Whatever the weather

Winter riding. It’s a very difficult thing to drag yourself from a warm, cosy bed at 7.30am on a weekend when you can hear the sound of rain hitting your bedroom window. Your snooze button suddenly becomes your best friend and your bed sheets seem to soften a thousand fold, as if you’re wrapped up in the carcass of a Tauntaun on the ice planet Hoth. Still, you’ve made plans to meet your mates (who, coincidentally, have suddenly come down with man-flu or he-bola), so like an Olympic weightlifter you gurn and throw yourself out into the cold of the real, duvet-less world.

A shower and a super strong coffee later, you’re dressed, your gear is in the car and you’re on your way to your favourite riding spot to see your mates and tear up the trails. You know you’ll end up covered in mud and soaked through, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll be grinning like an idiot at the end of the ride. To that measure, I figure I’d do a post on Winter riding tips that I’ve found helpful over the years.

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Preparation is key

As above, you’re more likely to sleep in a little more on cold, dark mornings, so pack your bag and sort your kit out the night before. Remember to take a spare set of clothes for the return journey home, unless you want to feel like you’ve rolled through a field of fresh fertiliser. Your car and significant other will thank you for this.

Sandwich bags

I always carry a bit of kit with me (see my post here on what I carry). In the winter, cheap sandwich bags are a lifesaver. Pack all of your tools and spares into a couple of bags and it ensures rust free tools and dry bandages, should you need them. It’s also good to pop your phone/keys and any cash in one for that extra level of protection.

Waterproof up, son

A no brainer if the rain is coming down or if you know there will be mud and standing water. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’ve sharted after a night on the curry within the first 10 minutes of your ride. I’ve recently picked up a Madison Roam jacket and some Tenn Protean Waterproof shorts (My POC Flow shorts do a great job in the meantime, but are by no means waterproof). Add in a set of Sealskinz socks and hopefully the only dampness on your body will be your own. Granted, waterproof gear is less breathable so you will heat up faster, but I know what I’d prefer out of the options.

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Added extras

Waterproofs alone won’t keep you away from the worst of it. At a minimum, a front mudguard is essential for winter rides. I swear by the Mudhugger products, having tried a lot of different ones in my time. The Mudhugger shorty is my current guard, which does a stellar job of keeping the mud from my eyes. A good set of clear glasses or goggles are a great shout too however, as there will always be a chance of the guard not catching everything.

Pressures

Squish is good. Muddy, wet trails prefer lower pressures. As you search for every last piece of grip available in the slop, reducing the pressures in your tyres will allow you to dig in that little bit more where it’s needed, allowing you to get your drift on and destroy your PR’s. The downside is your bike will roll slower. Coupled with the muddy trails, this is never fun, but the upside of this is your fitness will increase at a much faster rate when riding through the winter.

Tyre choice

A huge difference between staying railed or hugging trees is tyre choice. A mud tyre on the front and a well gripping, mud clearing tyre on the rear is a no brainer in the winter. My personal recommendation is a Maxxis Shorty 2.3” up front, and a Maxxis High Roller 2 2.3” at the rear. I run between 17-20psi in the front and 19-22 psi in the rear, depending on the conditions of the trails. However, another great option is a Schwalbe Magic Mary / Hans Dampf combo, which is also grippy as hell. It’s your call, but you won’t get very far with semi slicks in the winter (trust me, I’ve tried….).

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Cleanliness

It’s next to godliness apparently, although I’d reserve that spot for some tacos and a cold beer. Anyway, get yourself a mobile pressure washer or even a pump sprayer and take it with you along with a small bit of wet lube for your drivetrain. Post ride, hose the bike (and yourself) down, it’ll make life easier in the long run and keep that beautiful bike of yours running for longer. I use a simple, £10 pump sprayer from Homebase, although if you want to spend a little more (I’ll be investing soon), a Mobi is a great shout.

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In terms of riding, you’ll have your own styles. I find taking a little weight off the front of the bike on the singletrack is helpful, but then try to pump the front to dig the tyres in around the corners. Always be on the look out for sniper roots too; those little bastards hide under leaves and mud, ready to take you down at any second. Also, always mind your GoPro (and make sure it’s recording for when you have the inevitable bail in the slop!):

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Hopefully these help – I’ve been practising what I preach with some ultra-boggy rides over the Surrey Hills, Fleet and Swinley Forest over the past few weeks with some brilliant people and, thanks to the right setups, I’ve interestingly been getting some better times on trails in the winter than in the summer! Get outside, get riding and get smiling; your body will thank you and you can at least get away with a cheeky pint post ride… you’ve definitely earned it for riding through the worst of the weather!

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Life has been a little bit hectic lately with no signs of slowing down, but I am back in the zone with keeping Stealthriders.com running smoothly and providing more regular blogs and reviews. I am, however, going to stop sending the monthly newsletter out for now, instead focusing on a quarterly update.

Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Its been a while…

Hey y’all! Before I start, let me apologise for the lack of posts lately. Since I got back from Abu Dhabi, life has been insanely busy!

Firstly, my poor bike has been off the road awaiting new forks under warranty. The 2015 batch of RockShox Pike RCT3’s had a known fault with a creaky CSU (Crown Steerer Upper). After the abuse the bike has undergone over the past year from racing to shredding local trails and taking bigger hits as my riding progresses, my Pikes suffered the dreaded creaking.

I popped to Bird HQ and the guys, as ever, were super accommodating and got the forks sent back to RockShox. A few weeks later, a set of 150mm Pikes arrived for my bike. The ones sent off were 160mm, so Dave very kindly offered to replace them for a set of 2017 Lyrik RCT3’s in their 160mm guise. Gratefully I accepted and my bike has now been running the forks for a few weeks. The major change is the front end feels a lot more planted, thanks to a stiffer brace and slightly longer lower legs. The ride is sublime now too; buttery smooth, instant response and all round beautiful feelings. A huge thank you to Bird as always; I’ve said it countless times, but their service is seriously incredible, despite them being mega busy with the launch of their new Aeris 120 and Aeris 145 models (which look stunning… I need to get a test ride on both and report back, so stay tuned).

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Work has also been crazy… I’ve left the world of homeworking and returned to office life after an offer I couldn’t refuse, so time has been lacking in order for me to post as regularly as I’d have liked. Any spare time I’ve had, I’ve been trying to get the miles in to reach my goal of 1000 off road miles this year. I’m super happy to say I hit that last week. I guess I need to set the bar higher for 2017, considering I’ve got some epic adventures planned in between racing!

On the subject of racing, the Southern Enduro series goes on sale on 3rd December, so I’ll be up early hoping to bag my place in all 4 rounds. The 2017 series will see new venues such as Okeford Bike Park and Pippingford Park (I say sir, how posh!), which look brilliant. If the 2016 series was anything to go by, 2017 will be bigger, better and bolshier. I cannot wait to get back on the trails in competition and hopefully move up the ranks a little (or a lot!)

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Milland in April. Photo: BigMac Photography

The 2017 racing will now see me racing in my custom Stealth Riders jersey too, thanks to Stak Racewear. I am over the moon with how awesome the jerseys are and I’ll be looking to get some produced for anybody interested. If you want your own Stealth Riders jersey with your name on the back, get in touch here. I’ll be looking to place orders in December/January, which gives plenty of time for them to arrive for the race season. At a guess, they’ll be £35 including postage (UK, overseas may be a little more).

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In other news, I’ve been out and about in the muck recently, covering Swinley and the Surrey Hills mostly. A few night rides have happened and I’ve got some new lights courtesy of MTB Batteries; their Lumenator combo is a steal at £145, producing 2000 lumens from a tiny head torch and dual bar mounted light. Both are incredibly light, powerful and their throw and pitch is perfect. I’d recommend them massively and will be doing a full review after a few more rides.

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The weather has turned, but the trails are still running sweet. Over the last few months, my riding has progressed more and more, with drops getting much more comfortable and I’ve started dipping my toe into gaps and jumps too. Here’s a little vid of a recent mess about with the new forks at Swinley Forest:

I’ve also conquered another nemesis that’s been hanging over me on Secret Santa in the Surrey Hills.. it’s not much to most, but there’s a gap jump on the trail that I’ve always taken the chicken run past. On Saturday just gone, I finally hit it, sending the bike across the ~10ft gap. Granted, I landed like a squid, but the first is the worst, so next time should be spot on. Next up, Northern Monkey….

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It’s not much, but it’s another one I can tick off!

Anyway, that’s enough from me for now! I’m due to be picking up  a prize shortly (oooo….), so stay tuned for that post!

Until next time, cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Abu Dhabi adventures

I’m super lucky that in my day job in Travel, I get the occasional chance to visit new countries and experience the culture. This month, I was invited by the amazing team at Fred. Olsen Cruises to attend as a guest at the ABTA 2016 Conference on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. I was stoked, although for somebody that doesn’t do well in heat, heading to effectively a developed desert was a bit of a worry! It’s a picture heavy blog post with no mountain bikes, but hopefully you’ll enjoy it!

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It was an incredible conference and I learned a huge amount about the future of travel, met an amazing group of people and sat a few tables away from Abu Dhabi royalty whilst Ronan Keating sang in the background. We also visited the immense Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is one of the most elegant structures I’ve had the honour to visit, as well as the old town (just 50 years ago, Abu Dhabi was a fishing town with a Bedouin heritage, but they hold over 90% of the UAE’s oil, so money has been flowing over the past half-century, turning it into an economic powerhouse along with Dubai).

img_5547img_5574Ferrari World was also on the list, with 2 Guinness world record holding rollercoasters on offer; Flying Aces offering the worlds highest loop the loop, and the fastest in the world at 240km/h; Formula Rosso. Holy shit, these were both mental, with all of the people that braved them coming off with massive grins! This was shaping up to be a bucket list adventure, with a few things I can tick off! Here’s a few shots from the trip:

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From a cyclists point of view, I saw on the itinerary that there was something called the ‘Yas Marina Circuit Challenge’. I messaged Becky Smith from Fred. Olsen to get on board and she arranged it so I’d be heading to the Formula One track on a roadie to give it a crack with her and Mathew, also from Fred. Olsen. Some others from the conference opted to run the track, but if you know me by now, you know my body wasn’t made for running!

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It’s not every day you can cycle around a Formula One track, so I was really excited. We arrived via transfer from the digs for the conference, the stunning 5 star Yas Viceroy hotel and registered. Bear in mind I’ve only tried a road bike once before on a sketchy road in Reading, full of potholes, so there was trepidation! We picked up the bikes and got them adjusted to fit, then headed down to the track on a slow lap to take it in (and for me, to get used to being on skinny wheels).

Stopping to take some photos, none of us could quite believe where we were, or what we were doing. The whole experience was so surreal, especially knowing the greatest track drivers of the world will be driving this circuit at the end of November!

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The Yas Marina Circuit is 5.5km in total, with some tight hairpin bends and insane straight runs, although going between 25-28mph is a little different to 200+mph!

Becky got 2 laps in, whilst sportive competitor Mathew and I put the power down and managed a further 2 1/2 laps at speed. Totalling 27km in intense heat, I was sweatier than I’d ever been, but ended the experience feeling so lucky to have had a go! Becky was waiting for us at the end with Calippos, which were hugely needed!

I ended up 11th fastest on the day with a full lap time of 9:39 and sitting (as I type this) 946th overall, which, for a mountain biker in baggies on a rented bike with shitty gear ratios, I was pretty stoked about! I tracked the ride via Relive.cc, which you can see here.

I never thought I’d enjoy being on a road bike so much, but don’t fear; I’ll be sticking to the trails in the woods, as riding on smooth race track is a world away from potholed roads filled with glass shards and cars! All in all, this was something I’ll never forget and will probably never get to do again, so I had to share it here with you lovely lot. Here’s a few more shots of the ride:

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The final night was spent in great company at the ultra luxury Saadiyat Beach Club, where we chilled by the beach, drinking, eating and reminiscing on what had been a truly special work trip, filled with amazing excursions.

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Finally, I have to say a massive thank you to all of the team at Fred. Olsen Cruises for having me along, especially to Becky for organising everything perfectly and to Mathew for being a great riding partner! Also big thanks to Aly from Saga for being great company and hopefully I’ll see you shredding Peaslake soon! Final thanks to the Yas Viceroy, the Marina Circuit staff and to the people of Abu Dhabi for being so amazingly welcoming. As small thanks back to Abu Dhabi, I purchased a Kandura; the traditional dress for men in the UAE. With the beard, I may have fitted in a little too well!

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My Aeris is currently off the road awaiting new forks, but I’ll be doing some hideously muddy rides over the Surrey Hills and Swinley in no time, so normal service will be resumed shortly!

Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

Southern Enduro Rd 4: Milland V2

That’s a wrap! The 2016 Southern Enduro has come to an end, as has my first season of racing and what an incredible series it’s been. Scott Fitzgerald and the team have created a seriously epic race series with challenges throughout and it’s been great to see so many like minded riders enjoying the atmosphere of what’s been on offer throughout the year.

The final round took place on Sunday 18th September, at the same venue as the opening race, the #brownpow fest that is Milland; a usually sleepy village in West Sussex. As in April, we brought this quiet little piece of England to life. This time, Scott had brought the noise with a great selection of music pumping over a sound system and there was a great vibe in the race village, mixed with an air of seriousness in the riders, each one wanting to end on a high note, myself included.

This final round saw the introduction of separated Womens categories (Womens, Vet Womens and Open Womens) to even the playing field amongst the female riders. Adele Tyson-Bloor (Cannondale) had arranged a training session a few weeks before the race and around 45 Enduro ready ladies rocked up on the day ready to shred. It was great to see so many new faces with such huge smiles, many of whom were racing for the first time. Congrats to you all, hopefully you enjoyed it and will be back for more next year!

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Rider Kirsty pinning stage 5. Photo: Jane Hodges

I arrived nice and early with my aunt, who was taking photos on the day and caught up with some mates before walking the course to spot some key features for some killer shots. I headed back down and got ready for practise, deciding to conserve energy for the race runs and only practise stages 2, 3 and 4. All went well, barring a few sketchy moments, but I’d stayed upright. At this stage, HUGE thanks to Bird Cycleworks, for the loan of a Maxxis High Roller for my rear, as it turns out a Minion SS at Milland is perhaps not the best choice! I started out the day sliding around, but the improvement was instant; I could actually (slightly) control my bike!

After practise, riders chilled out in the race village before heading off. I got the ‘go’ for stage 1, and immediately messed up the first small rock feature, nearly smashing into a tree. The rest of the run went well, with some great berms, off camber turns and small jumps, before a sprint to the finish on the section I’d helped build all those months ago. The mistake near the top threw me a little, and I pretty much took the chicken lines for the rest of the stage with a thousand yard stare, as Tom Broyd kindly captured below!

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Stage 1 chicken run. Photo: Tom Broyd

Practise and a bit of rain a few days before ensured that ruts and sticky sections were developing already, reminding me of the first round. The positive side to this was that the lines were easier to spot, with the downside obviously being that the bike wasn’t rolling as quickly. Still, it added an extra element to the race and seconds were easy to lose or gain with the conditions on the day.

Stage 2 began with the infamous log drop, before a lung burning sprint into a rocky sender followed by some more tight switchbacks and tricky features over rocks and into deep loamy turns, before racing across a bridge (or north shore, your call) and into the finishing field.

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A shot of the log drop from Rd1. Photo: BigMac Photography

Stage 3; my nemesis in April where I fell in practise. It started the same and although I stayed upright, I did come to a complete stop on the first tight right corner. It was great to watch other riders tackle this section, with superb encouragement on the first jump into a right hand berm. The rest of the stage was good, with a short burst through ultra tight trees and into the freshly built end section, which was a beautiful sprint through flat corners and on to the end.

Stage 4 was the new beast. Practise gave me an idea of how loose this one would be, with the race run being exactly as I’d thought.. crazy, challenging and difficult. An off camber start into a tacky flat section brought you into some small step downs, loose berms and a super sketchy switchback, with many riders opting for an inside line that had developed in practise. Pushing out of this feature with the crowd getting rowdy on the cow bells, I drove forward and through a gnarly tree drop that was just wider than my bars before tackling a tight section of turns between trees, through the final sprint and a cheeky little jump out of the woods and into the finishing field and the end of the stage.

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Stage 4. Photo: Jane Hodges

The end was sadly drawing closer with the final climb up the transition to stage 5. Setting off  at the top through a fast section where pumping the rollers gave some great additional speed, I came to the majorly loose left turn that I washed out on in April to see the rowdy cow bell spectators again and lost focus, nearly going straight into the tape. Oops.. I carried on,  pushing through the burning in my thighs and winding through a skinny enclosed section of trees before smashing the final, brutal sprint across two fields and over the line for the final time.

All said and done, I wanted three things; to finish in one piece, no broken bike and not last place. I achieved all of these thankfully and for the first time in the series, I didn’t have a ‘4’ in front of my final placing… granted there were only 37 riders in Masters, but let’s forget that bit! 33rd of 37, so consistently average will do me fine for the first season against some extremely tough competitors. What’s interesting for me is that my final time at round 1 across 4 stages was 10:11.53. This time around, with the addition of an extra stage, my final time was 9:53.99, so I know I’ve improved over the year, I can take some major positives from the day and series as a whole.

A very big congrats to the unstoppable force that is Chris Doney, who took first place in the pro category across all 4 stages riding either his Bird Aeris, or the new Aeris One20. Francie Arthur, Charles Griffith and Tomas Kupstys all took overall series winner titles too, so Bird Cycleworks had an exceptional series! You can see the full results here, as well as some great shots on Roots & Rain hereBelow is a selection of shots I took through the day too, including winners of their respective categories:

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In reflection, there is a huge amount to do if I want to improve next year. I need to spend the Winter in the mud, rain and freezing conditions getting fitter and faster but hell, so long as I’m smiling when I’m on the bike, results are a second thought for me. What’s amazing is that even as a lower placing rider, the support I’ve received has been insane and very much appreciated. From Bird Cycleworks always being on hand to help with the bike and provide laughs, Swinley Bike Hub boss Tristan and the team being ever encouraging, Scott and the Southern Enduro Team always being full of smiles and having time for you. Old mates and new I’ve met in this series and on the trails, friends, family and my ever supportive wife Emily; every single one of you has left a mark and made a difference in helping me do my best, so thank you all, sincerely. Anyway, this is beginning to sound like an Oscars acceptance speech, so that’s enough of that.

I’ll leave you with a photo that has summed up my series, which has been full of laughs and one of the best years I’ve ever had on the bike. Thanks to Steve for the shot:

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Southern Enduro, you have been absolutely amazing and a great challenge, really helping me to push my abilities and improve as a rider. It’s been a  great pleasure to take part. Roll on 2017, hopefully I’ll see you all there.

Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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#Swinduro Race Report

Update – If you want to read the version on Wideopenmag.co.uk, you can do so here

The dust has settled and the ground nesting birds have now retaken the forest. The inaugural Swinley Forest Enduro is now over, and what an incredible event it was. Before I get started, I wanted to give a massive shout out to Swinley Bike Hub main man Tristan Taylor for organising such a brutally enjoyable event, as well as the riders, marshals, spectators and sponsors, who ensured the day was one to remember for all the right reasons. From strangers, new faces, old and new mates, it was awesome to see you all!

The Swinley Forest Enduro (or Swinduro as it was known on the day), consisted of 7 timed stages between a minute and 7 minutes long, with a loop of around 20km on the day including transitions. As these are some of my local trails and the fact I’ve been on the Hub night rides for the past year gave me some idea of which trails were going to make up the stages; I knew there would be some timed climbing, which suited me well. Having a home advantage also made the fact that there would be no practise much easier for me, as I knew the trails, and knew them well. It had pissed it down the day before, which meant the trails would be tacky and grippy; my Bird Aeris with Maxxis Shorty/Minion SS combo was going to love it.

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I turned up nice and early to get signed in, get my race card (#116) and catch up with a bunch of mates that were there on the day. This one really felt like a social gathering with the amount of familiar faces. The MTB world is a small one; a community of like-minded shredders all up for a laugh and a healthy dose of competition.

Categories were called, with Masters setting off at 10am. I rolled off the start line and headed to stage 1. It started from Blue 3, which consists of some massively flowy berms cascading down the side of a hill, then a sharp right into Blue 16 (Helter Skelter); a monster of a climb on the best of days, but knowing you were being timed upped the ante massively. Blue 16 finished with a few small jumps and another set of flowing berms. By the end of stage one I was busted; it was definitely a good stage to get warmed up on!

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Photo: Brett Shelfer

Stage 2 was an off-piste affair through what’s known as New England. Tight corners, rooted sections and a neat little sprint to the finish. Although my legs still felt a bit battered from stage 1, I got through pretty quickly and sped on to stage 3, which was the killer for me on the day. Starting by Blue 5 (Stickler), riders went down the old route and through off camber roots and tight trails for what felt like forever, before coming to a small double drop just before the finish line. A few unfortunate riders had a crash here, but I luckily sailed through.

Stage 4; Red 15, one of my favourite marked trails at Swinley. We lined up and put the power down through fast turns, big berms and a cheeky double, before rattling through some roots and smashing past the finish. Bosh.

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Stage 3 . Photo: Victoria Dawe

Stage 5 was a quick run through one of the red sections of the Labyrinth area which has many names; ‘Berminator’, ‘Bermasaurus’, or on Strava, ‘Does my berm look big in this?’ As you can guess, it was a constant bermfest, tightly sweeping through the forest with a few jumps thrown in for good measure. This was the preface for stage 6, and after climbing back up K2 (affectionately named because it’s a bitch to ride up!), we queued up for the longest stage of the day; the old Deerstalker trail into the winding roots that make up the Labyrinth. The old Deerstalker started with a small drop that I got wrong and had to put a foot down, but the rest flowed without an issue. I managed to catch up to the rider in front of me, which gave me some confidence that my times may be alright! Stage 6 over and I, along with many other riders, collapsed on the floor to get our breath back after a lung-busting 6(ish) minutes of hammering the pedals through this stage.

Almost over, stage 7 beckoned and I headed towards the final hurdle; my favourite blue graded trail, blue 14. It started with a blast through the woods, pumping anywhere and everywhere I could to conserve energy before a short uphill and into the downhill section; 2 hips to send, then a bunch of fast flowing berms to the finish. Swinley regular Lynn was at the bottom of the run, catching some great shots of haggard riders, so naturally I had to pose like a knob.

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Suits you, Sir. Photo: Lynn Funnell Warr

Race over, back to the race village to hand in the timing chips. I genuinely couldn’t believe it when it said I was sitting in 10th place of 33 finishers… holy balls! I knew it wouldn’t stay that way, but that still made me smile massively. All said and done, I ended up in 16th from 58 finishers in the Masters category, which I was immensely stoked about, that’s top 20 which is by far my best result so far!

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Photo : Harris Photo

All in all, the climbing was tough when against the clock, but this added an additional challenge to the course and I loved every second of it (I’m one of those weirdos that loves a climb, thanks to my old XC days) and the loop was put together so well by the team. I’m already looking forward to the 2017 event and will be seeking a top 10 there for sure.

Bird Cycleworks had another successful day, with Francie Arthur taking 1st in Women’s, Charles Griffith taking 1st in U18’s and Chris Doney taking 2nd in Elites. Local rider Mark Hemmings took 2nd in Vets too, representing the Stealth black Aeris crew… top job my man! The full results are here, with photos available on Roots & Rain here. You can see an overview of the race circuit on Relive.cc here.

It’s well worth mentioning the race village again too; chilled tunes and a hog roast from Pig & Rig made for a super relaxed atmosphere, allowing for all riders to catch up and chat about their results, bike setups and general shit-chat. The Marin stand was great too; I picked up a neat pint glass and mudguard and even met a quality little tortoise! One thing was evident; the amount of smiles and laughs proved that this was definitely an event to remember, and I, like many others, finished the day in high spirits. Here’s a little slideshow of some snaps I got through the day:

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After the podium presentations, a few mates and I headed back out for a 7 mile leg stretcher and to session a little drop we’d found on the previous night ride, which was a good laugh (Thanks to Vlad for the vid below). Heading home after, I was all smiles, listening to some tunes up loud. Arriving home, there was a giant pizza waiting for me, which I reckon was thoroughly deserved.

No time to rest for Stealth Riders, as the final round of the Southern Enduro is fast approaching on the 18th September… time to put the power down and do what I can to finish my first series on a high note. Swinduro, you were awesome, thank you for having me.

Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Exploring… Bike Park Wales

It’s been hailed as the best bike park in the UK for the three years it’s been open, has won a truckload of well deserved awards, and has been on my list to visit for what feels like forever. Finally, 12th August was the day of days, and the weather was absolutely stunning; blue skies for miles! Oscar and I headed up from leafy Surrey to Merthyr Tydfill to meet Chris, Sam, Artur, Graham and Pete for some tasty breakfast before driving to the cycling nirvana that is Bike Park Wales.

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Once we arrived, we set our bikes up, signed in and headed to the first of 9 uplifts we managed to get in on the day. We started on Terry’s Belly, the UK’s longest continuous blue graded descent at 4.2km. It was dry, dusty and fast. By the time we had laughed our way down the beautifully flowy, bermy trail, my hands were ridiculously sore from holding on (death gripping!), but what a start to the day! Luckily, the 2.6 mile uplift allowed for plenty of much needed recovery time.

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Throughout the day, we ticked off the majority of the blue and red runs, and a fair number of the blacks too. Increasing in difficulty, these trails were true to their colours. Sixtapod and Terry’s Belly were my choice of top blues on the day, with winding berms, small jumps and small rock sections to get you warmed up.

Out of the red runs we got through, their newer Hotstepper trail was easily my favourite. If I had to describe it, I’d use the word phenomenal. Tight trees, rock gardens and some decent sized drops too, this offered everything I love in a trail. The speed mixed with the technical sections left a smile from ear to ear. Wibbly Wobbly and Bonneyville were close contenders and we all had a blast on the qualifier features before hammering the full runs.

Another red trail, the newly refurbed A470 was a different beast. Chris, Sam and Artur nailed this run, but I’m not any good at jumping (yet). Show me a drop and I’ll be in my element, but my jump technique is shocking. After A470, it was time for some black runs. 4 of us hit Pork Belly, which started with an elevated rock drop. This was more my kind of trail and I’ll be sessioning that a little more on my next visit. Sadly my idiocy resulted in me not charging my GoPro fully, but luckily Chris had his to hand too. Here’s a small, terrible quality edit of some blues and reds, you’ll have to wait until next time for the black (stealth!) edit. Note to self – stick with GoPro studio!

Rim Dinger was insanely rocky and a borderline red/black trail in my opinion, with more scattered rocks than I’ve experienced before.. at least until Osc and I hit some black runs later in the day! I love riding technical sections rather than park style ‘flow runs’ like A470. Bike Park Wales truly offers a trail for everybody though, which is the beauty of it.

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As the day was drawing to an end, we split up and Oscar and I tried out some of the black runs, managing to squeeze in Coal not Dole, Deep Navigation and Zut Alors, which were another level of insane. Even more rocks, even steeper, and an absolute blast! We managed to squeeze in a final uplift and were the last 2 at the top of the park on the day. After checking out 50 shades of black, we decided to skip that and head to Dai Hard, which, with tired legs, felt immensely tough when twisting through the trees and rooty drops. I almost had a few crashes on this one, but we all finished unscathed (except for Pete, who had a couple of tumbles and some unfortunate mechanicals), aching and eager to get back to the best place I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding.

Huge credit once again to Bird Cycleworks, their Aeris is a true beast of a bike and is perfectly suited to a Bike Park like this. They’ve just released news of their shorter travel Aeris 120, so I’ll see if I can demo one for a review ASAP! You can check out their newly designed site here.

We popped into the café, picked up some ales and called it day, spending the 3 hour journey home reliving the trails we’d just ridden and what was an absolutely perfect day. Cheers to the lads on the day for some awesome company and the staff at Bike Park Wales. Check out their site and book your uplift here now.

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Until next time, cheers!

Ian @ Stealth Riders

 

Music + MTB = Stoked

The right music can get you super pumped, we all know this. From destroying deadlifts to killing your 10k time, music can get your adrenalin flowing and give you a psychological advantage when the right track comes on. A heavy guitar riff, flowing lyrics, incredible bass or some choice electro synth, music is so diverse, and that’s the beauty of it.

My music taste is a bit ‘eclectic’ if I use kind words, others would say ‘shit’, but it’s personal. Music is like marmite. You love some genres and hate others. I like a bit of everything, with the exception of garage (do I really like it? No. No I don’t. Is it is it wicked? No, not really) and over the top cheese-pop. My iTunes library contains everything from Pirate Metal to Aussie Folk music, but primarily I love a bit of rock (punk-rock, pop-punk, southern rock.. anything really) and a healthy dose of hip hop, all blended together with a little EDM and mash up.

For me and many others, the right song at the right time is great with the MTB world. I wanted to share some of my favourite segments from some great MTB films over the years that have the perfect accompanying music. Check them out below, and if you don’t feel like shredding your trails after this, there is a very real chance that you may be dead inside:

New World Disorder 8 – R.A. The Rugged Man/Chains:

R.A is a lyrical genius, with ‘Chains’ and ‘Uncommon Valor’ both well worth a listen.

Kranked 8 – Love Grenades/Young Lovers (Sam Sparro Edit):

How every segment should be filmed. The Coastal Crew take riding to another level, with the perfect tune to accompany the trails.

Seasons – Wintersleep/Orca:

This segment from Seasons featuring the late Stevie Smith in his early days is super motivational, but sad to watch since his passing. #longlivechainsaw

New World Disorder 7 – Danko Jones/Baby Hates Me:

Danko Jones’ gravelly voice over some simple yet catchy guitar riffs is sure to get the blood pumping!

Martyn Ashton Back on Track – Coasts/A Rush of Blood:

This one just sums up overcoming obstacles in life, with a great backing track. Martyn Ashton is an inspiration and a legend in the cycling world, so this is a well deserved spot.

There are so many more segments with perfectly chosen backing tracks, although sometimes, a raw edit works wonders too, as seen below from Mark Wallace/Red Bull:

And there you have it! A few of the favourites here at Stealth Riders. I could go on for ages, but you don’t have all day, you’ve got a trail to hit up, and like Curtis Robinson in the Kranked 8 vid, some berms to destroy!

My favourite Band if you were wondering (I’m sure you weren’t, but whatever), is California based Zebrahead. Their pop-punk/punk rock fusion never fails to get me psyched for trail slaying (well, wobbling along a green trail, but in my head, I’m Gwinning). Have a listen to ‘Keep It To Myself’ from their latest album ‘Walk the Plank’ below, and if you like it, be sure to send some money their way and buy the album:

What are your favourite tracks to get you pumped for a ride? Let me know in the comments below!

Until next time, cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

Full credit to the original owners and uploaders of the videos featured in this blog post – you’re awesome.

Disclaimer – It’s your call, but I choose not to listen to music when riding, as it’s important to be aware of your surroundings. Whether on the road battling cars, or in the wild where the bears (ok, badgers) roam, always be safe people!

 

Southern Enduro Rd 3: QECP

Hilarious and exhausting. The third round of the Southern Enduro is over and I’m sure there are plenty of big smiles and sore bodies today.

The four stages at this round were longer than at Milland or Tidworth, with all being between around 3-5 minutes in length. The long transition climb (around 8-10 mins of steady incline), meant the legs were kept warm, and the sun was blazing, meaning a roaster of a race day. All in all, we were to ride around 18 miles and climb just over 3000ft on the day, including practise runs.

I arrived early, got a prime parking spot right next to the start of the transition, and went to sign in. With more and more familiar faces arriving each round, the Southern Enduro is really feeling like a mix between a competitive event and a social day out with good mates and fellow riders. It’s hard to capture the vibe at this event, but it’s been there since day one; everybody is out to race, but all are super friendly at the same time. Scott and the Southern Enduro crew have done a stellar job in creating an incredible atmosphere.

The rider briefing took place, then practise began and riders set out to get a feel for the stages. Practise went well for me, although because I’m a fat bastard, I chose to tuck into a burger after riding stages 1-3, didn’t check the time and missed out on trying out stage 4. No biggie, I’ll ride it blind, how bad could it be? (The burger was totally worth it, by the way).

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Practisting stage 2. Photo: Anita Gellatly

Race time rolled around and it was time to go. Up the transition and stage one began. I found this to be the most technical of the 4, with small jumps, drops and root sections scattered throughout the top section of the stage, opening up into a forest sprint through tight trees and a little climb thrown in at the end. Stage one felt super grippy, and I felt relatively fast coming across the finish line.

Stage two was rooty, dusty and twisty. I’d managed to get a good run in practise, which perhaps made me over-confident when trying to pin a rooty left hand turn into a small climb, leaving me sliding out and at a complete stop in the wrong gear for climbing. Ah well, onwards to the steepest section of the day, which I nailed smoothly, across a fireroad and into a stage finish devised by Satan himself… a brutal 2-300 metre sprint along flat grassy ground with a few off camber hips thrown in. I was absolutely ruined by the end of that, as were many others!

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Photo: Dave Williams

Stage three started off with a crazily tight wooded section, with greenery as far as the eye could see, and loose flint on the trail. The top of this stage felt ancient, with moss covered mounds scattered throughout. I was half expecting Gandalf to pop out of the woods to ask me to go on an adventure with him. Challenging is a good way to describe it, especially riding between two trees that I reckon were 801mm apart. My bars are 800mm, so it was a close call! I was chased down this stage by mate and fellow Aeris rider Ben Biggs, and after I got through some tight switchbacks, I moved to the side to let him pass, then sprinted up a small climb, through some great singletrack and over the line.

Stage four, time to go in dark. I’m quite glad I didn’t do this one twice, as it was a hellish yet fun sprint stage through the forest, with a lot of pedalling and tight, flat corners, meaning body and bike positioning were crucial. My legs were done by this point, and my whole body was burning by the time I ended the stage and another exceptional round of the series.

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Photo: Hannah Crossley

After all riders had finished, I ended up 46th out of 52 in the Masters category, with just under three minutes separating first place finisher Tomas Kupstys (Bird Cycleworks) and myself, so results were tight across the board. Although it’s low down the ranks, I am stoked with my placing; I’m not last, and I’m remaining consistent in my first year of racing.

QECP had a fantastic turnout of talent, with Traharn and Joel Chidley, Ben Deakin and Juliet Elliott amongst some of the big names in the Pro/Elite rider list. Bird Cycleworks riders placed very well, with 5 podiums in total. The category winners are below, huge congrats to them:

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You can check the full results, race photos and rider info on Roots & Rain here.

On reflection of the series to date, although my placing has been consistent, there’s been some significant improvement. For round one, I was 30% slower than the fastest finisher in my category. For round two, I was 27% slower, and for round three, I was only 20% slower, so I’m over the moon with that gap being closed. Of course I’d like to be higher up the list, but shit, with the competition I face, it’s not going to be easy.

Race comparison

Now it’s time for getting fitter and faster, hitting bigger stuff and giving my Aeris some much needed TLC, including a full bearing replacement. Next up for me on the race calendar is the Swinley Forest Enduro on 4th September; they’re some of my local trails, so I’m really looking forward to that one!

Finally, a huge thanks to Scott and the QECP collective, Bird Cycleworks, Dave G, Zoe, Michael, Josh, Ben, Mark, the dude on the 12spd Evil and everybody else on the day, whether you were racing, marshalling, catering or spectating. See you at Milland on 18th September for the final stage!

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Summertime Scorcher

It’s been bloody hot here in England. We’re used to clouds and drizzle, even in the Summer months. Typically, we complain that we never see any sun. So, what did we collectively do when the recent heatwave kicked in? Naturally, we complained. First it’s too cold, now it’s too hot.

Conversations about the weather rank in the top three grumbles Brits have; the others being queuing and public transport being so shit.  Not me, though. I won’t ever complain about seeing actual blue and a strange yellow disc in the sky! No, instead, I get out and ride.

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19th July was the hottest day of 2016 so far, peaking at around 32 degrees in Surrey. After a shitty day at work and 2 weeks off the bike due to a hectic workload, getting out and destressing was all that was on my mind. I chatted with my good friend Oscar and we were soon on the road to the ever stunning Surrey Hills to enjoy a sweatfest of a ride.

Although we only managed to get in 12.5 miles before the light began to fade below the tree line, we both smashed some great goals in some intense heat (It was still around 30 degrees when we set out). Oscar absolutely NAILED Yoghurt Pots and Barry knows best, and I finally got down the chute into Thick & Creamy on the first attempt at a decent speed! No matter how small, it’s always good to achieve something!

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We weren’t out for Strava times, it was just about getting out, enjoying the weather, dusty trails and having a laugh. It’s always the case though; don’t try, and you seem to do better! It was great to see a few others on the trail, including another Aeris rider (Andy, if you read this, good to meet you).

The colours on a day like that are spectacular; vivid blue skies and a sea of green slowly descend into pink and orange hues with the sun setting and the full moon rising. It truly makes for an incredible scene, only made better by being on the bike and having a good time. Snaking through Barry knows best with the sky turning to blood red in a glorious sunset was a definite highlight for me, topping off an incredible ride. The trails were dry, dusty and loose, with my Maxxis Shorty/Minion SS tyre combo searching for grip in every turn, resulting in a few sketchy moments and some good laughs!

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If you’ve not ridden the Surrey Hills, you are seriously missing out. It’s arguably the best place to ride in the South East, just for the fact that there are so many hidden trails to explore over a huge area of land. From the Holmbury St Mary viewpoint, you can see both the London skyline to the North East and the undulating South Downs to the South. Stunning views, trails for all levels and friendly locals; it’s got to be on your list of places to ride. Take a local if you can, to ensure you get the best selection of trails. If you don’t know anybody local, always ask – us mountain bikers are always willing to help out!

I’ll be sure to take the GoPro over there soon, to get a full, in depth trail review up, to help you out.

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With just a few days until the third round of the Southern Enduro at a venue near Queen Elizabeth Country Park called Headdown Wood, my fitness is awful and once again, I’m up against some amazing competition.  I’m fairly confident in the fact I’ll be propping up the bottom again, but I refuse to drop to the fun category… I’d rather do badly in masters than decent in fun! It looks like I’ve got race number 99, it’s always nice to have double, rather than triple digit numbers. Let’s just hope I can pin it on the day and improve my placing over my last time out.

As always, I’ll be popping a race report up once the dust has settled – stay tuned!

Cheers,

Ian @ Stealth Riders

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Swinley Forest Enduro!

I’d heard rumours about this for a while, thanks to going on regular Thursday night rides with the Swinley Bike Hub. Now it’s become a reality; the Swinley Forest Enduro is good to go, and is selling like hotcakes as I type this!

The Swinley Forest Enduro takes place on Sunday, 4th September and will consist of 7 timed stages, all between 2 and 5 minutes in length and a total of around 20km of riding on the day, including transition stages.

Highlights outside of the race itself include a BBQ, locally brewed booze, coffee and some amazing supporting brands including Whyte, Marin, Pivot, DMR, Fox and Burgtec, which will allow you to get your grubby mitts on the latest 2017 offerings. Result!

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I have, of course, entered this event, once again in the Masters category. I’m well aware that my prior results at the first two rounds of the Southern Enduro have not been where I’d hoped they would be… however, Swinley Forest is one of my local playgrounds; a place I’ve spent countless hours exploring both marked and off-piste trails. I know the terrain, I ride with confidence there and know how both my body and my bike react to the mix of loam, ginger and roots of the forest, in all weather conditions. Surely, I have some competitive advantage on this one, right?

Who knows, only the minutes and seconds on the day will matter. The Masters category is still going to be ultra-competitive and full of exceptional riders, but I’ll have a quiet, underlying hope that the  knowledge of the trails will no doubt help me, even if just a little.

I have no idea what the stages will look like, as I’m sure the trail team will sculpt some absolutely stunning routes, I can’t wait to try them out on race day.

A few things are for sure. The Swinley Hub Race Team have been the rowdiest, loudest bunch at the Southern Enduro events at Milland and Tidworth this year, so they’re guaranteed to bring the noise at their home race!

Also, it’ll be exceptionally well organised, if the social night rides and the BBQ’s are anything to go by. Knowing the amount of effort the crew put into every detail to get things right, I’ve no doubt that this will be one hell of a race day.

You can race in confidence, too. The Swinley Forest Enduro is part of, and follows the guidelines set out by the British Enduro Mountain Bike Association (BEMBA), which ensures that safety is a key aspect of what will be a hugely fun event.

If you’ve not signed up yet, what are you waiting for?! Entry is £42.50 for any category, but just be aware than the car parking for the day (£4) is not included. I’ll even make it easy for you, the link is here.

A bunch of my good riding mates have also signed up, so this is going to be a social blast as well as a superb Enduro race!

I’ve still got round three of the Southern Enduro to focus on first, with the race at Queen Elizabeth Country Park (QECP) taking place on Sunday, 24th July. I’m putting the miles in, and have even signed up to a gym (boooo) to help with overall strength, so I’m going for a placing beginning with a ‘3’ at least!

It’s time to get the Enduro face on again.. see you there!

Cheers,
Ian @ Stealth Riders

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#soenduro