2017 a seasons review

I've just done a slightly self indulgent thing, sit down and read my own blog posts. I'm glad I did because it's reminded me how much I've actually achieved this year. I was feeling a little negative about how things have gone for me throughout the race season but really it's been a fab year and I have little to complain about. The decision to 'race' with some serious intent again this season came about thanks to Fall Line Cycles and their offer of help and my Parents being due to move much closer giving me some childcare support whilst Paul was away at work, the latter unfortunately fell through so my season hasn't quite been what I 'd hoped, but actually, its probably been my best ever season.

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I don't want to just recap my races, you can flick through the blog if your wanting to know about them, I'd just like to talk about the journey its taken me on and the good things that have come from it. The first and most important thing that has happened is that I'm back loving my bike again, I don't think I have quite the gung ho confidence that I once had, but I've come to realise thats no bad thing. It's certainly meant I've spent less time eating the dust in a seasons racing than I have before, commitment to lines and speed is now based on skill and what I know I can safely achieve. That attitude does sometimes lead to me walking away from a technical challenge or two, but in the long term I'm not so sure thats a bad thing. It certainly doesn't mean that I give up entirely, there still parts of trails I'm yet to nail and one day soon once my skill has reached the right level I will get those lines. So long as I keep that right attitude in my head, know what I can do, what I need to push myself to do and where I'm better to live to fight another day I can only see my confidence and skills improving in the future. I don't feel like I need to prove myself anymore. 

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It’s not been an easy decesion but I have decided not to race with any seriousness next year. I was lucky enough to get a reserved entry to Ard Rock so I’m entered for that and I might do some other bits on a last minute basis but next year holds new challenges for me. I’m about to embark on a degree and my own small business is badly in  need of my attention.

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Bike wise I’m really keen to do more adventure style riding. I picked up a copy of the Scottish bothy bible and its fuelled my fire to get out and see Scotland some more from the comfort of my lady specific saddle. I’m hoping to keep the blog up and running and share those adventures instead. 

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One of the things I’m most proud of this year is the success and impact of the survey I did about women in enduro. I know its already brought about a few changes for the better regards how our sport views women. I hope to carry on doing my bit for the trails in general as part of the board of the newly formed Tweed Valley Trails Association. Keep an eye out for what we have planned for the future, it’s exciting stuff. 

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It just remains to say a huge thank you to Nic and Nick at Fall Line Cycles. I can heartedly recommend them for all your bike related needs and the Orange Stage 5 I now zip about on is genuinely the best bike I have ever owned and ridden, thats not a plug its true. Another huge thank you goes to Ally at Ride it Clothing for helping me out with Jerseys, he’s the man to see for custom MTB jerseys and to the chaps at Mudhugger for keeping the mud out of my eyes this year. Finally to family and friends who have helped in whatever way, especially with childcare, your all awesome.

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Air Maiden at Unit 23

Air Maiden recently held a jump session at Unit 23 skate park in Glasgow. I was firmly behind the lens this time having had my one and only run into the foam pit a few months back. I'm not really one for air time but watching these girls was very inspiring. I wanted to share a few of the images with you.

 Amy is 12 and part of the Mini Maidens Attack Squad, watch out for this one.

Amy is 12 and part of the Mini Maidens Attack Squad, watch out for this one.

 You would never have guessed this was Jess's first time at a jump park.

You would never have guessed this was Jess's first time at a jump park.

 The original Air Maiden in flight

The original Air Maiden in flight

 I quite like the way this shot was photobombed by another young girl. They are out there and they are rad, the future is bright!

I quite like the way this shot was photobombed by another young girl. They are out there and they are rad, the future is bright!

 Innerleithens best barista Fi knows how to shred her bike

Innerleithens best barista Fi knows how to shred her bike

 Unit 23 is a busy place, although it seems the scooter is the most common weapon of choice.

Unit 23 is a busy place, although it seems the scooter is the most common weapon of choice.

 Lynne led the way all evening proving that you can be a mother of 3 and still be rad

Lynne led the way all evening proving that you can be a mother of 3 and still be rad

 The top of the foam pit ramp is pretty intimidating but didn't stop many of the evenings first timers from sending it straight in.

The top of the foam pit ramp is pretty intimidating but didn't stop many of the evenings first timers from sending it straight in.

 Jess working on her whip

Jess working on her whip

 Searching for 360

Searching for 360

 Look Mum no hand.

Look Mum no hand.

The atmosphere was great, the girls were pushing themselves and much fun was had.  Thanks to Lynne of Air Maiden for organising and inviting me along.

Valley Girls do Torridon

In summary, big mountain riding with a big group of friends, perfect.

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I set out with the intention of doing a little photo story of the weekend, I ended up just doing the one day but I hope it has turned out OK. I was shooting using my compact Fuji x-t10 on a fixed 35mm lens. Something a bit different for me. I'm largely pleased with the results but theres certainly room for some improvement!

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Packed up and ready to go with friend and fellow valley girl Lynne it turned out that just reaching Torridon in one piece was going to be our first challenge. After a few hours on the road messages started rolling in of floods and closed roads in the highlands forcing a diversion across to Fort William. With a stop for some food it turned the journey from Peebles into an 8 hour epic! Not only that for the last few hours, once we reached the small roads we could barely see in front of the windscreen thanks to the driving rain which had caused the road closures in the first place. Very happy to have company we did arrive at the Torrid Youth Hostel at about 10.30 and waited up to make sure all our party got in safely. Then the nibbles came out and the chat started leading to a pretty late bedtime for me at gone midnight.

Torrid Youth Hostel is pretty comfy and the facilities are excellent. So with a large vat of porridge and coffee in our bellies bikes were getting prepped and smidge was being applied. The weather looked like it was going to be on our side so just the midges to contend with. With our tyres inflated to well above 'enduro' psi to combat the rocks we headed down the road to pick up the trail.

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 Ellie proving that you need neither a big bag or fancy bike packing gear to carry your stuff!

Ellie proving that you need neither a big bag or fancy bike packing gear to carry your stuff!

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We were lucky as a group to have qualified MTB leaders, both serving and ex-Army personnel and plenty of first aid training. It meant that map checks and navigation should be fairly well sorted. When you look at the dress of the average hill walker going out into the mountain, big boots and plenty of clothing you realise it could be all too easy to overlook the potential for problems for mountain bikers. We tend to think of protection as our knee pads and helmets but they wouldn't be any good to us if the weather were to come in and we became stranded. Heading out into the mountains is absolutely one of the best ways to be on your bike but being prepared is key.

All that said, despite being very prepared we still managed an early directional error, nothing serious but a result of nobody really taking responsibility of where we were going. So make sure you know who's in charge of what before you start.

 There's evidence of hydro energy works all over Torridon.

There's evidence of hydro energy works all over Torridon.

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The initial part of the ride was all on fairly wide and easy tracks, but once we reached and passed the tea house bothy it started to become a little tricky. It's at this point I started to realise that its been a while since I did much more than climb a fire road. In my mind I sort of think of myself as being relatively strong in the climbing stakes but faced with the level of technicality here, rock steps, short steep bursts and tight loose corners I came unstuck fairly quickly. We all ended up pushing and hike a biking at points but its an area of mountain biking that I am not strong in, watching some of the girls in the group Lynne and Ellie in particular winch up the steep loose rocks was pretty impressive. Hats off to you ladies!

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 Even Lynne one of the days strongest technical climbers came unstuck sometimes!

Even Lynne one of the days strongest technical climbers came unstuck sometimes!

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We stopped for a quick bite to eat and a rest before the first proper descent of the day. Both humans and dogs well catered for with trail snacks on this adventure. It's easy to miss the views when your head down slogging and pushing up hills but they were nothing short of spectacular on this ride, pretty much everyday you turned.

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The first descent of the day, in my book was the best. A mix of rocky chutes and slabs which for a totally natural descent had some real flow to it. The features were all rideable and there was good breaks between the really rough sections to give your hands a rest. I felt a little off my game with the high tyre pressures I was running (I usually get away with about 15psi) but it was definitely needed, catching the rear wheel square on over the ever present water bars was all too easily done and rocks shifted about regularly under my wheels.

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Lunch came at the bottom of the first descent, a welcome sit down to refuel and patch up a shin or two.

 Scotland is well known for it's bothys and you could certainly make this a two day ride with a relaxing stop in the middle if you wanted. Probably my favourite photo of the weekend.

Scotland is well known for it's bothys and you could certainly make this a two day ride with a relaxing stop in the middle if you wanted. Probably my favourite photo of the weekend.

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After another long ride/push/carry the final descent down into Torridon was long and rough. It was certainly a test of both upper body and grip fitness with loose rocks and slabs keeping you mentally on your toes. If you had the strength to string this descent together in one go it would be a test of pretty much all the mountain bike skills you can think of. Riding the bike 'light' and skipping over the rough stuff being probably the most important.

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Torridon spat us out onto the road home battered but happy. This kind of big mountain riding although not totally alien to me is not something I do that often. I come from the generation of mountain bikers who started life on groomed trail centres and now ride 'enduro' style for most of my time in the saddle. Fire road up, gravity down. This day of big mountain xc was a refreshing change and reminded me theres so much more to being skilled on a bike than just riding steep and extreme trails.

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Finishing the day with friends old and new over a great meal and birthday cake. Excited about what the next day would bring and keen to plan the next adventure.

Way off the pace - SES Round 4 Innerleithen

Sometimes things don't turn out quite as you expect. The last two races I've done I've been stood on the box at the end of the day. I didn't head into Round 4 of the SES expecting to do the same because I knew the competition was going to be up a level and no old and wise categories either. However, I was expecting to pull out a better result then my last few attempts at the Scottish Series as I definitely feel my riding has stepped up a notch recently. It didn't however work out quite like that.

 Not the most inspiring view out of the van window before practice

Not the most inspiring view out of the van window before practice

Practice was a wet, muddy and limited affair for me as I had a small window of childcare (thanks Susan your a legend) so I opted to go for a run of stages 3 and 4. Being local I've ridden the golfie plenty and felt my practice would be better spent checking out the taping on the Inners side of the hill. Stage 3 known as 'mince baby mince' was going to be my weakness, I knew that as I've raced it more than once and never really done a good job of it. I stopped a fair few times on my way down and settled some lines in my head through sections I always flounder on, racing or not so I actually came away from it feeling I had a good a chance as any of a decent run. Stage 4 practice was also pretty similar, stop and check the lines and set them straight in my head.

I opted for my usual early start to try and get as clear trails as possible and headed out in the second wave of riders. It was going to be a big day out with 6 long and rough stages to contend with. The Tweed Valley was going to treat us to the about the best weather you can ask for though and apart form the top few metres of wet the trails were running pretty much perfect. Not having practiced the new top section of Old School DH I had to keep repeating my mantra to get my head up and look down the trail, stay in the tape! I managed to do it but did lie the bike down on a section I know quite well, just got off the brakes a bit too early and lost some control. A similar story down repeat offender where I had a good run except for one rock garden where I lost control a bit and went for the tripod approach through a rock garden, happy to still be moving forward. Looking back this probably cost me a fair few seconds. Still I rode away from the Golfie well warmed up and happy with how I felt on the bike, just the matter of 4 stages at Innerleithen to go now!

 Dropping through the heather into stage 1                    Pic by Finlay Anderson

Dropping through the heather into stage 1                    Pic by Finlay Anderson

I knew stage 3 would be a tough one and although I nailed the lines I had set in my mind form practice I spent way too much time with my feet off the pedals on the upper section of the trail, thanks to that I never found any real momentum and forced my bike down rather unwillingly down the majority of it. My stage 4 time was also a bit of a let down although I didn't think it was quite as bad as it turned out to be when I reached the bottom. I hadn't practiced 5 or 6 and headed into them very focused on keeping my head up and not grabbing the brakes, it turns out that these were my two better stages on the Innerleithen hill so at least I got that part mostly right.

All in all No Fuss did a great job, the stages were long and brutal and I finished the day with 40km of distance 1700m of climbing and around 5 hours of saddle time. Thats a fairly big day out in anyones book. I finished the day 8th of 8 women a whopping 8 minutes off the winning time. Thats quite a lot!

So what went wrong? I was aware it was going to be a long day and although I knew the distance and climbing stats were well within my grasp, my descending fitness might have let me down. Turns out I went faster on the last two stages so perhaps I should have had a bit more faith and pushed harder. My recipe for smooth and fun has been really working for me lately and I think I might have just taken that a step too far this race. I sort of forgot I needed to go fast too! Well I think thats what happened anyway, on the positive side I was really happy with the way I rode at the end of the day, I did stay pretty smooth and my technique was fairly good in most places. I just need to link it all up. It will come. I'm not counting this as my aimed for top ten finish that would feel like a bit of cheat so I hope I make it to the next two rounds!

Onwards to King and Queen of the hill next weekend, theres going to be no practice at all for that so my aim is just to be somewhere a lot nearer to the winning pace!

 Squashing the end jumps because I'm safer on the ground!      Pic by Dialled in UK

Squashing the end jumps because I'm safer on the ground!      Pic by Dialled in UK

As always thanks to Fall Line Cycles, Ride it Clothing and Mudhugger. Also special thanks to my pal Susan for having Rowan on Saturday for a few hours and Mum and Dad for stopping over whilst en route to the Highlands to mind Rowan on Sunday.

The magic of Ard Rock

I took part in the very first Ard Rock enduro, back when it was just the one race and the pits took upjust the small area outside the Dales Bike Centre. My overriding memory of the day was wind, so so much wind. At the start of one of the stages my now husband Paul held me upright on my bike and pushed me off the start because I couldn’t even stand up it was blowing that hard. No word of a lie I was blown off my bike at least twice that day. Still it didn’t put us off going back this year after a few years away to see what all the fuss was about. I remember it being a fun event but what’s made the demand for this event just so bonkers? I set off in search for the magic of Ard Rock. I dutifully sat in front of the computer a few months ago at 6.30am to try and get us a ticket to the main race, I failed. Lots of refreshing and reloading and no luck. So I got us a slot in the Sprint version instead. Just the first three stages and a late start, whats not to like about that after all.

 Swaledale has a chocolate box charm 

Swaledale has a chocolate box charm 

 

It was going to be a family affair this year as we were taking son, grandparents and nephew along for the ride and their excellent babysitting services. We opted to take a campsite in Reeth, the village where the event is held rather than camp on the event field just to make life a bit more comfortable for the already mentioned family unit. We pulled up and set up on Thursday evening excited to get out for some practice on Friday.

 

After registration which flowed really well considering the numbers of riders and some chatting to friends old and new who we kept bumping into we headed up the first big climb, a leg and lung testing if not smooth and straightforward spin up the road before turning on to the moors for a steady plod out to stage 1. Pitching into stage 1 the first thing that hits you is the possibility for speed that exists in the terrain here which is pretty unfamiliar to someone whose comfort zone is in amongst the mud and forest of the Tweed Valley. It’s wide open, rocky and fast. And when its not then it’s on the pedals for tricky off camber which did plenty to highlight my lack of sprinting prowess. The wind was also blowing, not with the ferocity we encountered at Ard Rock V1 but still it made some of the more exposed switchbacks on the next two stages a bit hair raising. 

 Holding up the sky at the top of stage 1 practice

Holding up the sky at the top of stage 1 practice

 

I got to the end of practice having ridden pretty much every sort of terrain you can put an MTB through in this country. Some open fast rocks, some steep and technical chutes, tight switchbacks, a huck to flat and even some muddy roots thrown in for good measure. Was this the magic of Ard Rock, it’s just got a bit of everything and on top of that you can go REALLY FAST?

 Cheeky

Cheeky

 

Returning to the event village and we had a nosy around the stalls. The free stuff on offer is pretty good at this event and the presence of the big names is really obvious. On top of a free set of brake pads there was pretty much as much mechanical support as you could wish for and really good offers like free tubeless set up for every competitor. Fair play to the lad running the Stans No Tubes stall, that was one long weekend on the business end of a track pump, he won’t be running out of grip strength on long descents any time soon. On top of that a pump track for the kids, big and small alike was running all weekend with a competition for the hardcore pumpers on the Saturday night. Was this the magic of Ard Rock? Next level event village and more rotisserie chickens than any protein addict could wish for.

 

Now I love my son more than anything just like any parent but he has a spectacular habit of getting ill at the most inconvenient times. Like being up half the night with a virus in a camper van, which is very small and has no magic calpol tap to ease his woes. So after a life saving trip by Grandad to the Reeth general store, which by the way sells absolutely everything except bagels, calpol was hunted down and he was well enough to be left in charge of Grandma whilst we headed off for the race, all be it a little tired and drained. At this point I was secretly pleased to only be doing the 3 stage sprint, fresh my legs were not and baggy were my eyes. But the sun was doing us proud and riding out of our campsite you could see racers in the hills weaving their way down stage 1, it was hard not to crack a grin.

 Big wheels small person

Big wheels small person

 

My main focus whilst riding over the last few months has been on smooth not fast. the idea being that if I can nail the smooth the fast will follow. Thankfully its starting to pay off, I’ve also really clicked with the bike recently. It was always a toss up between the Stage 5 trail bike and the Stage 6 out and out race bike for me, but being light weight and not overly aggressive as a rider I plumped for the Stage 5 and now that I’ve added a Works Components headset to slacken the bike off by a degree that decision is really paying off. I’ve sort of created a Stage 6 light for myself and its an absolute belter of a bike. 

 

Staying smooth was really the order of the day over the rough and rolling tracks of Swaledale and stages 1 and 2 went by really well. In fact I got to the bottom feeling like I could push a bit harder if I wanted to, which is great because it means I’m getting to grips with a nearly fast pace again. Theres still, perhaps always, work to be done on fitness and stamina but I’m back on a upward curve thats for sure.

 A quick refuel before the final up to stage 3

A quick refuel before the final up to stage 3

 

Stage 3 was blind although as soon as we got there I remembered it from the first year we did the race, thats not to say I could remember what was coming up but I at least knew it would be more of the rock chutes and swoops of the previous stages. There was a bit of a muddy bog section to clear with a small rise out of it about half way down the stage which I arrived at in totally the wrong gear and had to run up but I don’t think I suffered overly for it. Then it was a tuck and a pedal open run over ruts and rocks to the end. Unfortunately it was at the top of this stage that the few days of poor sleeping and eating caught up with me and I really had very little energy to push on, still passing by the many riders pulled over fixing flats on the way down I did at least arrive at the bottom myself and bike in one piece.

 Stay smooth, keep it pinned.

Stay smooth, keep it pinned.

 

At this point I just want to make a public apology to the man on the Cliff Bar stand, not my usual style but I made a sneaky attempt to get two bars, I was really bloody hungry and running low on blood sugar and it got the better of me. I bet he was putting up with that all day so sorry! Anyway my one bar was nice and it set me up for the return back to base. Just as we left the feed station the rain came in, nothing too drastic but I was pleased to buzz pass a road sign for Reeth saying 3 miles. At this point I was thinking, blinding, quick 3 miles down the road and home out the rain. Oh foolish me, although I had taken a quick look at the route map I hadn’t paid it much heed and it turns out we were to be directed back over the moor for a final ‘unofficial stage 4’. I will admit to having a small sense of humour failure at another grassy push up in the rain but it was a great fun blast back down into Reeth after it so Ard Rock well done for adding that in, value for money box ticked.

 

 The last push before 'stage 4'

The last push before 'stage 4'

Thankfully, unlike everywhere else on the course, their was no photographers to witness my slight grumpy moment at the top of ‘stage 4’. I have never felt more photographed than at this race. Over three stages I have come away with over 20 photos of myself, I think that’s probably more than there are just of me at our wedding! Some of them are absolutely awesome and feature in this blog, one or two however not so much. I have one so dark it looks like its a night enduro and one has the photographers five tens peeking in the corner, I’m pretty sure there not intended to be producing depth of field either. At one point the amount of photos being uploaded crashed roots and rain, last time I looked the number stood at over 70’000! That’s quite insane. Not only does the magic of Ard Rock bring in bike riders it also brings in photographers, or in some cases people pointing cameras and pressing buttons hoping for a quick buck.

 

Handing in my timing chip I was in first place for my the female masters, I wasn’t however expecting to stay there as I was pretty much the first in. However, after a shower and some grub at our campsite we headed back to check results and watch the podiums. Back at the event village the music was pounding and the atmosphere had certainly switched to party mode and I was more than happy to see that my first place had held steady all afternoon. My 3rd podium place of the year and another top step, epic!

 Reeth is just down there

Reeth is just down there

 

I’m afraid I wasn’t able to hang around for the party, we had family and toddlers to spend time with after they had helped us get out on our bikes so I can’t really tell you all how the event was after the podiums but if my social media and the atmosphere as we left are anything to go by I’m pretty confident to say it was a fun evening had by all.

 

So what is the magic of Ard Rock? What pulls in so many riders (and photographers)? Well firstly you can’t ride any of the tracks outside of the event so that makes it fairly unique. It has a bit of everything on the course but none of it is out of reach for the average UK mountain biker and their trail bike. The event organisers have put on categories for everyone, hard core racers, us women have age groups, a shorter event, an intro event and a sociable trip round the course on the Sunday in the Sport event if thats for you. Although from what I saw most people in the Sprint and Sport categories were there because, like me, the internet failed them whilst they were attempting to get tickets for the main event. The terrain and course also lends itself well to big numbers, I know some friends had a few issues with traffic and queues but everything certainly flowed well for us in the afternoon. With camping on site, which I firmly believe adds to the buzz of the event village, and a great party thrown in whats not too like about this event? I’m sure theres an element of people hyping it up and marketing that makes the entries sell out so fast, everyone else wants one so I want one two sort of situation, but still Ard Rock does have a certain magic and I really would encourage anyone whose keen to set your alarm for a 2018 entry.

 

So I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a ticket for the full thing next year. Can’t wait to go back and go really fast down big hills because that is what its all about right? But sorry son, your not coming next year, we want to go to the party too!

 Silverware available to view at Fall Line Cycles!

Silverware available to view at Fall Line Cycles!

 

As always thanks to Fall Line Cycles, Ride it Clothing and the Mudhugger for your support. Special thanks to Pauls parents Jane and Andrew and Nephew Jack, one day Uncle Paul will let you win at cards until then theres always custard brioche and marshmallows.

 

 

 

The Maidenduro 2017

This women's only enduro event run by the original Airmaiden and all round good egg Lynne Armstrong is now in it's second year. It holds a special place for me because it marked a turnaround to enjoying riding again for me last year, so I was going to bend over backwards to do it again this year. I thankfully have a super flexible childminder who could look after Rowan for me on a Saturday so I signed up.

I didn't get down to the event until about half way through practice because I had to hand over our camper to some lovely French girls who had it hired for the week in the morning, so making sure they didn't mix up the water refill point with the fuel cap was my number one lucky escape of the day! Anyway with that done I headed down to Innerleithen in the rain to get just a single practice run in.

 Start of the day briefing.                        Photo by Greg Dickson

Start of the day briefing.                        Photo by Greg Dickson

I opted to just do a combination of stages on my one run, starting on 2 and finishing on 3. Although I'm a local, these tracks aren't my usual ones so I actually felt fairly unfamiliar with where I was going. Still the choice of tracks were fun and fast and despite the torrential rain were holding up pretty well. Who doesn't love riding down a stream anyway!

A bit soggy I was thankful of my change of clothes and tucked into my homemade pasta lunch before joining some of the Tweed Valley locals for a chat in Helen P's fun bus. Despite the damp conditions spirits were high and the chat was mainly about lines, strategies and weather to even bother with a waterproof or not!

I have been feeling pretty fit lately and so powered up the climb to shelter along with the rest of the girls under the trees to wait for the race start. One huge benefit to the epic downpour was the lack of midges, had it been warm we would most certainly have been getting nibbled so we have to take the positives. in 9 out of 10 race situations I opt for my full face helmet these days so I felt quite cosy inside my helmet despite the conditions.

 A quick represent for Fall Line and Ride it as the jersey stayed under cover in the conditions, I'm not quite pro enough to go for Jersey over jacket thankfully!

A quick represent for Fall Line and Ride it as the jersey stayed under cover in the conditions, I'm not quite pro enough to go for Jersey over jacket thankfully!

I had a few little slips on the roots at the start of stage 1 but after that I really got into my stride and by the bottom felt I was finding some really good race speed, it's in there somewhere thats for sure! What was best about the waiting of the race start was seeing how despite the conditions everyone was still raring to go, sure some usual race nerves and worries were kicking about but really there was no one wishing they weren't there. When we ladies get together to do something we get it done thats for sure!

 Goggles to the back of the helmet, way too wet!           Photo by Greg Dickson

Goggles to the back of the helmet, way too wet!           Photo by Greg Dickson

Stages 2 and 3 continued on just the same for me, I really felt like I was getting on at a good race pace. I was most pleased that I really didn't think about the wet all day, I just rode my bike. For me thats quite a step forward, I've always been way more nervous about racing in the rain and it never even crossed my mind. I've got the bike setup pretty much dialled now which helps too I think.

 Splashy Splashy!                   Photo by Greg Dickson

Splashy Splashy!                   Photo by Greg Dickson

The last time I raced down the lower part of the Inners DH tracks last year at Tweedlove I had a big OTB and a minor concussion so I was pleased to arrive at the bottom of stage 3 all in piece. I had to get moving to hand my timing chip in and go pick up Rowan. As I had made the podium last year I was hoping to do the same again this year. I made it back in time for the results and this year I had made joint first place! Although with stage 3 as the decider it gave me official second I was still super chuffed! Up until this year I've never won anything on a bike and thats my second top step this year now so super super happy. 

The biggest takeaway from the day was by far the amazing attitudes and achievements of the bunch of girls out racing. In what were pretty horrific conditions, so many women came out and pushed themselves further than they have before and finished the day with amazing smiles and new found confidence and skill. A huge thank you to Lynne for organising this event, it really helped me get back on track last year and I enjoyed it again so much this year. I know she makes no money and takes a lot of her own time to put this on. It's gems like you that will continue to push the sport of MTB for women on.

After a great day there was just the clean up to do, that was slightly less fun.

Women in Enduro MTB - A Survey

It is a fact that there are a lot less women who ride mountain bikes than men, it is also a fact however that the amount of women who are riding is on the increase. Women’s specific mountain bike brands like the Santa Cruz affiliated Juliana and Giant affiliated Liv are growing and some of our countries most decorated and recognised mountain bike superstars are women, Rachael Atherton and Tracy Moseley being the two that spring to my mind. Yet at the majority of competitive races the turnout in the women’s category is still relatively poor. Why? Hopefully this blog can help a bit towards answering that.

 Kat Compton at the PMBA round at Grizedale 2015 - I was greeted by my little girl at the finish. It's hard work trying to race with young children, so doesn't happen often but I love it when I can race!!

Kat Compton at the PMBA round at Grizedale 2015 - I was greeted by my little girl at the finish. It's hard work trying to race with young children, so doesn't happen often but I love it when I can race!!

This survey came about thanks to a thread started on Facebook by UKGE organiser Steve Parr who was looking for a steer as to how best to approach dividing the age categories for women when UKGE returns next year. Plenty of girls commented with suggestions and several other race organisers were obviously keen to get similar help. I offered to do a small survey to help out because it’s a subject that I have taken a strong interest in after a blog post or two about it. I won’t bore you with the story of why it’s close to my heart now but theres a small ‘about me’ bit at the bottom of the article if you want to get a feel for who I am and whether you should take any notice of my opinion or not.

My original intention was to share the survey around the women’s MTB Facebook groups I’m part of and see what sort of a response it got. Although thanks to Kev Duckworth (Mr PMBA) it has been passed about members of the British Enduro Mountain Bike Association (BEMBA), in particular rider rep Tracey Mosely whose share on her Facebook page I suspect was the main reason for the 600+ responses I have to share with you. So thank you very much to them.

I was a little unsure how to write up the results, I could just give everyone access to the data, however believe me it takes a while to look at all the responses, I also didn’t want to colour it with it my own opinions too much. So what I’ve done is present the facts from the survey alongside some of the most common comments on a question by question basis. At points I have added in some of my own thoughts, but it’s clear where I’ve done this and in places I’ve done a bit of extra thinking beyond the survey prompted by the comments. I hope this suits everyone!

Also a point to note, on some questions I allowed multiple answers because there is often more than one clear reason for something, so the percentages might not always add up, they just reflect the amount of people who had that reason as one of several.

Question 1 - Have you ever taken part in any racing?

XC        40.06%

Enduro        49.68%

Downhill     27.76%

Cross        11.83%

Road        17.19%

None        23.97%

Question 2 - Would you ever consider taking part in Enduro racing?

Yes I have done and will continue to do so    40.41%

I don't know what Enduro is            3.96%

No I'm just not into racing, never will be    4.75%

I'd like to but..... see next question        53.25%

An almost even split between people who have and people who would like to. Only a very small proportion, under 5%, stated they just weren’t interested in racing.

This did surprise me a little as I expected that figure to be a bit higher, maybe even me, a women, has fallen for the misconception that women are less interested in racing in general? Getting a bit deeper on an analysis front I guess its probable that those answering this survey were likely to be interested in racing given the channels the survey went out via, racers and race organisers social media feeds. However, I shared the survey into some of the non race specific MTB groups and the first hundred or so answers came from there and although the numbers answering increased the actual percentages for each answer held steady from about 100 up. Either way from the point of view of enduro racing its clear there are plenty of women out there who would be willing to give it a go.

 Jo Ponting out and about riding Enduros down South

Jo Ponting out and about riding Enduros down South

Question 3 - I’d like to take part in Enduro racing but…..

I don't have a good enough bike        10.33%

I think the tracks are too difficult        43.21%

I'm not fit enough                49.73%

I find racing with men intimidating/difficult    35.60%

I don't want to race on my own        20.38%

The comments for this question were wide ranging, with reasons that effect us all, women and men alike, time, money and travel for example. Now these things are all rubbish but I’m afraid there is nothing we can reasonably expect race organisers to help us with here! This is a comment that came up multiple times in different words:

“Enduro is intimidating because of feeling that someone faster will be behind me and I don't want to slow them up. When I can go last or have a big gap between riders it's not so worrying.”

There were also more than one comment that although they had tried Enduro they had been put off by being caught by male riders which had spoilt race runs and enjoyment of the event.

I’m not going to go deep into the getting caught issue because it’s covered by a later question but it’s certainly one of the things that has spoilt my enjoyment and hindered my race times at Enduros before. The only other thing that the results of this question has brought to my mind is that perhaps slightly better information about the races available before you enter might just help people (not just women) make an informed judgement about things like fitness and technical ability. By no means do we want races to be made easier or expect organisers to reveal the course before hand but just a heads up about the likely length of the loop, probable climbing stats and a ‘max’ technical feature grading would give us women, who lets face it are generally less willing to throw ourselves blindly at things, the confidence to enter knowing we can actually complete the course.

Question 4 - Where it's not possible to run the same age categories as the mens race how do you feel they should be split.

A direct reflection of the mens is the only option    14.46%

Elite, Senior (18-39), Vets (40+)            17.90%

Elite, U21, Senior (18-39), Vets (40+)        25.99%

 Julie Mulvanny at Lee Quarry PMBA Enduro with praise for the format and number of female entry. Also much friendlier than races she's attended in Scotland.

Julie Mulvanny at Lee Quarry PMBA Enduro with praise for the format and number of female entry. Also much friendlier than races she's attended in Scotland.

Senior (18-39), Vets (40+)                3.27%

Elite, Senior (18-35), Masters/Vets (35+)        10.50% 

Elite, U21, Senior (22-35), Masters/Vets (35+)    24.78%

Senior (18-35), Masters/Vets (35+)            3.10%

The large bulk of the comments reflected the call for age separation with multiple comments from the over 35’s in particular that they felt it unfair to be racing against people more than 10 years their junior. More than one comment also calling for an over 50’s category as well, there are grand vet ladies are out there thats for sure! 

“I'm 50 and racing enduro against 20 year olds is tough, especially as men have 50+ categories”

“There should be super vets for us oldies 50+”

It was also clear that where numbers allow an Elite category would be welcomed. I personally feel that any series which run male elite categories, granted not all do, really should also give the women the same level of exposure. By not running one it sends the message that the top percentage of women are not as skilled or as deserving as the men. Rest assured that the women racing in the top percentages of Enduro in the UK are training just as hard, are just as skilled and just as deserving of being called elite as the men.

Question 5 - There are a few options in the event of low entries, which do you prefer?

A split down the middle in terms of age                            1.80%

The less subscribed categories get moved into the next down. i.e. low Vet entry would be moved into Masters                                            6.89%

Race organisers run as many podiums as possible but provide results to view for each age group regardless                                            21.31%

Podiums are reduced to just the winner if low numbers in category                5.74%

If categories are advertised and entered they must be run, it's not fair to move people    22.46%

Race organisers should be trusted to do the best they can with the entries they have, we will just go with it                                            41.80%

It seems when it comes to what to do if numbers are low, we women are in the most part happy to trust the race organisers to do the best they can with 42% of those voting opting for that option. That said there was also a significant group of 22% of the respondents feeling that if categories are advertised they should be run. This is going to be a difficult one for race organisers to work with as they are clearly not going to be able to please everyone.

Within the comments were further calls for an elite category to be present. Most also felt that so long as the low entry numbers policy was upfront then that would be fine. I tend to agree with this as an approach, I see no reason why all the age categories can’t be offered on entry. That way no one is put off when they come to enter and don’t see an appropriate age group. If numbers then don’t allow them all to be run so long as the policy for what will happen in this instance is clear from the outset I don’t think many women would have any issues with this. Whatever physical podiums are run it would still be great to see the final published results split by age, so when you get home and look over your performance you can have a fair idea where you sit.

If race organisers are struggling to get sponsorship to provide prizes for more podiums, multiple comments suggest that us ladies are not that fussed about receiving and actual prize, I wonder how long it would take sponsors to start sending prizes out though if podiums were regularly being run with deserving winners stood on them?

 Claire Glasgow-Aitchison at her first Enduro the Tweedlove Enjoyro which brought in a big women's field. Despite nerves she had a great time and is entered for the Maidenduro coming up soon!

Claire Glasgow-Aitchison at her first Enduro the Tweedlove Enjoyro which brought in a big women's field. Despite nerves she had a great time and is entered for the Maidenduro coming up soon!

Question 6 - How many people should there be as a minimum for each category?

Each age category should run regardless    34.80%

At least 3                    45.42%

More than 6                    17.16%

More than 10                    2.61%

Question 7 - If you already race Enduro which format do you prefer?

Seeded start times at each stage            13.85%

No specific start times, ride round with whoever    43.43%

Happy with either format                42.72%

I think most people who race are happy to do so in either format, or so the results here show but given the option it seems most would prefer to ride around with their mates. The fact is with such small numbers of women racing even when seeded your sort of are riding with your mates anyway. I made some good friends at seeded races, perhaps thats why I like that format more!

Question 8 - Would any of the following either improve or encourage you into racing?

Larger gaps left behind women after they have started to avoid them being 

caught by male riders                                        52.30%

A section of start times set aside just for women                        33.05%

It's perfect just the way it is.                                    5.11%

I would like to have the option to ride with my male friends but think women's only start section are a good idea for those that want them                                51.96%

I slightly regretted the way I worded the final option here, so sorry! It probably should just say I want the option to ride round with my male friends but hopefully that intention was conveyed and the results show that. Larger gaps were the most popular option for a way to help solve the getting caught issue. There were a wide range of comments again.

“I think the format for women should be kept as closely matched to the mens also i think to be able to do the race with your males mates is important, but for the craic of it but also so that it feels like we are the same, not sure special requirements help in the long run”

“What made for better runs was when we were followed by a friend's husband who held up the guys as long as possible but it doesn't always work so separate times would be good”

Its a fact of physiology that whatever sport you take part in the women will be slower than the men. It doesn’t mean they are less skilled by any means but the gap exists right from novice to elite level. At the Ireland EWS the winning women’s time was around 4 minutes slower than the winning mens. So should the gaps between the male and female riders be different at the ‘ride with your mates’ style of race that is most common in the UK? Theres definitely arguments either way, as the first comment I shared here states, do we want women to be seen to have special requirements? I personally don’t think we should view changes like these as ‘special requirements for women’ do you watch the London Marathon and see the separate male and females races and think look at those women getting a special start time all to themselves, I hope not. 

 Riding round with mates (or future husbands) is also really important, doesn't matter if they are men or women. Heres Kelly Ann McGrath at her first event the Hamsterley Beast.

Riding round with mates (or future husbands) is also really important, doesn't matter if they are men or women. Heres Kelly Ann McGrath at her first event the Hamsterley Beast.

The same applies to our sport of Enduro in my eyes. If you’ve come to race and put down the fastest times you can on the tracks then you should have a fair chance of doing so, this goes for the guys too, we are after all holding up their race runs. I know the guys also face this problem, they catch and get caught but just not as frequently, its part of Enduro racing to a certain extent but it does seem to be that bit worse due the almost inevitable difference in speed with female riders. I started my Enduro racing journey in the UKGE series which was seeded and hadn’t raced a mixed start event until one Tweedlove race. I actually thought to start with how ace is this! I don’t have to get up super early and I can ride with my husband, brill. That was until I spent at least half of every stage pulling over for fast male riders as we had gone for a nice relaxed late morning start time. On one stage I was actually pushed off the final dibber by a guy who had caught me by the bottom of the run and had to spend ages at the end of the race trying to figure out a time for that stage. I dropped well down the rankings by my usual standards and was pretty frustrated by the end of the day. I’m not the fastest girl on the track by any means but neither am I that slow or lacking in confidence around men but since then I have always gone for the earliest possible start times to get out in front of the main pack at these style of races.

I personally would love to see a section of start times set aside just for the women, I think it brings a more supportive, less macho and more enjoyable race experience all round, although it wasn’t the most popular choice here so I will have to accept it’s not what the majority want. 

“Winning women's prizes! I've won a men's saddle this year! Duh! My friend won a bottle of muc off when her male counterpart in the masters category won a set of tyres, so the prizes seem to not be distributed fairly and are biased towards the men.”

I firmly agree with the last one here, if its not an (equal) bike related prize then try and at least make it something us girls can wear. My husbands t-shirt collection has benefited several times from my racing efforts. It’s like the final kick in the teeth, well done for making the podium in your uneven race categories, here have a prize for a bloke!

Question 9 - Does the current lack of age categories put you off racing Enduro?

Yes - I would race if they were the same as the mens    19.22%

No - I race regardless                        65.08%

No - I wouldn't race anyway                    15.70%

Question 10 - Women’s specific enduro is much better attended than normal mixed races, why do you think this is?

Atmosphere is better                                        33.33%

Less pressure in women only environment      66.32%

The courses are easier                                       14.41%

Supportive environment                                    58.16%

Women aren't worried about holding up men/getting in the way/being judged etc        75.87%

A lot of comments and opinion surrounding this question, I’ve tried to pick out some examples that were repeated a few times.

“I believe there is a false sense of security regarding female racing and that those attending don't see themselves as good enough to race at other times, which is of course silly. I think that women's events can be counter productive when encouraging women into sports as it instills the fear that they cannot compete at events which include men. Removing elites from women's race categories would help entice more women into enduro as at the moment newbies and elites are pitted against each other which is intimidating and very down heartening for some. This would never happen with the guys.”

More than one person felt that women’s only events can have a negative impact, making women feel they need to attend these as they are not good enough for the mixed races. I can see why you would feel this and for some I have no doubt this is true, but I think they provide a great stepping stone to convince women who may be nervous about racing to give it a go for the reasons laid out in the question. A more supportive and less intimidating environment.

“However the mixed enduro races I've attended have been really friendly and the atmosphere is very welcoming! I think women think there will be more of a macho environment than there really is, so getting this across somehow would encourage more to enter. Sometimes when guys are in race/practice run mode some get grumpy if you slow them down, but it's definitely in the minority. I've only started racing this year, and I can jack confidence but I love it now!”

I agree with this, some men do get grumpy or aggressive if they catch you up but the majority are great about it. It doesn’t change the fact you have to get out the way but they certainly don’t mind you being there. I’ve had guys catch me and yell at me to keep going even so fair play to them! I do also agree we women often make things harder for ourselves sometimes by imagining things will be more intimidating then they actually are.

 Julie, Liz and Caroline getting fully into the spirit of Enduro at the Muckmedden Fair City Enduro. It's just about riding round with your mates and having a laugh!

Julie, Liz and Caroline getting fully into the spirit of Enduro at the Muckmedden Fair City Enduro. It's just about riding round with your mates and having a laugh!

“I think more effort should be made to cover more of the women's race in the media, however when it is it's always the high profile girls that get all the coverage, to encourage more females you need to show ALL levels of females competing so those that aren't so confident still feel they can race.”

This also came up quite a bit, media coverage of the women’s races is less so than the mens, I guess this stems partly from the fact that there are less women to film in the first place but still. However, I have been impressed with the coverage of women in the films from the Scottish Enduro Series this year in particular this year with loads of chat with the women racers. On a grander scale the coverage from the EWS has also been totally 50/50 and its very refreshing to see!

“Advertising, I think Women only events get way more advertising. Whereas mixed events you generally have to look for them in event calendars. Women only events are aways plastered over facebook etc.”

This is certainly the case with the Foxhunt, it’s backed by Redbull and they know how to market things to their chosen audience. I actually got a ticket this year, more by chance as I happened to be on social media when the tickets were released so I went for one and got in. I then also discovered what good value for money it is, it must be heavily subsidised by Redbull because a full weekends racing, camping and grub for £65 is likely to draw a crowd whoever its for. I look forward to seeing if it lives up to the hype.

 Katherine Goodey getting muddy at her first Enduro!

Katherine Goodey getting muddy at her first Enduro!

This also came up

A comment that was repeated lots of times over several of the questions was requests for more entry level races and novice categories at current races. Something a bit like the recent Tweedlove Enjoyro which brought in a big women’s field. This survey at least would seem to show there’s a market out there for this type of race. I know race organisers have a busy time as it is so asking them to broaden the net even more is a tough ask and I think we need to be very careful adding in novice categories to current races, controlling who actually is a novice would be tricky and I don’t think race courses should be made easier. Its a tough one and I don’t have the answers but it was mentioned enough times in comments so I wanted to report it.

In summary

I really think some minor changes to the way Enduro currently runs could make a big difference to the Womens entry. I think the key though is to make sure that women know about those changes, hopefully some channels between the women's MTB community, which is growing and thriving in the UK and the world of racing are now opening up and we can get the message out. Women that already race, please tell your friends, encourage them and let them know what a fantastic social event Enduro can be, I see no reason why the same atmosphere that draws people in to events like the fox hunt can't be replicated across all racing if we get together and create it!

So I'd like to thank BEMBA and the race organisers for asking the question in the first place and for reading and reacting to the this survey. Thank you to everyone from all over the world who took time to answer the survey and provide so much valuable thought and comment.

My last word is an appeal to all those who really want to race but haven't yet taken the plunge. Women of MTB, if we are going to get any changes to stick and level the playing field for ourselves we have to get out there and do it, please please if you can, get a race entry in, you might just enjoy it!

About me

 Tweedlove 2017

Tweedlove 2017

Cat Topham, riding bikes for 10 years ish and racing Enduro since 2013 after I got an unexpected entry into the Trans Provence and thought I better do some before I went! I've been hooked since. I've raced most race formats and have ridden and raced in the UK and Europe including Trans-Provence and Megavalance. I'm not by any means the most experienced racer out there but I feel I have enough under my belt to understand how it all works.

I had a break from racing to have a family and coming back from that, gaining fitness and confidence has been a bit of a journey for me and you can check that out in the rest of this blog if you like.   A background as an intelligence analyst and being bugged by the lack of fairness in Enduro for women gave me the nudge to do this survey and I genuinely hope it helps, not least because I'm staring down my late 30s really hoping for a masters category to pop up soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Set up with a wiz

Now I don't consider myself to be a total novice when it comes to bike setup but wouldn't put myself in the expert category either. However, since the swap to the Stage 5 I haven't quite been able to nail the setup, the bike just doesn't feel like it's singing the way it should, so I've been keen to get my hands on Fall Line Cycles Shock Wiz ever since I knew they had one.

My approach to suspension settings is probably fairly similar to most peoples, look at the manufacturers guidelines and adjust from there up and down depending on how the bike feels. I do have to account for the fact that I weigh quite a bit under the lowest weight that most manufacturers seem to be willing to quote for. I weigh in at about 58 to 59 KG when you add in some kit, full face helmet and a slice of pre race cake.  My forks state anyone under 65KG should be running under 60psi so thats not an overly helpful start point.

Now I never thought my setup was particularly bad, I've just had a niggle that it could be better. I've tried adjusting things up and down but never quite found that magic feeling that you seem to get when the bikes running really well. In consultation with Nic, head honcho at Fall Line we decided to start with the forks and then do the shock. If you had access to two shockwiz units you could in theory do both at the same time. Setting up the unit was a simple task and the app that goes with it is first rate making everything super easy to do, it took about 10 mins before I was ready to ride. 

I set out to test it as close to how someone who was hiring it out might do. In the sense that they won't have professional team shuttling them to the top to gather tonnes of data. In total I've put in about 6 hours ride time into this experiment. It's been spread over a few days but a fit rider could easily do what I did with it in a day.

The shockwiz offers 4 different tune options, efficient for pedalling and xc riding, balanced to offer the best compromise, playful to add pop and aggressive for full on gnar. I opted for the shockwizs default setting which is balanced as I do an equal amount of up and down. 

The unit itself is pretty small, easy to attach and I never noticed any noise or movement when riding. The app tells you as you go along what sort of riding you need to do next if any. I didn't actually check it at any point during my first outing because I wanted to ride like normal and not check the suggestions box too early on. But its good to know that if its not happy after your first ride out it will tell you what you need to go and ride, i.e. roots, rocks or jumps.

My first set of data was gained from a few hours riding at Cademuir, for those that don't know the tracks here are fairly typical Tweed Valley fair. Twisty turns through woodland, with roots and the odd drop and step, I didn't manage any big hits in this ride although felt I hit at least some of most other terrains. It was also bone dry and consequently a bit sketchy on the grip front  so although I was doing my best to ride as I normally would I don't think I ever hit flat out speed. Despite all this the Shockwiz seemed happy with what I had done giving me a score of 100% confidence in it's data. 

The thing that makes the ShockWiz so useable is that it turns all the graphs and technical jargon into an easy to understand and simple traffic light system. Get green and no adjustments are needed, amber and you need to make a 5% change (1-2 clicks), red and its make a 10% change (3-4 clicks).

I popped back to the shop to show the guys what my first ride had thrown up, we had a bit of a discussion about it and decided that it would probably be sensible to go and do a few bigger jumps and hits before trusting it 100% as Cademuir doesn't really offer any of that sort of thing so I headed to Inners the next day to go ride the jumps down caddon bank. I followed its suggestions on compression and a little less pressure accordingly before hand but didn't have time to add a token.

So after taking in some of the trails at Inners (Angry Sheep, Salmons Journey and Caddon Bank) this is what I was left with. Not drastically different from the first set of results although I now had the air pressure dialled at 45psi and still needed to add another spacer. So I made the final changes it asked for, removing another click of low speed compression and adding a spacer. Theres no way to adjust the other elements on my fork as I was already running with the charger damper fully open anyway. I have to say the fork did feel better, I wasn't really that far off with anything in the first place which has certainly given me some personal confidence for the future when it comes to dialling in bikes, but the changes suggested by the shockwiz just made the fork feel a little less harsh, ultimately I would have probably got to this on my own but the shockwiz took a lot of experimentation out of the game by pointing me in the right direction straight away.

IMG_6600.JPG

Time to move onto the shock. I wasn't expecting this to be so easy as I have been experimenting with different pressures and settings sort of on the fly at recent races. Perhaps not the best approach but my inability to get the back of the bike feeling right has probably led me to fiddle too much without any real direction. So after a morning at the Golfie and a ride down 3G and Repeat Offender this is what the shock wiz had to say.

After two runs on tracks that I think pretty much typify the majority of my riding the shock wiz was less confident than it had been about the fork with a similar level of input. I only got about 80% confidence although it happy with the terrain I'd ridden. I knew I was only going to use the  unit for this one day so I made the changes I could trail side and went for one more run to the bottom down Plan B.

So I proved with this one that it needs a bit more riding than one descent to make its mind up. However it was now happy with the air pressure setting which was my main concern and I have since removed a spacer band as per it's original suggestions.

Overall the changes I've made have been relatively minimal. All within 5psi and 1 click of compression and 1 spacer. So has this made a huge difference to the bike? I've stuck to the suggested settings for the last few rides and yes I can report that the bike feels better. The main thing is I feel like the front and rear of the bike are working together now giving a much smoother ride. As I've already said I'm not one for technical jargon, but I have enough experience to know when my suspension feels about there and my little niggle about it not quite being right was correct.

So could have achieved the same result without the shock wiz? Yes I probably could have done, but it would have taken a lot more effort and experimentation and perhaps someone who has a better understanding of suspension technology than me to help me out a bit, probably with me making comments like 'it feels a bit pingy'. What the shock wiz has done, for me at least, is get me to a good starting point pretty quickly. I now have a base set of suspension settings to run with for the majority of my riding. I now have intentions to play about a bit more to find the set up that suits my riding the most by making minor adjustments to different settings as I go along.

Theres a huge amount of ifs, buts and maybes though in my opinion. There are a lot more factors that effect the way your bike rides that just your suspension settings. Tyre pressures, temperatures, terrain, servicing, personal fitness and skill to name but a few. I wouldn't expect this little gadget to be the answer to your riding problems. So is it worth hiring one out???

I think using a shock wiz would be by far the easiest way to get a good base set up on a new bike, saving you time and effort just playing about. Especially if your close to the edge of the parameters of the suspension, like me being light weight. I also think if you've got a bit  lost and confused with settings it can be a great way to right yourself. A bit like me having a good knowledge of it all but not quite enough to really get it dialled. It's also a good teaching tool, you can read the explanations of all the different elements of the suspension on the app, adjust them and feel in real time what thats done to the bike. But ultimately these are fairly minimal gains, I probably won't go any faster in my next race directly because of it. But I will enjoy it more as the bike just feels better now and thats the part that will probably get me faster over time.

If your only going to have limited access to one then thats all you can expect I think, if you owned one you could go completely mental and have a professional suite of suspension settings for all terrains and circumstances in your back pocket. But you'll probably get more benefit out of spending the same amount of money on a few days coaching or making sure your suspension is just well serviced for example than actually owning one in my opinion.

Theres also one more thing to add, I'm a bike geek, I enjoyed doing this and playing about with it. I feel like I've learnt a bit more about set up and that in itself has been worth it for me. So if you just want to learn and have fun with a bit of bike geekery then this little gadget will tick all those boxes. If you want to have a go get in touch with Fall Line cycles to hire one out. 

 

Final settings - Orange Stage 5 - Rider Weight with kit 58kg - Tyre pressure - 18psi

Fork:  2016 Pike 29er 140 - 45psi, 4 tokens, from full - I have 5 + clicks of slow speed compression, from maximum tortoise I have 10 clicks of rabbit on my rebound.

(I've actually dropped the pressure in my forks just a tad more after another week or twos riding as I wasn't quite ever getting full travel)

Shock: 2016 Monarch RT3 - 110psi, 1 band, from maximum tortoise I have 4 clicks of rabbit on my rebound.

NB - All shock pumps seem to differ in what pressures they read out at by 3-4 psi. Thats quite a lot if your only making small changes. Choose a pump and stick to it, or use a seperate pressure guage.

Tweedlove 2017

Tweedlove 2017, what a belter. Myself and my family have got involved on both sides of the tape again this year and it’s been mega. I hope you enjoy my round up of a great few weeks.

 Out above Peebles getting used to the HT a few days before GT7

Out above Peebles getting used to the HT a few days before GT7

The first event for me this year was the Glentress 7. I’d been entered for last year, again as a pair with my husband Paul, but picked up some work so side stepped it. Now I’ve actually done it I’m glad because I’m much fitter this year and it was still a killer. We also had a little extra spice added to the day as we ended up taking our 2 year old son with us due to a poorly Grandma, it turned out fine and he was a total superstar all day thankfully! Our pit area was a busy one because we had a total of four teams under our large borrowed easy up. Friends from Peebles Glen and Lynne and two teams from ‘TallyWacker Racing’ hailing from Pauls native East Yorkshire.

 Weapons of choice poised and ready for GT7

Weapons of choice poised and ready for GT7

 Pits set up, toddler entertainment set and positive attitudes applied.

Pits set up, toddler entertainment set and positive attitudes applied.

For those not familiar with the Glentress 7 the aim is to complete as many laps of the 10K course as possible in 7 hours. Its a XC course but it has some cheeky little sections and would be a proper challenge in the wet. All set up we opted to send Paul out on the first lap hoping that his extra speed would get us somewhere towards the front of the pack keeping us away from too much traffic. It seemed to work as we both had fairly clear tracks all day. Paul put in a blinder on lap 1 bringing it home in 35 mins (the first lap is a also a bit shorter than the rest with a neutralised start). Our first handover (of both timing chip and toddler) went OK and I headed out for lap one. After heading up the first grassy climb away from the pits I was starting to understand why there were turbo trainers and rollers dotted around the team HQs, without a warm up that initial up hill at race pace was a shock to the system, lungs and legs giving it the full YOU WHAT NOW? Not a lot changed for the rest of the lap.

 Dropping into the bomb hole at the end of the lap.                                       Photo by Ian Linton

Dropping into the bomb hole at the end of the lap.                                       Photo by Ian Linton

It would be fair to say theres an even balance between up and downhill sections on the course.  Theres a good contrast between the uphill rue de sufferance (no explanation needed) and the down hill tunnel of love, a steep chute into what is one of the black trails climbs in reverse. Theres also pretty much everything in between, including a section of single track where flat out and tucked the speed you could pick up was quite ridiculous (speed trap there next year Tweedlove!). The variety in the course was a direct reflection of the variety of rider taking part. Pretty much the whole MTB spectrum was on display. Lycra clad, carbon riding whippets to long travel, aggressive trail bikes whose riders were padded up and pinning the downhills at Mach 10. It seems to me that thats the charm of the Glentress 7, anyone and everyone takes part and has a blast.

 Pit crew working hard

Pit crew working hard

Theres not a tremendous amount more to say other than 4 sweaty, fun laps each later we were both pretty knackered. By far the parts of me suffering the most were my hands and feet. I think this is probably due to me spending most of my cycling life on long travel, soft downhill suspension and high volume low pressure tyres. I’d pushed my usual 15-18 psi up to 25 for this race to save the legs and believe me, that coupled with a hardtail and stiff suspension set up hurt me quite a bit. If I’m ever going to take up XC or marathon racing I will have to find some spare cash for a short travel full susser thats for sure!

By far the most dramatic event of the day was the rain that came just after I finished our 8th lap, narrowly missing out on sending Paul out for number 9, disappointing at the time but in hindsight was pretty much perfect! I was lucky to find myself in charge of the toddler at this point so made a mad dash for the van and sat and watched as the rest of the guys got very very very wet. We can only be thankful it held off for the majority of the day and what a tremendous job was done by the Tweedlove team to get everyone off the hill safely.

What a brilliant day all in all, its hard to really put your finger on why its so good, because pedalling up the uphills at max effort hurts and hooning back down on an xc bike does not have quite the same appeal as my enduro bike but still I have to say I had an absolute blast. 8 laps and 5th place in the master mixed pairs for Topcat Racing. We will be back next year with our eyes on the podium thats for sure!

 Let me at em!

Let me at em!

The fun continued the next day for team Topham as we headed to the Islabikes family day to get our 2 year old Rowan his first ever number board. The idea of the family day is spot on, just fun with the kids no real racing, no podiums. Although it was clear to see the older kids secretly knew who was winning in their races, for the tots it was just about having fun. With his number board attached we opted to let Rowan have a practice lap so he knew where he was going, being literally a week the right side of his 2nd birthday we weren’t entirely confident he would even go in the right direction!

 Little Shredder!

Little Shredder!

On his first few laps the excitement of the tyre obstacle overtook him slightly and he could be heard shouting ‘tyres’ and seen sat in the middle jigging up and down beaming like a cheshire cat. If they had been tractor tyres that might have been the end of it and we wouldn’t have been able to budge him but thankfully he remounted and flew round the course a many many times. He stopped when tempted by an offer of halfway hairibo but short of that he was head down and putting in the laps ably assisted by a young lad from Peebles Cycle Club guiding him over the obstacles. By the end of the session we had one very sweaty, tired and happy toddler. Perfect.

 Sweaty and tired  

Sweaty and tired  

The Tweedlove bike festival and the first EWS it held was probably one of the main catalysts for myself and my husbands move to Peebles about 2 and half years ago. We had raced in Innerleithen a few times at Enduros but it was Tweedlove that gave me the insight into the amazing community that exists in the Tweed valley. Sat on the side of the family day watching the kids and parents reminded of that, I’m so glad our son will grow up here. It extends well beyond Tweedlove, Peebles has an amazing community spirit, its a warm welcoming place situated in a beautiful valley, surrounded by amazing trails, but I have the bike festival to thank for cluing me in to it in the first place. Tweedlove you have my heart felt thanks.

I’ve done a bit of volunteering with Tweedlove over the last few years, never managing to do as much as I would like to. This year I headed out to help with taping the course for the International Enduro. I’ve ridden between a fair amount of tape but never put any up before. Paul had been out the day before doing the Enjoyro course and came home looking like a drowned rat so I was happy to be out in the dry! I won’t bore you with the details of correct tape tension and scouting for the cheat lines but it was a fun day. It’s a satisfying site seeing your handy work and even nicer to ride down the course knowing you put a little something into it.

 Some of my handy work at the end of stage 2

Some of my handy work at the end of stage 2

So the next chapter of my story ends the way every racer hopes it will end, with victory, ha! I hadn’t originally been lined up to ride the International Enduro so I thought I would enter Lovecross instead, the urban CX race around the event village as it was after the family ride which we lined up for with Rowan in his trailer. We did toy with the idea of letting him off under his own steam on his bike but I’m glad we didn’t as it was a busy affair! I’ve already laid on thick on great the participation of the kids is at Tweedlove so I won’t pour it on any more, but it’s awesome.

 Peebles high street filling up with families

Peebles high street filling up with families

 Can anyone tell its normally bedtime about now?

Can anyone tell its normally bedtime about now?

So after a few laps of the family course I waved my tired toddler and husband off and got ready for Lovecross. I started in the second heat of Lovecross with the rest of the girls, of which there were four, and set off les mains style for my bike across Priorsford Bridge. I’d made a tactical choice to wear running trainers which paid off as I made up some places with a sprint start. From there it was through the beer tent, round the pump tack, through the beer barrels and up school brae.

 Through the beer tent                                                                                         Photo by Ian Linton

Through the beer tent                                                                                         Photo by Ian Linton

Over some hay bales on the way back down and sprint for the Tweed, a quick splash through, some more beer barrels and a run through the famous water pistol alley from which I emerged some what soggy.

 Soggy                                                                                                                   Photo by Ian Linton

Soggy                                                                                                                   Photo by Ian Linton

I was holding on to a solid 5th and looking good for the final until a cheeky overtake move from Chipps of Singletrack Mag, who ruthlessly muscled me off the racing line on school brae. A tangle with the bike at the hay bales left me stood stock still with what I’m pretty sure was a the full blast from a mobile pressure washer to the face and my 5th place was gone. Still it saved from having to put in another two laps in the final and I was still first in from the ladies. Lets have some more girls in next year, hopefully I will return to defend my title.

With Lovecross done and dusted I was back out again the next day for the International Enduro. I wasn’t originally down for this one but with Paul suffering with a nasty virus I slid into his spot and rolled off the stage at 9.30. The weather was a bit drizzly but warm enough not to bother too much, although it was one of those do I sweat in my waterproof or just get wet sort of days! I hadn’t had time to practice stages 1 and 2 but having ridden them before plenty of times and spent some time in the week actually taping them I wasn’t too bothered. Stage 1 Flat White was a bit different to the last time I had been down but I made it down in one piece. I’m pretty sure I’ve ridden it much faster but with the aim to finish I wasn’t too disappointed. Stage 2 was more my sort of trail, tight twisty and through the woods. Although the length of it showed up my still poor upper body fitness I was pleased with how well I flowed through the steeper sections at the top. I’m still at the stage with my racing where I’m happy to be riding the tough stuff with confidence, once I feel like the nerves and confidence are at bay I’m going to truly start thinking about the speed again! A good few stages at Golfie, it rarely disappoints.

The transition ahead held a wee bit of dread for me, mainly thanks to other people warning me of it’s length and climbing stats. My CV and pedalling fitness is actually starting to come back online and I’ve been climbing well recently so after a flat spin down the road I set off up the hill round the back of Glentress and up to the mast and the top of stage 3. It’s one of those climbs that doesn’t really have any hugely severe gradients but just chugs along at that level that really stretches your legs, its just steep enough to be unpleasant and fairly relentless. Perhaps the most cruel thing being turning the corner about half way up and seeing the mast and realising just how far away it still is! I should have stopped to take a photo, because it’s actually a really nice view, but at that point I was just head down and trucking on! So after a few little walks to rest the legs I was all set at the top of stage 3, knowing the legs weren’t getting a rest anytime soon!

 Stage 1 the famous 'Flat White'                                                                                Photo by JWDT

Stage 1 the famous 'Flat White'                                                                                Photo by JWDT

I knew I was set for a LONG one on stage 3 so I set off thinking save the legs for the climbs and cruise and pump my way through the rest. However the gods of mechanicals had a different plan for me that day and heading up the first climb my chainring threw in the towel and that was me on a long walk, balance bike and cruise home! You win some, you lose some. So I missed out on racing the new section Mild Peril, which is thoroughly awesome, but thankfully its on my doorstep so I will be back. A huge shout out to everyone who made time to go and dig it, top work, I hope to get out on future projects and help.

 Never what you want to look down and see at the start of a stage!

Never what you want to look down and see at the start of a stage!

So that was Tweedlove 2017 for the Tophams. Another fantastic festival put on by an amazing town and an amazing team. Many many thanks! It’s got me to thinking though, racing on home turf, fun as it is, isn’t going to be the priority next year. Perhaps I’m showing my age, perhaps its being a parent and having that extra connection to the community that I feel here in Peebles but next year will be more behind the tape than between it for me. I think the GT7 will be a firm fixture on our calendar but otherwise I’d rather go experience new trails and new places to shred my bike. Because when it comes to the Tweed Valley, I bloody love it and I think I’d rather show people that, after all I can ride the trails anytime (jealous??).

 Thumbs up for Tweedlove!

Thumbs up for Tweedlove!

As always thanks to Fall Line Cycles, Ride it Clothing and Mudhugger for your support.

Mass Start Action at Macavalanche

At the start of this year I didn't actually have much racing planned, but ones that's always been on the calender is the Macavalanche at Glencoe. I've been lucky enough to survive this races big brother the MegaAvalanche down Alpe Duez in France. That was one of the most challenging and different things I've done with my bike so I've been keen to have a go at the Scottish version for a while. Although I nearly didn't make it at all after getting a bit too friendly with my bikes top tube on the Thursday night before the race. A slip off the pedals left my undercarriage looking like a rather naff Picasso painting and shall we say a touch tender. Still the race is mainly uplifted and then down hill right? Wasn't going to be sat down much anyway so I decided to get on with it!

Every time I do the drive up North to the Highlands I'm reminded how awesome Scotland is and how lucky I am not to have to travel far to feel like I have managed some real escapism. The weather was also amazing, in fact I finished the weekend with 'inter knee pad sock space' sunburn! Yes I'm ginger but still thats still pretty sunny.

 Sat with the van door open looking up the mountain I was going to be hooning down the next day

Sat with the van door open looking up the mountain I was going to be hooning down the next day

Theres an early start with a 7am registration to get everyone set up with timing chips and briefed about the race. The usual two enduro style stages and then one mass start free for all had been cut down to just one stage in the morning to allow enough time to get everyone far enough up the hill to start on snow for the mass start run. 

 Riders eager to get up the lift for stage 1, chilling and chatting in the sun

Riders eager to get up the lift for stage 1, chilling and chatting in the sun

One of the best things about the day was the lift access, with the sun shining and epic views it's like a little mini holiday and a great departure form the norm.

Now I'm not quite sure where I got it from but in my head the first run was for seeding and then the final result was determined by the mass start race. I think I just assumed it was the same as the Mega, my bad. Anyway with that in mind I took a pretty steady cruise down the first stage. Didn't wear myself out too much and just made sure I knew where I was going as with a wide rough track there was potential to go way way off course if you didn't keep your head up and focus. With the limited number of girls racing I figured the quail times wouldn't have too much bearing on the single line of us for the mass start! It turns out that the first stage did count so that was a bit of an error on my part, looking at the overall results I probably would have made up at least one place if I'd raced the first stage and possibly two. So theres my lesson from this one, double check if not sure on the rules/format!

That said my chilled run down stage one did mean I knew where I was going and was fairly confident heading into the race run. It was a rough and rocky track, pretty much from top to bottom, not my usual fair these days and I was having to remind myself the whole way down to ride light over the rocks and carry speed. Its fun to change up from the usual riding here in the valley and my hands and arms were reminding me about it by the bottom thats for sure!

 Waiting at the bottom of the 'cliff hanger' lift on the way up to the mass start. A cheeky tactical wait for the end of the que to make sure I wasn't getting cold at the top.

Waiting at the bottom of the 'cliff hanger' lift on the way up to the mass start. A cheeky tactical wait for the end of the que to make sure I wasn't getting cold at the top.

 In between high speed craziness over open rocky terrain there's time to chill at this event!

In between high speed craziness over open rocky terrain there's time to chill at this event!

There was a fair bit of hike a bike from the top of the cliffhanger lift up to the race start at the snow. It was worth it though to stand at the top, to think you will be back down again in no time is pretty crazy. The girls were either given row 3 to start on you could choose to take a steady start at the back. It's quite intimidating being stood on a section of off camber snow surrounded by a lot of guys desperate to throw themselves down a mountain. I was hoping to just get a clear start and not get tangled up with anybody else. Like most people I opted to start on my feet and run, the chances of staying on for the whole snow section were minimal anyway so I figured it would be the best option.

 Riders pushing up to the grid, the snow section on the right. Soft and off camber.

Riders pushing up to the grid, the snow section on the right. Soft and off camber.

I wish I'd got a snap in the middle of the grid, I probably would have had time but I think I was just concentrating on keeping calm and listening for the race start. Ladies if you want to properly experience a mass start then this is really your chance, perhaps alongside the foxhunt, because having also been at the Mega, where the girls have a separate race this is actually a bit more intimidating, on the start line at least! I know I've been a huge advocate of separating girls out for racing before, I stand by that for normal enduro racing. I really hope equal categories and women's starts come, but here being mixed in with everyone is kind of the point of it so I think giving the girls fair grid space on row 3 was about the best way to go. But ladies please don't be put off, the option to start at the back of the grid was also there. If your looking to experience the event you still can, please go for it!

When the starter shouted go I just got my head down and ran, I fell into a few pretty decent sized holes but I actually surprised myself at how well I kept moving over the snow. I'd opted not to look at the section after the snow, advice from some good riders was to stick to the left so thats what I did. I just headed left and seemed to avoid any really big drops or wheel swallowers. From then on down I just tried to stay at a pace I could handle and keep my head up and look for the lines. Constantly reminding myself to ride light over the rocks and pump and manual where I could. I was spurred on by people flying past me at some crazy speeds too, if they can go that fast I can go a least a bit faster.

 Concentrate and look where your going.

Concentrate and look where your going.

By the bottom of the track I felt like I was flowing and boosting off rocks really well. That was until I was within sight of the finish line. I'm not really sure what happened but before I had chance to think I'd hit the ground hard. I still have no idea what I either did or didn't do to cause it but it was a pretty hard slam. First thought was just get up and run for the line but my leg wasn't having that and it sat me back down again. At that point I just decided to sit a minute and make sure I wasn't properly hurt. Sometimes it can take a minute or two to work out you've actually broken a bone or caused some serious damage, thankfully I hadn't so I hobbled over the finish line. 6th place. I'd probably have been pretty happy with that crash or not so although I have no idea how many places my dead leg cost me I suspect it wasn't too many. Looking at the final results it was my chilled stage 1 that actually cost me for a better result in the end.

As I joined the line to drop my timing chip in a spectator congratulated me on 'getting good air' during my double flip crash. It's about the only time anyones going to be praising me with the words double flip and good air in the same sentence so I came away with that at least to add my bruises. That and the reminder that a back protector and a full face helmet are not optional for me when racing enduro. If I can find a comfy pair of crash pants that I can pedal in I'm going to be wearing those too. I've been hobbling around after a toddler for the last few days and it's not been fun.

I highly recommend this event, it's different from anything else you can do in the UK, with the exception of the foxhunts and for girls at least this race has a level of technicality above that to contend with. It's fun and different. Get entered for next year and bring your body armour. As always a thanks to event organisers NoFuss and marshals. Fall Line Cycles, Ride it Clothing and Mudhugger. I'm putting down the enduro bike for a week or two now and getting prepped for Glentress 7 on the hardtail, bring on the suffering!

On the rocks - SES Rnd 2 Pitfichie

Well round 2 of the Scottish Enduro Series at Pitfichie put me on the rocks, both literally and emotionally, but please read on because this is not a tale of woe! I didn’t get my hoped for top 10 finish, squeezing into 11th place. A few other things that happened set me to thinking about the racing scene for us ladies in general, again please stay with me, this is not a rant about why its not fair to be a women in a male dominated sport, ladies we can get out there and get on with it just the same as the guys, but theres things that still don’t quite sit right with me and I hope I can get that across in the best possible way.

 Cruising through the bottom of stage 4 in practice.

Cruising through the bottom of stage 4 in practice.

 Nice little rental just near the trails....

Nice little rental just near the trails....

Setting off for Pitfichie I knew the tracks were going to be rocky and that there probably wasn’t too much in the way of steepness to contend with as Paul my husband had been doing some night riding there whilst working from Aberdeen recently. Around the Tweed Valley its the tracks that point you nose down at a rapid rate of knots that get the reputation for being tough and big rock gardens are fairly few and far between. Because of this its the mud and roots of the valley that have become my comfort zone of late, although thanks to my Welsh stomping grounds of old I had some vague memories of rock gardens that I was going to have to drag up from the depths. I’d had a cheeky little visit to Thornielee the week before the race too just to get back on some rougher tracks, which was helpful as I had the bike set up fairly well, because I needed that to make up for my slightly weedy arms! I used to push out about 70 press ups in an Army fitness test, I’m nose down in the dust after about 15 these days and that showed by the end of race day.

 Cresting the climb to the top of 4

Cresting the climb to the top of 4

All in all the tracks did not disappoint, the promised rocks were there in spades and a good dollop of loam thrown in to add to the dry conditions made for fun and testing riding. Pitfichie may only be a small hill but the guys at the SES made full use of it putting on 6 excellent stages.  The hike a bikes in between also sorted out the fittest riders but were certainly not unachievable and some parts of the day had a real Alpine feel to them. My best performance of the day was on Stage one, by the end of practice I’d ridden the top section about 3 times so felt fairly confident to let rip on the open granite pathway across the moor, unfortunately the first of many mistakes throughout the day as I lost my concentration and got a bit tape blind meant the time probably wasn’t as good as it could be. That theme continued for me for the rest of the day, fast between the mistakes. 

As a statement ‘fast between the mistakes’ is all a bit shudda wudda cudda. It’s how I go about ironing them out that matters now. I could do with being fitter, but I already spend about as much spare time as I have on riding my bike so I probably need to start being a bit smarter about some gym type training. I could fit in some cheeky press ups or sit ups in at various points of my day for example. I think getting a bit more used to the new bike will count for something and just getting my head up and thinking a bit faster. I need to look at whats coming up better, it’s been my biggest downfall as a racer since day one and it hasn’t changed. I might just need to chant it to myself as I head down the tracks!

The main thing that this weekend got me thinking about was the profile of the girls at the top of the results table. Two things made me think about it, the first was two shouts of encouragement I got from spectators during the race. One was ‘go on son’ and the other ‘well done lad’, now I guess that wearing a full face helmet and a back protector my smaller stature is easily mistaken for that of a junior male rider, fair enough. I also have all black race kit, maybe I should start to wear more pink, anyway I’m pretty thick skinned and I really don’t take personal offence to this kind of thing. But, its telling that his first thought when seeing a smaller lets say ‘difficult to determine gender’ stormtrooper lookalike was a boy not a girl, although why wouldn’t he with girls in the minority I suppose.

 Theres a race face under that gender non specific outfit

Theres a race face under that gender non specific outfit

The second thing was looking at the results table and seeing the gulf between their times and mine. Initially I was looking at it and depressing myself with how bad I’d done, but after thinking about it further I have to put it in perspective. I’m not a bad mountain biker, actually I’m pretty good. I can ride the large majority of technical challenges put in front of me and I’m rarely the slowest to do it either. What I am now is a once a week rider, fitting it in around a busy day to day life, being a mum and trying to get various other little projects of the ground. I don’t know the girls that are setting these awesome times that well, but I can call a few of them friends and I tell you this. They are dedicated, talented and hard working. Riding bikes is their main aim in life and in my humble opinion they deserve the chance to be seen alongside the elite men. When we got to the top of stage 5 we stopped for a while to watch the elite men go off at the start of stage 1. We commented on how well they rode, what a difference you could see in the way they approached things, these guys are elite we thought to ourselves. A step above the rest of us, thinking wow I wish I could ride like that sort of thing! What should have happened next is we saw the elite women going down the track and we should have been thinking the same thing, look at those girls, absolutely flying, because they are folks, absolutely flying. It would be great to see these girls get the recognition for the effort they put in, the chance to attract sponsorship and be the inspiration for girls coming up the ranks.

 Loving racing and van life again

Loving racing and van life again

So no I didn’t get my top 10 finish and for a while on the drive back I was thinking to myself I don’t have the time to get back to smelling that podium again, frustrating as it is I’m not naturally talented enough to just be fast I need to work at it and realistically I have a lot of work to do. But getting back behind a number board with intent has already had so many benefits that I shouldn’t ignore. I’m fitter, healthier and loving riding my bike. So I’m not going to beat myself up about the huge gap between me and the podium, for now I’m going to keep aiming for the top ten and with some extra effort and less excuses it’s a very achievable aim.

As always huge thanks to Fall Line Cycles, Ride it Clothing and Mudhugger for your support.

Stage 5 bike check

Well here he is. My Orange Stage 5. 

I've been running Rockshox suspension for the past few years and so I stuck to the same for this build, it's been reliable, lightweight and on budget! An Orange without Hope is like Rhubarb without Custard so Hope provides the wheels, brakes, headset, stem and seat clamp. The solid and smooth Shimano XT sorts the shifting. I've been a huge fan of DMR Vault pedals for years and so I've treated this bike to a set of Magnesium ones to save a bit of weight. An Easton Haven bar and ODI Vans grips finish off the build. So pleased with my black and white dream machine!

How does it ride? Well after a week of fettling I think I have the suspension settings about sorted. I've come from a bigger travel bike so the first few rides were a little testing. I can be honest and say I didn't just get on it and ride off into the sunset. However, now I've got the set up sorted I will say this, it's blisteringly quick and turns a tight steep corner like no 29er I've ever ridden.

I've been riding 29ers exclusively for a while now and this one genuinely seems to have the speed and rolling ability from the big wheels but not that lag in the turn like others I've ridden. It's taken me a few rides to not oversteer it into every corner! Well done Orange I think you've nailed it. If your after a fast and capable trail bike then really look no further. Lets see what happens to the race results!

 

 

 

 

Sunny Vallelujah

 Why I feel the need to grin like a maniac in every photo is beyond me!

Why I feel the need to grin like a maniac in every photo is beyond me!

Sunny and Vallelujah have not yet managed to make it into the same sentence, in it's first year I marshalled the bottom of the final stage whilst heavily pregnant. More than once dodging riders flying down the final muddy chute out of control, last year the weather was apocalyptic to say the least and I was oh so disappointed to be working! However, for my first attempt at the race it was to be sunny and the trails were to be almost dry!

Being a local I had ridden all the trails plenty of times before so knowing just how physical and pedally the course was going to be I went for a minimal practice strategy. But with Grandparents on deck and the chance to ride with Paul (a rare thing these days) there was no way we weren't going to get out and do some.

To say prep for this race had been sub par was fair. With my toddler sprouting some new molars I had managed one full nights sleep in the last seven so I have to confess I wasn't feeling massively energetic. But with the sun shining and great company is was very hard not to enjoy this much needed tonic. We opted to do stage 1, 3 and 4 to check how the trails were taped and avoid the longest stage to keep tired legs fresh. I also thought that the taping on 2 would be fairly predictable, it wasn't as it turned out, well done Tweedlove you foxed this local at least!

 Being a photographer I'm a sucker for some quality composition. A banger from practice by Chris Strickland.

Being a photographer I'm a sucker for some quality composition. A banger from practice by Chris Strickland.

So with practice under my belt and the taping sussed I felt as ready as I was ever going to be. I would be keeping in mind a similar strategy that had paid off for me at Fort Bill, stay smooth and don't get scrapy. I know why Tweedlove choose the trails they did, but my god was there some pedalling to be done, and although the technicality may have seemed easy on the face of it holding speed and staying smooth was going to be no easy feet. A modern trail bike can get you down anything with enough gravity to keep you moving if you have the strength and the gumption to hold on, there would be none of that here! The winners would be people who can really ride a bike and were fit to boot.

 Bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for race day. Thanks Helen for the photo.

Bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready for race day. Thanks Helen for the photo.

 There would be no luck involved in the fast times today.

There would be no luck involved in the fast times today.

Opting for an early start again meant we had mostly clear trails, a huge bonus. At all other Tweedlove events despite an early start I've always hit queues at the stage starts, not this time which made the event just so much more enjoyable. I was probably the fastest of the girls I was with so I headed off down the stages first. I had my regular riding buddy Sarah chasing me down though and I knew we were fairly evenly matched so that was some extra motivation. Thankfully I only caught a glimpse of her a few switchbacks up on stage 2 and it spurred me on to a good time!

 Getting some food down in the sunshine in between 2 and 3.

Getting some food down in the sunshine in between 2 and 3.

Every stage had a similar mould, a little bit of natural tech riding and a generous helping of hard pack, fast and physical pedalling. The results showed that my two strongest stages were 2 and 4, I'd expected it on 2 as I had ridden the top section many times and knew my 29er wheels would help me through the epic that is deliverance but it was a pleasant surprise to see that I had taken a good chunk of time away from my mates on 4. I can honestly say that I had zero left in my legs at the end of that fire road in the middle of the stage. I was begging for oxygen and a set of fast summer tyres by the time I dropped into the lower section known as Daves Trail. But the crowd at the bomb hole and perhaps just final stage joy helped me pull out a great run.

 Starting to look a bit like a racer again. JWDT Photography.

Starting to look a bit like a racer again. JWDT Photography.

So despite the rather crap prep and another little lesson about checking taping in practice I had sneaked back up into the top 10 with a 9th place finish, in what is fairly described as a strong girls field of 21. In total there were 30 women racing. Thats a great turnout, I hope we see more and more join in. I feel strongly that there should be equal age categories and dedicated women's start times to encourage women to race. I fully appreciate how hard it is for organisers to do this, podiums cost money and organisation is hard enough as it is but I think if these changes came to pass the women would come to support.

 I blooming love my new black and white but it doesn't stand out too well in photos like this though! Another fab bit of composition from Chris Strickland.

I blooming love my new black and white but it doesn't stand out too well in photos like this though! Another fab bit of composition from Chris Strickland.

So another huge thank you goes out to Nic and Nick at Fall Line Cycles. Some last minute tinkering to my shock made a big difference on the long rough stages. Thanks Ally at Ride It clothing for getting the jersey over in time for the race, it's awesome. Thank you to Tweedlove and their volunteer army for a great event, the weather for some positively tropical conditions and finally my marvellous Mum and Dad who kept an eye on our boy so both me and Paul could get out on a bike at the same time in the same place! Twice in one week!

Looking forward to building up the new bike this week, standby for some news on that and getting ready for SES round 2 at Pitfichie. Bring it on, lets stay up inside the top ten!

SES Round 1 Fort William

After packing up the van, fairly convinced I'd forgotten at least one thing I would need , I headed round to see Nic at Fall Line and collect my bike, as I decided to drop my front chainring down to a 30t just to make life a little easier on my legs for the weekend, my fitness was yet untested. I was greeted by a nice race goody bag including gels, flapjacks and some cleaning gear. Adding to the hat, t-shirt and keyring I'd already been given that morning I was starting to like this being on a team thing! Nic packed me off with words of wisdom like good luck, enjoy yourself and don't fall off and I set out on the drive to Fort Bill. Although I'd done a few small races over the last few years (attempted and failed to finish a few bigger ones) this was my first big race for two years.

 The drive up to Fort Bill through Glencoe is one of Scotland's natural wonders so it would have been rude not to stop and take a photo of the van in such a nice spot.

The drive up to Fort Bill through Glencoe is one of Scotland's natural wonders so it would have been rude not to stop and take a photo of the van in such a nice spot.

 Strange seeing skiers and snow sports signs everywhere at a bike race.

Strange seeing skiers and snow sports signs everywhere at a bike race.

Setting up camp in the car park on Friday evening I set in for an early night and trash telly on the lap top. Rock and Roll! Waking up to a cold but sunny morning for practice day was magic.  Although I'd seen the preview vid of stage 3 which looked long and with some tricky sections I had very little idea what the course had to offer so after collecting a start time for race day (8am!) myself and fellow Tweed Valley rider Jennie set off for practice. 

The climb up to stage 1 set the tone for all of the climbing during the weekend, nice steady fire road. Not the most exciting but to be honest I was glad of it for a first race back.  Besides plenty of time for chatting! Although I have met and ridden with Jennie before we didn't really know each other that well so having plenty to chat about and a rider who paced very similar to myself was really good. The first two stages were trail centre blasts. We had a wee stop and look at a few lines here and there but as they were both long, had cheeky little climbs in I came away knowing I would be aiming to stay smooth and keep the flow until the end.

 View from the top of stage 2.

View from the top of stage 2.

Stage 3 brought the first proper tests of technical riding with roots, mud and chutes. Although it all felt rideable which was certainly settling my mind as I was expecting to be on my limit technically which so far I wasn't. Again a few stops to check out the best lines but we seemed to be flowing on in good time.  The fun came at stage 4. A long transition to get out took us to the technical 'Alt u muhlin' descent. Nothing too steep but with stream crossings and sections that needed running (well by me at least) and possibly the deepest rut I had ever ridden down to contend with it was a sharp contrast to the previous 3 stages. Although I managed to nail the toughest corner of the race I struggled to keep momentum down the rut and spent a reasonable amount of time 'balance biking' as Jennie described it. Still down in one piece. Stage 5 was more of the fast and flowy stuff and apart from the multiple line choices available over parts of the four cross track it didn't present too many problems.

 There was a lot of chat and nodding of heads going on as riders choose different lines through the rock garden.

There was a lot of chat and nodding of heads going on as riders choose different lines through the rock garden.

Whilst I'm waiting for my team bike to arrive I've been riding my own Nukeproof Mega 290. I swapped on to the big wheels last summer and haven't looked back since. It's a confidence inspiring and fast machine, with this bike it's me thats holding it back!

 Looking shiney after some post practice TLC

Looking shiney after some post practice TLC

 The start line would be waiting for me in the morning.

The start line would be waiting for me in the morning.

It was a cold night in the van and an early start to make our 8am kick off. Hopefully we had made the right decision to set off in the first wave and try to get clear tracks. I find the pressure of piling down the track in a large group of guys who are almost all faster than me can get to me a bit so hopefully starting early would prevent that problem.

 Up and at em!

Up and at em!

 Frozen oil, cold night.

Frozen oil, cold night.

Getting out first definitely proved to be the right move. I rode out tagging along with Jennie and the Army team and we had a clear path down the trails all day. I stuck to my plan to stay conservative and concentrate on flowing down the trails. Slow to be fast. It worked well for me on the first two stages, I managed not to get scrappy and felt I'd ridden well. I dropped into three confident. Unfortunately a school girl error of wearing new, hardly tested goggles bit me here as on the slower moving more physical stage they steamed up badly forcing me to stop and take them off. I was right in the middle of one of the tight rooty and rocky sections when I finally went blind and this ruined my flow for the rest of the stage. Still I'd managed to ride the most challenging sections of the trail which left me feeling fairly positive. I knew my time wasn't going to stand up well but I'd come to get a race under my belt and not to light up the leaderboard so I was determined not to let it get me down.

 Powered by the wisdom of Yoda. Feel the force, flow.......

Powered by the wisdom of Yoda. Feel the force, flow.......

Starting on 4 I left the goggles off this time. Watched Jennie head off as the rain started to come down and saw her have a few issues on some of the early turns in the track, I must have unconsciously decided to stand shoulders with my pal as within 30 seconds of the start gate I was hooking my knee pads round my dropper lever and pointing my brakes up into the air. The calamity continued as I got further down the track. I slipped going up the stream crossing and fell over, didn't nail the steep turn like I had in practice and after stopping my front wheel dead on some rocks thanks to a spectacular lack of forward motion managed to wedge myself sideways across a 4ft deep rut. I'm not sure how much time it took me to get myself out of this little pickle but I'd undoubtedly seen myself out the top ten with my comedy of errors. In years gone by that sort of disaster on a stage would have seen me angry with myself and cross. So to pop out the bottom laughing and telling stories of my wedged self with a smile was the best part of the day for me. I took it on the chin and got on with enjoying my day, a lesson I've needed to learn for a while.

We had a bit of a break after 4 because 5 wasn't due to open until 12.30. So I sat around in the Army easy up eating generously provided chocolate hot cross buns and watched the rain come down. At this point I was extremely glad we had 4 stages under our belt already. I rode stage 5 with the same attitude as I had the first few fast and long stages. Stay smooth, flow and don't get scrappy. It worked well again as my time was really in touch with the leaders on this stage. I did however have far to much left in my legs. I knew it going up the final climb, it felt a bit too easy. Although you want something left in the tank for the final stage I felt like I had more than one stages worth. In a way really positive because I was clearly fitter than I thought I was. However, I could have pushed harder on the first four stages.

 We made it! A huge thanks to Jennie (INSTA: @worldofjenren) and the rest of the Army Enduro Team for letting me hang around the easy up for the weekend. Once a soldier.....

We made it! A huge thanks to Jennie (INSTA: @worldofjenren) and the rest of the Army Enduro Team for letting me hang around the easy up for the weekend. Once a soldier.....

I finished 12th overall. Secretly I had hoped to squeeze inside the top ten, so I was a touch disappointed on that front. BUT, I had a great weekend and learnt some great lessons. Keep smiling, once its done its done. I'm fitter than I thought I was, push harder! If you didn't nail it in practice you probably won't nail it in the race. Push back up, ride it again and get it dialled. You have all day, use it. Someone said it to me once in the Army and it's true, people say that they rise to an occasion and the pressure will make them perform. Maybe, but its more likely under pressure you will default to your basic skills and 'training'. So get it practiced, practice it more until its no problem then theres no need to rise to the occasion, it's just what you do.

 Days done, get a brew on!

Days done, get a brew on!

So an apology for the lack of pictures of me actually riding my bike. I was expecting to get some from race photographers but it appears being out on the course first meant I was in front of the photographers too! 

And thank you again to Jennie and the Army Enduro Team for keeping me in company and banter, Nic and Nick at Fall Line for trusting me to ride for them. Results can only go up the table form here on in guys! To Paul my husband for staying home after our childcare plans fell through and supporting me as always, your awesome! Look out Vallelujah, I will be stepping up my game.

Confidence is a cruel master

Before I became a mother I was a soldier.  An intelligence analyst, expert in my field (well quite good at it anyway) and a mountain biker and racer.  For a short period after leaving the military I was a small business owner too, although technically I still am it's a small chunk of my life now.  What I'm getting at is that I was a confident individual, in work as well as life and that translated into biking.  I got scared same as anyone else but I could always look down a drop or a crazy techy chute and within the limits of my skill push myself on to doing it.  There is of course no cure for a lack of skill other than more practice and I have several broken bones as a testament to this but still pushing myself to my own limit was something I always found I could do.

When I had Rowan I always knew I would have to fight my way back to fitness but I never factored in fighting my way back to confidence.  I guess I figured that 10 years of soldiering, get up and get on with it attitude would win out and to my surprise it didn't. I'm no psychologist, but I figure it doesn't matter how you lose your confidence, (a bad fall, some loss or trauma) or find your excuse the mental process I would think is fairly similar. The difference is looking at something and telling yourself I can't instead of I can. I'm willing to admit now that I always looked at people who would say "I can't" and mostly think to myself, come on get on with it, stop fannying around, I didn't get it because I was nearly always able to say "I can". Lucky me.

I'm not sure why my confidence left me after having Rowan, there's probably some genuine physiology factors involved, being a mother changes how you view risk and what your prepared to put yourself through, for me theres an element of fact in that but it also became my excuse too and sometimes it still is. You see it all the time on reality TV, "I'm doing it for my kids".  The trouble with this for me has been that I can say things like "I can't afford to hurt myself" and "I don't have the time" in order to make a really legitimate excuse to myself about not getting back to the hard, technical, push yourself sort of riding I used to relish. For a while I even thought, why bother, just stay on the trail centre. The thing that worries me is that attitude starting to creep in everywhere, incredibly easy to do when you have someone else to focus on, because it all becomes about them.

 The atmosphere at Enduro Maiden was amazing and I managed to hold it together and just ride, it landed me in second spot on the masters or 'cougars' podium too. A really welcome confidence boost!

The atmosphere at Enduro Maiden was amazing and I managed to hold it together and just ride, it landed me in second spot on the masters or 'cougars' podium too. A really welcome confidence boost!

So now I'm on the journey to getting my confidence back again.  With Rowan rapidly approaching two I do feel like I've turned a corner recently.  Firstly, I have a great group of girls to ride with in the Tweed Valley.  Nearly all of us have some sort of issue with our confidence at some point or another, even the real shredders (or so I tell myself).  A lot of these girls are also mothers, so straight away theres one excuse gone.  Being a mother doesn't actually mean you can't ride scary, gnarly trails. I watch them do it all the time and it genuinely pushes me on.  Ride with people who inspire you, its the thing that has helped me most!  I also let myself have a bit more slack than I used to, take it steady, ironically taking metaphorical baby steps has helped. It's all about wiping out the excuses I make in my own head, I can do this. I've had a lesson to brush up my skills and I'm working on my fitness.

 Hiking up the hill in Dunkeld.  A trip with the Valley Girls.  Riding with this gang has been awesome and that day I followed some good mates down some steep. gnarly trails and took a real step forward. I felt like myself again.

Hiking up the hill in Dunkeld.  A trip with the Valley Girls.  Riding with this gang has been awesome and that day I followed some good mates down some steep. gnarly trails and took a real step forward. I felt like myself again.

I am definitely making progress, it's really slow at times but it's coming. The most frustrating thing is that one day I can go out and hit the trails and ride like an absolute super star, even though I doubt I'm as fast as I was, I feel good on the bike.  I can tackle the hardest trails the Tweed Valley has to throw at me and come out smiling. But the next day I still struggle, finding what it is that makes me ride well is a bit of a struggle for me at the moment. For me I need to believe in my bike, the set up and how its riding, another excuse I hear you cry? Well maybe it is but at the moment its one I'm allowing myself.  I had a great ride the other day and I'd spent some time before sorting out a few niggles.  Cleaning up the brakes and tinkering with the pressure in the forks and it just made me feel better.  So you know what if it works for my head then I know I need to make sure when I go out my bikes running just the way I want it.  I think thats going to be key before a race.  I'm still trying to put my finger on why I have these off days sometimes, why is it that sometimes I just can't shut up that little voice in my head?

 A day full of excuses, I pushed my bike almost all the way up and most of the way back down. Conditions, fitness, time ,risk you name it I had them all that day! It was pretty snowy and at least I got a rad shot of the bike.

A day full of excuses, I pushed my bike almost all the way up and most of the way back down. Conditions, fitness, time ,risk you name it I had them all that day! It was pretty snowy and at least I got a rad shot of the bike.

I don't have all the answers but I do now have a hell of a lot more understanding and empathy with confidence.  I don't think it matters how you lose it, getting it back is a journey for anyone.  It might be a short one, it might take a lifetime, frustratingly taking steps forwards and leaps back.  One thing I do know is I don't want to stop trying. The battle is happening for me on my bike but it applies to my whole life. As for so many others who call biking their passion it leads the way to improving me in everything I do. I'm doing it for me and by that I'm making myself better for everyone else that matters to me too.