Tag Archives: 2014

Cotswolds mtb routes – South epic

MBSwindon club ride near StroudCotswolds MTB routes…south epic.

This was the first ride of the bank holiday weekend. I had a 57km epic to lead for MBSwindon that took in Nailsworth, Chavenage, Ozleworth, North Nibley, Dursley and Uley. I’d done a recce ride on this back in November with Gary Palmer. We advertised the ride on the MBSwindon website, Dirty Saddles and Stroud MBC.

I rode the extra 7km from my house to the route start and arrived to find a large crowd which reached 18 by the time we set off. This included Paul who had ridden from Swindon and was going to ride back after the ride too.

The route was identical to the recce apart from the end where did the descent to the Weighbridge Inn. It had been too dark to do this in November. The other main differences were the higher air temperature and a lack of water falling from the sky.

The group maintained enthusiasm throughout this tough ride despite the route taking the steepest line up and down every hill. We did break two bikes over the course of the day. One rider had a seized wheel and despite a farmer lending some tools the wheel seized back up later. Another rider had a stuck free hub and rolled back to Nailsworth down the road about three quarters of the way round the ride.

Tight singletrack in the Cotswolds.
Tight singletrack.

The tight switchbacks in the  bluebell wood from the Ozleworth radio tower down to Wotton scored the most approval. Not long later there was a food stop at North Nibley quarry by the jumps and downhill style trails.

MBSwindon gravity race team.
James from the gravity race team.

A short cut to the Old Crown Inn at Uley was taken by half the group whilst the others did the bonus loop up Uley hill fort and back down before riding to the pub.

The Crown Inn at Uley
The Crown Inn at Uley
Gulley descent near North Nibley.
Gully descent near Westridge Wood.
Egypt Mill at Nailsworth
Egypt Mill at Nailsworth.

I have to question my mental state because I really enjoyed the steep road climb through Owlpen back onto the top of the Cotswolds. An easy road spin and a track lead to the final descent down to the Weighbridge Inn. This is still one of my favourite trails in the area.

We made a second pub stop at the Egypt Mill before going our separate ways.

This was a great day out and reminded me why I like riding with the club. Everyone worked hard,  there was no moaning, the group waited for the slowest rider at the top of climbs and everyone got on with enjoying the ride. I’ve done my fair share of solo trips recently so it was great to be out with a keen group.

Cotswolds mtb route map.

Route: Garmin Connect | Strava | gpx.

Distance  72.6 km
(45 miles)
Elevation gain  1200 m
Moving time  4:51 h:m Elapsed time  9:43 h:m
Av moving speed  15 km/h Max speed  48 km/h
Energy  2800 KCal

See my Nailsworth it ride,  Gary Palmer’s Painful Painswick ride and some clues for another ride I have planned.

Charity off road rides – planning one

Prospect Big Ride SwindonCharity off road rides are popular events. Ideally they give riders a way marked route with support from marshals, food stops, recovery and first aid.

In 2011 MBSwindon were asked to marshal the Prospect Hospice Big Ride. This was a fund raising cycle event based near Swindon. In 2012, 2013 and 2014 we devised the route and organised the marking, marshalling, sweeping and clearing. For the first two of these I designed the route myself whilst this year it was a joint effort with Phil Allum. The start and finish area, rider registration and food stop was organised by the Prospect Hospice. They were also responsible for the council safety liaison and obtaining permission to use a short section of footpath.  We have opinions about how these tasks could be done but for this event it was not within our control.

Our time line for the route design was:

  • Many hours spent looking at maps of the area, generally using Bikehike.co.uk.
  • Sun 7th Dec 2013: A 60km recce ride where we tried out every bridleway of interest.
  • Many more hours laying out routes in bikehike and google maps to try and link the favourite parts and meet the distance target before finally choosing a route. Garmin | Strava | Gpx file.
  • Sun13th April 2014: A 55.00km/690m complete route test ride. The target was 55km! I did ride up and down the car park at the end because the total was just short of 55km. Garmin | Strava | Gpx file.
  • Sat 26th April 2014: A 51km/580m route marking ride. We had two groups of riders and a Land Rover to spread the job. Garmin | Strava
  • Sun 27th April 2014: The day of the event! A 61km/695m ride to check the route, add sign posts and then clear it at the end. Garmin | Strava
Prospect big ride route ideas
Some early ideas for sections of the route.

Prospect Big Ride Map 2014

The aim of the route was to meet the distance target and use as many fun sections as we could find in the area. I also had a personal desire to make the route different every year to keep the interest levels up. On our recce we had found that one of the plain looking track descents was actually really fun because it had several bumps for drainage channels and these made good jumps.

I ended up with a few options for the route and after a few weeks of looking and thinking we made a decision to go for what we called “tangled route”. This had two places where the route crossed over itself and two long loops so it was a bit more of a challenge to sign post and marshal. We thought it was worth it though because we really liked all of the sections. Routes from the previous year are shown in the recce ride.

The final route was a 55km loop with short cuts to make 45km and 28km options. Gpx file for the complete long route.

Weeks before the event I drew up a very detailed plan for the checking, marshalling, sweeping and clearing. This details what time various actions have to happen for every person involved on the day. This means that on the day volunteers can just follow the instructions and avoid a panic.

Over the years we’ve managed to streamline the operations on the day. The route is marked out the day before but we also check all of the route on the day in case sign posts have been removed overnight. We’ve saved time by separating sweeping and clearing: the sweeper leaves after the last rider and liberates marshals who can start clearing sign posts. This means that the sweeper can release helpers to clear the signs more quickly than if they were also clearing up. We also start the short event last and close the long split before all the short riders have reached that point. This means that we can start sweeping the long route before the short route is closed.

The weekend of the event was very tiring because it wasn’t a plain bike ride; it involved stopping at regular intervals to put up or remove sign posts. All of this was motivated by the desire to ensure that the event was a success. There was great support from the club during the marking out and the even itself, when we had over thirty people marshalling, checking and sweeping.

Seeing the riders enjoy the event always makes the planning and marking work worth it. It’s great that people choose to go and ride “the Prospect route” after the event.

Photographs of the event on the MBSwindon website: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011. See also maps from previous years.

First rider on the Prospect Big Ride 2014
First rider.
Food stop on a charity bike ride.
Food stop.
MTB jump
Fast track descent. Much more fun than it looks.

Marking out photographs from previous years.

2013_04_27 Prospect Marking Out 009    2012_04_21_22_Prospect Ride 0152013_04_27 Prospect Marking Out 012    2012_04_21_22_Prospect Ride 006   

Tree climbing when route marking.
Tree climbing.

Pont Scethin MTB route

Pont Scethin route.

The Pont Scethin route is a classic off road excursion and was done as part of the Mountain Yoga Breaks weekend.

If you look at the OS map for the area to the east of Tal-y-bont on the north Wales coast then the route is fairly obvious. It looks like a fairly easy route as it’s only 20km and the height gain is around 800m.

Mountain yoga breaks
First climb

Most people start near the pub in Tal-y-bont but we started half way round at a handy car park. Rain had been falling and more was forecast.

We had a mixed group in terms of experience levels: Phil is an experienced guide, I’ve done my fair amount over the years, Polly seems happy riding anything, Rose does dh racing whilst Alice had owned a mountain bike for 10 days and Rome had done some off road cycling in the Surrey hills but had never been on a mountain trip. In at the deep end!

We started out with a short but tight climb up loose rocks. I fancied my chances since I was fresh but the combination of wet, loose and steepness got the better of me. At the top the route levelled out into a muddy and rocky path. The combination of mud, rocks and ruts made the going quite tough. Our novice riders were having a baptism of fire.

Pushing mtb up a hill.
Big push.

The first big climb loomed into view with the path disappearing in the mist. This was steep throughout and the surface was  a mixed bag of grippy grass, slippery grass, loose shale and rocks. I managed to ride a fair amount of it but felt that on a dry day more of it would be viable. Walking was probably a better option for much of it. It took the group just over half an hour to reach the top.

Bwlch Rhiwgyr descent
Alice gives it some.

The route descended down the side of the hill via an entertaining rock garden. This was an interesting challenge but not stupidly difficult. It was on a par with two other passes that I’ve ridden: the Brecon gap (partially sanitised now) and the Black Mountains gap. It levelled out onto grassy lower slopes with a view of the coast. A lot more speed could be carried along here though the wet ground didn’t give massive confidence on the corners. There were a few rocks here and there that livened up the ride.

Pont Scethin descent
First descent.

At the bottom we followed a river side path through the woods to the lowest point. The pub option was ruled out due to time constraints so we turned onto the second climb of the day.

We stopped for lunch at an abandoned cottage near the track. After that it was a long climb along the vehicle track into the mist. A short descent brought us to Pont Scethin itself. This is a small bridge over Afon Ysgethin river.

Pont Scethin bridge.
Pont Scethin

From here on the route turned steep again and it was a mixture of riding until the bike slipped or stopped and then climbing back on and trying to pedal again. If that failed some pushing was done. We carried on like this up into the mist for 45 minutes. Spirits will still high in the group and we knew that this was the last climb. As with all climbs you know that it’s going to lead to a descent at some point. The conditions reminded me of the Walna Scar ride that we did in the Lakes.

Misty mountain.

From the top we followed a fast and tight rut along the side of the hill. In the mist with a drop on the right this focussed the mind. Alice was caught by this and went over the bars with no harm done. After nipping through a gateway we were presented with the final sections of descent. A small gap in the clouds gave us a view over to Cadair Idris.

Our new riders were into the groove by now and were noticeably more confident and flowing. Thinking back to my early riding experiences I would say that they did really well and were a credit to the benefits of staying positive and accepting new challenges.

Cadair Idris view.
Final descent.

The last part of our ride was a descent down the steep rocks that we walked up at the start. A great end to the ride.

A year ago I did a ride with some club members that involved a walk up a hill and some of them moaned about if afterwards. It was great to be out with a group who were all still smiling at the end of a tough ride. From my point of view it was good to do a ride that didn’t last all day. It meant I had time for lunch, a massage and then yoga.

Pont Scethin descent

Distance  18.4 km (11.4 miles) Elapsed time  4:34 h:m Av moving speed  4 km/h
Elevation gain  800 m Moving time  1:58 h:m Max speed  40 km/h
Energy  940 KCal

Route:  Garmin connect | Strava | gpx

Pont Scethin mtb route map

Red Kite xc race round 7

Coed TrallwmMy plan of riding all of the Red Kite winter xc races stopped when I was laid low in late January and most of February. This was due to over training, under eating and relentless rain.I’d missed two races since round 4 in January.

To sum up the previous few months: for 95% of the time it was either raining or not sunny. For the rest of the time a plurality of water droplets fell from the sky. Most of this water landed on the ground and wetted the soil to create a muddy slop. Because it was winter it was also cold. A sort of boring, miserable, chilly, damp cold. Not the interesting, fun cold that leads to snow.

Saturday was different though: when I walked out of the house I immediately noticed that 1) no water was hitting my head 2) my head was warmed from a heat source that seemed to be in the sky. This put me in a positive state of mind. I was feeling upbeat following some morning yoga too, a new experience for me.

I had some newly reconditioned forks to fit to the Stump Jumper. I’d wrecked these via a lack of maintenance and LocoTuning had rebuilt them with new uppers for me. Whilst they were off the bike I’d fitted some new Rockshox Revelations. These had been great forks for the few days of riding before the lock out failed. They lost interest in functioning after that and they were being sent off to TFTuned under warranty.

One per day.
One per day.

There was no way that I could fit these shiny new forks with a clear conscience in the middle of the dump that was my garage. An early spring morning was an ideal day for a spring clean. After several hours, a trip to the recycling centre and with a charity shop box full the garage was approximately tidy. I proudly surveyed the scene: I could see the walls and the floor and it made me feel good. The time management part hadn’t gone so well though – it was 3pm and I needed to leave for Wales. I decided to take my trusty 2011 Camber comp and leave the forks for another day. The Camber had last been ridden in December and I remember having issues with the dual air forks and possibly the gears. Apart from that it was fine.

After my recent hunger pangs and weakness at races I loaded myself up with food – another massive veggie pizza, flat bread and falafells.

The great weather continued until Sunday but changed back to rain just before I woke up. I had time for some pre race yoga and a very leisurely breakfast. Heavy rain fell during the short drive to Coed Trallwm. It looked sort of wet and cold.

Coed Trallwm

At the event registration I found a cheery bunch of racers making the most of the situation. The car park had a new pond in it and the ground looked soggy. Neil from Red Kite events said to me “you want to do the four race don’t you Tom!?” and I couldn’t think of any excuses in time. Four of us were doing the long event, the rest were doing the regular two hour race.

At 10:30 we set off up the all too familiar first climb. As usual I watched the crowd creep away from me up the hill. The ground was wet and draggy. My energy levels felt a bit low and I adjusted my pace to suit the four hours ahead. I caught a few riders half way up the climb which was encouraging.

Red Kite xc race start
Cycle selfie Sunday

At the top the route took the tight option through the trees on a narrow and slippery path. This was holding up really well. The first mud ramp wasn’t in bad shape considering the recent weather. I turned the wrong way at the bottom though – I always turned left here! I didn’t realise that I’d gone wrong until I ran out of sign posts. That cost me a few minutes.

The lower section was a lot more slippery with wet roots just before the second ramp. The rest of the descent was familiar but wetter than normal. After passing the trail centre the route went through the trees and then climbed up the blue descent and down the climb. After crossing the road it used the same trick of up the descent and down the climb. It then crossed over itself by the trail centre to link back to the start.

CAC photography MTB events
Photo courtesy of CAC photography

The bike felt awful.The front was really bumpy and harsh and a handful on the slippery descents. The gears mainly worked but weren’t always keen to change. The dropper post was heavy to operate and slow to rise. I decided that after this race I was going to throw money at fixing the bike. It was just another thing that was annoying me.

I didn’t feel amazing either. I seemed to lose energy really quickly on steep climbs. The wet slate of the climbs was a real challenge on the steep bits. Over the whole race I managed to ride up all of them at one time or another but have to bin the bike and walk up a few from quite early.

I’d love to say that I just knuckled down and powered on because I’m tough. The truth is I had a really good rant about it all out loud.

  • “f**king bike, heap of crap.”
  • “Why the f**k am I doing this?”
  • “Four hours? I’m still ill, I should be sensible and stop”
  • “I’m not riding in the rain again this year. It’s crap. I’m bored of it”.
  • “I’m going to turn round now, roll back down the hill and abandon the race”

At the top of my second lap I let air out of the front tyre and the forks. That improved the handling a bit but the fork was a bit too soft now and bottomed out easily.

I was lapped by the fastest rider three quarters of the way round my second lap! I had to start making my excuses: four hour race…pacing myself….I’ve been ill…the bike’s crap.

Red Kite winter xc race at Cwm TrallwmOne thing that kept me going was was trying to ride the muddy, rooty singletrack cleanly. I whooped when I cleared parts of it. Getting up the steep rock ramps also cheered me up. Even the muddy track descent was entertaining when I concentrated on looking ahead and cornering properly.

I’d started my third lap before the two hour point. I knew I could easily fit two more in. On the fourth lap I was on the first climb and my energy was dropping off quickly. I stopped dead and rested. Maybe I should bin this off? No, I was doing the four hour race. I started pedalling again. At the top I sat down on a tree branch and ate a Mule bar and a Carman’s muesli bar. I couldn’t stop for long because the damp and cold got to me.

My lap times were increasing. My first had been about 47 minutes and now they were taking an hour. I considered stopping after four laps but reasoned that it was only another hour at most. Once I’d made it to the top I only had one more climb to do and then it would be over. As I passed the trail centre for the last time Neil from Red Kite events shouted over from the cafe. I couldn’t make out what he was saying but eventually guessed that he was offering me the chance to finish early. I couldn’t take that option – I had to finish the last lap.

Cyclist crashes into ditch in the mud
It wasn’t as bad as this.

Half an hour later it was all over and I had a well earned rest on the cafe with tea and sandwiches. I left a big pool of muddy water on the floor when I left. Thanks to Christine for the bonus sandwiches and not complaining about the mud.

I didn’t bother cleaning the bike; I just needed dry clothes and warmth quickly. The bike was knackered anyway.

Muddy MTB rider
Muddy was it?

Lessons learnt:

  • Fix the bike to lower the moaning excuses.
  • No more knackered forks. They ruin the riding experience.
  • Keep resting. I’m clearly still not totally well.
  • Keep riding. Most people would be quite happy with 45km and 1600m ish for a day out.

Despite all of the above I did, on average, enjoy the experience. The route stood up really well considering the weather. None of it was an unrideable bog. It was just tough and draggy and went on for a long time!

I ended up with 43km, and 1550m of ascent. That’s not too bad for 4.5 hours of riding. That’s not that far off The Frozen Devil which was 47km and 950m in 4 hours. I spent 30 minutes resting on the Frozen Devil and only 10 stopped on the xc race. Another way of looking it at is that I cycled up Snowdon 1.5 times over the course of the race.

Route: Garmin | Strava | gpx file.

Event photos will be uploaded to cac photography.

Muddy kit in the rain.

Red Kite xc race map

 Oct 2013 Nov 2013 Dec-13 Jan 2014 March 2014
Distance km 18.5 24.1 27.1 26.2 44.3
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13 02:07:46 02:23:04 04:32:04
Time hours 1.72 1.95 2.13 2.38 4.53
Elevation m 819 812 795 908 1558
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3 12.7 11.8 10.1
mph 6.7 7.6 7.9 7.9 6.3
Energy KCal 991 1094 1170 1400 2400
laps  – 6 4 4 3 5
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0 6.8 8.7 8.9
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30 31.94 47.69 54.41
Elev/lap m 137 203 199 303 312
Elev/h m/h 476 416 373 381 344
Elev/dist m/km 44 34 29 35 35
Energy/hour KCal/hour 576 560 549 587 530

Red Kite xc race lap analysisThe route was approximately the same distance and elevation gain as in January. I set out at a slower pace but my third laps were identical for both races. The rate of drop was very steady – about 3 minutes per lap. I was about 5% slower for the first three laps this time compared with January, but I had to cover 66% more distance.

The official results didn’t quite match the Garmin numbers. No idea what’s going on there. I was thoroughly trashed by the other three riders in my category – their lap times ranged from 33 to 47 minutes. My fastest lap was 47 minutes. I don’t think I can blame the bike for this; it was more about me.

I’m doing the Hereford Devil Sportive later in the year. I won’t be able to moan about mud on that. Potholes maybe. Red Kite events said “We will be building over the summer to bring some new tracks and also improving the existing ones.”

Read Stephen Aucock’s write up.

Lap time graph

A year earlier…

Clive Powell Challenge Ride (Elan Valley)

Clive Powell Mountain Bikes
Clive Powell Bikes
(from the Trans Cambrian ride)

The Clive Powell Challenge Rides are regular events organised by Clive Powell Mountain Bikes in Rhayader. The route isn’t way marked. Instead each rider has a laminated map and there are check points with an orienteering punch at each. These have a unique pin pattern so you can prove that you visited all of them.

I did a lot of orienteering when I was at university (back in the early 90s) so I liked the sound of this. I’ve also visited the Elan valley a lot in the last two years and rate the riding there.

Due to a late ride on Saturday I decided to drive down on the morning of the event. This meant a 7am start on the road from Stroud. Google maps prediced 2h20m and an enjoyable drive via Leominster on empty roads delivered me to Rhayader at the expected time. I had seen some mist on the way and the temperature had dropped to 0.5 degrees but on the plus side it was sunny and dry. After feeling weak at the start of a few events recently I made sure that I stoked up on food. A massive amount of porridge and then force feeding myself Carman’s Muesli bars on the drive down.

Plastic bags for dry feet
Plastic bags for dry feet

I booked in at the HQ where Clive told me that 40 riders had already left (you can start between 9am and 10:30am). I had a quick look at the map and it was all familiar territory. I’d ridden all of these before, see my list below. That didn’t put me off though; these are quality natural trails.

I’d suffered a fair amount from cold wet feet recently and rather stupidly I was wondering if I’d get wet out there. The very nice man in the bike shop found me two perfect plastic bags for my feet.

Elan valley mountain bikingI set off into the sunlight and started on the road climb towards the golf links. I’ve ridden up the golf links before and not only is it quite steep it’s also a total waste of a brilliant descent. I reasoned that Clive mixed the routes up between events and it was inevitable we’d have to climb up one way or another. The route ascended the long way to the road (previously I’d always taken the short cut). If you don’t know where the check points are then you have to ride the whole route.

On the plus side I picked off a few riders up the climb. Once again I’d started out feeling a bit weak but as soon as I had to engage in grind then the body delivered the energy. I’m probably over exercising at the moment. I need to regulate my exertion levels on my training rides more carefully. Oh well. Strava gave me a 10th place up there and that includes stopping to take some photographs.

The long slog was rewarded with a short road descent right past where we’d just been.  You need some mental toughness for this mountain biking lark I suppose. I had a good opportunity to see the long line of riders in front of me. Targets to try picking off later.

The Roman road ascent was a big long boggy slog which I quite enjoyed. The first proper descent was down grassy slopes down to Craig Goch and it was very slippery.  Strava put me 3/18 for the day there. I’m really chuffed with that since I thought I was being too cautious.

Craig Goch dam in Elan Valley
Craig Goch dam

A long and gradual descent down the old tramway lead to the next big climb. I’ve done this before and knew there was only one really steep part as long as you took the left hand zig zag option. I managed to clear the whole lot and was cheered on by people pushing, which was great. At the top I bumped into a massive crowd of riders. I assumed that it was a queue for the check point. I was wrong. It was just a big social. In the middle of it was Philip from Mountain Bike Wales.

Social group at Clive Powell challengeAfter some questionable bog walking I got stuck into the Rhydoldog descent (5/16 on the day 15/55 all time). In the dry you can pretty much just point the bike and hang on. Soggy wet grass on sweeping corners made me think a lot more carefully about how much speed to carry. Definitely not as much fun as the dry.

It was time for tough walk up to the top of the famous gulley descent. I had a good look at the gulley (I rode it in the dry) before carefully walking down it. I passed Clive Powell who was cursing at his camera.

I tagged onto the back of a large group for the ride round the reservoirs including Gareth from Cycle Tec. It was a Sunday social, though with a good pace.

It’s hard to say whether this event was a race or not. It was certainly more fun than the typical race. The group used some local knowledge and took a track to cut a corner off and missed a checkpoint. One last climb up to the Cefn where Strava gave me a 9th place! I’m really pleased with that considering I stopped to have a rest by the farm.

Elan valley gulley

Elan valley gulley descent

A careful descent on the slippery mud lead to the river crossing where I took the bridge (I’ve ridden the ford when there’s less water). Then home was back in sight. My top speed of 50km/h was on the last road descent into town.

Foot suspension bridge over the river Elan

Three and half hours after setting off I was back at Clive Powell bikes for tea and soup. That was a great ride out. It offered some navigational interest, classic natural trails, riding companions and it was all over in good time.

Clive Powell challenge map Jan 2014

Route: Garmin connect | Strava | gpx

Stats (Garmin): 38km, 910m, elapsed 3h38m, moving 3h05m, av moving 12.4 km/h, 1700KCal.

Complete list of my Elan valley trips!

Video from Mountain Yoga breaks trip


Riding around Stroud

Wet trails in Stroud.
Weighbridge descent.

This was two days of riding around Stroud.

On the Friday evening I went on the Noah’s Ark shop ride. This took in some new trails which I realised were worth adding to a route I was planning for MBSwindon. Due to the boggy weather I rode home down the road and quite enjoyed it. This is possibly an early warning sign of something. On the Saturday I set out a bit late with a plan to ride the whole route I’d planned  for the club ride. It turned dark on me but luckily I had the lights. Then it rained a lot so I finished the ride off with another road ride.

On the Friday night there was a mist rising from the flooded Stroudwater canal which generated a threatening ambience as we picked our away along the off camber tow path.   The most interesting part was a drainage channel in the path that was completely filled with water. Luckily the riders at the front knew what was under the water.

The New Red Lion pub in Chalford
Pub stop.

We took the road from Daneway to a new trail gem for me. This was a fast track descent that’s a lot better in real life than the map suggests. A river had burst its banks so the track had also become a river for the climb back up. I realised later that I’d ridden this track in the opposite direction on the MBSwindon Bisley ride in 2011.

We followed some lanes and took the great descent from Frances Lynch back into the valley. Sam mentioned a pub stop so we called in to the New Red Lion for beer (or sparkling water) and I realised how cold my feet were. I finished with a blast back down the road home (because I live there).

On the Saturday I ticked off a few missing sections for my recce. I took the descent to the Weighbridge Inn near Nailsworth. The water had cleared a rocky path through the mud for most of the descent.

After the climb to Minchinhampton I wimped out of the steep grassy descent on the hillside near Burleigh. I could just see myself slipping and cartwheeling down the slope. I tried walking down it and realised that riding it would have been a very bad idea. I promised myself that I’d do it when it was dry. It’s always tricky when you are on your own. A fairly minor incident could turn very serious without help.

Steep bank.
I wimped out (obviously it looks a lot bigger in real life).

At Cowcombe wood I tried to replicate the route from my first visit there. Basically straight down, but on my previous visit I’d ended up mud slugging along some tracks instead. Back home later I overlayed 3gpx plots and concluded that I had finally found the correct route. It shows how when you follow people you never really take things in properly.

Steps near Chalford

I then followed a similar route to the Noah’s ride. I wanted photographic evidence to promote the ride. There was just enough light for this. At Bisley I decided to head for home straight down the road. This meant a fast road descent to Stroud. Not fast enough judging by Strava though. Blame the rain.

Steps near Stroudwater canal.
I rode these in the dark the first time.
Flooded canal.
Flooded canal.
  • Noah’s shop ride: Garmin | Strava | gpx 38km, 330m, 2h18m moving, 16.4 km/h, 1200KCal
  • Sat recce ride: Garmin | Strava | gpx 42km, 580m, 3h04m moving, 13.7 km/h, 1600KCal

Stroud mountain bike routes.

Red Kite Winter xc race round 4

Specialized Stump JumperThis was round four of the Red Kite winter xc race series. It was held at the Coed Trallwm trail centre and used the longest lap yet. 

After riding almost every day over Christmas I’d had a week at work but too many late nights. On Friday evening I went to bed at 5pm and couldn’t raise the energy to even think about packing my kit or checking the bike over for the easy Saturday ride let alone the race. After four and half hours of sleep I awoke feeling almost human. I did a 50km road ride on mountain bike then spent the night out in Bristol (no drinking though), went to bed at 2am and got up at 7am on the Sunday to drive to Wales. Basically I was knackered before I even started.

So I was amazed when Neil from Red Kite events posted on his Facebook page to say that I’d got my best result yet and smashed all my previous records:  “Congratulations Tom, you made it to the venue before the race started”. A record indeed.

In order to try and stave off fatigue I’d eaten enough porridge for three people before setting out on the drive. When I arrived (early by the way) I stuffed a few bonus 9bars into the system hoping I’d have a boost for the event.

Ground conditions were soggy after a lot of rain in the previous weeks. No water was falling from the sky though.

MTB xc race in WalesAs with all these races the group set off up the steep track climb and I watched the fast riders disappear into the distance. Just like the previous week I felt awful: weak, no energy, lots of hills ahead of me and no idea how I’d survive. The previous week my energy levels had picked up as soon as the first hill was over so I hoped the same this time. True, I felt better by the top and the first descent gave me a chance to recover a bit.

The new long lap crossed the road after the ford and lead to a very steep and slippery climb. I was encouraged to see a few riders walking and I managed to get up without any issues. On the second big climb I felt a lot better and finally managed to get ahead of the young rider and, I assume, his father by the top. The view from up here was great and I remembered why I keep riding my bike.

It was great to find that the descent on this side had also been resurfaced recently with a loose shale. I remember when this was all fields boggy mud back in the day (the 2008 Real Ale Wobble for example )

Coed Trallwm trail centre mid Wales

A damp section of grass and mud linked back to the road. I thought my riding was rubbish along here as I slid around, got caught in the ruts, dabbed my feet down and struggled to make good progress. On later laps I did a bit better over the wet roots and noticed that riders behind me were still behind me at the the end so maybe I wasn’t that bad.

On the third climb of the lap  the father and son passed me and I plotted on catching them later. However, my back was starting to really hurt and my energy levels were dropping. I knew I had back off. Time for a team talk: “I know you feel crap and your back hurts, you’re knackered and all that but just keep going and see what you can rescue”.

I managed to hold a few riders in sight for the following laps but they were gradually slipping away and then a few others passed me on the last lap. At the bottom of the climb on my third lap I saw the yellow helmet of Pete Lloyd at the bottom of the descent and that was 15-20 minutes ahead of me. So I must have been 5-6 minutes per lap behind.

Red descent at Coed Trallwm in Wales
Surfaced MTB trail
Real Ale Wobble 2008
Coed Trallwm back in the day (2008)

I needed some photographs for the blog and couldn’t face riding back up after the race had finished so I stopped at the top of the climb for a few minutes.

With relief I reached the end of the race after 2h25m of riding. A cheerful Neil from Red Kite events called out “One more lap to do Tom!”. There was a brief pause whilst I weighed up if I could face doing another even if I had to. Luckily he was joking.

I was relieved to finish. My thoughts were “that’ll have to do, it was the best I could manage today”. On Friday evening  I’d been preparing to write the whole weekend off and in the end I’d done everything on the plan.

Despite the back ache I still enjoyed the event. It was an interesting route with some fun challenges and opportunity for speed. As usual, it was clearly marked out with plenty of marshals.  I know that these events have raised my expectations in terms of fitness and I’ve seen the difference when out riding with other people that I know. It’s really good for mental toughness to motivate yourself to keep going under tough conditions.

Red Kite winter xc lap time analysisThe results arrived later in the evening and they were better than I expected. I was 5th out of 10 in the vets category and 12th out of 28 overall.

A day after the event I had sore back, tight legs and dehydration. I very rarely experience aches or pains after events (thanks to the wonders of yoga). So I think this was a tough once.

My learning points:

  • I need more rest.
  • I should recognise fatigue.
  • I need to eat more in the days before the event. Breakfast on the day is too late.
  • I enjoy moaning at myself but actually enjoy tough rides.

Timings on Garmin Connect and Strava. Route map gpx file (right click to save, view using bikehike).

Event photos will be appearing on CAC Photography at some point.

Red Kite winter xc round 4 map

Red Kite winter xc race stats so far.

 Oct 2013 Nov 2013 Dec-13 Jan 2014
Distance km 18.5 24.1 27.1 26.2
Time hh:mm:ss 01:43:18 01:57:13 02:07:46 02:23:04
Time hours 1.72 1.95 2.13 2.38
Elevation m 819 812 795 908
Average speed km/h 10.7 12.3 12.7 11.8
mph 6.7 7.6 7.9 7.9
Energy KCal 991 1094 1170 1400
laps  – 6 4 4 3
Dist/lap km 3.1 6.0 6.8 8.7
Time/lap minutes 17.22 29.30 31.94 47.69
Elev/lap m 137 203 199 303
Elev/h m/h 476 416 373 381
Elev/dist m/km 44 34 29 35
Energy/hour KCal/hour 576 560 549 587

The total distance covered was slightly down on round 3 but the elevation gain was the highest yet. The ride time was almost 2.5 hours and the average speed was well down on the previous two races. The total energy estimate was the highest yet.

Red Kite Winter xc race stats

The Red Kite Frozen Devil

Frozen Devil MTB event
CAC Photography

The Frozen Devil was a 50km off road mountain bike event organised by Red Kite Events and held on the first weekend after new year.

Over the Christmas holiday I’d covered 320km (197miles) via 7 rides and walked 27km (17 miles) over 3 days. Garmin estimated that as 12,000KCal, the equivalent to about 5 days extra energy (2,500 KCal per day for a typical man). They say that the most important part of training is the resting so the day before the event I treated myself to a rest day. I had a suspicion that I needed a bit more rest really. I spent the day trying to sate my massive hunger by eating a lot. Weather wise, after a long week of rain it was suspiciously dry all day.

The morning of the event I woke up feeling hungry. So I ate enough porridge for four people. I topped that up with a banana and a few 9Bars whilst I waited for the event to start. I still felt a bit hungry. I was worried that my energy levels were low. I guessed that the massive amount of porridge inside me was being digested.

Frozen Devil MTB event in mid Wales

I spotted Jay and Richard from Mudtrek (MTB accomodation), Matt Page (endurance racer), regulars like Peter Lloyd and Steve Aucock plus Gary from Dirty Saddles/MBSwindon. A mention goes to surname sharing Anna Stickland (no relation). There were around 70 riders in the car park waiting to do battle out in the wet forest.

The route had been slightly adjusted and shortened due to the large amount of rain that had fallen over the week leading up to the event . A lot of fallen trees had been removed from the route too.

After instructions of “Follow the yellow arrows. Don’t fall off. Eat cake at the food stops*.” we were off. The arrows directed us left out of the school which meant a fast sprint along the road and a nasty lung buster up a short and steep climb.


Rider briefing at an MTB event.

I felt awful! Weak, fatigued, hungry. No mojo.  I had 55km of mud ahead of me. What could I do? Keep going and hope it would get better.

Somehow I managed to keep up a reasonable pace along the road. A few riders pulled away from me and then Matt Page went past, never to be seen again. The route turned left past the chapel and I knew what was to come – a steep climb up a gravel track. I still felt weak but I knew that once that porridge came on stream then I’d be fine. I already felt a bit better once I was half way up the climb. I gave myself a whoop for managing to ride through the tight gateway without putting my feet on the ground. Small positives to cheer me up! I felt almost human by the time I’d reached the top of the hill via sticky mud.

Crychan Forest MTB raceAnother small positive – I was overtaken by a rider down the road descent but I clawed it all back by holding more speed round the corners.

For the next few miles as we rode up to the Crychan Forest and then into it I managed to hold a steady position. I had a game of leap frog with Peter Lloyd and Steven Aucock who were blaming their lack of low gears for having to walk up some of the steepest bits. I had more gears so I rode up and that was slightly quicker. Then they got back onto their bikes with renewed energy and left me on the downs. On average though I was maintaining a similar pace.

The route used a mixture of tracks, paths and tricky single track over slippery roots. I recognised parts of it from previous events such as the 2013 Devil’s MTB, the 2012 Real Ale Wobble and other rides I’ve done in the area over the years such as the quarry tour.

I called in at the food stop to survey the food and to drink some water. I saw a massive selection of hand made cakes, quiche, boiled potatoes and fruit, all courtesy of local B&B and restaurant The Drover’s Rest.  The food stop received much praise from the riders!

MTB event cake stop.

The route then pushed further into the Forest with a mixture of tough climbs and a few downs. I remember cursing the Forest on the Devil’s MTB 2012 and it was dry that time! I pretty much had a group of four or five riding buddies by this point. We were looking at the tyre tracks and trying to estimate how many riders were in front of us. I reckoned on between 10 or 20 which was promising. There are some great rocky paths in the Forest though some of the linking stages were suffering after a week of rain.

Crychan Forest in mid Wales

Sadly the weather made the steepest technical descent a bit too slippery to fully appreciate. Over the years I’ve been intimidated by this, mastered it, come to love it but this time had to resort to a bit of walking due to the gloop. I knew we were close to the food stop though and the second visit was used for a fully featured cake and quiche eating session. Fifteen minutes later I decided that I ought to stop. With over 30km on the Garmin and three hours expired I guessed that I was on target for four hours all in. I also knew that it was the best part of 10km back to the start so there couldn’t be much funny business left on the route.

I discovered that my riding partner for this section was actually from Stroud and had worked out the Tirabad outdoor centre in 1997. After some up and down on fire road I was introduced to new descent in the woods. After a final mud bath on the exit bridleway we were back in the fields above Llanwrtyd. That meant a speedy descent along slippery tracks, a bit of a climb and then a blast along the road back into town.

I reached the finish at just under 4 hours. I heard that Matt Page had done it in 3 hours. That made him 33% faster than me. However, my Garmin stats showed that I spent half an hour stationery during the event, probably eating cakes. That made me around 16% slower than him. But then considering that he broke a chain and spent time fixing that I’m definitely slower than him!

Bike Wash at Red Kite MTB race.

When the results were emailed through the next day I was chuffed to see that I was 12th out of 65 riders. If I’d avoided the cake stops then I’d have been a few places higher too. Overall I was very pleased with that. I also really enjoyed the ride once I got going. The course held up well considering the weather and there were plenty of sneaky technical features to keep the interest levels up.

Results analysis for the Frozen Devil Jan 2014

Garmin stats
Distance 46.5km 28.8miles
Elapsed time 3h 59m
Speed (elapsed time) 11.7 km/h 7.3 mph
Moving time 3h 29m
Speed (moving time) 13.3 km/h 8.3 mph
 Max speed  47.5 km/h  29.5 mph
Ascent 945m 3100 ft
Energy 2,100 KCal
Energy rate (moving time) 600 KCal / hour

Strava stats: Not a lot apart from 19th/102 on the first track climb.  I turned the event into a segment.

gpx  (right click, save, view on Bikehike).

Thanks to cac photography for one of the photos – more here.  More blogs: take a look at Peter Lloyd and 29gears.

Devils MTB route map

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.