Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Getting yo' freak on at the 3 Ring Circus!

Adults and children enthralled by the cirtastic spectacle of the 3 Ring Circus!
In my not insignificant history of MTB racing, themed races have been as rare as platypus teeth and I can say with certainty that a circus themed event was the last place I’d expect to be riding my bike.
But this last weekend under the slick organisational guidance of Huw from Wild Horizons, and thanks to the extraordinary generosity of the folks at Ground Effect I was treated to one of the best weekends of mountain bike racing in recent memory.
The venue for the race was Wingello State Forest, a plantation forest deep in the New South Wales southern highlands. This magical location was the canvas for a fruitful collaboration between the organiser and a passionate local club, which has led to some seriously fun and flowy singletrack loops which keep mountain bikers stoked and roadies quivering .
Packing 'light' for a big weekend of racing
At odds with the minimalist approach to camping I've adopted out of bikepacking necessity, I loaded up a gear bag with enough stuff to keep a family of wombats fed and housed for months. Being transported by car meant I could take items such as a cooker, stove and even a pillow. Living large!

Transportation was provided by Dunlop's nature crushing cruisersaurus
Speaking of transport, a buddy Dunlop had offered a seat in his modified monsterous Land Cruiser of nature domination, with enough rubber to squash even the most resilient 'roo and a gas guzzling tendancy that left us refuleing only an hour into the drive. I took the opportunity to down a sausage roll at the servo, and was reminded hours later in the evening race that as a prerace food, sausage flavoured meat products are less than ideal.

Confusing loops we're easy to follow with great course marking
The format for the weeknd was two pronged, a night sprint race of 20 km length consisting of two loops, then a 50 km 'matinee' which took even even more of the great trails on offer. In between there were circus performers, kids races, campfires, trackstand comps, delicious food and the inevitable smack talk that comes part of pre-and post race banter.

John gets in touch with nature
Opting for a geared bike proved to be a good choice, and I pulled off a surprising third in Open in the balls-out night race. I held on the the blistering pace of the leaders till their whippetness proved too much on a singletrack traverse. Most amsuing observation of the night was a roadie who in his first ever mtb race, and first ever night race, proceeded to ride off the singletrack and into the scrub at the earliest opportunity.

My carbon drive/Rohloff setup blew a few minds on the finish line, with many asking how the system worked and why they hadn't seen it before. My raving answer to the latter was that it was the reuslt of a a conspiracy between conventional drivetrian manfacturers (Sram and Shimano) ala 'Who killed the electric car'.

Gaz's pro support bottle handup (Petent pend.)
The field of 160 for the night race was bolstered to 600 for the matinee the next morning. Another great start but I faded going into the second longer loop, rallying again to climb a steep pinch called the wall and reeling in the leading stragglers ahead. Untested bottle cages played havoc with my hydration strategy, throwing the precious water at the slightest bump. Fortunately I'd stashed a spare in the lap transition, although it was nothing on Gaz's setup. Mounting a bottle cage on a stick meant he could smash through transition without the need for a person to hand him the bottle. Gaz proved to be a great riding companion on the latter part of the race, and as the only rider to follow when I broke into the singletrack his pacing up the relatively grueling halfway hill was perfect.
A fast final 8km saw my hanging on, but spying a fast line into the last corners I attacked and pulled off 4th in open. Through some miracle of mathematics I finished up 2nd in open men for the combined night and matinee events, so great to have some feedback on form before I tackle the epic alps  that the Trans-Sasvoie enduro has to offer in a few weeks time.

This juggler was easily the most cordinated amongst a sea of hamfisted bikers
While post race fatigue set in and race stroies were retold, I heard one of the announcers propose a hand stand competition, to wich I countered that given the awesomeness of bikes it should really be a trackstand-off. Putting aside lasagne lunch and straining to keep quivering quads at bay, I challenged  a cyclocross riding hipster to a battle of balance, pulling muscle memory from bike polo sessions of long ago. No amount of smack talk could put him off his game but when we were asked to take a hand off the bars, I managed to keep wobbles at bay long enough to score the prize. Just reward for the days I've spent honing this skill at traffic lights in NZ and Australia!

I'll freely admit that I'm not the biggest fan of the circus and their associations with animal cruelty and macarbe clowns. Las Vegas' epic Circus Circus buffet did a lot to win my favour for circus themed establishments, and the 3 Ring Circus took it a step further. A fantastic weekend of close racing and an exceptionally well run event. I'm even contemplating racing next year dressed as a clown!

Australian National CX series Round 4 - Terrey Hills

Some sweet action shots from the race Dave Bateman and Andy Rogers


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Fat; where it is at!

Shredding the super bowl at Stockton Dunes
After much procrastination and bumping of gums, Heidi and I took the opportunity of a free and sunny Sunday to meet up with some and awesomely hospitable chums in Newcastle and experience some sand riding aboard fat bikes.

I’d first learnt of the amazing prowess of these fat tyred steeds through the ravings of Ross and Brad, who portrayed them as a sort of mystical flying unicorn which could take you to places you’d never even dreamt of.

Globally, the morbidly obese tyre carcass is gaining traction (excuse the pun), with  sprinkles of the odd bikes occupying the floors of pornographic bike shows like the North ‘merican Handmade Bicycle Show (NAHBS). With mainstream brands like Kona releasing a fatty from their factory this year, it won’t be long till they are the next 29er.

Initially the brainchild of perennial curmudgeons Surly, the bikes are based around a tyre at least 4 inches width, achieved through a rim of excessive girth. Coupled with curvaceous shaping of frame and fork to fit tyres and an uber wide bottom bracket, a fatty is formed.  Dropping the pressure as low as 4 psi creates a monstrous footprint which yields unheralded traction on all sorts of sketchy surfaces like sand and snow. It also imparts crude but cushy undamped suspension that does a great deal to smooth out the trail.

Smiles for miles
When hopping aboard the Moonlander I was kindly lent by Kedan (The Bike Bag Dude), my first reaction was an ear to ear smile, the ridiculously proportioned tyre inspiring an almost child like glee. Rolling out in a fatilla of some six fatties, we pointed our big tyres for the dunes.

Fatilla stops for a sift
Our ride started with a fire road composed of loose moto-churned sand which I wouldn’t have got more than a single frustrating pedal stroke in on a normal tyre. The fatties handled this with aplomb, only protesting when I crossed into a patch of loose sand. Here instead of the expected wheel sapping hump it felt  like  riding on jelly with no hint of impeded forward progress.

Our guide and photographer Ross had mapped out a sifty route which took in some of the Stockton dunes best offerings, and we quickly sought out one aptly dubbed the ‘super bowl’ which featured a vertical drop of about 50m and some steep sided banks perfectly suited to carving turns. Letting go of the brakes and getting some speed on the descent felt suspiciously like being on skis on snow,  the tyres drifting in a delightfully predictable way.

Heidi tackles the dunes
What was most mind blowing, was how loose the sand was, so loose that dunes were challenging even to walk up, as we discovered when we took some more adventurous lines later in the ride. But with some gratuitous use of granny gear and smooth pedalling we were back at the top of the dune fizzing and ready for another  run.

Ross and Ollie emerge from the brambles
Not content with carving chilled turns, Ross passed off photographer duties to Brad, and sought out the steepest, gnarliest dune he could find. His high speed descent was accompanied by whoops then shouts as it was halted by a nasty patch of brambles. He finally emerged smiling and giggling and I had to give it a go. We found a second slope that ended in what looked like a trail and screamed down it.  Ross’ high speed too much even for the immense traction of his fatty, sliding off the edge of the sandy ‘berm’ and scoring some more face time with the brambles. Seems if you are willing to let go of inhibitions and embrace sand in your eyes, ears and nose, there is a lot of fun to be had on fat bikes!

Heidi works on her fat tan
Heidi reported that finishing up on the ride, her face was sore from smiling, which is as good a testimonial as any as to the sheer fun factor of fat bikes. If you get an opportunity to ride one, give it a go! While they won’t replace a normal MTB for everyday off roading, on the right terrain they really are the bicycle equivalent of a bedazzled flying unicorn, opening up a mind blowing world of previously unrideable terrain. I can see one of these magical beasts finding a home in my herd of bikes, another +1 to add to the already excessive N of bikes.