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Singletrack Weekender

Singletrack Weekender

A handful of the CGCC got together for a much overdue weekend away on the bikes last weekend, it’s been a while. The destination in this case was the Singletrack Magazine Classic Weekender. John and Adam were picked up after work on Friday by Fuller in Bumble, his better half’s newly fitted out VW camper, so called due to the colour scheme. And thank god he did, the weather that greeted Chop and I when we finally arrived at Lee Quarry would have had Noah getting them lined up two by two. Torrential doesn’t quite describe the rain and bear in mind; this was a weekend under canvas. Anyway, after a few beers sat in the back of our steel box saviour we put aside discussions of giving up and going home and we all pulled out a double helping of Man-Up. We chatted with the Eighteen Bikes crew around a campfire, well Barbeque, and sunk a few more ales. With the awning aside bumble pitched in what we affectionately termed The Somme, I chose the lesser of two evils and bedded down in the back of the van with John and Fuller. Thankfully they were perfect gentlemen.

Video By Singletrack (Jon Woodhouse and Dom John)

Saturday morning started as Friday night has finished, wet. The heavens were still open and the odd squall saw everyone sitting in the van calling for another round of tea. We’d managed to make it as far as the registration tent to find out the order of the day, collect our numbers and goodie bags and a few more bottles of water for more tea. The Weekender uses a revived and excellent race format. Saturday consisted of a downhill race and a series of Trials tasks, these were obstacles designed to test your basic skills on a bike: A short, steep and loose hill climb; skinny over water; 10 second track stand; stepped climb and descent and a see-saw. All pretty easy but that didn’t mean the nerves didn’t make it hard. Sunday was then a handicapped XC race with the winner taking all.

Saturday Morning Downpour (Photo: Will Fripp)

Once the worst of the morning’s rain had past I was out of the van and off to practise the DH track (leaving the others to mull over options over another brew). After a chat with Jon Woodhouse and his ‘TOG mate Dom John I pushed up to the top of the course. It was very nicely put together with a few line choices available to keep it interesting and flowing but also make it accessible to all. The weekender is pitched very much like the Peaty’s Steel City DH to try and get bikers of all levels along and have a good laugh, having fun on bikes. There are lots of great man made trails at Lee Quarry but the race track only used portions and linked them together with ‘off piste’ sections with large rocky obstacles, fast chutes and open and loose corners. They used a self seeding format where you timed yourself (guessed) how fast you got down on a practise run, then submitted your time to the organisers. The Marshalls were all very keen and took their jobs very seriously so they kept practise runs spaced out to minute intervals meaning it was hard to session particular sections. However, they did do a really good job of keeping everyone safe and deserve a massive thank you for giving up their time. I was on my brand new bike (which was classically finished being built at 9pm Friday night) so this was a great opportunity to christen it and get to grips with a bit of bounce again. When we submitted our seeding times I estimated I was doing about a 2:20 run down the hill but thought this was quite conservative not wanting to place too highly. Chop, Fuller and John had all reckoned on a 2:45 and Matt Hunt a 2:30 so it seemed about right. The guy’s face lit up at this point, “2:20??? That’s the fastest time of the day, fancy yourself do you, right, I’m going make you last man down the hill!”. Fuck, not what I wanted, especially when it was announced over the PA meaning John and Fuller took great delight in taking the piss for the rest of the day. Standard CGCC operating procedure.

Matt Hunt on the DH Course (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Si Bowns speeding down (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Following a spot of lunch back in Bumble we headed out to take on the trials tasks. Duncan Wiggins, out with a back injury, was armed with Matt Hunt’s camera and took many of the great shots in this post. Fuller had suffered a disaster earlier in the day when his crank arm fell off. Now fuller isn’t known for his mechanical prowess despite being and engineering graduate and a D&T teacher. However, this job has been entrusted to Edinburgh Bike Company in Sheffield and the mechanics were obviously very hungover that morning. They’d not seated the crank correctly and used the wrong numbers of spacers meaning his cranks were a right off. Thankfully the saviours at the Shimano tent sprang to the rescue and bestowed Fuller with a brand new set of Hone cranks, he was rolling again.

Matt Hunt on the Hill Climb (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Fuller on the Steps (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

To start the trials we hit up the skinny to avoid the hill climb queue and we all made it across clean bar Chop who’s back wheel slipped off at the end. Next up was the Track stand, John’s other trick beside being able to wheelie, is track standing. I asked for advice but it didn’t help, once atop the mound I was bouncing around all over the place but thankfully I remained within the tapes and within the rules as did the rest of the lads. We then queued up for the rock steps, four 1 foot high steps up, the same down again, easy if you saw them on a trail but strangely with a crowd of people watching, a bit more difficult. We all made it up and down fine bar Si Bown’s who managed to dab on the way up much to our hilarity. We then rolled back down the hill to try our luck at the hill climb. It wasn’t much to look at but steadily increased in steepness and was covered in loose rocks. I was first up and made it to the top unscathed to stand with Matt ‘Singletrack’ Letch and heckle as loud as possible. Maybe this is why the rest of them all spectacularly dabbed, including Adam on his Ragley Gate. Chop was so disgusted with himself it took a bit of persuading to get over his self loathing. The final obstacle was a simple see-saw, piss easy. However, with our usual team spirit we wound each other up and jeered as much as possible. I was last over and had challenged John to wheelie off it, which he did with style. I on the other hand, wheelied off and missed the end of the plank so Benji marked me down. Gutted.

More Cow Bell!! (Photo:

Each dab or failed feature earned you a minute penalty in Sunday’s XC race finale where the weekend’s winner would be crowned. You could also earn penalties for being slow in the downhill race, with only the top 10% being unhindered, this was the next event. It was the usual DH format, 30 second gaps, one run, fastest time takes the win. We were all seeded pretty high so it was a great opportunity for us to flex our heckling guns. We found a spot half way down the course where there was the biggest drop on the course and warmed up our vocal cords. Before we started yelling it was all rather too nice with not much banter and certainly not enough cow bell. Next year I think I might run a cowbell and noise maker stall just to better the atmosphere. We’d made friends with ‘Goggles’ earlier in the day at the pump track and we took a particular liking to ‘Guns’, but big wheeled riders and most Gompers also got special attention, all in good humour of course. The race was red flagged on a couple of occasions and the ambulance was out for the worst case. Matt’s mate Dave went down hard, breaking his arm and his brake lever penetrated his chest. Thanks to everyone that helped him out and looked after his dog.

DeathFace on Course (Photo: Singletrack)

Nick Hamilton on the Downhill (Photo:

Adam Wiles smoothing out the DH (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Nick Hamilton coming off in Practice with a great flat three (Photo:

Once the race was restarted it was time for the lads to head to the top of the hill and line up. I took great delight in some very personalised heckling although Wiles was looking very smooth so actually got some congratulations. John’s DeathFace was out in force and Fuller didn’t enjoy being told not to fall off just before the beeps. I’d had a big off in practise and smashed up one knee particularly badly, however, after a beer and some Ibuprofen I was feeling much better. Hanging around up the top I got chatting to Nyle Oxley who’d been looking fast all weekend, he was coming back from injury but seemed confident. We got news over the radio that XC legend Nick Craig was leading the pack with a 2:20, it was time to warm up. I’ve never been last man down the hill before and it was really quite surreal standing at the top. However, I put my race face on and got down to it. I had a pretty clean run bar one of the loose corners in the mid section and peddled my ass off to the finish. I came in second by 0.17 seconds, gutted, should have peddled harder! Everyone else did really good too except Fuller. His chain came off about half way down, became wrapped around his chain device and wouldn’t come out. He was forced to run the rest of the way down the course cursing John the whole way down (John had sold it to him and it was a dual device but being run on a single ring). As we walked back to the top of the hill together the talk was of beers and reward rum.

Proof Jon did actually ride a bike over the weekend (Photo:

Nick Craig on the Pump Track Challenge (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Fuller did us proud with a great dinner cooked in Bumble and we set to work polishing off as many beers as possible. The light summer nights and camping make the day seem endless so by the time the Hope sponsored pump track race went down we were pretty hammered, none more so than John ‘Deathface’ Alexander. Singletrack provided a pretty ghetto 24” rigid jump bike as our steed for the challenge and Chipps was ‘in charge’ of proceedings. We’d spent the early evening drinking beers in the setting sun watching the fast lads take to the track, very impressive. We knew we weren’t on for the win but that didn’t stop us signing up, especially John. As we waited our turn we got the Rum out. The CGCC have a tradition or rewarding great deeds and punishing bad ones, the prize is the same for both, a large shot of rum. By the time we mounted up, the bottle of rum was gone.

Face melting bonfire (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

4 hope lights were strapped to the front of the pump bike, about a grands worth all told. We were chasing the fastest time of the night set by Jan C with an 8.4 for a completed flying lap. We’d watched all sorts have go, including Nick Craig who slammed hard on the inside of the far berm gaining himself a punishment rum. I was up first and laid down a 9.3 followed by DeathFace who managed a 9.4, much to my satisfaction. These times got us through to the 7 man final. John was first up and in his drunken state reckoned he could smash it. Coming in to the far berm John lost his front wheel on the first lap and span the bars, as he tried to get up to keep going he span the bars further the wrong way pulling the leads out of the back of 3 of the very expensive hope lights.. game over. John spoiled it for everyone… HA! The rest of the evening was spent drinking beers by the huge bonfire and talking about the race to come the next day: our hopes for the weather, our fear of the hangovers and our regret we hadn’t brought more rum.

XC start (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Chop bringing home the glory in the XC (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

Sunday morning was thankfully a dry start although it had rained through the night. With not much to do until the race at 11 we drank gallons of tea and enjoyed Fullers bacon butties. We’d all picked up penalties but none more so than Fuller who was some 11 minutes back. This was only eclipsed by John Booth from Shorelines who hadn’t been able to race the DH so was starting with a 15 minute disadvantage.  I lined up next to Matt Hunt in the 1 minute back line and we both peered over our right shoulders to see Nick Craig at the end of our row, I don’t think we’ll see that happening again. The leaders of each category were given a minus 1 minute advantage meaning 2 people started a minute before everyone else. There was about 10 people going a 0 minutes and they raced off in to the distance leaving us to count down 0 seconds. On the next whistle we were off and Matt Hunt did his classic sprint start all the way to the first corner, where he regressed to his normal pace and I passed him. Going in to the first corner I spotted a cheeky cut line and took it in a Mega Avalanche style, I was ahead of Nick Craig who was caught up in a mêlée behind. Obviously this didn’t last long and I soon watched his lycra clad arse peddle off in to the distance. The XC course felt very tough, lots of sharp, steep climbs with enough tech to throw you off the bike and certainly considering pushing instead. There were some good sections of DH and others which were just fire road downs but overall it made for a challenging course, particularly with pure alcohol sweat. My gears and mech hanger had taken damage in the crash the previous day so I spent a few minutes each lap getting my chain out from behind my cassette. The first time this happened was just as Chop overtook me at the start of the 2nd lap. As much as the organisers had tried to sway the race in the favour of none XC’rs, if you were fit, fast and on an XC bike, the race was yours for the taking. Chop started several minutes behind me but fought his way to a 7th place finish, only about 7 minutes back on Nick Craig (had they started on even standings, Chop would have been within 2 minutes). I finished a knackered 29th, Si Bowns 36th, Adam 40th, Matt Hunt 41st, John 69th, John Booth 86th and Fuller typically got a flat on his first lap so drank tea instead. Full results here.

Nick Hamilton trying to have fun on the XC race (Photo: Duncan Wiggins)

We all had a fantastic weekend and will definitely return again. The whole weekend has a really good feel about it, everyone’s having fun and it shows. We all happily chatted to one another, laughed at strangers and continually took the piss the way that only bikers can. The laid back nature of the event doesn’t belie the fact that the Singletrack team put a hell of a lot of work in to make it such a smooth running and enjoyable event. All the volunteers and marshals who gave up their own time to keep things moving and make things happen should be rightly proud of their contribution to a great affair. If only all bike races could be this much fun I’m sure they would be sold out within hours and people wouldn’t mind not finishing in the top ten because they’ve got a million stories to dine out on for the weeks to come. Good work SingleTrack and thanks again.

Justin has left the building….

Justin has left the building….

Justin has left the building, just like Elvis, and by the time you read this he’ll be with his rightful owner Mr Rob Stokes. The love affair between Justin and I was never in a vacuum, we we’re free, and he showed me some great times, the gleaming shaft of the air shock, the sound of the forks compressing when riding hard and the firm but forgiving saddle that slid between my legs.

Just being able to ride a bike anywhere at anytime is something I’d forgotten but Justin rekindled that for me. I always felt anxious when riding DH on my own, rather than relaxing into the riding I felt like I was on edge, and enjoyment came only later when riding with friends. Maybe Justin was my friend, someone to hold my hand when things get out of the ordinary and guide me out of the rough into the serene embrace of stability and competence.

For a further insight, here are some of favourite intimate moments with Justin:

Riding him for the first time in the Sheffield Dual Series. Where Rob handed him over to me, then flying over to New Zealand.

Competing in the Wellington Super D race – 13th in Masters after suffering for a week with a bad head cold and leaving the track down a bank after clipping the wrong side of a root. Pedalling so hard into the finish I thought my head was going to explode.

The primo Alpine singletrack of the Craigieburn Forest Park. Alpine Beech forest is something of a New Zealand trademark, the smell and the feel of the loamy wet soil under tyre, where any corner makes you feel like a hero.

Riding the Queen Charlotte Track in a storm with my partner Jen, 71km of singletrack through the Marlborough Sounds. Any ride that starts with a boat journey is a guaranteed epic.

Being in Nelson with my mate Lilly (the girl shreds hard) up in the Coppermines and then riding on the following day in the Hira forest on life-affirming trails.

Not staying on the bike on a long gravelly left-hander and getting cellulitis in my knee and having a dose of Entonox gas on New Years Eve. Not as dramatic as Sam Hill’s World Champs crash, but definitely on a par.

The giant podocarps of Whirinaki Forest Park, a forest described by David Bellamy as ‘one of the great forests of the world’. Nuff said.

Getting up at 4.30am on Christmas Day and ascending Ben Lomond above Queenstown and then riding on pristine soil and tracks back down into the town in time for a feed and a flat white well before lunch.

Discovering the joys of commuting back home from work….

Justin has been a great addition to my life, but now he has gone I realise I don’t miss him – he’ll live on and travel to the world’s best riding, he enhanced my life and was never a hindrance, but I had to make room in my heart for another addition to my life…..but more on that soon…..

My current commute home….

My current commute home….

I’m currently working in the Port Hills in Christchurch, New Zealand. My work takes me all over the place, and seemingly the world (though Canada would be a welcome addition to the list!), and as a result I arrived in Christchurch a few weeks after the February 22nd earthquake to remedy the loose rocks that surround many parts of the city.

It’s not often I get the chance to ride home from my work place, normally the confides of a power plant or a some equally inhuman environment don’t lend themselves to an area of amazing singletrack….

Many of the tracks in the Port Hills are still closed due to the huge amount of rockfall, and as of yet there are no signs of them being re-opened anytime soon…..

This track, Anaconda, is a Port Hills classic, fast and flowing with amazing views, and this is my current ride home….enjoy!

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