.2 50.6 47.7  –

Race report: Red Kite winter xc race

Red Kite winter xc race at Cwm TrallwmThis was one of the monthly Red Kite winter xc races (see the write up from the October race). I’d spent Saturday on a 70km epic ride so liked the idea of a 90 minute race (plus one lap) and a scheduled lie down in the afternoon.

Conditions were dry and vaguely warm for Wales at 3 deg C. The route was the classic Cwm Trallwm loop as used at least once last year but now with better jumps and features on the main descent. See the video from October for an idea of what to expect. There was a ford crossing on the river instead of the bridge which was ideal for washing the bike mid lap.

I was feeling a bit jaded after my long ride the previous day but still up for the challenge. After a massive bowl of porridge I stuffed my face with Trek bars and then a Mule bar to supercharge the energy levels. My main issue was with feeling a bit dehydrated so I drank a load of water but still had dry lips.

Cross country mtb race.

I got off to a promising start with the pack but realised after about two minutes that I wasn’t going to sustain it so backed off and watched the first half of the field pull away and past me up the long, muddy track. I wasn’t too bothered really and I was actually feeling really good considering how knackered I should have been. I’ve been getting into the zone a lot recently – as I work the body  I can find a sweet spot where the energy is there and I feel a physical high. No pain and misery involved. I think it might have something to do with yoga and giving up alcohol.

Conditions were a bit wetter than last time and I wasn’t totally happy with my performance downhill. Either way, the laps were taking just under half an hour so it looked like I was going to be doing four of them.

I gradually pulled a few riders back in as the race went on which was good for my motivation. I caught a veteran on the main climb and it was a fair cop in my opinion. I didn’t see him again until the bottom of the descent where he stood up on the pedals and pulled a big distance on me up the next climb. I next caught sight of him near the top of the trail and he was zig zagging up the track. “He’s knackered, let’s have him!” I thought. But I couldn’t catch him.

cac photography mtb race
cac photography

Overall the race went really well for me. The results arrived via email and confirmed that I hadn’t won and I hadn’t come last either. I was 4th out of 7 in the expert category (youngish old gits). My lap times were just under 30 minutes whereas the top three were managing around 22 minutes. I’ve done a quick squiggle analysis which is shown below.

Red Kite race results

Stats for this and the previous race shown below.

Oct-13 Nov-13
Distance km 18.5 24.1
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13
Time hours 1.72 1.95
Elevation m 819 812
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3
mph 6.7 7.6
Energy KCal 991 1094
laps  – 6 4
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30
Elev/lap m 137 203
Elev/h m/h 476 416
Elev/dist m/km 44 34

See another write up on this event from Chris Schroder.

Oct 2013

Red Kite winter xc race map Oct 2013

Nov 2013

Red Kite Winter xc race map Nov 2013

Tom and Gary’s cold day out (Nailsworth, Dursley and North Nibley trails)

North Nibley MTB trailsThe plan was for Gary Palmer and myself to carry out a recce of this route for future MBSwindon club ride from Nailsworth to Dursley via the North Nibley trails. I’d already started the mission on the day of my unplanned duathlon. The original route inspiration had been stolen from “Cotswold Mountain Bike Rides” by Tom Fenton but adjusted a bit to suit my tastes.

After the 2 x 5 gear fiasco the previous Sunday on the Red Kite quarry tour I’d bought myself a shiny new cassette from Noahs Ark Cycles. I started pedalling at 9:30am and warmed up with a blast along the dismantled Nailsworth railway line. Gary was ready and waiting for me and we got stuck into the steep climb out of Nailsworth. He pointed to my front light and laughed. I’m not sure he fully appreciated that was officially an epic ride.

Stroudwater canal on a frosty morning

It was all familiar ground for me as we nipped along the path in the woods, through the bomb holes and descended to Avening. On the bridleway near Chavenage I thought “I’ve got a lot of speed here. When I hit that muddy rut then the last thing I want to do is get it wrong and fall off”.  When I hit the muddy rut the wheel wandered into the side, started to slip and I took a side exit off the bike directly to the ground. I think the glare from the low sun stopped me from looking ahead properly and, as Gary said, “I thought myself into falling off”.

Male jogger in pink shorts.
Nice shorts.

The day had started off crisp with a slight frost and the low sun looked like it might warm things up a bit. We both agreed that a single word to describe conditions was “cold”.  We worked out why when we cycled past a lake in Ozleworth park that was still frozen over at midday.

A few road links took us round the proper riding near Ozleworth. The route was planned to go up and down every bit of trail available as Gary soon found out. The descent towards Wotton was a bit of a bog fest but the trails around North Nibley were worthy of future investigation. I had a short session jumping off a big rock at the top of bridleway. I know this well – a work colleague went over the bars at this spot. I strongly remember the rifle crack sound that his wrist made as he hit the ground.

There were some warning signs saying that a footpath had been closed. We found out why when we were half way down the bridleway – there had been a large landslide and a section of footpath was no longer on the hillside along with some displaced trees and rocks.

North Nibley jump

I opted for the short, sharp shock road climb up to Stinchcombe golf course. The descent into Dursley didn’t last long and we definitely need to go back and investigate the sneaky trails there. Gary sabotaged his bike so he could have a rest at this point. His 29″ tubeless tyre had lost interest in sealing so we fitted an inner tube or two. It was 3pm and the light was starting to fade. The air temperature dropped with it. It was a relief to start pedalling again once we had air in the tyre.

Wotton zoo.
Wotton Zoo

The pointless loop round Uley hill fort added in a great descent that I’d recently used on the Nailsworth it ride. A steep road climb in the twilight took us to the highest point from which it was all downhill. Gary was lacking a front light so the route was adjusted with a hope that we could make with some light remaining. Gary tucked in close behind on the fast descent to Nailsworth, a triumph of trust and hope. I think he forgot his risk assessment form for that one.

This did mean that a singletrack descent was missed out. I’ve done it before though and will be doing it again soon.I finished off with a brisk ride along the cycle track to home.

We will be doing the full route sometime in spring 2014. Keep an eye on the MBSwindon events page.

Tubeless tyre punctures
No more punctures with tubeless

Garmin says: 70.9km, 1139m, 2750 KCal | gpx file.

Nailsworth and Dursley MTB trail map

The Real Ale Wobble 2013

Start of the Real Ale WobbleI’ve been to the Real Ale Wobble every year since about 2001 – see my collection of maps and videos. This is a great event that sees several hundred riders combine cross country riding with beer and food stops.

It was organised by volunteers for Green Events and all proceeds went to the village primary school. The route was designed by local bike shop Cycle-Tec who were also responsible for the 2010/2011 route.

I spent some time on Friday night fixing the bike that I wanted to ride (bike A). Some testing of this in the car park showed that the new chain on a slightly worn cassette was going to jump. I agonised over it being suitable for the event and packed bike B as well so I could make a decision the next day.

Rather conveniently my parents live in Llanwrtyd Wells where the event is based. They served as a hotel for three cycling friends – Gary, Jerome and Chris (they guy who broke his pelvis in the Alps this year. Article coming soon). I asked them what their plans were for the ride and they all mumbled something about being “a bit tired” and “not in a hurry”. I think this was related to beer and 1am bedtime.

Real Ale WobbleA warm drizzle was falling outside the house and after a quick test ride of Bike A where the chain jumped all over the place  I decided that Bike B was the sensible choice.

I wanted to see what sort of time I could manage if I worked at a fair pace. The long route was advertised as 27 miles so I was expecting around three and half hours which didn’t sound too taxing. The Ale Wobble doesn’t really attract the racing type – it’s more about being sociable and enjoying the epic nature of it. I wasn’t doing this to prove anything other than what I could do to myself.

I spotted a map on the wall at registration and took a quick look. I’d ridden every part of the route before but not all as part of an Ale Wobble. In some ways I’d wanted the route to be a surprise but it was good to have an idea of where it was going.

The start countdown resulted in the usual slow moving queue as bikes filtered out of the school car park. I set off about one third of the way down the field. I was feeling pretty feisty and overtook a lot of riders on the slight climb along the main road. I managed a similar number along the lane and then up the first track climb. When I reached the top of the first descent I realised that there were no riders in front of me. I was at the front!

Real Ale Wobble in the woods.

Near the bottom I thought I saw one rider on the other side of the valley who was already moving up the next climb. When I reached the climb I had someone close behind me and pushed my pace up a bit. I then forbade myself from looking behind to see if they were catching me. That lasted until I stopped to capture a photograph of the ants riding down the first descent. They had not gained any ground on me which was a relief.

I passed the first food stop feeling like the event had only just begun so I had no need to stop. The route took a new line out along the ridgeway towards Beulah. I’d ridden this a few years ago when exploring the area so knew what to expect. I passed a few marshals and one shouted that I was the first rider that they’d seen. That was encouraging. No idea what had happened to the rider who I’d seen earlier. Maybe they’d gone the wrong way.

Bridleway towards Beulah

I was enjoying this feeling of being ahead of the pack. I felt fresh and fit, the energy was there and the sun was shining. I had the trails to myself to enjoy. This was the moment!  I knew that, behind me, riders were caught up in the chaos at obstacles and descents.

I was mulling this over when a fast rider appeared from nowhere and overtook me. He looked like a proper xc racer and was soon gone into the distance. Another caught me on the chapel climb up behind Cwm Trallwwm, asking if I’d seen any other riders. He also very quickly disappeared into the distance.

Chapel Hill near Cwm TrallwmI stopped for water and some muesli bars at the top of the trails and a third rider passed me. I was a pleasantly surprised to find that the trails at Cwm Trallwm had received some surfacing at the top and an inviting new descent replaced the old mud fest. I knew the lower section well from the Red Kite xc race series (includes video). My average speed was around 13km/h at this point which was very encouraging considering the amount of climbing and gloopy conditions. A fast road section delivered me to the bottom of a long track climb near Abergwesyn. At this point I’d been riding for 1h50m and covered 15 miles with an average speed of 8.3mph aka 13.5 km/h.

Back ache set in on the climb so I had to drop the pace a little. I was encouraged to have equal aching on both sides. The left side normally complains first. The pilates and yoga was showing some definite results for me.

I was overtaken at the top by an annoyingly old looking rider. I knew I couldn’t go any faster so it was a fair cop. He made good progress through the boggy ground on top of the hill too. The rider behind failed to catch me which was a plus.

I put the front wheel into another boggy patch and watched it disappear up the axle and then went over the bars feet first. This was in front of my parents who were marshalling. They told me that the previous rider had done the same. After the event they said that they’d been laughing all day at the stream of crashes due to that bog. Next time they must take a camera.

Over the bars in bog.

The long route now rejoined the shorter options and I got to see the crowds. I didn’t feel the need to use the food stop and carried on. It gave me a warm feeling that maybe I was now almost properly fit as I passed riders pushing up the hills.

I reached the top of the final descent at 21 miles in 2h51 (7.2mph / 11.6 km/h). I knew that it was just a fast descent and a road ride left so I could probably finish within 3.5 hours. The descent went without any issues and I passed the food stop at the bottom. The bike was really flying along the road and I still had the energy to push the pace a bit. The wheels were whirring on the road surface. Next I became aware of a flaccid rear end and had to stop to investigate. The rear tube had been punctured by a thorn and fixing that cost me several minutes.

Marshals at mountain bike event.

After a very long tea and sandwich session I added another 11km by riding along the road to the last food stop to find Chris.

Overall a great event. I’d ridden all of the route before so there was nothing new for me but it used most of the best sections of trail in the area and I was very pleased with my time, energy levels and general tidyness of the riding. Total elapsed time was 3h25 and 25.7 miles/41.5km (7.5mph/12.1km/h). The moving time was 3h02 (8.5mph/13.7km/h). Elevation gain 930m (Garmin) / 1200 (Bikehike).

A rider on twitter said they’d done it in 3h05, so once again, the way to become faster is to stop less. I’d used up 23 minutes doing nothing. Out of that I’d probably used 7 minutes on the puncture, and a similar time taking photos and video, leaving about 9 minutes resting. My parents said I’d been the 4th rider out of 240 who had passed their marshal point. Which was nice. 

Route on Garmin connect | gpx file (right click to save and view using bikehike.co.uk). The last big climb uses a track next to a bridleway. This was used by special permission for the event.

The Real Ale Wobble 2013 map

I rode some sections again on the Sunday and made the video out of the best bits from both days.

MTB quarry tour with Red Kite Events

Crychan quarry mountain bike drop.Neil and John from Red Kite Events took Gary, Jerome, Chris and myself on a guided MTB quarry tour of Crychan Forest to try out some new trail sections. I’ve been to Crychan forest  a few times before – on a ride with Neil in  Dec 2011, the Green Dragon event in March 2012, the Red Kite Devil’s MTB challenges in Sept 2012 and April 2013 plus the 2012 Real Ale Wobble.

I was told the night before to make sure I was “in brave mode” so I was expecting something interesting. Neil said that he was going to show us some new lines for the 2014 events.

I took bike B and lent Bike A to Chris since he’d done some gear damage on the previous day at the Real Ale Wobble. About half of the rear gears worked so I had a 2 x 5 set up. I had definitely made the right decision about taking bike A the previous day.

After the road climb and then a slog up to the radio mast we’d had some fun in the mud down to the main car park plus the descent to the river in the main woods. The first quarry that we visited didn’t look as bad as I had expected. A series of scree terraces lead down to the track below and we all made it down without drama.

Quarry in Crychan Forest.

We followed a few muddy tracks, passed a Sunday logging operator and approached quarry number two. “Where’s the line?” we asked.Neil pointed at the steep scree. “How do we get up there?” we asked. Neil pointed at the steep scree. John, Chris and Gary decided to watch whilst Neil, Jerome and myself climbed up the slope. It looked very steep – I’d estimate an angle of 30degrees. It looks like nothing in the photographs and videos but appears to be near vertical in real life.

Quarry scree ride.

I started off by pushing the bike and climbing up behind but that was too much effort. Neil had hooked his bike over his back. I hung my bike on my shoulder with my arm through the centre. The ground wasn’t entirely stable and I imagined the world of pain if I were to fall with my arm through the bike frame. I decided that slipping or falling were probably not good options.

View from the top.

After about ten minutes of climbing with rests we were deemed to be at the correct height. Neil spent a while preparing and then set off, hanging off the back of the bike. I was scared about the implications of falling and sliding but, at the same time, felt quite calm about giving it go. So I thought – when I was out on the slope I thought that maybe I saw an easier start a bit lower down. I walked down at least half of it, maybe more before feeling up to giving it a go. Once I was moving I discovered that with my weight right over a locked up rear wheel then it wasn’t actually too bad. Jerome did better than me – descending well over half of the slope. Whether he was fully in control is not so clear.

Riding scree.

With that over we did a much smaller drop at the other end of the quarry and then rode back past the first quarry and on to a tricky descent to the river. I’d first ridden this back in Dec 2011. It’s a tight singletrack with some steep sections and rooty drops. With it being wet the wood had no grip at all…as I discovered.

After a quick detour via a final quarry we followed the bridleways back to Llanwrtyd.

Crychan Forest mountain biking.

I had 31km showing on the Garmin. My unwritten rule is that I have to cover at least 50km if I go out for a ride. So I tacked a bit of a classic Ale Wobble onto the route. I continued up the start climb and did the “Lava Flow” track to link into the final section. This went past a lot more quickly than I expected. It’s shown at the end of the video from the previous day. I then did a loop of the watery lane and the final descent. I made it back to the school with 49.2km showing so I added a short section of road to take me up to 50km.

Thanks to Neil for showing us around. The next event is the Red Kite Frozen Devil in Jan 2014.

Route on Garmin Connect | gpx file (right click to download, view using www.bikehike.co.uk). 31miles/50km. Elevation gain: 900 (Garmin), 1290 (Bikehike). Average moving speed 13km/h.

Crychan Forest quarry tour map

Bristol Oktoberfest 2013

Bristol Oktoberfest

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.

Bristol Oktoberfest

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.

Artistic photograph of Bristol Oktoberfest at night

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 Luff bus at Bristol Oktoberfest

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.

Camp fire at mountain bike event.

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.

Pedal progression jump at Oktoberfest raceI 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.

Solo rider rest at Bristol Oktoberfest

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.

MBSwindon lap times at OktoberfestAs 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.

Lap time analysis for mountain bike race.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!

Bristol Oktoberfest category lap time analysis.

I intend to do more 8 hour solo races in 2013 and maybe a twelve solo at Twentyfour12.

Mountain bike trail building

Croft Trail Singletrack magazineI’ve just spent two days mountain bike trail building.

This is our own trail – the Croft Trail is 4.5km of single track with technical features located in some woodland less than a mile from the centre of Swindon. Read reviews on the Ibike website. It’s also been featured in Singletrack magazine (Issue 71, February 2012)

I’ve spent countless weekends down there clearing, digging and shifting limestone since we started in 2008. We started MBSwindon in 2010 to support the trail.The build diary is a record of our work. Over the years we’ve built up a great band of volunteers and it’s quite normal to shift 20tonnes of limestone in a day. I’ve got a load of trail build videos below…anything post 2011 hasn’t been finished yet. Mental note to self – get on with it.

Weekend write up: Saturday, Sunday.

Volunteers shifting gravel at a trail build day.

New volunteers always comment on how physically demanding trail building is. It’s definitely great for upper body strength. The mental aspects also play a part – there’s usually a target for the day and physical effort carries the group to that target.

Mountain bike trail berm.

Gravel pile.
There was 20 tonnes. Gone.

I had a bit of amusement on Saturday when the compactorisator would not start. On inspection I found that the HT cap had shattered. I managed to shorten the part that was attached to the lead and then tie the whole lot back together using cable ties. Once I had two good cable ties in place I added about ten more. It worked really well and survived the rest of the day and Sunday too.

Broken HT lead fixed with cable ties.

Sadly I went to bed too late on Saturday so on Sunday I just felt a bit tired all day and my happiness levels fell in line with that.

It’s very satisfying to have built a trail and developed a volunteer group. We’re very proud of what we’ve achieved. This weekend, for example, we had 16 people helping on Saturday and 6 on Sunday. It’s great that the trail receives such support, otherwise it would fall into disrepair.

Shifting gravel at a trail build day.

Recently some of the downsides of trail building have come to play on my mind. My target for 2014 is to train and do more long distance rides. After spending two whole days at the trail and then looking on Facebook to multiple status updates about where people have been riding then I’m starting to feel a bit resentful. I’ve donated a lot of my spare time to the trail over the years and no one made me do it. But maybe I should claim some of that back for my own riding now. This is something that I’ve got to think about carefully for 2014.

It certainly plays on my mind that there are hundreds of regular users of the facility who don’t attach any priority to maintaining it. Years ago I learnt to filter out the enthusiastic ignorance of armchair experts and the annoyance of seeing bits of the trail wrecked by incompetent riding. We had a large reserve of enthusiasm to overcome all the minor hurdles. I’ve always concentrated on the positives and vowed to not let the negatives affect me. That’s worked very well for along time but maybe I’ve been worn down somewhat.

On the other hand, considering the lack of ties that I have then I should be able to spend a weekend per month at the trail and still do more riding than people with families and other commitments. We shall see.

Wood section at a mountain bike trail.

We’ve done a lot of tedious maintenance work recently – fixing potholes, adjusting the trail line and resurfacing sections. I’m hoping that when we create some new features then my enthusiasm will be fired back up. Again, I’ll wait and see.

Map of the Croft Trail in Swindon

Blogging plans…

MBTomI set this blog up last week. I’ve got a big list of things to write about! I will be uploading articles regularly as I work through my ideas backlog.

I’m hoping that the blog will inspire riders to keep riding and working on becoming fitter and faster. This will be done with regular updates from MTB events I’ve gone out to ride. I’m aiming to be out there every weekend if possible. I love epic routes so I’ll be looking for long distance off-road events where I can. I also do a bit of lap racing from time to time.

There will be articles about how a reasonably fit but slightly overweight rider (blame beer) has worked to lose that weight, gain strength and become quicker. This will cover yoga, pilates, diet, rest and training (I don’t do much). I’ll give my thoughts on sports massage and acupuncture. There will also be coverage on skills training and ways to develop confidence and become faster. I’ve started to love riding even more now that I’ve focussed on improving. So hopefully I can transfer some of that enthusiasm over.

I love maps and routes so I’ll be adding gpx plots and write ups from places that I like riding. I enjoy taking photographs and making videos so you’ll get  a bit of that too. I’ve got a backlog of ride reports from places like the Lake District and Scotland to upload on this. Things like this: Red Kite Elan valley challenge write up.

I’ll also give some thoughts on bikes, clothing, tools, kit, maintenance. Take a look at the first aid article I wrote for MBSwindon.

So, it’s going to be a right mix of things. If I enjoy writing it then hopefully it will be interesting to read. Don’t be shy with your comments abuse. You can contact me via Twitter or the contact form on this website (feeds directly to my email).

Elan Valley Links Jump