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Why we ride

“You’re a grown man, why do you still ride pushbikes?”

“You should get one with an engine, mate”

Amongst many others, these are two sentences I’ve heard from people over the years. Why do I ride? Why do you ride? Why do we go out, week after week, rain or shine?

We do it because we love it, it’s as simple as that.

Diamondback Bicycles released an edit recently of team rider Mike Hopkins traversing some stunning trails on their new level link bike, which partly inspired this post. The riding, the scenery, the music and the words all captivated me:

Credit – Diamondback Bicycles/Mike Hopkins

I ride to escape; I ride for fun. I ride for a smile and to keep myself in shape. I ride to be social, I ride to make friends. I ride for sheer passion. This isn’t a poem, by the way.

Cycling to me, is one of the best ways to unwind after a long day; there is nothing else I’ve tried that comes close to the exhilaration I get from nailing a particular section and finding your flow so well that you conquer all paths ahead of you.

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Photo – BigMacPhotography

As a homeworker (read: hermit), cycling also keeps me connected with like-minded people; friends, acquaintances and riding buddies, old mates and new. We share a common passion, we look after each other and strangers on the trails. I have met so many people through cycling that I now have the privilege of calling ‘friend’, from weekend warrior to company owners, from oldest friends to trail builders and team riders, each with their own story to tell of why they love getting loose and rowdy on the trails. Here’s what a few of them had to say about why they ride:

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Dan Hodge – Engineering Director and creative genius at Bird Cycleworks:

‘Although these days it seems like a struggle just finding the time to ride, it’s always a delight when I do. Getting out on the bike clears my head and allows me to think about nothing but the trail in front of me for a few hours; every time I ride my bike I come back with tired legs but a refreshed mind. There’s a moment on every ride when I get into the flow of the trail and become totally absorbed by it – left berm, right berm, jump, pedal, brake, breathe, look, repeat. I love pushing the limits of grip available from my tyres, the amount of oxygen available in my lungs and finding the best line for every corner. Then there’s the people I ride with. Most of my friends are mountain bikers, I rarely ride alone and find that a mutual passion for biking means you always have something to talk about, trips to plan, technique and trails to discuss. In short, mountain biking is my life, I live and breathe it every day and have no idea what I would do with myself if it wasn’t for biking.’

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Chris Laney – Fellow Swinley & Surrey Hills shredder:

‘What got me into riding a bike started some 40+ years ago. Growing up, I rode BMX as a sponsored rider and did freestyle demos around the country. I simply loved being on 2 wheels and in the air! I found Pubs, and had a 20-year hiatus until I was 45, when a mate who had got into riding mountain bikes said “come with us and have a go”! He knew I’d love it due to my past. This was also the same time as my wife had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a very hard time as we’d just got married too. The diagnosis was hard to take and triggered depression in me. Happily, my wife has fought to get back to health, but I still struggled with the depression. My wife said “go for a ride with your mates, you used to love riding!” This turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. I was hooked, and I felt the mist of my “Black Dog” lifting. The more I rode the better I was feeling. My wife kept saying “keep at it as you clearly love it!” My wife is everything to me and her blessing meant the world to me, and the benefit of helping my depression is massive. I’ve met some great people over the last couple of years riding too. Every time I swing a leg over a bike I just grin!’

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George Launchbury – Night rider extraordinaire and all round trail ripper:

‘For me Mountain Biking is about a sense of identity. I like ‘being’ a Mountain Biker. There’s so much to immerse yourself in, especially as a time-poor parent. Smashing a trail centre with mates, a contemplative solo ride in the country, fixing/maintaining/upgrading your bike, watching the racing on TV, keeping up with the latest kit and news. The fact that you will literally never run out of skills to learn, places to ride, or new kit to try out. It’s great that it also keeps you fit and strong, but that comes for free with all the other stuff.’

Me? I ride for the calm. The reason I steer clear of road cycling (apart from looking like Chewbacca in tights) is because there is too much going on. Cars buzzing past you so closely you can smell the driver’s aftershave, expectations of riding in the gutter, soaking up potholes, broken glass and roadkill and, to me, the sheer monotony of concrete is not appealing in the least, although the speeds some of the road riders can get to is super impressive. If you love road cycling, then chapeau, but it’s not for me at all.

Get me out to the countryside, to the sounds of birds chirping, wind chasing through branches, squirrels rustling in the undergrowth and the buzz of tyres meeting dirt. The scents of woodland, fresh grass and loose earth is all I need (I’ll leave out fox shit and fertilizer) to relax, unwind and pin my favourite lines and learn new ones alike.

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Exploration is also an aspect of mountain biking I adore. We’ve all done it; riding along, you spot a little offshoot. ‘Ooo, I wonder where that goes?’. You head off into the unknown, potentially disovering a prime new line which you’ll be grinning about for ages and adding to your regular repertoire.

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Fitness and keeping in shape is important to me too. When I was going to the gym, it felt like hard work, like I had to force myself to go, to put up with hundreds of bodies packed into a sweaty enclosure. Hand me a bike and point me in the direction of a trail and, although I know it’s exercise, it doesn’t feel that way; it feels awesome.

If you’re not a biker, I highly recommend giving it a shot. Swinley Forest for example, is great for all levels of riders with a wealth of trails (Green, Blue and Red, plus a new Freeride line in the works), and the Swinley Bike Hub hire out a superb fleet of bikes for a great price (you can also rent a helmet if required). Go down, get a bike and get out on the trails, I guarantee you’ll have some laughs and end the day with a smile.

Reverting to fitness quickly, I felt it worth sharing a personal achievement that I’m rather happy about. Just over the past few months of night rides and weekend sessions, coupled with watching what I eat a little more (although I’m still on first name terms with my local curry house!), I’ve seen my weight drop from just under 100kg, right down to 85kg. At 6’1”, I have to say I’m feeling better than ever and motivated to keep the weight off and the miles high. Riding mates have played a huge part in remaining determined, so, if we’ve ever shared a trail on a ride, thank you.

My riding has improved due to this too; the more time in the saddle, the more weight drops off, the more technique I gain and the trails become second nature, rather than an unfamiliar, daunting beast. Strava has also been a great way of keeping track of what I’m doing, although I do try not to compare myself with others on there… most of the time, anyway. Nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition though…

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Cycling pushes limits, grows confidence, keeps you healthy and creates new friendships. It’s what I do, it’s what I love. Hell, it’s what we all love, that’s why we’re here and why Stealth Riders exists.

What do you love most about riding? Why do you do it? Let me know in the comments below!

Keep up to date on the latest Stealth Riders happenings by following the Instagram account.

Until next time, cheers.

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Photo: Swinley Bike Hub
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Southern Enduro Rd 1: Milland

The day I’ve been working towards is now over. My body is aching, my mind is tired, but most importantly I am stoked beyond belief; I finished my first ever competitive race with both me and my bike in one piece!

Masters was a super tough category with an incredible group of riders, so a final place of 49th (of 57) is something I cannot grumble about. Hell, that’s a top 50, I’ll take that. You could argue that I was the fastest rider on a black Bird Aeris on the day… (Yep, just me):

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Some wishful thinking going on! Photo: Scott Fitzgerald

The day started off early with a brew and some porridge, then I was on the road, en-route to Milland with the sun shining and music blaring. It had been raining periodically over the previous few days, so the parking field was a little moist, to say the least.. Honda Civics are not best suited to driving in a field and a broken belly plate confirms this! Sliding all over the field, I parked up and did have a quick ponder on how I’d get out at the end of the day! Can’t worry about that now though, it’s time to get the race face on!

I met up with Steve White, a good friend and riding buddy and talked shit for a while, before going to register. Due to a little mix up, I was down as race number 242 in the Fun category, but even though he was crazy busy, Scott Fitzgerald, the organiser of this incredible series, quickly got me sorted and into Masters, with race number 100. Tidy.

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I wandered around, catching up with the people that have helped me progress my riding over the past year; the Swinley Bike Hub crew that I ride with each Thursday night, and the team at Bird Cycleworks, whose stealth black Aeris was going to guide me around the 4 stages. The bodge of the day goes to Dan from Bird, for using a RaceFace chainring as a percolator holder… pure engineering genius:

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The riders (around 200 in total) assembled for a briefing from Scott before practise, and it was time to check out what the rain had done to the trails I rode 2 weeks ago in the dry. I hung back for a while to let the other riders bed it in for a bit, then headed up to the start with 2 fellow ‘flockers’ (Bird owners), Mark Hemmings and Ben Biggs, who were racing in Hardtail and Masters Categories respectively. Mark eventually took 11th spot in the Hardtail cat and Ben came in 36th in Masters. Top work, lads!

The transition, which was pretty muddy on a good day, was bogged, so I opted to push up and chat, rather than wasting energy wheel spinning to the top! I decided to check out stages 1 and 2 for practise, skipping 3 and 4 to conserve my legs.

Practise was fantastic, despite it being super muddy and rutted, it helped me see line choices which practically railed you around the corners as opposed to sideways drifting 2 weeks prior! I did have a slight wash out on stage 2 practise; a simple mistake at low speed that left me and a marshall both laughing!

I headed back to the race village, made my way through some red bull and coffee, and waited for the main event to kick off. At this point, the Swinley Mob were tooling up; fully automatic Nerf guns were awaiting riders out of the start gate which made for a hilarious beginning to the race! Riders were called by number and the main event kicked off:

(Apologies for the portrait video, I’m a monster, I know)

“Numbers 97-100”. That’s me, time to rock up. As soon as I rode out, the Nerf darts were flying and I was under way. It’s at this point, I’ve got to give a special thanks to Michael Wilson, Swinley Team rider for some great conversation on the transitions through the day. Despite Michael and I both being a little held up on Stage 1, he finished a very respectable 14th in Masters; nice one fella!

So stage 1 – I set off, tearing down the starting sprint and into the first corner, now familiar again with the lines and knowing what was coming. I was held up a little by a rider in front, but I didn’t worry too much; it’s my first race, I’m here to have a laugh and do my best. It all went smoothly through rutted berms and loamy turns, small rock drops and out of the final sprint.

On the transition, I moved forward a few riders to ensure a clear run and set off on stage 2 straight into a log drop. I felt a lot faster twisting and turning through stage 2 and finished with a big smile; the ‘north shore’ bridges at the end of the stage were as fun as last time, with BigMacPhotography (the legend that is Dave McFarlane) taking amazing photos and shouting some great words of encouragement!

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Photo: BigMacPhotography

Back up the transition, to the start of stage 3. I remembered this one from the test day, as this is where I had my little tumble before the road gap. Don’t mess up now Sutton, you got this. Guess what? I took a shit line into the same corner and although I remained upright this time, I lost too much speed to hit the road gap (although that didn’t stop Tristan Taylor, Swinley Team Boss, offering some brilliant words – “ride it like you want to rip the fu**ing cranks off son!”, or something along those lines)! Stage 3 finished with a tight twist through a coppice running out into a super muddy exit. Nearly there, back up the slop to stage 4!

The fourth and final stage was great; after an initial grind though some mud, I started fast, feeling strong and determined to end on a high. By this time, the stage was really torn up, which made for some very sketchy line choices, especially in the off camber corners near the start! Coming into the final forest section, I almost washed out straight into a tree, but just managed to hold on, getting some great encouragement from Jack Tate of Team Swinley going into the final field sprint to finish, which sapped any remaining energy I had left!

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Photo: Hannah Crossley

That’s it, my first Enduro is over! Time to wait patiently for my placing. I tucked into a burger and a beer (well earned, I’d say!) and then headed up to cheer other riders on. Walking back up the stage 4 finish, I bumped into Swinley rider Cassie, who unfortunately took a big spill and did a bit (ok, a lot) of damage to both herself and her bike, but took it like an absolute champ and carried on smiling for the rest of the day.

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Photo: Scott Fitzgerald

As I approached the woodland to cheer on other riders finishing up, I could hear whoops and cheers. I knew exactly who was getting rowdy and bringing the noise; the same team that had been the life and soul of the day:

(Apologies again for the portrait video!)

I wandered back to the race village to check my results and found out Chris Doney, Tomas Kupstys and Charles Griffith from Bird had all finished first in their categories (Elite, Masters and Under 18’s), which was awesome news and a superb result for Bird on the day – great work guys!

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You can view the full race results, times and a wealth of photos on Roots and Rain here.

I’ll be honest, my result wasn’t quite where I’d have wanted it to be, but overall I was stoked and looked at things optimistically; I finished top 50 in my first ever race, in a group of extremely talented riders, despite some early setbacks. I caught up with other riders for the next hour or so, before sliding my way out the parking field and back home to wind down with a well-deserved curry and a bottle of merlot with my amazing, ever supportive wife.

Here’s an edit of my questionable lines throughout race day, showing the good and bad of stages 2-4. It’s my first attempt at using the GoPro studio, so go easy on me:

One thing I learned on race day – I really need to work on my power over 2-3 minutes; near the end of each stage, I felt burned out, so will focus on this for the next few months at my local trails and a few bike parks, hopefully ready to get a better result at Tidworth on June 12th.

Finally, a huge thanks to everybody on the day; Scott and the Southern Enduro team for putting together an outstanding event, the Swinley Mob for bringing the noise and being ever encouraging, Bird Cycleworks for the laughs, support and for producing such a great bike, BigMacPhotography, Hannah Crossley and all the other photographers for making me look half decent; Mark, Ben, Steve, Sam, Michael, Laurence and anybody I may have missed. The final thank you has to go to the marshalls and fellow riders for making it such an outstanding, well organised day. How am I feeling for the rest of the series? Buzzing. Absolutely buzzing. Tidworth Freeride, I’ll see you soon.

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Credit: BigMacPhotography

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No dig, no ride

As you may know by now, I’m racing in the Southern Enduro this year, with the first round at a closely guarded location in Milland, West Sussex on April 17th. A few weeks ago the event organiser, Scott Fitzgerald, put a message on various social media sites asking for volunteers for a dig day. I signed up without hesitation. Firstly, as we all know; no dig, no ride. I wanted to get involved more in the background, helping to shape the trails I’ll be racing on. Secondly, I figured it’d be good to get the lay of the land to truly understand what I’d let myself in for.

What I didn’t know when I signed up to dig, was that Scott had planned to invite volunteers back for a pre-race test to check the finished product out and to help bed the trails in.

Sunday, 3rd April rolls around and I’m in the car heading down the A3 blasting some questionable music (those that know me, know my music taste is eclectic… and that’s putting it kindly!). I arrived in Milland to meet Laurence, Sam and a few of the other volunteers that I met on the dig day and we waited for the rest to arrive; more volunteers, event organisers and some headline sponsors, including the guys from Bird Cycleworks; Dan, Dave, Josh and Tomas.

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Once everybody had arrived, we set off on a small ride to the venue and immediately headed up the transition to stage 1. It had rained the night before, so the transition was super muddy, slippery and all round hideous, which I thought would be the shape of things to come. How wrong I was. I won’t give too much away, but anybody entered into this is in for a real treat!

We got to stage 1 and buzzed down through a mix of tight, loose, loamy singletrack and some nicely packed rollers to end the stage. Stage 1 was easily the flattest of the 4 stages, with a lot of pedalling required. Hopefully the miles I’ve been putting in over the past few months will pay dividends on this one!

Heading back up the transition to stage 2, I was feeling stoked – my first enduro stage completed (albeit slowly) and I was still in one piece! This isn’t going to be too hard… yeah right. Stage 2 began immediately with a drop into a tight berm, with super loose, off camber switchbacks making up most of the stage. It was like riding on a slip & slide, drifting, holding on for dear life. This was my kind of stage though.. loose, technical and flowy. Great stuff. It’s worth adding at this stage that the first practise runs were at a gentle pace to scope the trails and pick my lines for the second runs.

Another sloppy ride up the transition to stage 3. This is the stage I helped shape on the dig day, but I only saw the bottom of it. Once again, the loam was fresh and the berms were loose. I was sauntering down the stage approaching a road gap and was so busy focusing on that, I totally missed the drop before it and went sketchy into a berm, wiping out in an instant. No biggie. Dust yourself off, get back on and ride. Stage 3 ended with some insanely tight singletrack through a coppice and a nice little jump into the finish, which was great fun. Here’s how not to ride a bike:

Back up for the final climb to stage 4. The final stage was short, fast and flowy, with some amazing rollers, doubles and high, tight off camber turns the left me giggling like a child, leading to a sprint finish through a field to the end. Cracking stuff, time to do it all again!

The second practise runs were much better. I’d scoped my lines and approached with more speed, although my front tyre always wanted to go a different direction to the rest of my bike. Tyre choice will be invaluable on the 17th. Most importantly, I remained on the bike throughout all stages on the second attempts, which gave me a huge confidence boost. The day wrapped up with a nice cold pint of Guinness at the local pub and some post-ride banter.. perfect!

The pre-race testing was more valuable than I could have ever imagined. I thought I was progressing well with fitness and, going into the day, I felt I was pretty fast on the bike. How wrong I was! Some of the guys there made me realise that I have a long way to go, with not much time remaining. I’ve got the speed, but technique requires a lot of work if I don’t want to be in the bottom of the pack. I know for sure I’ll not be standing on any podiums on the day (barring any miracles!), and currently feel like the middle of the table will be a great result.

Two weeks to go until the big day, the actual timed race. It’s time to put the miles in, work on my sprints and, most importantly my technique, especially on off camber switchbacks and drops. Will I do well? Will I suck with more force than the latest Dyson? Who knows. What I do know, is that I am super excited to head back to Milland, to give the first round my absolute best. Mind over matter, it’s time to smash the Southern Enduro and give it my all.

Lastly, I just wanted to say a huge thanks to Scott for inviting me back, and also to him and the whole team at QECP Collective, fellow volunteers, diggers and anybody else invoved in the Southern Enduro – the venue is amazing and if the other rounds shape up like Milland, this is going to be one hell of an Enduro series!

Don’t forget to follow Stealth Riders on Instagram, to stay up to date with the latest news, progress and insights. You’re all amazing for reading this, thanks for sticking around.

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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