Sunday brought yet another gorgeous spring morning. It was Midlands Mountain Bike Orienteering‘s turn to hold a national series event just down the road from me near Burton on Trent. I took advantage of the weather and took the Spitfire again which was lovely but I did end up greeting friends with very cold hands when I got there! The area was completely new to me, which was a nice challenge. It is a proper British rolling countryside of meadows, woodlands, pastures and little lanes with a couple of large old country estates and rape seed in full bloom dotting the landscape. I think with my #pichampion kit on with the floro highlights on I matched well with the terrain!
I started out fairy scrappily finding it difficult to pick a good order through the well-planned course and missed a control I really would have taken no extra time to get. There was a good mix of offroad trails and fine navigation needed on an accurate map.
Mid-course we had been given permission to ride the wrong way up a 5km or so long estate road. It was fairly busy with the public arriving to enjoy the estate but I managed to keep on the edge of the Tarmac just edging into the grass for big vehicles. I did, however, have to swerve onto the grass when an older gentleman in a 4×4 started shaking his fist as he came towards me gesticulating I was going the wrong way. He then deliberately drove at me forcing me off the road!!!!!
My legs were in bits towards the end and they were finished off by a recently ploughed field which had destroyed the bridleway. Off and running, dragging the bike – thank goodness it wasn’t raining or it would have been a quagmire!
The sun came back out for the last day of Easter 4. Before heading to the airport, we had one more event. A stiff climb to the start took us to a high rounded ridge and plateau high above the village with amazing views of the Slovenian forested valleys, snowy peaks in the distance.
I made a mistake straight from the off, confused by the mapping of the vegetation, the vague contours on the top, and indistinct tracks. I was scrappy for a few more controls, struggling to get into the map, the vegetation extremely dense in places, forcing me to retrace my steps and find another way through, disorientating in the process.
I made a few more silly mistakes before dropping down the bonkers steep sides of the valley (cath had to pick here way down the cliffs!) and the last few controls. Again the combination of dense vegetation and indistinct tracks made the nav very hard.
Downloading I was pleased to see I’d ended up 6th overall for the week and enjoyed a ridiculously cheap lunch in a local café before we headed back to the airport.
A great alternative to our normal JK orienteering Easter weekend – I do like Slovenia!
Day 3 and the rain of yesterday cleared into glorious sunshine. We were back at the same start finish area but using a different part of the map today, better visibility and runability but the same intense Karst navigation through numerous sinkholes. There were a few paths to help things along today too.
I ran well through the first 8 controls but was starting to tire and had a quick drink at #8 which seemed to break my concentration. I promptly messed up the #9 but quickly realised what I had done and got back on track but managed to lose time on the to long legs 11 and 12 on the way back in. I am not quite sure why the planner subjected us to a load of grotty forest for the last few minutes after spending so long in amazing woodland.
I think it would have been quicker 11-12 to drop down to the major northern track than going direct, but I remember thinking at the time I haven’t come to amazing terrain like this to run along easy tracks!
Overall an OK run, slightly frustrated by my mistakes and 8th place. Fellow mountain bike orienteer, the Swiss, Beat Okle had a storming run taking 20 mins out of me, winning today but he is only running today and must have fresh legs 😉
The map below has an overlay of my route and speed across the ground and shows the mistakes.
What a day, talk about contrasts from yesterday. Chucking it down with rain, misty (although not too cold) and a technical limestone karst forest which was so rocky underfoot I didn’t so much run as shuffle.
I went straight from the car to the start and was like a drowned rat by number 1, the buff keeping the rain rather than sweat out of my eyes. #1 was a looong leg and I took it carefully, skirting the edges of the enormous sink holes being careful to exit the rim at the right place, keeping an eye on the compass.
2/3rds of the way round I was still having a clean run but catching people on my course and started to get distracted. #9 to #10 I skirted the edge of a sinkhole and then ended up trying to make the terrain fit on a parallel route. Eventually, nothing made sense and I quickly bailed out to relocate on a path and then ran around to the control losing about 2 to 3 mins. The next 4 controls into the finish I had a good race with the 3 others I was with, although all the time performing the ‘karst shuffle’ trying not to break an ankle or trip and fall flat on my face!
Results are now out and I am pleased to be 6th overall but now 4 mins down on a podium place it will be hard to make that up at the half way point.
This afternoon after a very lazy lunch at our hotel in the aptly named village of Slope we headed out to Skocjanske Jame caves nearby. The system, a UNESCO world heritage site ia 6km in length and has one of the largest chambers in Europe, The Martel Chamber, 146 metres in height,120 metres wide and 300 metres long!
We had a very scary guide who always seemed to instil silence when she finished a talk with ‘any questions’ but the caves were amazing!
We are not at the UKs JK Festival of Orienteering this year, 4 Days orienteering n Slovenia we felt sounded a little more attractive!
Day 1 started with a sprint in the late afternoon on the edge of the old town of Koper on the Slovenian Coast of the Adriatic. A little touristy but beautiful, a typical Northern Mediterranean old town with a port. Our age classes had grouped starts to make things more interesting so I had an hour or so’s wait whilst Holly and some other club members rattled round their courses before I got my turn. There was a great atmosphere in the square and the start boxes themselves became a spectator point as well as the adjacent finish as people crossed the line.
I started out quite hard thinking I could probably keep the pace high for the 3-4km needed. To start with the course was quite straightforward but as I got into the old town heart with lots tiny alleyways twisting and turning, keeping on top of the nav, planning ahead and trying not to run into anything became very challenging. During the middle part of the course, my legs started to protest a little but I managed to keep it going.
I made one small mistake (perhaps losing 15-20 seconds going down the wrong alley) but generally had a good run. I sprinted for the finish exhilarated and managed a 5th place which I held until the end. Holly also had a great run gaining 4th, ahead of some strong competition in the W14 category.
After the race we wandered the old town, eventually ending up in a little restaurant and enjoyed Rabbit Stew & Gnocchi and a Slovenian Craft Beer, a great end to the evening.
Sunday dawned as warm and sunny as Saturday and I decided it was the perfect day for not just some mountain bike orienteering but also a lengthy trip in my Triumph Spitfire, fresh from a service and recent MOT. I’ve had the spitfire since I was 18 and this year it is 40 years young! With the bike on the back, it really shows how small it is compared to a modern car!
The venue, Hayfield is brutal, nestled in a valley near Manchester there are hills in what seems every direction. With my #pearlizumi #pichampion kit on I decided to not try and avoid them, just get on with it and soon I was off and pushing up rocky tracks towards the top of Chinley Churn. I then headed in a clockwise direction through New Mills before climbing seemingly never ending hills ending up to the North of Hayfield at ‘Robin Hood’s Picking Rods’, whatever they are, and Crown Edge Rocks.
I was a little early and ended up a slightly disappointing mid-table but I can feel my fitness slowly returning. Afterwards, there was a great atmosphere for the Winter Series prize giving – the man of titanium, Killian Lomas, again scooping the overall win.
On the way home the sun baking down on my bonce had me stopping in Buxton for some sun tan cream – spring must finally be here then!
Proudly standing in full Pearl Izumi Champion Team gear on the start line in Ampleforth, North York Moors, of my first open 5 I was full of trepidation. This would be the longest event by 2 hours I have done since my 2011 injury and I wondered if I had perhaps bitten off more that I could chew – 5 hours of running and mountain bike score orienteering! My running shoes had my PI Champion team straplines on the laces – Endure on the left foot, Enjoy on the right!
The atmosphere in registration was friendly and it was very well organised. I had decided to run first, for a few reasons, I need to tape my ankle at the moment for support, I wasn’t sure how my legs would work trying to run after 3 hours of biking and I also thought I’d be able to plan and strategize more easily for both disciplines whilst running.
I went off a little too quick on the run, enjoying the morning sunshine and had to keep reminding myself I was going to be out a looong time. It was a mix of footpaths, forest roads and straightlines across fields to the south before crossing the main road and heading up into Wass forest.
I started to really struggle after about 1 hour 45, having to walk short sections of flat and the slight rise of the road through Ampleforth back towards transition had me really struggling……
Into transition, feeling broken after just over 2 and ¼ hours I wondered how an earth I could now go out and do another 2 and ½ on the bike, particularly knowing straight away I was going to have to attack a 100m climb (vertical). I shoved some food down me (a jam sandwich), treated myself to clean socks for some reason, donned my cycling gear and headed back out 6 mins after coming in.
The climb out of Ampleforth was brutal and I was really struggling but I soon found my pace at tre top and started to enjoy the riding. Wizzing down across the fields of Scawton Moor was fun but more brutal climbs and gluppy mud to the north end of the map were horrible.
With 55 mins to go I was at the north end of the map, I was knackered and had a long way to go! I had two options – pootle in, enjoying the sunshine, the views and not worry about points or bury myself. I noticed my headset cap – #endureandenjoy365, my back felt OK, realised I was actually doing ok and went for the make it hurt a lot option.
The last two climbs were really painful, I was seeing stars but knew I needed to nail it else I’d be late and then lose all my hard earned points. I skidded into the finish after 5 hours 2 mins and 16 seconds (losing 6 points) completely exhausted. At download a surprised organiser said good effort, you should stay around for the prise giving. Turned out I’d done much better than I thought – 5th on Male Solos!
Overall a great event in a lovely part of the country with a fantastic atmosphere. Might have to do the whole series next year!
Since 2011 when I last bought a new bike, the mountain biking world has gone a bit bonkers. New wheel sizes, new component standards from rear hubs to headsets and bottom brackets and the rise of the enduro and trail bike and different riding positions.
At some point in the not too distant future I am going to have to bite the bullet and replace my bike so decided I’d better test one to find out what all these new fangled standards are all about.
I’d like another British bike so with Cotic offering informal test days every weekend and one this weekend on Cannock Chase I went along. Sam turns up with a van full of bikes and after a little fettling coaxes the group around well known trails.
I opted to test a medium Cotic flare, a 130mm travel ‘trail’ bike but apparently built to be light and lively. Also interesting as per all Cotic’s is the steel front end to the frame. The Cotic website is here.
Mountain biking has changed in the last 5 years, all the other testers were wearing peaked helmets and most were wearing kneepads. Nearly all were also on flat pedals so I know this new stuff is not just about the bike……
The new fangled stuff I’d be trying for the first time included the following with my thoughts below!
Me wearing baggie shorts
Wide handlebar, Short stem
27.5 wheels and 2.3 aggressive tyres
Dropper seat post
1×12 drive train
Super slack head angles
My Pearl Izumi Champion Kit came with a pair of baggie mountain biking shorts. First off they are not that baggy and are lightweight and tailored to fit you ‘on’ the bike not off. They were comfy but with #PIChampion lycra on underneath, to be honest, I didn’t really see the point – round one to old man
I’ll start off being really honest – even in the car park before heading out I hated the Flare, but a lot of it was that it was simply too small for me and the geometry of a medium had me bum in the air and very cramped up with the short stem (see photo). I tried a 29inch 120mm Flare Max, large, on one section of the Monkey trail and immediately felt better really enjoying throwing it about but could feel the big wheels and I now know I definitely want to stay with the smaller wheel size (now 27.5).
Positives on the Flare though – quite light given the steel frame – the rear suspension (drop link) was amazing – almost like not noticing it was there. The X fusion shock and fork were also very good. It also looks great, much better than the big aluminium sections of my current Marin frame.
The wide bar – 785mm and short stem (well no stem) – an absolute no – hated it, really don’t get the point at all. I had to stop 3 times on the Monkey trail simply to feed the bars through some tight spots between the trees and bashed the bar a couple more times. On the tight corners, I was almost hitting my knee. The large Flaremax I tried had a 40mmish stem and slightly narrower bars and I found this much more to my liking! – round two to the old man.
27.5 wheels and big fat tyres were fine. The tyres were a little heavy but as a standard, the difference to the 26inch wheels is only just noticeable. – round three to the new brave world.
1 X 11 drive chain was Shimano XT with a 11-42 on the back and a 30 teeth up front. I have been concerned for a while I would not be fit enough to ride a single front ring which would be big enough for tonking road sections on Mountain Bike Orienteering races but this setup round the Monkey Trail was spot on, including a stiff climb up to the top of Lower Cliff where I rode the whole of it without any problems. People always say it is simpler not having to worry about a front mech and to be honest I would agree blasting around a trail centre but Id like to test 1X11 on a MBO score in the Peak District before committing.
Round four – Brave new world.
Dropper seat posts – this again is easy. If there is anything gnarly enough for me to put my seat down as I used to back in the early 90s that I can’t ride with my seat up I am not doing it – I don’t bounce like I used too, I am too chicken. The weight penalty alone is not worth it for me.
Round five to the old man.
Super slack head angles are difficult to explain. Old XC racers have head angles of between 71 and 72 degrees, making them twitchy and very direct, with a penchant for putting you over the handlebars if you get it wrong. The slacker head angles of modern trail bikes at 67 and 68 degrees make them easier to ride but less responsive. Fighting the short stem, wide bar and with the bike too small for me I couldn’t properly feel the effects of the slack head angle so the jury is still out on that one.
Round six – a draw.
All in all a really useful test and I would like at some point to try a large Cotic Flare with a lightweight xc type wheelset some narrower bars and short stem and no dropper before I make a final decision but at this point I am leaning towards a 27.5 inch XC short travel full suspension bike – trouble his hardly anyone makes one anymore 🙁