Stranger in the night – dipping a toe into the dark
There’s a lot of buzz about night riding at the minute – what with the massive national increase in cycling since the summer of Wiggo and the Olympics, participation has skyrocketed both on and off road. With our balmy, breezy summer evenings, cycling through August, September and even October is perfectly do-able, but the switch to Greenwich Mean Time rather spoils the party unless you’re somewhere lit. That’s where quality lights come in – but quality can be pretty pricey. If you’ve never done it before, how are you going to know whether it works for you without taking a punt on a bunch of expensive kit. What you need is an understanding shop and an agreeable light manufacturer.
Luckily for me, I live not too far from such a shop. Run And Ride at Hednesford are literally right on the doorstep of Cannock Chase, which gives them access to miles of trails, and they took it upon themselves to hook up with Exposure Lights to put on a tryout evening – the incredibly accommodating Exposure sent along a massive crate of their finest off road light sets, and Run And Ride invited the world to pop up to Cannock one chilly November evening, where they would strap on some serious lighting kit and lead you on a night foray.
I chucked the bike in the back and packed some cycling kit in the car that morning, and headed straight up there after work. Even early on there was a decent turnout, and it was simplicity itself to get signed up. As a nightriding newbie, I put myself at their mercy as to what to try out, and was both startled and pleased to be given a Six Pack to try, a self-contained handlebar mounted light that lit up the trail not unlike a police helicopter search light. I was impressed.
Once everyone was sorted, we were split into fast and steady groups and set out for a trawl around the Chase. Having not ridden off road at night before, it was a fascinating experience – the nature of the visibility makes you hyper-focused on the spread of light before you, and it all seems much, much quicker, the flickering of shadows on uneven ground keeping you on your toes the whole time. I loved it – I can definitely do the winter cycling thing, which has opened up another six months of riding for me. Happy days.
Six Pack is an incredible bit of kit – a single unit with the battery included, on full power it’ll kick out 1800 lumens for about three hours, with medium (up to 10 hours), low (up to 24 hours) and flash settings, the indicator on the back will change colour to indicate the remaining charge, and it’ll drop itself down through the modes as it reaches the end of the battery to make sure there’s always a bit of get-you-home light in there. Riding with the Six Pack alone was great on straight or flowing tracks, with the beam plenty wide for most occasions, but when we got into the nadgery stuff, very tight and twisty, I found myself turning into corners blind, my eyes tracking the path round the next corner before I needed to turn the bars. If you only ever rode on fast, open trails, the Six Pack would be great on its own, but if you’re likely to face any tighter turns, I think you’d have to go for a helmet-mounted light as well.
I learned a lot that night – I had a great 12 mile ride out on a Thursday evening, and I found out that riding needn’t stop because the light goes. I even found a great new shop – it must have taken a lot of time and effort to organise, and thankfully they had a good turnout to reward their efforts. The staff were friendly and approachable and incredibly helpful (one poor chap in front of me had his chain snap when he got out of the saddle at speed, resulting in a big swap one way, then a big swap the other way, ending in an oddly graceful flying W into the ferns – thankfully he was fine and one of the Run And Ride crew had the chain back together, (oooo, I’m going to say about 90 seconds after the crash happened, impressive stuff), and there was no hint of a hard sell afterwards, just good banter and useful advice. There’s a reason why people are both proud and protective of their local bike shop – that’s another thing I learned, too.
Massive thanks to Run And Ride and Exposure Lights for a great evening and an extra six months riding a year!
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Bristol Oktoberfest – Better than Munich…
Aaa, summer. How beautiful while it fleetingly lasts, and how sad to see it go. Still, if there’s one thing to look forward to when the nights grow shorter and the ambient temperature drops, it’s the approach of October, because when the tenth month starts, that means Oktoberfest is not far away.
The Bristol Oktoberfest is the second of two classic annual events held at Ashton Court, a stone’s throw from the mouth of the Severn – an eight hour mountain bike endurance race, there are categories for teams of four, pairs, or (for the truly masochistic) solo entries in male, female and mixed forms, with further subdivisions for single speeds and old git racers. As such, it attracts a wide variety of abilities, including the returning Team NTG MTB, back to have a second crack at the excellent single track on offer after our great (if tough!) endurance debut at June’s Bike Fest.
Instead of putting ourselves through the grinding pre-race endurance test of camping, we set some early-morning alarms and charged down the M5 first thing. An early start, to be fair, but given the fairly grim weather in the build up, it was the better choice – on arrival we were greeted by a cheerful Oktoberfest-hat-type-wearing-type who guided us to park on the access road as the camping field was having some hydration issues. Team captain Jonno stepped up to the batter’s plate first of all, taking his place for the Le Mans style running start amongst the hundreds of other riders – I held his Stanton as the galloping hordes charged back up the hill, with more than a few entrants somehow accidently arriving a little late and giving themselves somewhat less of a distance to run. Strange how that happens.
As nine o’clock passed us by, the race started and a great torrent of riders came sprinting past me, a train that ran for maybe ten minutes before the last stragglers pottered by. Jon got a solid midpack start and battled his way through the traffic to complete lap one in under 43 minutes, a lap quicker than some teams who ended up 20 places or more above us – Steve went after El Capitan and logged an even quicker lap, with Luke putting a great performance in position three and me pottering nervously about on the peripheries as the anchor number four. By the time Luke handed over the team scrunchy, I’d been watching bike racing for almost ninety minutes and was tortured by a mixture of performance anxiety and a sense of gagging to get involved. No matter – time to suck it up and get stuck in.
Job number one was to charge through the rock garden, and I wasn’t in there many seconds before a most welcome experience occurred – I caught someone up. This was a bit of a new one for me, as I spent most of Bike Fest getting out of people’s way, and the rock garden’s not an easy place to pass. Consequentially, as traffic backed up behind the pair of us, I felt the onset of a needless touch of pressure and ran ride on a slick section, out of everyone’s way. Cursing under my breath, I joined the back of the snake as we pedalled out of the woods and into the field that loops up to where the finish line was or Bike Fest – and I overtook a couple more riders. Me! Overtaking people! It was just great.
Ashton Court was every bit as wonderful as it had been earlier in the year, the flowing single track largely impervious to the wet weather – the sole concession to the elements was the rather impressive construction of a wooden bridge over a particularly marshy section of trail, but the track rode really well and was little the worse at the end of eight hours of racing. Team NTG MTB’s one lap stint policy worked well once more, the 5.7 miles round the course plenty for the likes of our legs (although again, there were lunatics doing the whole thing on their own – madness, I tell thee) and working out so that we each had three laps, but by the time I rolled into the transition area for the final lap, we were up against it. In a desperation move, I left the saddle bag, Camelbak and pump at the van to save weight and took off needing to lap about five minutes quicker than I had done all day. I gave it everything, I swear, I left it all out on the track – by the time I
started the last climb, I was done for. Then some clown , with a dazzling sense of humour, shouted out that there were ten seconds left – gritting my teeth, I turned myself inside out over the last 200 metre climb, came close to stacking in front of the crowd on the finish line jump, then had to invest five minutes or so in serious hyperventational recovery mode. I’d missed the cut by, oooo, five minutes or so which made the last minute or so of torture entirely unnecessary. Thanks, Mr Clown Man.
Final climb idiocy aside, Oktoberfest was every bit as much fun as the Bike Fest earlier in the year, with an easygoing atmosphere and plenty of riding on a wonderful course. I said it after Bike Fest and I’ll say it again here – if you’ve never done an event like this, don’t be intimidated, your fellow competitors are all lovely people (even if some of them are much, much quicker ), the track is superb, and you will have a brilliant time. Can I add a proviso? I was a bit fitter for the second race, and it definitely made it more fun, but you absolutely do not have to be Thomas Frischknecht to enjoy it. I was more like Thomas the Tank Engine, and I still survived….
[flagallery gid=17 name=Gallery]
Click SL (slideshow) or FS (fullscreen)
All Images ©AEhotos
Knog Muddy Hell
Herne Hill Velodrome
Saturday, October 27th, 2012.
Knog Muddy Hell earns it’s name. Nick Craig dominates in tough conditions.
Finally, after three years with dry conditions Knog Muddy Hell truely was a mud-fest. Plenty of rain leading up to the event, plus downpours on the night and the action of over 700 wheels, churning up the course created difficult conditions for competitors but great entertainment for spectators.
Course designer Phil Glowinski, created a smooth, flowing course, whilst maintaining the popular features of wall-ride, bridge, whoops, muddy corner and hurdles but it was the conditions which had the greatest effect on the results. A confident Nick Craig knew that his years of experience at top level off-road riding would stand him in good stead. Fresh from his recent win at the (slighly warmer) Mountain Bike Tour of Langkawi Nick indeed provided a master class in technique, though he was distanced in the sprint from the start, his superior bike handling soon saw him opening up a big gap with National Junior champion Hugo Robinson chasing. Hugo however suffered a mechanical as did many others, Ed McParland made a valiant effort to catch the veteran, but it was never going to happen and Nick took the £400 from Knog with a huge gap.
Three previous winners of the Women’s event took to the line, and Louise Mahe took her second Knog Muddy Hell title with Claire Beaumont second, National track champion Corinne Hall did not repeat her podium finish instead Leona Kadir took third spot.
Supported by Vulpine cycle clothing the vets category saw a very competitive field, multiple Knog Muddy Hell winner Mick Bell could not repeat his usual top spot due to mud-induced mechanical issues and relinquished the top step of the podium to Kevin Knox of Vicious Velo.
Racing at the same time as the women and vets, 2012 saw the largest junior field in the history of the event with Chris McGovern the clear winner finishing up amongst the first few vets.
The ever popular Novice race had over 100 entries, the best fancy dress, two tandems (one pantomime horse) and the worst weather, this is when the rain hit and there were more than a few retirements. James Flury was best male and Lise Sorenson best female, both taking prizes from Cycelab.
The youth categories saw record levels of entries, organisers Rollapaluza claim that over 70 entry enquiries were received for the U12 event alone, because of the high level of interest they will look to accomodate more youngsters in 2013. In all over 350 racers took part with, despite the rain, hundreds of cheering spectators enjoying the racing, atmosphere, food, mulled cider, “Off-Road” Rollapaluza competition and bike polo skills try out.
AEphotos full galleries of all races: http://aephotos.co.uk/muddyhell2012
1. Nick Craig
2. Ed McParland
3. Darren Barclay
4. Chris Metcalfe
5. William Thomson
6. Bruce Dalton
7. Richard Mardle
8. Jack Finch
9. Will Fooks
10. Uldis Karklins
1. Lousie Mahe
2. Claire Beaumont
3. Leona Kadir
1. Kevin Knox
2. John Lyons
3. Nick Walsh
1. Chris McGovern
2. James Wood
3. Ashley Dennis
1. James Flury
1. Keith Brewster
3. John Coolahan
1. Lise Sorensen
2. Lesley Auchterlonie
3. Hester Polak
1. Sam Titmarsh
2. Matt Clements
3. Thomas Finch
1. Luke Mitchie
2. George Finch
3. Freddie Argent
1. Noah Charlton
2. Charlie Craig
3. Aaron Freeman
GranFondo - View Of The Coast - ©Image Copyright Randy Ruhlman
Imagine a ride over the rolling hills of California, nestled between the vineyards of Sonoma County and along steep cliffs, as you ride your way towards the waves of the Pacific Ocean. On the first weekend of October, avid cyclists did just that, as over 7,500 riders descended on the town of Santa Rosa, California (just north of that mythic city of San Francisco) for the third annual Levi’s GranFondo Ride. Along with Levi Leipheimer and these thousands of cyclists, many other professional cyclists and celebrities gathered to ride and have a great time with all the proceeds going to charity.
Levi's GranFondo 2011 - Image ©Copyright Randy Ruhlman
The charity is Forget Me Not Farm, promoted by Levi’s wife, former Timex/Cannondale rider Odessa Gunn. Her involvement with animal rescue and rehabilitation has been instrumental in getting awareness and funding for the ranch & foster programs, but it is more than a shelter for abandon critters. The facility acts as a therapeutic refuge for at-risk children, pairing them with animals around the farm and charging the children with their care.
The ride itself incorporates three varied routes, a bit of “something for everyone”, each with a different profile, degree of difficulty and length. All three traverse incredibly scenic terrain, down the Russian River Valley toward the town of Jenner at the Pacific Ocean. The Kings Ridge route takes the GranFondo riders over the hills toward Ritchey Ranch (yes, that Ritchey) where the bike legend himself was reported to be serving sandwiches at the lunch stop.
A very organized ride, the mass start–all the groups at once and at the sensible hour of 8AM–was well managed and the numbers of volunteers and CHPs officers (California Highway Patrol) controlling intersections along the route was impressive. Rest stops were plentiful and well stocked, as were comfort stations. Of course, the scenery was beautiful, as if one had expected anything less. And in typical California coastal fashion, there was some fog along the ocean. Some of the vistas and hill tops were cool and obscured, and a few areas along the ride were reported to have some visibility issues, but aside from that, the ride and post ride weather was excellent.
GranFondo Post Ride Celebrations - Image ©Copyright Randy Ruhlman
Naturally, one of the rewards of a great ride is in the post-ride lunch and festival. The post-ride food offerings ran the gamut from specialities like the very popular Paella stand, to Mexican and Indian food to BBQ beef and plenty of regular post ride cuisine. And, of course, providing the much needed post ride refreshment: an assortment of New Belgium beers to quench the thirst. Along with food and a continuous array of entertainment, there were dozens of Exhibitors at the finish line festivities, including Camelbak, Chris King, HED, Nissan & SRAM, just to name a very few.
All in all, it was a great event.
The pre-ride organization was just that, organised, as was the smooth start with its 7,500 cyclists. The course was well policed and marked and the post ride entertainment and
festival was fun and entertaining.
GranFondo Exhibitors - Images ©Copyright Randy Ruhlman
So what makes a great ride–just that! Levi’s GranFondo 2011 was a ride where you could challenge yourself, have fun, and know that it is all was going to run smoothly. And it is definitely a ride we won’t hesitate to sign up for when entries open for next year’s event.