Brighton Big Dog

August rolls round and the focus turned to one of my favourite events of the year, the Brighton Big Dog. It’s an XC race held in Stanmer Park near Brighton over 6 hours, with solos, pairs and teams racing against each other. Nigel, the other half of the illustrious “Pies ‘n’ Thighs” Cape Epic race team is one of the organisers which came about following a one off event in 2008 run by Gary Fisher, one of the founding fathers of mountain biking, and it’s a supremely well-organised event but with an incredibly relaxed atmosphere which makes it a firm favourite with the serious racers and fun riders. The other great thing about the event is the quality of singletrack on the course, particularly in the second half of a lap as the majority of it is downhill to the start finish line. The downside to all this late fun is a few nasty hills in the first third of the lap, but you always know once they’re out of the way that you can enjoy yourself for a while.
Once again I’d opted to solo the race as a Purple Bike Shed/Redhill CC rider, so I wouldn’t get to enjoy the copious amounts of tea and cake available in the spectator area, and 6 hrs of short, sharp climbs and rooty singletrack were going to be a fair challenge. I’ve been commuting a lot of late, so my fitness has improved, but most of that route is relatively flat, so my hill climbing is still as poor as ever, although I don’t think I’m ever going to be troubling whippets to King of the Mountain titles.
The great thing about this year was the uptake from the number of BoB’s (Berks on Bikes), Redhill CC and Dorking Cocks riders who’d made the journey down to the south coast. Having a small amount of involvement in all of those means that on most laps I’d have people to speak to and try and stick with or chase down.
Midday rolled around and I started a long way back down the field but I made steady progress on the first lap and assumed a pace I thought I could manage for the 6 hrs. Pausing each lap to grab a new water bottle and potentially a small amount of food, I was neck and neck with BoB’s Jon Clucas for the first four laps, and saw a number of other riders to say hello to which helped to spur me on.
This year’s course was a little shorter in distance, but contained nearly as much climbing as the normal old route, so my legs certainly felt each of the lap. Cramp late on during the 7thlap meant I knew I had to be careful with pushing too hard, but conveniently time was now running down and I knew I would only manage one more lap before the 6hr cut off came into play. The final singletrack sections of the last lap were taken as fast as I could manage, enjoying the fact that I wouldn’t need to do any more climbing once I crossed the line.
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The recovery drink (half a pint of Dark Star bitter) was thrust into my welcoming hand on finishing, and I then got to meet Catherine and Steve amongst the melee. Having Catherine arrive meant that I didn’t have to drive, so it seemed only fair to celebrate with a couple more beers before moving on to the beach side venue for the after party.
Overall, I came 33rd in the men’s solo and I was pleased with my 8 laps. I think I would have struggled to have got 9 laps in within the time, so I’m happy with the position and the way the race went. And yes, I’ll be back in 2014 for BBD number 6!
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A bike, a bike, my kingdom for a bike

My intentions this year had been to get a long travel 29er full suspension bike, so something around the 140mm travel at each end. This was going to be both my ‘big bike’ and also the choice for the Trans-Savoie multi-day enduro in August. However, there are not that many available from the majority of manufacturers (2013 models), particularly when you take out the expensive options available from Santa Cruz and Specialized.
A couple of bikes touted for delivery in the early part of 2013 failed to materialise, and as July rolled around, I realised I was actually going to have to get myself organised and source something for the race itself, and then look at a purchase in the future. A few people helped (thanks Andy Guerin at Purple Bike Shed in particular) in trying to find something to use for the event although unfortunately most options failed to materialise, and I tried a few shops and other sources with no luck.
However, luck prevailed and Alex at Canyon Bikes UK has bailed me out with the loan of something ideally suited to the event, by providing a Canyon Strive AL 8.0 which had just come back from being reviewed with Future Publishing. It’s very similar to the bikes that some of the pros will be racing at the event, and while they will be racing at the sharp end as part of the Canyon Factory team, I’ll be hoping to finish each day in one piece, enjoy the amazing trails that have been put together for the event and try and get as far up the non-professionals list as I can.
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Ride London

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For those I’ve seen since Ride London you’ll know I was absolutely gobsmacked at the quality of the event as a whole.

While I’m a mountain biker at heart, I’ve done a fair few sportives in the past, and I was really looking forward to the opportunity to ride through London and then onto the Surrey Hills and the area near home with this one. I’d never ridden a closed road sportive before, so that was going to be a new experience, and the sheer scale of the event was a real eye-opener as riders congregated in the Olympic Park ready for the early start.

I’d set myself a target of 6hrs for the ride,  basing that time on what I thought I would do on my own on a focused ride with limited stops. What actually transpired was that on closed roads with no need to stop, and amongst eager groups of similarly matched riders, the pace was pretty impressive. While I did a bit of work with a small bike shop team early on, I was also able to enjoy the opportunity to sit in an ever growing pack and actually not have to be the windbreak for a batch of others wanting to hide. Thundering through the tunnels in east London it was amazing to hear the thump of nearby deep-dish wheels and the swish of air forced around the mass of bodies and bikes. The quiet streets of the City had a strange post-apocalyptic feel and I tried to take a moment or two to look around and enjoy the sights and the experience.

I’d started 30 mins after my friend Steve and arranged to meet him at the first water stop. Unfortunately, I was on the far right of the road when the water stop came hurtling towards us, and was unable to pull across the streams of riders. We managed to make contact and Steve agreed to get going and work his way onto the group I was in.

Our group continued to make rapid progress, and in the first two hours we averaged over 36km/h, but I’d failed to find Steve even while taking it more steadily and hanging off the back of the group. The first ascent of the course was quickly negotiated and then I plodded my way up Leith Hill. Climbing is not my forte, given that I am hefting almost 100kg against gravity, however the descent certainly favours my build and I enjoyed the chance to descend quickly. At the water stop I managed to contact Steve by phone, and it appears that he’d been struggling on his own for a while having failed to latch on to the group, and the effort had taken a lot out of him and he’d started to cramp up.

Finally we got back together and took the next few miles to Box Hill steadily in an effort to free up his legs. Tired though he was, he put in a burst towards the top of the hill to make sure he could claim bragging rights on that one.

The support from the crowds through the towns and villages of Surrey was so impressive and provided areal lift to any flagging spirits, and then it was the last short climb out of Wimbledon village and then down to Putney and along the Thames to Westminster. The pace had quickened once again and we’d picked up quite a group to work with, so the final few kilometres flew by.

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The noise from the crowd through Admiralty Arch and on to the Mall must be akin to that which professional sports people experience running out onto a pitch, or pro-riders get in the big races. Hundreds if not thousands of people were cheering and banging on the sponsors boards, and of course, we all upped the pace in our own version of a sprint finish.

I’d previously spoken to my long suffering wife, Catherine on the phone and found out she was waiting just short of the finish line with some of her family. I thought I’d take the opportunity to grab a kiss before crossing the line, but underestimated my speed somewhat and endo-ed past (Peter Sagan eat your heart out). Not my finest moment, but I did get my kiss in the end.

Overall a brilliant day and fingers crossed for an entry to the next one.

The blog

So why set up the blog? I guess I’m still not 100% sure on this, I’m just an ordinary bloke who likes riding bikes, whether that be mountain bikes in all their varieties, road bikes, CX bikes and even commuting. 

I have a number of interesting rides planned in Summer 2013 so I thought it might be worth logging some thoughts and photos from those rides and events, and with the Trans-Savoie looming on the horizon it may prove a way for people to see how I’m getting on.

So while I like to ride, and my mileage has finally started to increase this year after a slow start, you’re unlikely to find me at sharp end of race and even more rarely achieve notable results. In the past I’ve done a few major events such as mountain bike stage races, and a couple of enduros and endurance events for the experience and the thrills, there’s still something truly magical about every ride and zooming along under your own power.