My day job is in travel and January is always manic, so I decided to book 2 days off and ride bikes instead. Rather than ride mine, I thought I’d give the new Bird Aeris models a go and pop some first impressions up to help people that may be looking for a new bike.
Bird have redesigned their full suspension Aeris and now have 2 more curvy models based around metric shocks and boost spacing; the One20 and the One45.
I gave the guys at Bird a shout and before I knew it, I was picking up the new Aeris One20, Birds newly designed 130/120mm trail bike and was en-route to Swinley Forest, which I figured would make an excellent testing ground for a bike with this amount of travel. It was a damn cold but sunny day, sitting around minus one, so the ground was crisp with some damp spots on the more loamy sections. A perfect day to spend outside, rather than confined to an office. If you’ve not been to Swinley Forest yet, I’d highly recommend it for it’s all weather friendly trails and the laughs you’ll have at the hub with the team there.
The model I tested was a large, which at 6’1”, was spot on. Kitted out with 130mm RockShox Pikes, their new metric Deluxe RT3 rear shock, SRAM GX 11 speed drive and Guide RS brakes and DT Swiss E1900 wheels with Maxxis Minion DHF front, High Roller 2 rear both running low pressures of around 18psi. Keeping the muck away is the ever reliable Mudhugger shorty. It was a setup similar to my current bike, except the new models now sport bottle cage mounts, making them super enduro!
My initial thought was that the weight was very low for an aluminium bike. I didn’t weigh it with scales, but was impressed with both that and the sleek new curves and frame design in general. Heading through the high sided berms of the blue runs at Swinley, immediately I could feel the bike gripping in the cold, icy conditions too. At times, it felt like I could get practically horizontal and still go lower.
The bike is also long. Very long, with a top tube of 655mm on the large, offering a wheelbase of 1220mm! However, thanks to a steep seat tube, during the climbs it also felt compact which worked in my favour… it’s hard to explain, but it just works. You can check out the full measurements below:
What impressed me most however, is when I got to the red sections and off piste areas. I figured I’d hit a few drops that I’d not usually attempt on a short travel bike, but it ate them up with ease. It’s a bike that definitely punches above its weight in terms of gravity riding; I didn’t feel like I had 120mm travel, that’s for sure. As somebody that can’t jump for shit, it also inspires confidence and after a few attempts, I was clearing the table on Babymaker like a (not so) pro.
The metric shock may have something to do with this. It felt a lot smoother and more progressive than my Monarch RT3 Debonair. Technical data isn’t my strong point, but I’m sure the Bird guys would be happy to explain ramp up and linear feels! A few close ups for you:
Like a chainsaw or a scalpel, in the hands of the right person, this is one seriously fun piece of kit and I reckon it’s going to be a sure-fire hit. It’s a bike that is made for the likes of Swinley Forest, but I’m sure people with more talent than me will slay the black runs of Bike Park Wales on one of these! It’s already got a race winning pedigree too; Chris Doney rode one to victory in the Southern Enduro last year.
Its main competition in terms of UK brands will be the Whyte T-130 and the Cotic Flare, neither of which I’ve had the chance to try yet… I’ll look into that soon.
If you’re looking for a really fun trail bike at a great price, the Aeris One20 should definitely be on your demo list. There’s a huge amount of sizing, including a ‘medium long’, as well as a fully custom bike builder, so there will be one to suit you for sure. Prices start from an incredible £1681 and you can choose from Atomic Blue, Candy Orange or Tungsten Grey.
Check out the full range, sizing and pricing here.
To sum it up, at the end of the day when dropping it off at Bird HQ, my legs were aching from pushing myself and climbing faster than ever before and I had a big smile from an epic day out on a stunning bike. It feels superb going up and descending and has a huge grin factor. I do think I’m personally more suited to a larger travel bike, having had a 160/140 Aeris for a while now, but the One20 is a bike that absolutely has its place in the market as a short travel trail destroyer.
However, although sad to give the One20 back, I was handed a One45 and had a date with the Surrey Hills the following day… you can read that review here.
Big thanks to the guys at Bird HQ for the demo bike and to Swinley Forest (and the ever awesome hubdudes) for the fantastic test ground.
Peace out for now,
Ian @ Stealth Riders
Note – This is my own review and all opinions are mine. I was not paid or asked to do this, I just wanted to share my views in the hope it may help you out if you’re in the market for a new bike. The ride I did can be seen on Relive right here.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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….).
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.
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!):
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!
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
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).
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!)
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).
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.
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….
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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:
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
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).
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!
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.
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:
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.
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!
Ian @ Stealth Riders
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
Ian @ Stealth Riders
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
Ian @ Stealth Riders
5.15am on a recent Friday, and I’m woken up by my alarm. It’s time to get up, sort my shit out and get in the car, to spend the day at the Forest of Dean with my oldest riding mate Oscar on one of the hottest days of 2016 so far. We were both stoked as we’d been watching videos on YouTube and checking out the runs, and it looked incredible. We couldn’t wait to get started, and chatted and downed coffee for the two-and-a-half-hour journey from Surrey to the Western edge of Gloucestershire.
We arrived early, parked up and got our day ticket. First impressions were great; the onsite shop/hire centre, pedalabikeaway, the café and facilities (including showers) and everything else looked fantastic. Their filter coffee went down a treat after the long drive, too.
Once we were ready to ride, we set out to the blue trail, ‘Verderers’, but due to our complete lack of navigation skills, ended up riding straight up the push up area to the DH Zone… oops! We rode past the ultra talented DH rider Katy Curd, who was busy coaching, then chatted to a friendly local, who pointed us in the direction of the end section of the blue, and he told us “don’t worry, it’s the best bit!”. He certainly was right… the speed, the trails, the scenery… everything about this part was insanely fun!
We got back to the car park, caught our breath, then turned around and set out again to do the full 7 miles of the blue route, which we successfully navigated this time! From the switchback climbs to the swooping downhill sections, the Verderers trail was great fun. Here’s a small edit of the final section:
Next up, the red trail, ‘Freeminers’. Again, it’s another 7-mile loop, but sits inside the Verderers trail, packing the 7 miles into a much more compact space. This meant hairpin bends, tight switchbacks and a whole bunch of rooty singletrack, as well as some neat jump sections, with both tables and doubles to keep riders of all abilities entertained. We found a few little wooden ‘North Shore’ sections too, which we sessioned and really enjoyed.
We decided to skip the green route, as it was pretty much 11 miles of fireroad, but it’s great to see that there are trails to suit everybody; from world cup downhill riders, to junior rippers on their first ride out. The Forest of Dean centre even caters for those with disabilities, with the eye wateringly fast ‘Launch Pad’, designed for 4 wheels, but more on that a little later. We also passed on riding the 2015 Enduro race route, mainly because we didn’t have GPS to guide us round, and figured we’d rather not get too lost on our first time there. Next time, I’d definitely like to give this a shot!
After hitting the blue and red trails, we stopped for lunch at the café and a breather, as it was blisteringly hot by lunchtime (I’m not complaining, however!). I can confidently say that the burger I had was one of the best tasting trail lunches I’ve ever had, and the service was absolutely superb, with friendly smiles from the staff wherever you looked.
Food in our bellies and fresh, cold water in our backpacks, we headed off to look at the big stuff; the DH zone. We rode up to the top and looked around, and saw Launch Pad, a trail purpose built to cater for disabled riders using 4 wheel gravity bikes (although standard bikes are allowed to use the trail too). Launch Pad was wide, with a perfect flowy feel, yet gave riders the ability to throw some style in too. Oh, and it was ridiculously fast. Without any effort, I was up to 33mph in no time!! I ended this trail whooping and laughing, eager to have another go. It was slightly nerve wracking to see that the warning sign at the start offered the address and number for the local hospital, but that wasn’t going to stop us.
Heading back to the top, we saw somebody sending it big time on GBU (Good, Bad, Ugly), and chatted about how nice it’d be to have those sort of skills (and balls of steel to go with it). As we were pushing up to the top of the first downhill run that had piqued our interest, Corkscrew, the same guy flew down practically on his back wheel – fair play to him! When we arrived at the top, we bumped into him again (you’ve got to love uplift services!), and this time had a very quick chat to give credit where it was absolutely due. It turns out he was Ben Moore, team rider for Orange Bikes, and all round nice guy. There was no point trying to follow him down, he genunley had ‘style for miles’, so to speak, and would have left Osc and I for dust.
We got to the top of Corkscrew, and flew down at a good pace, navigating the rocks, ruts and drops with relative ease considering the grading of the trail (Orange, two dots) and ended the run by going into the speedy bottom section of Launch Pad. Without question, this was the favourite run of the day, leaving both Oscar and I grinning like little kids. We wanted more of this!
So, we headed back up, conscious of time as it was now getting late in the day, and decided to finish the trip off with a blast down Sheep Skull. We scoped out a few of the sections, and it looked insanely technical; roots galore, rocks, drops, ruts, jumps and more. Tentatively, we set off, and were getting into the flow of things, when Oscar had an unfortunate OTB in the rootiest section of trail. Taking it like an absolute champ, he dusted himself off, and we blasted down the rest of the run and back to the car park, ready to call it a day. Here’s a little edit of some of the sections on the red ‘Freeminers’ trail, as well as some of the orange DH runs:
The trails were perfect on a dry, sunny day. Thanks to their all-weather choice of materials for the build, we never wanted for more grip, nor any less, it was simply spot on. I can imagine the downhill runs would be really sketchy on a wet day, especially the rooty section at the top of Sheep Skull… that just increases the fun factor though, and I’d enjoy trying them out in the wet with a full face and some armour!
The icing on the cake at the end of a truly amazing day, was picking up some tasty, locally crafted cider and ale in the café, with the ale being named after the Sheep Skull run, and the cider after the wild boar that used to roam the area. These went down a treat when I finally arrived back home in Surrey, late into the night.
Overall, we had an absolute blast, with smiles and laughs lasting the whole drive home and the following few days! Hell, I’m still smiling now thinking back to it. Riding at the Forest of Dean was genuinely one of the most enjoyable days I’ve had on the bike for years. If you’ve not been to the Forest of Dean yet, it’s time to start planning your visit. Forest of Dean, I’ll be back to see you very soon.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can find out all details at www.fodmtb.com
Finally, a huge thanks to Oscar for the laughs and company on the day (and the jelly beans, of course!). Nothing beats riding new locations with your mates. Get outside and hit the trails, you won’t regret it!
Until next time, cheers!
Ian @ Stealth Riders