Are you a triple fan? Do you like to hammer the granny? Or do you prefer the ease of 2x10; the sheer simplicity of 1x10 or are you an all-out hairy-chested singlespeeder? How about lycra - do you like the sheer feel and the budgie smuggler effect or are you a baggies and trail jersey kind of guy? DH pyjama type? Legs shaved? Legs as hirsute as Brian Blessed's chin? Do you ride an XC hardtail? Trail hardtail? Full-sus XC whippet? Trail full-sus? AM? Freeride? DH? Slopestyle? 4x? Dirt jumper? Fixie? Do you dabble in The Dark Side from time to time? Do you live for the climbs, the descents or the flowing singletrack? Do you live for Strava KOMs or are you more of a Zen rider?
It's very easy to get yourself deep into a rut and pigeonhole yourself into a comfortable little niche according to your own perceptions (or other people's perceptions) of your own abilities, bike, gear etc etc etc. And it can be seriously counterproductive to the main reason we all ride ....... FUN.
I spent the weekend marshalling the second round of the British XC Series at Dalby and it really made me think about this fantastic sport of ours; it made me question why we do it; it made me wonder at the various driving forces behind the hundreds of people who paid good money entering a race, travelling across the country (or in some cases across several countries) to experience dreadful weather and punish themselves around several laps of Dalby's World Cup course: 7km of technical, brutal riding.
During the fifteen hours or so I actually spent out on the course doing my marshalling job, I saw a great many people all thrashing the nadgers off themselves and their machinery; some close to collapse, others looking as if they were just warming up for the main event; all covered in mud, all sweating; some with terminal mechanicals, some with ride-ending injuries and one poor bloke who had a real pearler of a smash on Worry Gill and ended up being stretchered out of the Gill and into the hurriedly-summoned ambulance on a spinal board at 8am on Sunday morning.
I saw an endless variety of bikes in all kinds of weird and wonderful combinations: a Reynolds 851 steel-framed vintage beastie in the Super Vets race; all manner of race hardtails including the phenomenal Cannondale Team Flash; race-ready XC full-sussers such as the popular S-Works Epic; a smattering of trail full-sussers (Stumpjumpers, Trances etc) and an incredible number of 29ers. Seriously, it was almost like a 29er convention at several points during the Elite/Expert/Masters races.
Some were belting along in big ring with the slipper down, others were hauling themselves along in the granny looking like they were about to die. Some were absolutely destroying the black descent back into Worry Gill after climbing all the way back out of Medusa's Drop, others were bimbling down it to the accompaniment of squealing and grating rotors, all clogged with the infamous Dalby mud and grit. Some tackled Worry Gill head-on (literally in several cases) whilst others took the B-line around the nasty drop; some were sponsored up to the eyeballs, riding top-drawer bikes with top-drawer componentry whilst others were clearly riding their pride and joy that they'd saved and sweated blood and tears to afford.
And what stands out in my mind most of all was the fact that lots of the riders (pro riders included) weren't averse to standing with a marshal, having a bit of banter and ask advice (during the practice sessions obviously!) .... "How many have got up that climb today?"; "What lines were they using?"; "Who's been quickest through this section so far?"; "Where am I?"; "What do they give you for your dinner?" and "Can you watch my bike while I have a slash?"
No pretentions, no superiority, no oneupmanship ...... just riders out to have as much fun as they can have on their bikes. Which is a long-winded of me getting to the point: it doesn't matter whether you're riding a 1989 Raleigh Mustang with a rear aero disc or an Advanced S-Works Team MuthaFecker with 19" of travel that weighs less than a dog's dangler - ride it to have fun. Don't take it too seriously (unless you make your living from it) and enjoy every pedal stroke.
For when you stop enjoying it, it's not worth doing any more.
One last thought: as we were loading the poor unfortunate Torq rider who'd mangled himself on Worry Gill into the ambulance (this Masters level fast bloke who had the sponsorship deal, had the flash bike and the support of a well-heeled team) with his face all mashed in and some sort of serious issue with his lower back, you just knew that, once his face healed, his back recovered and his mental demons were put to rest, he'd be back on the bike taking part once more in the greatest sport in the world. That says it all really. You put yourself through hell, leave yourself feeling like utter crap, push yourself further than anyone in their right mind would deem acceptable but you still go back out and do it a day/two days/a week later.
I had an epiphany during this weekend. Treat each ride like it's your last - in the case of the Torq rider (and a few others who had serious crashes), it just might end up being that way. Everything else matters naught.
On reflection the trails in Guisborough woods give us an advantage over most riders. My personal opinion is that the average Guisborough trail rider could technically match the top xc/enduro racers in the country. So, with a bit of fitness and some tech race courses like 10 at Kirroughtree or Glentress 7, you could all do some damage.
I have always had a fascination with feats of endurance and harboured a desire to race 24 solo since competing in the 1999 Red Bull Mountain Mayhem as team rider. After reading an article in xcracer a year ago I made plans for the 12h of exposure as a stepping stone. However world champs influenced changes in rider categories suggested a late but risky move to 24h. My previous longest competitive event was the Glentress 7h last year. Nevertheless, a consistent winter and the Whinlatter challenge 2 weeks earlier gave me some confidence in pacing. However, I needed reliable pit support, lights and a spare bike. Fortunately with 3 days to go I had assembled 6 very able volunteers. 1. MTBG teammate Mike Coward an xc/enduro rocket and ace bike mechanic 2. Dr Kev “da wookie” Murray a 6ft 7in legend of Scottish mountainbiking 3. My wife Paula, a sports dietitian with an enviable cycling palmares, 4. My wee sis Laura, a future events manager who works for the 2014 commonwealth games team, 5. Kevs dad Ron, a top Sports Therapist, who solo cycled across Australia. 6. My daughter Olivia who is very cute and won her first girls mtb race aged 4 (knows the score). Not a bad support team then.
Teammate Nick Piper kindly offered his SWorks Epic as a spare bike along with Gazebo and lights. Bikescene staff Ian, Simon and Anthony donated hope batteries and Mike and Mark Bland added further lights and batteries to the collection. I was ready for action.
On arrival it was wet with most campsite cars and vans struggling in the mud. Mudguards were added for the pre-ride. The course revealed hills, a tight singletrack climb and 4 evenly spaced manmade descents. It was challenging but not too technical, with limited risk of punctures. My campervan sleep was interrupted around 1am due the cold and dampness, I pulled another duvet over my head. After the usual Pre race fettling and faffing it was soon time to depart Newcastleton guided by a piper. The pace was brisk on the first lap with Ibbett, Rothwell, Page and White leading the way. Meanwhile I stayed calm and tried to conserve energy. My pit, spectators and marshalls were very enthusiastic and encouraging. The night approached without incident with pit knowledge that I was 3rd placed vet. I asked how far ahead the next rider was to help give me focus. At this time unaware I was chasing a ghost…..
Meanwhile in pitsville I had been eating, bananas, bars and gels. Paula and Laura started surprising me each lap with hot tea, porridge, jaffa cakes, jelly babies, hot tortillas, spaghetti and my surprise favourite mashed potatoes. Around this time I noticed my right eye was blurry and requested some saline. Ron showed some concern and asked the usual first aid questions.
Lights were added to the helmet and bike with precision charge and change routines for batteries. Bikes were cleaned and changed when needed. I started to press on the climbs in the dark. Night riding was fun and interesting; my right eye was still blurry. SIP events and competitors occupy the Rock UK chalets on site with the main race course passing between chalets. I was aware of cowbells, loud music, gazebos, fairy lights, barbeques, international flags and lots of verbal encouragement. This created a continental alpine atmosphere which was great for motivation at night. I especially appreciated the mysterious voice shouting “use it” each lap. Another memorable moment was passing a man in a gorilla suit fishing on a footbridge.
Having looked at race results and laps patterns for 15 years I considered that this is when small gains accumulate. However each time I returned to the pit large gaps were pulling away from me in an irregular way. I had seen gorillas in the misty dark night, could my mind be playing tricks on me. Who was this mysterious ghost rider?
I was informed that the rider (no 147 who was riding 24h distance) had announced on his 3rd lap to the organisers that he would attempt to contest the hot lap time (the prize was a top of the range giro helmet). To everyone’s surprise he smashed pro rider Matt Pages time (who was competing in the 12h distance) by 4 minutes! Then 2011 European 24h veteran champion Mark Spratt and others passed the same rider 3 times within the same lap! I was frustrated, getting tired and the right eye was no better. I decided to keep one eye (literally) on the rider behind. At pitsville they agreed that I could finish after 2 more laps to gain a podium position. So that was it, after 16 laps in 21h 15 I finished and had completed my first 24 solo. So where did I finish?
Sara at SIP events agreed there were anomalies with rider no. 147. Other competitors had made protests and all would be revealed. After a shower and bacon and egg butty I felt better and my vision was restored. I waited for Mark Spratt to compete his 20th lap, an awesome performance to win the UK and European solo vets category for a second time. Mark passed ghost rider’s bike (but no rider) on the final descent. Shortly afterwards ghost rider appeared sprinting into the main arena and dramatically collapsed Alastair Brownlee style over the finish line!
After a thorough investigation and rider interviews the outcome from Sara and Paul at SIP events was to DQ rider no. 147. He admitted to possibly getting lost and disorientated during at least 2 laps, including the hot lap.
The outcome promoted me to 2nd place veteran behind Mark and also the overall 24h rookie champion’s jersey (7th overall). I was totally stoked and also received an exposure toro lightset as part of the very generous prize list. This means I no longer have to borrow reliable lights for the next one. I loved the whole experience and would recommend it to anyone. However, racing is the easy bit, without the support of my pit team, MTB Guisborough teammates and all the staff at Bikescene, this would never have been possible. A special mention must go to Rich Wilson, Master mechanic at Bikescene for ensuring my bike was mechanically sound and Gary and Darren at work for keeping my legs in top working order.
And finally, my initial inspiration for competing in 24h of exposure was reading Mark Spratt’s report on winning 3 jerseys at the same event last year. This year I got to meet him, top, top bloke …and now a friendly rival.