Archive for the ‘Mountain biking’ Category

Make your own 100% natural honey and lemon electrolyte sports drink

April 9, 2015

I’ve been meaning to share this little secret with you all for quite some time, not only to save you money, but more importantly to provide a healthy alternative to the masses of expensive, commercially available, often times near unpalatable, sports drinks on the market.

By way of quick background, I keep bees and produce my very own delicious wild flower honey in the Garden County of Ireland. The last week of July sees the Federation of Irish Bee Keepers’ Associations (FIBKA) hold its annual Summer School in Gormanston, County Meath, which I have attended over the past years. Every year, an expert in the field of apiculture is invited to attend as honorary guest lecturer and present lectures in their particular field of expertise. In 2013, it was Flemming Vejsnæs, the beekeeping adviser employed by the Danish Beekeepers Association who was this special guest of honour.

Flemming Vejsnæs

Flemming Vejsnæs

 

What does this have to do with cycling you might ask? Well, apart from making the 2 hour (60km) trip out to the venue in the morning by bicycle and then back home again in the evening, it was during one of his lectures, that he shared with his audience, information on a study conducted by a team of Finnish researches. They investigated the performance differences between a self-made and 100% natural honey, lemon and salt sports drink and expensive commercially available alternatives.

To briefly summarise, the performance of the honey and lemon sports drink was equal in measure when looking at values to indicate provision of energy in endurance sports (cycling and running) and insulin and blood glucose levels also were very similar, yet it came out a clear winner when looking at other parameters such as being better tolerated by athletes (no nasty stomach cramps any more) and resulted in fewer required toilet breaks. Nobody wants to lose a couple of minutes stopping to reduce bladder pressure during a race!

From personal experience, after well over a year of use during training and racing, I agree wholeheartedly with the above conclusions. It is not only much tastier, but upset stomachs have thankfully also become a thing of the past.

Here is the honey sports drink recipe to make up for the whole team:

• 450 g honey
• 180 ml lemon juice ( fresh or concentrate)
• 1.5 tea spoon salt
• 5.5 l water

Mix honey and lemon juice, add water and salt.

To view the entire research test results please click here: Honey, lemon sports drink

Personal tip: Use a light, milder honey for best taste, such as Acacia, Orange blossom or similar. If you prefer a stronger taste, a heather or lavender honey can be used. Generally I prefer to use locally produced, unfiltered and unheated honey, as it contains healthy natural enzymes and traces of pollen which provides very small amounts of protein and trace elements.

Happy natural honey sports drink fuelled riding!

2011 – The fun bits: L’Étape du Tour, Singlespeed World Championships and The Epic Blast

April 9, 2013

This is a piece I wrote back in the end of 2011, but never published for reasons now unknown to me. I thought I might as well do it now all the same, so here you are.

Although I enjoyed some competitive road and track racing in 2011, it wasn’t all about pushing the limits to the point of sweat, blood and tears on smooth surfaces. There was also some off-road action to ensure that fun remained the centre piece staple ingredient.

Biking.ie organised a series of races in the early season, four in total, known as the Biking Blitz in order to promote racing for beginners, yet catering for seasoned racer heads alike. The format was simple: Use the four existing Irish mountain bike trail centres and hold a race on each one. I volunteered as a marshal for round 1 in Ballinastoe, skipped round 2 in Ballyhoura and round 3 in Derroura and decided to ride round 4 in Ticknock, which also happened to coincide with the official unveiling of the trail centre by Minister Leo Varadkar TD, Minister for Transport, Tourism & Sport.

Biking Blitz podium.

Biking Blitz podium.

It was my first XC MTB race since 1997 (excluding a couple of marathon distance races I did in 2009 and 2010). I entered the 1 lap race as I had no interest in doing anything longer than 30mins. It was a really fun event and as I came to take the chequered flag in my race, I decided to pop a wheelie for some style. It all went pear shaped as I lost balance and veered off to the right heading straight towards Minister Leo Varadkar TD who was enjoying the proceedings until that point. He had to jump out of my way, slipping on the grass in the process and ending up on the ground. Thankfully nobody was hurt and he saw the funny side of it and we all had a laugh about it afterwards.

Next up were the Étape du Tour events, this year for the first time taking in two stages of the Tour de France. At the beginning of the year, I had arranged to ride these with two of my French Road Rage rivals and buddies, Guillaume Gualandi and David Lacoste from Cantal Team Road. For those of you who do not know, every year Amury Sports Organisation (ASO), organisers of the worlds biggest annual sporting event, the Tour de France, hold a fully supported stage open to amateurs to ride. It is the exact same stage as the pros ride, and usually the hardest stage of the Tour. The first Étape du Tour stage (Acte 1) was a 109km stretch  in the high alps between Modane and l’Alpe d’Huez, crossing over the 1556m Col du Télégraphe and the 2645m Col du Galibier along the way. The second stage (Acte 2) would follow a week later in the Massif Central with a 208km route (the longest in the history of the Étape du Tour) between Issoire and Saint-Flour, crossing over the major climbs of 1589m Col du Pas de Peyrol (Puy Mary), the 1309m Col du Perthus, the 1392m Col de Prat de Bouc (Plomb du Cantal) along with some lesser climbs.

Profile of the 19th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d'Étape, Acte 1)

Profile of the 19th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d’Étape, Acte 1)

Acte 1: It was an early morning start in the sleepy village of Modane. 10,000 enthusiastic amateurs had turned up to ride the stage. The route took off down the valley to Saint Michel de Maurienne, before heading up the first challange of the day, the Col du Télégraphe. I settled into a steady rhythm to ensure I got up ok. Once over the top, it was a short descent to the foot of the giant Col du Galibier. Again a cautious approach was taken with a steady manageable pace. It was enough to summit without getting into any difficulty. Now it was time for the real fun to start, with a 40+km descent, first down to the Col du Lautaret and then on to Le Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of l’Alpe d’Huez. I made the best of my descending skills to make up good time and passed rider after rider on the way down. Thankfully, I had my GoPro with me to record the descent, which you can watch here. Once arrived at the bottom of the valley in Le Bourg d’Oisans, it was the final challange of the day, up arguably the most famous climb in TdF history, the Alpe d’Huez. It finished without incident as I crossed the line at the top, tired but happy.

Etape du Tour (stage 11) 2011 Acte 2 profile

Profile of the 9th Tour de France stage (aka Tour d’Étape, Acte 2)

Acte 2: A cold rainy day greeted the riders in Issoire. Of the ca. 7000 riders that had signed up, only ca. 4000 decided it was worth turning up to ride in these conditions. To add insult to injury, we had to battle into a fierce headwind until the first feed stop at just over 81km. At that stage, I was so cold and wet, I decided it wasn’t worth torturing myslef for many more hours over the climbs in these conditions. Along with over 3000 other participants, I climbed off my bike and called it a day. When I later heard about the conditions up on the Puy Mary, (4°C, high winds, and thick cloud cover), I knew I had made the right decision. Also, the only place I would normally be able to make up time, on the descents, would have been treacherous and just too dangerous to attempt anything. There’s always next time.

The highlight of the Irish mountain bike season would undoubtedly have to have been the arrival of the World Singlespeed Championships, a celebration of the counter-culture of off-road cycling. All the world’s single speed specialists and aficionados were present for one big party. The special thing about this race is that the person who has the most fun ‘wins’ as opposed to the first person across the line like in the more traditional races. That is not to say that there wasn’t a ‘traditional winner’ in that sense., but the prize is also a little bit different, namely a tattoo. The unspoken rule is that if you don’t want the winner’s tattoo, then whatever you do, just don’t cross the finishing line in first place.

The nearly 500 strong troop of riders from across the globe were lead from Kilfinane village  with a Garda escort to the Ballyhoura MTB trail centre. The race started with a Le Mans style start, but there was a twist. The surprise element was that your bike may not have been in the same place as you left it as the organisers had thought it would be more interesting to mix up all the bikes and stack them in big piles!

A pile of single speed bikes.

A pile of single speed bikes.

The race covered 2 full laps of the 17km brown loop, otherwise known as the Mountrussel Loop. It was a hard fought battle out front, with Ireland’s very own Niall Davis from Biking.ie taking the title of Singlespeed World Champion much to the delight of the home crowd, followed naturally by the winner’s tattoo (see below)! Katie Holmes from the USA took the women’s title. The partying before, during and after the race was equally as hard as the race itself and everybody had great craic in true Irish style, making everybody a winner in the end. Click here for event video.

The next big event on the Irish mountain bike racing calendar was the now legendary Epic Blast, Ireland’s answer to the Megavalanche. First run in 2005, it had become a staple in the Irish MTB scene. Run by club Epic MTB, it is a mass start downhill race held in Ballinastoe, County Wicklow every September. This year had something special about it, as downhill mountain bike 2008 World Champion and  2010 World Cup winner and Gee Atherton and his younger brother were in attendance.

The hounds and the fox.

The hounds and the fox.

There were two different races within the event, first the “heats” where small groups of 10 or so riders raced each other to then be split up according to their finishing position within their heat. Then all those who finished first in their heat were sent racing against each other, all those who finished second raced against their peers, and so on. This meant if you had a bad run in the first heat, you would have an ‘easier’ second round and a better chance at doing well. Once all the heats had run their course, it was time for the main event, The Blast. Here everyone raced against each other at the same time, but this year there was a twist! Gee Atherton would be given a handicap of 12-15 seconds and then would have to pass as many riders as possible on the way down. It was dubbed the “Fox Hunt” only this time with the roles reversed, with the fox (Gee) hunting down the hounds (all the other riders) ahead of him. In the end it was the 17 time national XC MTB Irish Champion Robin Seymor who took top spot just ahead of Dan Atherton in 2nd, with Gee finishing in 6th place. Click here for the event video.

The winning hound: Robin Seymour

The winning hound: Robin Seymour

Irish National Mountainbike XC Marathon Championships 2010

November 15, 2010

Mountain Bike Club Cork pulled off a great event in Ballyhoura in the form of the Irish National Mountainbike XC Marathon Championships. It was a calm, bright, but crisp cool 26 September that presented itself for the occasion. A 63km course, including 1560m altitude gain awaited the racers. Mike Jordan, mountain bike legend from the institution that is The Cycle Inn, provided team transport. Sign on, preparation, 11 o’clock roll out.

The first long opening fire road climb immediately forced a selection. Over the hill and down the far side, about half way down, I passed an unlucky rider lying in the ditch clutching a shoulder, one of the races two casualties with a collarbone fracture. The second casualty was to suffer a broken leg. While I did not suffer any injuries, my back tyre took more more than it could handle as I hammered down a steep rocky descent, resulting in a puncture. I attempted to re inflate the tubeless tyre, but due to some mud stuck inside the rim, the seal didn’t hold. Time for plan B: Convert to tube set-up.  Easy I thought to myself and whipped out a tube for the job, only to realise that what was written on the box, did not correspond to the tube inside! I walked to the next marshal point and luck swung back in my favour: The marshal had one last tube which he kindly gave me. Finally got the tyre back on, inflated it and was off again, but paid with a 40mins penalty for my unscheduled stop.

At this stage I was the lanterne rouge and due to the time loss had lost any motivation to fight on, since being realistic, it would not have amounted to  much. Nevertheless, I decided to enjoy the day for the ride that was in it, so continued to ride at a steady, yet not too strenuous pace. After a few hours, as I neared the finishing kilometres, it occurred to me that there were no more course markings. Not great form, clearing the course markers before the participants are finished, but I managed to find my way back to the finish nonetheless, or should I say where the finish had once been!

Mike had finished about two hours before, having stormed around with the top guys and was worried sick after hearing about the two casualties, thinking I may have been one of them, with every minute I remained absent. I even missed the prize presentation where Ryan Sherlock was crowned National Champion with Kate Elliot receiving the women’s title. While I didn’t end up finishing last, making back a handful of places along the way, I can’t boast about it being my most memorable ‘race’. When deducting my 40mins puncture repair from my finishing time, it placed me firmly where I would have liked to have finished. Moral of the story: If you want to do well, stick with what you’re best at, in my case shorter distances and make it all down hill while you’re at it!

Epic Blast 2010

November 4, 2010

This can only be described as Ireland’s answer to the Megavalanche. The event has been held in Ballinastoe Woods every year in September since 2005. Organised by Richie Byrne the Godfather of Irish mountain biking from Club EpicMTB, Ireland’s premier dedicated mountain bike club, this has to be the event of all events in the Irish mountain bike calendar, to decide the the title of “Deadliest Mountain Biker in Ireland”. It turned out to be a soft Irish day, ensuring that those who thought they had made a mistake by skipping a day at the spa to get mud facials, were in fact well catered for in the healthy mud bath that ensued.

The past three years saw Niall Davis of Biking.ie notch up an impressive hat-trick of wins and was one of the hotly tipped favourites once again. Among other notables who turned up, were none other than DH/Freeride legend Glyn O’Brien of First Tracks, podium finisher in the 2003 legendary Red Bull Rampage freeride competition, certainly also a top rider never to be discounted.

Niall Davis (front right) and Glyn O'Brien (centre) happy with the day's racing.

Niall Davis (front right) and Glyn O’Brien (centre) happy with the day’s racing.

Racing was held in two separate formats. The morning saw heats of no more than 10 riders race each race each other with the afternoon dedicated to the main event, the mass start Epic Blast. The initial heat was to seed the racers into groups of similar ability, with all the winners racing each other in the second set of heats, all second placed riders against each other and so on. A poor start meant I had to battle my way up through the field. A collision with another rider on an overtaking manoeuvre didn’t help, but I was up as quickly as I had gone down and one by one I picked off the riders in my heat to emerge in the lead about 2/3 of the way down. A poorly marked junction led to me taking a wrong turn and off course and with that any chance of placing well in my heat. I was not the only one to do so, as on my return to the same junction, I crossed at least a dozen other riders coming against me one by one. I eventually made it down to finish in 7th in my heat. The bright side was I would have an easier second heat.

The second heat went well compared to the first one and I made a point of pulling what most people described as a spectacular crowd pleasing no-hander off one of the drop-offs, ending in a safely controlled dismount from the bike. In the end Niall Davis won the ‘winners’ heat, followed by Glyn O’Brien in second and Conor Campbell in third, but the real Blast was still to come.

 

After the exertions of nearly 4 days on the road with only a few hours sleep during the Race Around Ireland during the week, I was simply too exhausted to participate in the main “Blast” event, preferring instead to watch the action from the track side. In the end it was Greg Callaghan who battled his way down the slippery course to take a deserved win for the title of Ireland’s “Deadliest Mountain Biker”! Niall Davis followed by Glyn O’Brien claimed the two remaining podium spots.

Greg Callaghan getting the winner's mud special deluxe therapy to make the title of Ireland’s Deadliest Mountain Biker official!

Greg Callaghan getting the winner’s mud special deluxe therapy to make the title of Ireland’s Deadliest Mountain Biker official!

2010 Dyfi Enduro – Machynlleth, Wales

May 6, 2010

Dyfi Enduro singletrack downhill

On Wednesday evening 28 April, I received contact from my friend and regular cycling training partner, Michael McCutcheon with a call to arms to step in for his team race partner.  Due to a last-minute change of circumstances, he was unfortunately not able to make the Dyfi Enduro race scheduled for the coming Sunday. With only three days notice, no targeted training and only a 40lb free-ride/all-mountain bike to ride, this was a challenge I was not about to shy away from. At this stage I hadn’t the faintest idea of what I was letting myself in for.

Saturday morning involved a 6 a.m. start. A quick shower, followed by some breakfast shovelled down in a hurry and it was on the road to catch the 8:20 Dublin ferry to Holyhead. A four-hour train journey followed to deposit us both just outside the southern edge of Snowdonia National Park, in the sleepy village of Machynlleth. It was only few hundred yards more to the camp site from the train station, where the tent was erected upon arrival.

As part of the camp site entertainment there were two marquee tents, one housing a cinema, where 3 different bike films were running on continuous loop and a second adjoining one where delicious food and drink was served to the sound of music in the form of a Rasta DJ spinning some chilled 7″ 45 rpm reggae tunes and later in the evening some live bands. At midnight the music came to an end and the camp site gradually descended into silence as the temporary residents retired, providing the calm before the storm.

By 8 o’clock the following morning, the camp site was buzzing again, with the sort of nervous energy prominent before a big race. Both Mic and I consumed multiple breakfasts. A race debriefing was held at 10:30, after which riders commenced uptake of positions on the start grid in anticipation of the 11 o’clock start. A rolling start from the exit of the camp site ensued for the 650 competitors on the strike of the 11th hour just as planned and was led out of the village towards the hills by a team of marshals in a van and on moto-cross bikes. While I managed to start near the front, I struggled to maintain position on my 40lb Kona Coiler Deluxe and steadily started going backwards as soon as the climbing started, as riders on bikes about half the weight of mine cruised by.

The first climb was a non-stop 5km fire road drag of just over 300m ascent. 3/4 of the way up, my team partner Mic who had started much further back in the grid, passed me as he made steady progress uphill. Mic would spend the rest of the course passing competitors on his way to a formidable 61st place finish. While I slogged it out up the seemingly never-ending climbs with countless riders passing me, when the gradient reversed, I made the extra weight and stability of my freeride rig count for everything it was worth, blasting down past the very riders who had passed me not so long ago.  This pattern was to become the order of the day as it drew on into the race.

Three more monster climbs ensued, each followed by unfortunately what seemed like only very short downhills were I gave it my all, before a very welcome feed station greeted riders at about 3/5 distance, or 31km.  At this stage I could already feel the significant strain of the unaccustomed effort I was subjecting my body to, but after a short refuelling I swung back into action. I would have to crest 6 more significant climbs before I would reach the finish after a total of 53.44km including no less than 1860m of vertical ascent. Crawling up the last big climb of the day, another competitor on a single speed greeted me saying he remembered me passing him on the 2nd descent of the day. According to him, as I passed him he said he tired to jump on my back wheel and added, “but after 50 yards, realised it was a really silly idea”. It was just the sort of compliment I needed to hear at that stage, to give me that much coveted second wind as the climb dragged on mercilessly.

As the end neared, marker signs appeared trail side detailing the remaining distance, as if to encourage the tired riders on, first with 10km and then with 3km to the finish. The first 200 riders were sent on an “extra” loop which added ca. 5km to the full race distance. The remaining 450 would be sent the “short” way. As I passed the marshal taking count, I and the other riders in my group were informed we were in about 150th position – Long course for us in that case! I lost a handful more places and clawed a few back in the usual manner on the remaining up and down hills respectively. After 4h18m49s I finally cruised into the finish in 165th position, covered in mud, but elated to finally arrive at the desired destination in one piece, where I met Mic who had been waiting for about 30mins at that stage. As we stood around clapping in the next few riders including a team on a tandem, another competitor came up to me and said, “Hey, I recognise that jersey”, pointing to my Trajectoires Cylces Team jersey, “You passed me at an absolutely ridiculous speed on one of the downhills!”. This was the perfect comment that summed the day’s racing all up for me.

It was then time to make the way back to the campsite, which was still a full 10km away, but thankfully downhill for the most part. Depositing the bikes and the muddy bike gear at the tent in exchange for a towel and clean set of clothes, it was off to the leisure centre next to the camp site. £1 bought us access to what I can only describe as what felt like the best value and most appreciated shower I can remember in a long time and capped off the day’s riding in perfect fashion.

Standing beside the central social area beside the main marquee, I spotted a fellow rider just arriving back from his ride, cycling by on a Jones 3D SpaceFrame. I hurried after him across the field to catch him for a chat and geek out over his titanium bike. The simple yet unambiguous ice-breaker of “Nice bike” was employed to launch the conversation, followed by much more in-depth admiration, tech talk and titanium bike stories exchange.  A test ride was accorded me upon request and I was finally riding my dream bike for the first time. The ride has to be experienced to be believed, as it is unlike anything I have ridden before.

Finally it was time to indulge in some of the tasty food served in the main marquee. Both Mic and I enjoyed two full dinners as we attempted to replenish some of the several thousand calories consumed that day. More music and socialising with fellow riders ensued until one by one we called it a day, falling into our tents completely exhausted yet more than happy with the day’s memorable events.

7Stanes – Scotland’s biking heaven (Part 4)

April 25, 2010

A mid-week stay in Stirling presented the golden opportunity to revisit some of my favourite trails from my uni days. As fate played out, Pete an old classmate from uni has recently set out on an adventure in the form Flying Fox Bikes, in the small town of Alva nestled on the edge of the Ochil hills only a short distance from Stirling. I visited the impressively stocked shop for the first time since its inauguration. The last time I visited, I had witnessed the final touches being administered for the grand opening.  Pete aka Pedro informed me that he would be leading a group of local mountain bikers around the trails behind the uni and up the back of Bridge of Allan after work and I would be most welcome to join them. I accepted without hesitation, since my memory was a little hazy regarding the trail networks I had last ridden nearly a decade ago and this would be a great opportunity to take the guess work out of navigation.

A 7 o’clock start led from the university grounds up into Hermitage Woods, a magical little woods clinging to the hillside overlooking the campus. From there it was on up into Pendreich Woods overhanging Bridge of Allan, where more fast, fun, flowing single track awaited us and awakened fond memories of former bike trips from days gone by. As light began to fade, the challenge level increased, especially at speed. Deer were a plenty, with regular sightings along the trail, but thankfully none decided to jump out into our pathway.

The following morning I decided to cycle up Dumyat for old times’ sake, one of the Ochil hills overlooking the Forth valley and the Firth of Forth. Standing at 417m, it gives a climb just short of 400m total. As I ascended I spotted a couple of mountain bikers up ahead and set out to chase them down. As I finally summited Dumyat, it turned out to be none other than the main man at Flying Fox Bikes, Pedro himself on his titanium On One hardtail with a friend out for a morning spin. We descended together back to Hermitage Woods and went our separate ways, as I had plans to ride in Glentress later that afternoon.

After lunch it was back on the road and a short drive down to Peebles and the 7Stanes Glentress trail centre. Never one to do anything by half measures, I naturally went for the 30km black graded trail which included 80% on single track. A small section of the trail was closed due to the large number of fallen trees blocking the trail and thus resulted in a slightly shorter distance of 27km covered in just over 2 hours. Snow drifts remained from the harsh winter and still lay deep between kilometres 14-15 along the ‘Boundary Trail’ section and together with more fallen trees, made riding a distinct challenge of a more unusual nature. With over 800m of vertical ascent over the full distance, there is no other way to describe it, but as an epic ride. I can categorically state that Glentress is without a doubt my favourite 7Stanes trail centre of the lot!

Some Glentress single track

7Stanes – Scotland’s biking heaven (Part 3)

April 24, 2010

Following lugging a trailer around the Blanchland wilderness on the weekend, I reverted back to the simple formula of merely two wheels to conquer two more of the legendary 7Stanes mountain bike trail centres, notably Newcastleton and Innerleithen.

Newcastleton lies just north shy of the English border in the Scottish Boarders. The red route provides a comparatively easy and gentle 16km loop, comprising 60% single track and taking just under an hour to complete. If one is looking for a fairly relaxed ride, that still provides a real mountain bike experience, then this is the trail centre to visit.

Next stop was Innerleithen a short drive north to what many consider to be the heartland of Scottish mountain biking. What awaited me has to be experienced to be fully appreciated. The red graded XC course (with black graded options) measures 19km including 75% of single track and took 1h15mins to complete. Right from the car park just off the bank of the river Tweed, the track starts to wind its way up the steep mountainside. It seemed like a never-ending climb, which lasts for 8km, bar a short 3/4km section of descending after 2.5km, providing only brief respite. The climb was a stark reminder to me of why I gave up the pain and hardship of XC racing in favour of pure downhill many years ago and the remainder of the course only confirmed my sensibly good choice. Thankfully what goes up must come down and so you guessed it, 11km of downhill, with minor undulations, awaits the patient peddler.

It is on the back-end of this formidable XC course where the fun and real challenges begin. A black graded option presents itself in the form of ‘Razor Rock’ and demands a high level of technical ability and poise to master. This is only where it starts to get interesting. The final 2km are shared with the ‘Make or Brake’ downhill course and so it is natural to expect some seriously aggressive downhill features, including rock drops, bomb holes, step downs and table tops, requiring absolute concentration and confident bike handling skills. The exhilaration and pure rush of adrenaline you experience lets you forget the pain you suffered all the way up the seemingly never-ending climb at the beginning. Was the climb worth it? To that, I simply suggest you head down to Innerleithen and saddle up to experience this world-class XC course for yourself!

Air time @ Innerleithen

7Stanes – Scotland’s biking heaven (Part 2)

April 21, 2010

Friday past, the time finally arrived, when I had a chance to face my mountain biking nemesis and go for a third time lucky, filing previous mishaps away for good in the bad memories cabinet. I refer to Dalbeattie, Scotland. Click here for previous Dalbeattie episode.

I arrived fresh off the ferry to be greeted by the beautiful Scottish sun, as it shone unperturbed by the masses of Icelandic volcanic ash in the skies. A short drive brought me to the trail head of Dalbeattie. Out came the bike, my combat gear was thrown on and off I went. The trail brought me back to the Qualifier, a very steep and technical rocky drop, which leads on to the infamous Slab. I easily nailed the Qualifier, but when I got to the Slab, I began to have second thoughts. I began to wonder what had possessed me to attempt this in the rain in the first place. I sat at the top for quite a while psyching myself up for the plunge. Eventually I relented after a thorough risk analyses weighing up the pros and cons. I felt I could live with myself not riding it and leave it for another day, especially since I didn’t want to jeopardise being able to race the next Red Bull Road Rage event in Belgium, just five weeks away, as well as potentially not being able to do my scheduled SMBLA Expedition module course on the following two days. So it was down the short cut to the right of the Slab, which in itself is still very steep, with plenty of gnarly rocks scattered the whole way down and also graded black like the Qualifier and the Slab. The Terrible Twins, another black graded couple of consecutive rock face drops were a little further on and demanded both skill and concentration. The rest of the 25km passed without incident and I was content with the first 1.5 hours of riding back in Scotland. I will say I found this trail to be one of the most demanding of the 7Stanes I have ridden, with a lot of the red course verging strongly on black grade and generally being quite a punishing course, for both bike and rider.

I hopped back in the car for a short trip up the road to tackle the next trail by name of Mabie. The red loop, at 18km with 65% single track, is a pure fun trail. If you are looking for a  ‘flowy’ trail then maybe Mabie may be the one for you. This was a nice change after Dalbeattie. Not too technical, but with a few challenges thrown in to keep your attention, this is a 1 hour blast that leaves you with a smile once you roll back into the trail head. The highlight has to be at the top of the first climb, a panoramic view over the Solway Firth right across to England and the hills of Cumbria over the sea divide to the south.

7Stanes – Scotland’s biking heaven (Part 1 1/2)

November 27, 2009

As promised in my last post, I am returning to leave an update on the remaining 7 Stanes trail centres, or rather what happened in my quest to ride them all.

As planned, I decided to start with Dalbeattie the day after riding Kirroughtree. Dalbeattie trail centre red course is 25km in length, comprising 65% single track. I arrived late morning and there seemed no end to the rain. I got changed, set up the bike and as if by magic the rain stopped just as I was about to hit the trail. So far so good!

I was riding along steadily enjoying yet another top class Scottish trail centre and was eagerly anticipating “The Slab”, a daunting 15 metre section of exposed sheer granite rock face lying at a steep angle, described as the highlight of the trail. After about 1/2hr I reached this point and to be on the safe side got off the bike and looked over the edge to scan for the best line. Back on the bike and time to take the plunge. The rock surface was very wet which didn’t help the tires grip much. Speed picked up quickly, but the line was good. Just near the bottom I hit a lip and before I knew it I was heading down, down, down before I landed on the trail path with a bang. I picked myself up and completed a split second damage assessment in my daze: Wrists hurt, knees hurt… actually left wrist really hurts! Hold on, how is the bike? Nothing broken, thank goodness! So where was I again? Oh yeah, that severe pain in my wrist… Mmmm, it’s a bit crooked as well. Yep, it’s definitely broken.

So I walked down a short section of single track and hopped back on the bike once I reached the fire roads again and cycled the 2km short cut back to the car park. Got the bike loaded into the car and drove to Dumfries hospital with my floppy wrist. Into A&E and registered – The great thing was, all my details were already on the system, as I had been mountain biking once previously in Dalbeattie for a Scottish NPS XC race back in 1997, had also crashed, and finished up in Dumfries A&E. After a short wait, I was seen to by the friendly and efficient medical staff. Diagnosis was quick considering the obvious deformity where upon they quickly moved to the next step – Pain reduction for comfort.

Dr: How sore is it?

JK: Extremely!

Dr: Would you like some pain killers?

JK: Yes please, that would be nice.

Dr: No problem at all, I will get some morphine for you now.

2mins later and all my discomfort and worries were on hold. A couple of x-rays to assess the extent of the damage, followed by some more morphine and a manipulation under a local anaesthetic, the application of a plaster cast, some more x-rays to check proper alignment and I was ready to settle down for the night.

Next day I was released, already scheming my comeback and determined to make it third time lucky in Dalbeattie.

Once I do make it back to Scotland, I’ll be sure to share my thoughts on Dalbeattie, Mabie and Glentress & Innerleithen trail centres as soon as they have travelled beneath my spinning wheels, but for now it will be countless winter hours on the turbo trainer. It could be a whole lot worse. 😀

7Stanes – Scotland’s biking heaven (Part 1)

November 16, 2009

Following my Red Bull Road Rage escapades thanks to The Cycle Inn bike shop in the past months, I have temporarily ditched the road bike in favour of returning to my cycling roots in mountain biking. Currently in Scotland, I am doing a tour of the 7 Stanes mountain bike trail centres. (www.7stanes.gov.uk)
On Saturday I rode the Ae trail centre red course. 24km in length, comprising 65% single track, it is a solid 1.5 hour ride (even though the shop manager was unconvinced it was possible before I set off). He even offered me a free meal, well a recovery bar, if I lapped in less than 1.5 hours. Exactly 1h29m44s later I cruised in to pick it up, including negotiating the last downhill in falling darkness without lights! Not recommended for minors – Do not try this at home!
Flooding on the path just after the very start led to the latter 2 thirds of the ride being completed with no feeling in my feet, which detracted somewhat from the comfort factor of the ride.
Today I rode the Kirroughtree trail centre black course. 31km in length (17km red with 14km black section) with 75% single track, it is a physical 2 hour ride. Arguably one of the best trail centres in the UK, the highlight has to be McMoab, huge slabs and ridges of exposed granite, linked by boulder causeways. A good technical level of riding skills is necessary to negotiate this feature, especially in the wet.

McMoab

Over the next couple of days I will be riding Dalbeattie, Mabie and Glentress & Innerleithen trail centres with updates to follow.