Imelda Marcos

I’ve got two new pairs of shoes at Chateau Hill… Sitting at the opposite ends of the off road riding spectrum.

I’m testing some Lake MX330 for Singletrack Magazine. They are top-end cyclocross race shoes, designed for when the going gets muddy.

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And a pair of Mavic Alpine XL shoes, bought with my own hard-earned. Designed to be comfortable for prolonged periods of hike-a-bike, without giving too much pedalling performance away… These will hopefully be perfect for non-racey stuff, and big mountain adventures… And I’ve got a small eye on the Highland Trail next year…

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Cross Fertilisation

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Tim was someone I knew. Actually… I didn’t know him at all. I followed him on Twitter. I read “his” blog at The North Race. I’d never met the guy, never had a real life conversation.

But, I saw that he was thinking of getting a disc-braked CX bike, and fancied a Kinesis Crosslight Pro 6. As a fellow Leeds resident, and owner of said bike, I offered to lend Tim my pride and joy, and show him around some of the local trails.

We met on a Wednesday evening – on one of those perfect late summer days. It was warm, but not oppressive, and I knew the trails would be in beautiful condition. Now, it is a bit of a cliche, and sometimes proved wrong, but I stand by the truism that the vast majority of people who ride bikes are Good People. Tim absolutely falls into this category. Very friendly, personable, and he was enthused at the opportunity to try a different kind of riding to his usual road-based and fixed gear activities.

We headed out from my house, and span and chatted our way up to the first section of singletrack. I could hear Tim giggling, whooping and generally extolling the pleasures of off-road riding just behind me, as I re-familiarised myself with the stopping properties of rim brakes (they don’t work quite as well as discs, in case you were wondering)…

Much of the ride continued like this, as we wiggled along swooping, buff singletrack, to be spat out onto roads and field edges. There are times where I am at risk of taking what I have for granted. The urban/rural cross over trails on the north edge of Leeds are not the Highlands. But, on their day they are wonderful. Seeing them with the fresh eyes of someone who has very rarely ridden off road, and lives just a couple of miles away in the city centre reminded me how lucky I am, and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for my local riding.

We continued as the sun got lower, nature putting on a perfect slideshow backdrop for our couple of hours of escapism from the city… I led us through shadowy woods and dingy ginnels and snickets, trying to eke out the very last sections of off road before we arrived back at the start. Or not quite the start, but the pub round the corner for a pint or three… for rehydration purposes, and more enthusiastic bike talk.

Tim was sold on the Pro 6 (lets face it – it wasn’t a hard sell. Great bike, in perfect conditions!) and will hopefully be picking one up in the near future. He seemed to enjoy the ride too: http://thenorthrace.co.uk/2013/09/crossing-over/

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3 Peaks, my alternative report

Sorry for the swearing.

I have written up how the race went for Kinesis, over on their website. It’s a description of a race. It’s true, but on reflection, it isn’t a description of my race.

I looked at the skies at the start. I knew what the weather forecast was. Good. I wanted to suffer. The clouds were as black as my mood has been recently. It’s hard to describe, but I am trying to climb out of a self-created pit of negative thoughts and feelings, of anxiety, confusion and hopelessness… illness, mental illness. Emotions carry an extra weight at the moment. Every emotion. What makes this harder is that it becomes harder to distinguish what is “real” and what is a misfire of my tired, confused brain. I needed something to cut through the shit cloud. Something real.

Pain and suffering feel real. The hills are real. The weather is real. There was a beauty in suffering through doing something that I could have chosen to stop at any moment. I revelled in the futility of it all. I could channel every lingering emotion into one simple goal of survival.

A sense of total elation overcame me when I topped out over Simon Fell, and felt the full force of the wind for the first time. Fuck you comfort zone. Fuck you being sensible. Fuck you wind. Fuck you anything that isn’t about moving forward.

Into the calm of the road stretch to Whernside. An opportunity to stop fighting. To recoup. To eat and drink. To think. No… to fight thinking. To play mental games, and perform calculations. Average speeds and maximum speeds and projected times.

The descent off Whernside (the ascent was nothing. It was just steps. I didn’t need to play mental games; I could just feel free from thought). The first time that it clicked that reality isn’t a game. I can’t choose when to press pause. I’m cold. I’m tired. Deep play. The best kind. I’m in control. I’m making the right decisions, I’m being conservative. I don’t need to take risks, there is enough thrill to be found from walking the tightrope of being “safe”, no need to try and do it backwards, while blindfolded.

Pen Y Ghent, and my body is letting me down somewhat. Cramp is hindering progress, I should probably have another gel, but I am too focused on just getting this done. I know I am too cold and empty for this to be sustainable. I also know that I will be home in less than 30 mins.

And finished. Beautiful silence. Sitting in the car warming up. A calm head. Empty. Sheltered. Free, for the time being.

3 Peaks Cyclocross… not long now

Rarely does a mass-participation race have so much history. This Sunday will see the 50th running of the Three Peaks Cyclocross race. 38 miles of tarmac, wet tussocked fell side, limestone, millstone grit, steps. Much, much more than a “just” a bike race, it isn’t an overstatement to say that it has reached iconic status. It is fair to say then, that it was with a mixture of giddy excitement and trepidation that I received my confirmation-of-entry email a few months ago. Twitter had already begun to bristle with similar statements of relief/panic/joy as I checked my hotmail. This seems to reflect the entire feel of the race; a sense of community. Maybe, it is because for many, it is less a race than a personal challenge. Against a psychologically daunting course. And, while, on the day there will be spikes of competitiveness, for the time being the event itself is enough.

Never have I witnessed so much discussion around “what tyres”, “what ratios”, “what fuel”, “what strategy”? I’ve even been sucked into said discussions, and spent longer deciding on kit than I have for 24 hour races, or multi-day adventures. Perhaps it is down to that course, and the sheer variety of the terrain. There are points at which it would appear that the following would be the ideal choice:

  • A road bike
  • No bike and fell running shoes
  • An actual cyclocross bike (you know, as per the name of the race)
  • Stiff gearing
  • Spinny gearing
  • A full suspension mountain bike

This inevitably leads to compromise. Especially for someone like me who doesn’t have the resources to bring spare wheels, or a spare bike (check out Alan “Crossjunkie” Dorrington’s plans here). Where the compromise falls, seems to depend on budget, preference and maybe experience.

Experience… hmm. I’ve not done this race before, and it really is pretty unique. I’ve frequently been told that nothing will compare. Guess I’ll find out on Sunday. This does make training a little more of a challenge though. So, variety has been the spice of life for the last couple of months. Interspersed between the usual “I’m going out for a ride” type training (also known as having fun on a bike), I’ve been running a little more than normal, including all the fun of hillsets up on Ilkley Moor. Ideally I would have been doing this with a cross bike on my back, but I decided to sell my old one and buy a new one (more below), leaving me without a tool for the job for a while. I’ve done the odd fell race (including twisting my ankle at Lake District Mountain Trials after an embarrassingly short distance). I’ve also concentrated on shorter, more intense riding, after the long endurance slogs of the spring and summer. Finally, I did a recce run of the Ingleborough and Whernside sections of the route. I tried to remember a few tasty looking lines coming off Whernside. I have no doubt that I will have forgotten them all by the time I get there come race day. Will any of that make a jot of difference? We’ll wait and see. It’s been fun in a horrible kind of way already.

So. I know the course. I’ve done (some) training. I just need a bike.

My old cross bike was beginning to tire, and I was thinking about throwing some money at it to bring it back up to standard for another winter of 1 hour vomit sessions around muddy fields. As these things tend to happen, I ended up deciding that what I actually needed was an entirely new bike. I sold my previous CX bike and a road bike. I cobbled together meagre funds, and I had a chat with Garage Bikes. I decided that I wanted to go down the disc-braked route for this bike. I have used them on all my mountain bikes for approaching a decade. I love the power and modulation available, and importantly for ‘cross, the consistent performance in wet and muddy conditions. Disc braked cyclocross bikes are becoming more popular, and they seem to broadly fit into two categories. The do-it-all drop bar commuter workhorse, and the race-bred whippet. It is the later that I am interested in. I settled on the Kinesis Pro 6 frame and forks. It fits the bill beautifully, and looks rather pretty too. The frame and forks option also allowed me to spec the bike exactly as I wanted (barring no expense spared uber-bling). So, here it is:

 

 

 

 

  • Kinesis Pro 6 Frame (alu) and Forks (full carbon)
  • Hope ProII Evo/Stans ZTR Crest wheels, run tubeless with Schwalbe Racing Ralphs
  • Shimano CX70 chainset and front mech, 105 rear mech and cassette, Ultegra STIs
  • Avid BB7 road brake calipers, alligator discs
  • Deda stem
  • 3T Ergonova bars
  • Fizik Tundra 2 saddle

I’ve had the bike for around three weeks, and in that time have done a couple of longer “exploring” type rides, some CX skills practice and a single ‘cross race. It hasn’t taken long for me to feel very much at home. It feels like a cross bike. No big surprises. It is light (sorry, no idea of actual weight), it is just twitchy enough to be lively, but stable enough to not be a handful, have I mentioned that it looks very pretty? There are some thoughtful touches, like a flattened, smoothed toptube which allows for comfortable shouldering. Perhaps though, the it is the disc brakes that make this stand out still. I’ve never ridden discs on a drop-barred bike before. They were a bit of a revelation. Braking from the tops is controlled and a pleasure. Power is ample. I’ve had to learn to feather the rear in particular as it is easy to lock up. 

All in all, I like it. A lot. Sunday will be a big test, and should be a real proving ground for the brakes. We’ll see how things go!

Consolidation

So… how many bikes is too many? N+2?*

Well, I currently have 7. Or 8, if you include the mountain bike I bought for an ex, which now lives in the cellar, one of the only reminders that I used to share my house with someone else.

Now, I firmly believe that 7 is a perfectly reasonable number of bikes. In fact, I could list numerous other bikes I would love to own, all of which are slightly different to the ones I currently own.

But… I’ve had a specific hankering for something specific for quite some time.

I love my cyclocross bike. I love exploring with it. I love racing it. I love my road bike, but I’d like to upgrade it. I love the pretty old Ribble that is propped up, looking sorry for itself at the back of the “bike room”.Image

So. I’m doing the logical thing. And selling all three (plus the ex’s, she’d want it that way…). And using the funds to spec up my dream CX bike. It will be light. It will have disc brakes (I’m a mountain biker at heart). It will be light, functional, and it will be ready in time for the 3 Peaks CX in September. In fact, it needs to be ready in time for me to use it to train!

I’ve spent quite a while mulling over what bike/frame to go for. Despite the relaxation in UCI rules, allowing discs on cyclocross bikes for racing, there are relatively few options in the UK. I narrowed my decision down to two. The On One Dirty Disco, and the Kinesis Pro 6 frame.

Garage Bikes have access to Kinesis, so it rapidly turned into a no brainer. I’ve heard nothing but good things about the company. And, while buying the frame and speccing it up may work out slightly more expensive, I will be able to make some personal choices about kit, to suit me.

While I ponder the spec, here is a video of Jo Burt riding the bike

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/31864242″>Race or Escape</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/user7938556″>Upgrade Bikes Ltd</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

It’ll be strange being without a road bike for a while, but I’m sure I’ll find that next n+1 once my bank account recovers from this purchase.

*Perfect number of bikes = n + 1 (where n=current number of bikes)

Quitter

1 and a half laps in. I was settling into a nice pace.  A swooping trail through the woods, and a welcome piece of free space in front of my wheel, lured me in. Hands tucked in the drops, willing myself not to brake. Eyes locked on to the tiny bank on the left hand side of the trail that I would be pushing my front wheel into. It would guide me around the gentle bend and help me carry momentum through. I was flying.

Eyes raised to focus on my next desired destination, further down the trail, I knew where the bike was going. Whoosh. Slam. Slide. Silence. A swear word muttered under my breath as I carefully picked myself up. Somehow I’d misjudged my trajectory. Hard, skinny cyclocross tyres had skipped and slid. Rather than using the berm as a tram track to gently guide my bike through, I ended up hitting it at a less sympathetic angle.

Other racers were already passing me as I gave the bike a once over. Twisted STI was easy enough to correct, as was the dropped chain. Aching wrist was definitely just an annoyance rather than a sign of a more serious injury. More racers passed. More swear words muttered. I looked down. My right shoe was loose. In fact, it was basically open. The buckle had ripped off.

An unexpected emotion came over me. Relief. I didn’t need to keep going anymore. I didn’t need to fight my way back to where I was. I didn’t need to keep going. I quit. I turned my bike round and started pushing it the relatively short distance to the start/finish. Already another emotion was beginning to creep in. Anger. Anger at myself. Angry for crashing. Angry for taking a risk. Angry for quitting. Angry for taking the easy option. Angry for daring to think that I was a “racer”. I stood, by the finish line, watching the masses carrying on. Faces of pain, smiles, death-stares, concentration. Racers.

“What happened?”

“Well, I….”

I was temporarily distracted as the race ended. Friends crossed the line, exhausted. Some happy, some less so, all had earned their emotions. They’d given all they could. They’d not quit. I love post race chatter. Excited comparisons of experiences, interspersed with declarations of tiredness. I joined in,  but I wasn’t really part of it.

The drive home was a long and dark one. Demons skipped around the far reaches of my brain, plucking at threads of thought as if they were badly tuned violin strings, leaving my brain ringing. Self-doubt, self-loathing, self-pity. It was all about me. It wasn’t “one of those things”, it was a direct result of me not being good enough. Not fit enough, not skilled enough, not tough enough.

Time provides perspective. I shouldn’t have crashed. I could maybe have carried on, although the rest of my race would have been very compromised. I was doing ok prior to crashing. I maybe wasn’t quite as far up the field as I would have liked, but, realistically I was doing fairly well. I’m now looking for another race to take out my frustration on. And I’ll be doing it on a new race bike. But that’s another blog post.