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Mixing it up

If you’re here for a cake recipe, sorry to disappoint. I do make a killer cheesecake, but we’ll save that for another time. No, this is about keeping things fresh.

When you’ve been riding for many years, monotony can set in. With me, it’s a rare occurrence thankfully, but it does happen and I’m sure it has happened to you at some point too. Following a pretty painful crash and a subsequent lower than hoped placing at my last race in the Southern Enduro, it wasn’t just my body that took a knock, my confidence did too, which had me digging for the takeaway menus and bailing on rides.

So, what’s the best way to get out of the slump, and get back riding with a smile? For me, it’s about mixing it up. Here’s a few options that I’ve found help me, they may help you too. Have a read, put the Dominos menu down and hit the trails.

Ride solo? Join a group – I used to ride solo all of the time. A lot of friends stopped riding, and I got super blasé about it, riding the same old place, slowly bumbling around the trails, occasionally saying hello to another rider. I then started going out on group rides with Swinley Bike Hub, which were great. Social rides, great laughs and new friends that share the passion. If you ride solo, try heading out with a group… you might just like it.

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Night rides – Life is busy, we know this. On the weekends, you may have other commitments, so night rides are a fantastic way to ride your local trails with a twist. Lines seem tighter, trees come out of nowhere and you really find yourself focusing more on getting each section nailed perfectly. If you’re going out on a night ride however, it’s always good to go with somebody, or at least let someone know where you’re going and when you expect to be back. IceDot is a great option too; if you do have an off, IceDot can sense no movement and hard impacts and send an alert to your emergency contact. A small spend for extremely valuable peace of mind.

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Explore somewhere new – The same trails become monotonous. Try a new route on your local trails, search for off-piste trails, or try somewhere completely new. Better yet, speak to the locals… we’re all a friendly bunch in the cycling world. Last weekend, my riding buddy Oscar and I got chatting to a local rider over the Surrey Hills… somewhere we’ve been riding for years. He was kind enough to show us some trails we had no idea existed, and in the sloppy conditions, it was absolute hilarity. Dave, if you’re reading this; thank you my man, you were a hero that day.

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Enter a race – Challenge yourself. You may be a weekend warrior or trail centre junkie, but how do you fare against your peers? For me, racing was never something I considered until this year. I thought I was pretty quick, but riding the first 2 stages in the Southern Enduro this year has shown me otherwise! Granted, I’d have taken 10th and 14th respectively in the Fun category, but I’m happy propping up the bottom of the Masters, it’s pushing me to develop as a rider, so that next year, I can hunt for better results.

Of course, there are so many races to choose from; Enduro, Downhill, XC, the list goes on and there really is something for everyone with grass roots racing becoming ever more popular. Sign up, have a go, have a laugh. The atmosphere at a race venue with 200+ likeminded people is superb.

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Charity rides & Adventures – I’ve only done a few charity rides as I hate begging people for money, but if you’re comfortable in doing so, it can be an incredible experience. The London to Brighton for example (and it’s off road cousin) are fantastic ways of testing your stamina and endurance, and are sure to put a smile on your face. With so many charities existing, I’m sure you could all think of at least one you’d like to help out. Plus, not only are you making a difference to your chosen charity, you’re getting fit at the same time.

Adventure rides are something on my list. I’d love to get a big Bergen, pack it out and ride. Destination unknown, heading out to the wilderness and exploring some of the country you can’t see by car. Luckily, in the UK we don’t need to worry about bears or mountain lions, just the occasional cow, and perhaps an angry rambler or two.

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Treat yourself – It’s called retail therapy for a reason. Shopping can be extremely therapeutic. From crank boots to carbon, treating yourself to something new is a great way to put a smile on your face. It’ll also make you want to try the new bit of kit out. Fresh goggles, a fancy new Ohlins fork, or even a new energy gel. I’m not endorsing overspending, of course. Only spend within your means!

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Set a goal – 1k, 10k, 100k. Day, month, year. It doesn’t matter. If you’ve got a goal, you’ll strive to succeed. There’s no point in being unrealistic of course, as this can demotivate. I’ve set a personal goal of 1000 off-road miles this year (well on the way at 573 miles as I type this), and completing all 4 rounds of my race series. Goals are great, set one, and smash it. You’ve got this.

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Strava – The competitive aspect of trying to beat not only your own PR’s on your favourite segments, but your mates, too. It’s similar to setting a goal, but throws your buddies into the mix. What’s great is you can follow pro/elite riders in your area and try to get as close to their times as possible (if you beat them, then well done you!). I’m lucky that a lot of great UK pros ride the same trails I do, so it’s always a laugh to try. I’m a long way behind them, if you were wondering.

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With any luck, this has been helpful and you now want to ride. Just typing it, I’m smiling thinking about the upcoming weekend ride, exploring the Surrey Hills some more with mates. So now it’s over to you.  Be great, hit that shit hard and make sure you end the ride grinning like an idiot… it’s why we do it, after all.

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Southern Enduro Rd 2: Tidworth

Things to avoid before a race include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Having a 4-hour tattoo session two days before.
  • Crashing in spectacular fashion one day before, hitting a tree with the same arm that you’ve just had tattooed.

On the weekend just gone, clearly I’d left my brain somewhere else, but I had these things penned in for a while so couldn’t bail at the last minute. These had left me feeling sore, aching and lacking in confidence massively for race day. I’m just spouting excuses now, so enough of that.

Regardless of my result (a lowly 40th from 42 finishers in the ever tough Masters category), it was a fantastic day once again. Thanks to Scott Fitzgerald and the Southern Enduro team, all of the marshals, spectators, riders and photographers, Swinley Bike Hub Race Team, Bird Cycleworks, my riding mates (for some of whom this was their first race), and new faces on the day. A special thanks to Stuart Ross (Foot Out, Flat Out), for the great conversation on the transition stages and through the day.

The final and most important thanks though, have to go to Phil, Neal and the whole crew at Tidworth Freeride and Ian at B1KE for making it all possible and for the excellent trails we rode on the day.

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Photo: BigMacPhotography

So, Sunday, 12th June, and the morning of the race arrived. I met up with good mates Chris and George in the picturesque Tidworth Polo Club grounds, which was the rider parking venue for the day. We got our gear together and headed to the venue, catching up with the rowdy Swinley Bike Hub race team, all absolute legends in their own rights. I popped down to say hi to the always smiling and ever helpful Bird Cycleworks team too, and spent my rest time on the day between the two tents, catching up with everybody, talking lines, conditions and all things bike.

As we were chatting, riders were signing up and a familiar yellow Mavic jersey stood out in the line-up; Ben Deakin had been offered a place by a friend of his who had dropped out last minute, so, although he’s more at home on the downhill racing circuit and is still coming back from a nasty injury in New Zealand, he absolutely smashed it, coming in third in the Elite category. His antics are well worth a follow on Instagram. #OiOi

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We had a short briefing, then headed out to practise the refreshed Tidworth stages; 4 lines, with stages 1 and 2 being ridden twice, to bring the total to 6 timed runs. The overall times are added up, and that determines your result. The weather had been on and off, with spots of rain the night before and forecast throughout the day. Tidworth is quite a chalky venue, so mechanicals, crashes and conservative lines were sure to affect the outcome of the days racing for some riders.

Practise went really well, scoping the lines and making mental notes of the best routes through the numerous technical sections. This was nothing like the Tidworth I had ridden the weekend before, which threw me off a few times over the day! Chris had a massive OTB on the drop/rock garden area of stage 4, but was up and flying again in no time, ending up placing a fantastic 14th in the Fun category; a great result for his first race! George also had a couple of tumbles, but came in 43rd in the Vets category. Again, a cracking result for his first Enduro in a very strong field of riders… well done, lads! After a spot of relaxing after practise, I dropped tyre pressures a little, psyched myself up and headed to the start line, ready to go.

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George & Chris pinning it. Photo: BigMacPhotography

Stage 1 was stunning. A freshly cut, powdery trail, with some neat rooted sections, tight lines and steep descents into loose, loamy switchbacks. All good so far. Back up the transition, the foot traffic began to create a bit of a slippery push up, making for hard work and plenty of sweating by the top!

Stage 2 was my nemesis on the day. One section near the top of this technical track in particular threw me on both attempts, adding a huge amount of time to my runs. The rest was great, with tricky rooted corners, small rock gardens and drops dotted along the way, ending with a few doubles and out to the race village.

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Photo: BigMacPhotography

Stage 3 was a fast flowing mix of loose dirt corners and chalky berms (which got super greasy and slippery when some showers passed through), ending with a line of tabletops (although a ‘Strava line’ had emerged on the left, which looked a fair bit faster and a lot of riders were taking, myself included). A couple of corners more and stage 3 was done. It was time for a 45 minute break to grab some food, chat shit and re-energise, ready for the final 3 runs.

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Rest over, I headed back up to the stage start. Stage 4 used some of the new ‘River Flow’ trail, with a ton of small drops, jumps and the main gathering point of the day for spectators and Ambulance crew; the rocky drop into a brilliantly made rock garden that Chris got acquainted with earlier in the day. This section was hilarious and challenging at the same time; I just survived making it through, despite being rattled about and picking an awful line.

Stages 5 and 6 went pretty much identical to stages 1 and 2 for me – slow, sketchy and lacking in confidence. I ended my day out of breath, but with a huge smile. Although my result was low, I took a lot of learnings from the day, and now it’s time to get working on improving (and not being injured or freshly tattooed!) for round three at Queen Elizabeth Country Park on July 23rd.

There’s really not much point in me putting up my GoPro footage.. not unless you enjoy bad line choices, slow riding, lots of swearing and out of breath 33 year olds. Instead, here’s a short clip of Swinley Team rider Cassie, storming her way to second place even after taking part in an ‘Endure 24’ running event the day before – nice one! As usual, the SBH Team were out on course giving some great encouragement to every rider:

Once again, huge congratulations to everybody on the day, especially to the podium finishers. QECP could be a round for the triple wins for Chris Doney (Elite), Charles Griffith (U-18), Francie Arthur (Womens), Phil Payter (Grand Vets) and Daryl Biles (Senior), all first place finishers in their categories at both Milland and Tidworth, and are all in amazing form this year. No pressure!

You can check out the full results and race photos on Roots & Rain, podiums are below:

Tidworth results

Another great race over, I headed for home, exhausted and aching. Although disappointed with my result, the spirit of the day and the laughs shared with fellow cyclists kept me smiling for the entire drive and beyond. For me, the Southern Enduro has so far been a perfect series to find my feet, figure out where I fit in rank and category wise, and is helping me develop massively as a rider. If you’re interested in racing, you can’t go wrong with the Southern Enduro series. QECP is set to be a banger!

The world of cycling is an incredibly friendly one, with everybody supporting each other both on and off the bikes, no matter where you are in the ranks, what you ride, or how old you are. English football ‘fans’ could learn a lot from watching an Enduro series race, that’s for sure.

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Exploring… Tidworth Freeride

I rode a lot this weekend just gone. All in the name of training for the Southern Enduro, with a hope of improving on my last result of 49th place in the very tough and competitive Masters category at the round one venue of Milland.

On Sunday, after a day of climbing over 3000ft at Queen Elizabeth Country Park the day before, my alarm went off at 6am. I was heading to the military town of Tidworth, in South-East Wiltshire, to tackle Tidworth Freeride for the first time. I mentioned in an earlier post that I’d led a very sheltered riding life, so 2016 is the year my exploration begins and my confidence grows. I’d seen some videos of Tidworth Freeride online, and it looked insane, way over my ability. So, what’s a man to do? Give it a go, of course! No pain, no gain, mind over matter, and a thousand other clichéd one-liners went through my mind.

Sadly I spent so much time enjoying myself, that I only took a few photos, and left the GoPro at home. Here’s a run down of the trails on offer, before we get started:

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Photo: CTC

Tidworth Freeride is the next stop on my racing calendar this year, with the next race taking place this Sunday, 12th June, so I wanted to check it out before racing, just to gauge travel time, trail type, terrain and a whole host of other things. Just a few days to go now, and the nerves are setting in!

The sun was shining again, and I met up for breakfast with George, Chris, Cassie, Dave and Darren, most of whom I shared trails and laughs with at Project 417 last month. Cassie joined this time, who is one of the amazing riders for Swinley Bike Hub (you may remember her photo from the Milland ride report, where she tacoed her wheel).

We paid our fees, (£5 for the day, unless you’re a paid member through B1KE), and headed upwards to General Berminator, the ‘blue’ trail. From the videos I’d watched, this run looked like I’d finish feeling dizzy… it was a lot steeper in the flesh (so to speak), but immense fun, ending with some tabletop jumps, into the car park. Dave had a bit of a tumble on the first run, but that got it out of the way, and he smashed every trail with perfection for the rest of the morning. Dave is doing the Megavalanche this year, so massive luck to him, I can’t wait to hear about it!

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We hit General Berminator a second time, then moved to Sick Note. If you like roots, you’ll love this. Starting with some tight, technical turns and ending with some huge berms, this one left me smiling. I enjoy the technical side of things, from back in the day as a Cross Country rider.

Back up the 5-minute push to the top, I took a tentative run down Oblivion. Roots, drops, gaps… it had the lot. I rolled everything, then headed to the practise drops to get some confidence with the big drop on the run. We all hit each of the drops, then went back up. As terrifying as it was, hitting it for the first time was superb. I pulled up a bit too much and landed back wheel first, which made for a bit of a sketchy landing, but I survived what I think is my biggest drop to date. Cassie was having a mental block, so George was on hand to provide some encouragement, and after a few run ins, I took the lead with Cassie in the middle and George following with encouraging words. We all sailed off, landing smoothly and ending Oblivion with fist bumps all around. Manon, Brendog and Ratboy watch out… you’ve got some competition!

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Hooper Struve was a different beast altogether. Seriously full on, I really struggled on this run. It was definitely above my skill level but I made it down in one piece (with plenty of foot down moments and chicken runs). Big drops and massive roots were the majority of this run, ending with some tricky tabletops.

By now, some of the groups hangovers were kicking in, and bodies were aching, so we called it quits around midday, after sessioning the bottom section of General Berminator a few times, styling up the lower tables.

The sun was blazing, so the trails were running so nicely. As Tidworth is made of quite a few chalky runs, I’ve heard it’s sketchy and slippery in the wet… the forecast for race day isn’t currently looking too good sadly (showers and drizzle through the day), so that’ll make for some very interesting trails! My only saving grace is the Masters category starts earlier in the day, so luck may be on my side.

Overall, Tidworth was amazing fun. River Flow was closed on the day, as the Southern Enduro crew were on location shaping some trails for the upcoming race, and there wasn’t a hope in hell of me surviving White Line, so I can’t comment on these two runs, but it was an outstanding morning in the sun with mates. A bit of a laugh came from the amount of Santa Cruz Nomads on the day (although there were 4 Bird Aeris riders too, we weren’t colour matched!).

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Once again, my bike took everything in its stride, but I have to give a special thanks to George… not only the motivational speaker, but the mobile mechanic of the group, for spotting and fixing a rather loose crank arm on my bike (due to me being a bit of a mechanical idiot and not torqueing it up properly when changing my BB recently). Top bloke, cheers mate!

Stay tuned for the race report next week once the Southern Enduro is over. I’ve been training hard and feel good despite a few niggling injuries, so now I’ve got the lay of the land, I’m feeling confident and ready to give Tidworth and the Southern Enduro my absolute best. Rider start times can be found here. I’ve got race number 89 this time out, which feels lucky…. watch this space.

For those of you reading this that are competing; I wish you the very best of luck, have a blast and see you on the race course.

Until next time, cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Exploring… QECP

This past weekend, I packed in some serious climbing miles and conquered some fears on some bigger stuff, too. I decided to check out Queen Elizabeth Country Park and Tidworth Freeride, but will concentrate on QECP this time, with a post on Tidworth later in the week.

On Saturday, my oldest riding buddy Oscar and I set course for Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP), just 13 miles from the South Coast and the busy shipping town of Portsmouth. After a quick blast down the A3, we arrived nice and early to a quiet car park and a hazy morning. £3.50 for an all-day parking ticket was pretty decent in my opinion, given the vast surroundings of the undulating South Downs freely available to explore.

QECP Trails

QECP is maintained by the QECP Trail Collective; the minds and hands behind the Southern Enduro series I’m competing in this year, so I had a good feeling about the trails. Oscar and I set off, heading straight for the blue trail, a roughly 3-mile loop which included some mammoth tester ascents! The blue route here is very much a cross country circuit, fantastic for training and getting the leg strength (and heart rate) up. The blue route had some great off camber, rooty sections, and ended with a fast run down the side of the hill, which left a decent smile on our faces.

We immediately went to scout the red trail, which is a little longer at 4 miles, but my god, the climbs were immense! Heading up super steep hills is a challenge enough, but throw in off camber switchbacks, a mass of roots and some sketchy chalk berms, and you’ve either got a recipe for disaster, or great fun. I’m happy to report it was the latter on the day, as by this time, the sun had burnt through the haze to offer us a scorcher of a day.

The red run had a few little drops and tabletops thrown in, which was great as it did feel to me that there could be more features on the runs at QECP. I’m sure there are plenty off-piste, considering there are various events held there (including round three of the Southern Enduro in July), but sticking to the marked trails did feel very much like a cross country affair.

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Whilst we were in the area, Oscar mentioned the hill opposite, Butser Hill, was the highest point on the South Downs at 271m (889ft). It was already a day of climbing and beasting our legs, so naturally, we had to climb it. Holy shit, it was steep. We made it a decent way up before conceding and pushing the final 30m or so of the ascent, but we were rewarded with some insanely impressive views, from the Surrey Hills to the North, to the glimmering seas of the Portsmouth and the coast when looking out to the South. Now, if only I can get better at photography, you’d be able to see what I saw. Still, check it out if you can, it’s worth the hike up!

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By this time, I was more sweat than human, owing to a bad choice of layering in the early hours of the day. We cooled down by heading back down the hill through a field of ewes and lambs (of course taking great care to navigate slowly around them… we’re not monsters, us cyclists are considerate people you know!).

Running low on fuel and water, we stopped off at the café back in the QECP grounds. I opted for a sausage and egg ciabatta, which was presented very nicely and went down a treat. It’s worth going back there just for the food (and slushies on a hot day, of course!). It’s a fantastic venue for BBQ’s, family days out, walks, horse riding and cycling, so there’s definitely something for everyone.

Refuelled, it was time to do a another loop of the blue and red (the purple?), and, knowing what the climbs were like, we felt a little more prepared mentally, perhaps not the same physically by this point, as the sun was beating down and caused many to seek shade. Not us, we’re not ones to complain about the sun actually shining!

The second runs were much faster and more fun, as we had a bit of an idea about what was coming up. We sailed through the blue, then cruised to the red again. This time around, we sessioned a small section with two jumps and two drops, and after a few runs, it all clicked and we were flying over the tables, and hopping off the little drops with style.

We blasted down to the end of red, both nearly washing out on the chalky berms towards the finish, but completed the day both very much intact. This was a fitting cross country ride to bid adieu to Oscars 2005 Marin Mount Vision… he joins the ‘flock’, so to speak, very shortly picking up a stunning Bird Cycleworks Aeris, in the green option. Excited is an understatement of how he’s currently feeling!

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Checking Strava post-ride, we climbed just over 3000ft in the space of approximately 25 miles… no wonder our legs were burning by the end of the day, but what a great day it was.

Overall, QECP was great fun, but is definitely more tailored to a cross country rider. The majority of bikes there were either hardtails or short travel full suspension, so I was perhaps over biked. The Aeris however, takes everything in its stride, and continues to impress me with its climbing ability, managing to snatch a few top 5’s of the day on both the ascents and descents. QECP is certainly a fantastic venue for training, as the climbs are definitely a challenge.

No rest for the wicked at the moment. I headed to Tidworth Freeride with a great bunch of guys the day after, for a morning of exploring the short trails there before my race on Sunday 12th June. I’ll get that post up in the next few days, but in the meantime, you can keep up to date on Instagram.

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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