Monthly Archives: March 2017

Hit The North 5

In contrast to last weekend’s rain-lashed PMBA enduro at Gisburn, the venue for Hit The North 5 on Saturday basked in calm sunshine. I did have to scrape ice off the van when I left the house at seven, but by the time I’d signed on things were warming up nicely for the loveliest day of the year so far. The excellent course was mostly dry and fast when I rode a reconnaissance lap, although there was still a bit of mud about the place from the past few weeks of rain to keep things interesting. Having checked out the course and met up with various friends, everyone rolled out to the start straight, and I took up my position well out of the way of the fast boys, near the back.

With a couple of hundred riders bashing their way around, things dried out further over the two hours, and apart from at a couple of stubborn swampy bits the going was pretty good. The worst of the bogs was at the bottom of an entertainingly rutted and slippy downhill, resulting in numerous comedy dismounts and over-bar ejections, happily all filmed and photographed by one diligent spectator. Please note that whilst I am not featured in this marvellous montage of ineptitude, I did manage to hit the deck elsewhere on the course, and I didn’t even get a nice soft muddy landing, choosing instead to bin it on a load of rocks, as usual.  My left side is once again nicely bruised, and I won’t be leaning on my elbow for a week or two.

Given that I didn’t stand a chance of placing anywhere remotely respectable, I decided that the best bike for this race would be my Surly Krampus single speed, a rigid steel 29+ barge with full mudguards and dynamo lights. Having ridden much of this course previously on a number of different bikes I have to say that the Krampus does actually make these trails entertaining, and it turned out to be a better choice than might have been expected. Whilst not particularly fast on hills and flat-out pedally bits, I was pleasantly surprised by it in a few spots. Most remarkably, on the muddy field that the route crossed twice each lap I regularly shot past struggling skinny-tyred CX bikes and more normal MTBs, the Surly’s massive 3″ tractor-tread rubber flywheeling me over the tussocks and puddles with ease, gaining me several places every time. Similarly, in rutted, muddy woodland the bike battered its way past struggling XC whippets, and the huge tyres obviously stick like the proverbial on corners, making the many singletrack sections very enjoyable . As soon as the course headed uphill the tables were turned, though; with one gear and inadequate training I struggled with the hefty 15kg bike, off and pushing and losing position, and on smooth, flat tracks I span out quickly. But competitive advantage wasn’t really the point, and I had an absolute blast riding this slightly daft contraption in a proper race.

Pic by Russ Owen

The bike wasn’t the only bit of daftness – as you can just about see in the above photo, I rode with a small plastic aeroplane zip-tied to my helmet, complete with a spinning propeller that caused an interesting buzzing sensation at speed, rather like having a head full of bees. Throughout the race people yelled encouragement at “Aeroplane man!” which was greatly heartening, and I even started making “Neeeeeoooooowwwww” sound effects to myself round corners.  When I discovered that one of my cranks was disintegrating and the pedal was about to part company with the rest of the bike, I thought about throwing in the towel, but the idea of letting down my legions of cheering fans was enough to keep me going, and I ground manfully on to the finish. Sadly, somewhere around the final descent, the plane’s propeller was lost after clipping a bit of vegetation, so it won’t be flying again. I shall have to come up with something else to drum up crowd support next time.

It turns out that I came 84th out of 143 finishers (and 173 starters), two laps down on the winners. Given that I started pretty much at the back of the field, rode a thoroughly unsuitable bike which started falling apart, ran out of water, and stopped for a chat at a couple of points, I’m pretty pleased with that. I had forgotten how fun it is to just pedal like stink and try to catch the rider in front of you, who knows, maybe I’ll do some more XC racing at some point.

The organisation by Jason Miles and team was excellent, the course was smashing, the marshals were all lovely and friendly and encouraging, and the atmosphere was absolutely splendid. The only real negative is that Hit The North doesn’t happen more often – although I hear rumblings that the gap to the next one might be rather less than the four years or so since HTN4, which can only be a good thing.

PMBA Enduro 2017 Round One, Gisburn

Last year’s PMBA Enduro at Gisburn was lovely and sunny. This year’s edition was not. It had rained pretty solidly for several days beforehand, and it continued to rain solidly for the duration of the day itself. We arrived nice and early to secure one of the first riding slots, perused the course map, and determined that we only needed to check out a couple of the stages as due to the conditions most of the route was confined to solid, established tracks and we already knew it well enough. We rode out to stage one, which turned out to be the first large climb on the main trail centre, run in reverse and horribly pedally, then investigated stage four, which was closed due to a rider having binned it off one of the drops. This stage was truncated progressively over the course of the day due to flooding and the apparent desire of some of the storm-battered trees to have a bit of a lie down, and ended up being about forty seconds long for the fast boys (rather more for me). After slopping up and down the track in the wind and rain we were thoroughly soaked, freezing cold, and pretty heartily sick of the whole exercise so we retreated to the van and cranked the heating up to full blast.

Having changed, defrosted and refuelled we dragged ourselves to the start line for our appointed roll-out time. The weather was still foul but we had the shelter of the trees for the first couple of stages and once warmed up things felt okay. Stage one was a slog, and having to repeat the first climb to get back up wasn’t the most pleasant way to recover, but stage two down the twisty trail centre run of Home Baked was pretty enjoyable in spite of the river flowing down it. My time wasn’t particularly great even by my own low standards, but I felt like I was starting to get the hang of the tight turns through the trees, and none of the slippery roots caught me out. The official photographer snapped me on this stage, on what feels like quite a technical little rock-garden, but as ever the camera flattens everything.

Stage three comprised most of the Whelpstone Crag and Hully Gully set pieces, joined with an unpleasant fire-road slog, and I messed up the start quite badly which cost me a chunk of time, in addition to the gigantic hub-deep puddles at several points. Stage four was down to about a third of its original size, and whilst I cleared the drops happily I fluffed the final rooty corner and ended up walking my bike sedately across the line, feeling pretty daft. I was glad to finish and we rolled back to the start as fast as we could, handing in our timing chips, packing up and setting off for home with a van full of mud and as much haste as we could manage.  I was glad to have got the first race of the year out of the way without incident, and pleased to discover that my still-sore injured knee was able to hold up to a day of hard riding in challenging conditions. I did still enjoy myself, mostly, but I have to say that I’m definitely looking forward to summer and some sunshine and dusty trails now.

On a final note, I must salute the efforts of the race marshals and first-aiders who gave up their Sunday to stand around on muddy hillsides in abominable conditions, watching a bunch of lunatics throw themselves at rocks, trees and puddles. They did brilliant work keeping everyone safe whilst remaining cheerful and encouraging throughout – absolute stars every one of them.