Sunday, June 30, 2013


Cross season is in full swing here in ‘stralia but the usually pleasant weather has meant rider have been without  a muddy par cours to indulge their skinny tires.  Riders were however in luck, as what felt like a month of dreary rain set up the Newcastle velodrome CX course for a mud bath of the filthiest kind.
Shuttling to the race with Sean, a key instigator in the Sydney CX scene, we arrived to watch the support races tear the turf to shreds. Before their start water was standing 4” deep in places, and by the end of 40 minutes it was a thick brown slop with the consistency of porridge. It was to be the stage for one of the single dirtiest races I’ve had the pleasure of riding in.
Sean and I abandoned our plans of a practice lap, holding on to the vestiges of civility offered by my light blue Carbon Drive kit by setting up rollers under a tiny awning,  sheltering form the onslaught of freefalling  felines and canines.

The race commissarie wasn’t half a funny bastard, taking time to give an extended welcoming speech from beneath his umbrella while riders shivered and cursed the rain. When he finally shouted ‘Go!’ and the 40 rider field hit the fast back straight, my vision became splattered with brown splotches as eyelids blinked desperately to clear a path to follow between the surging riders. As seems to be a theme I started well, holding a solid 5th in the field and clawing back the leaders on the runs.

Photos Dean Osland
My downfall in this race was failure to pick the right cog ratio on by Raleigh Hodala. Thinking that the balance of the course was fast and flat, I’d kept it at 64” and while this proved great for back straight and around the ‘drome, trying to get on top of it through the muddy twisty sections proved to be like wading through treacle.  For next time when the course is this sloppy, an MTB ratio of 52” would be far more appropriate, if a little less manly. Check NBN News for some awesome race footage including your truly showing some (lack of) running form!
Photos Dean Osland
While I was battling and pulling out the best facial contortions I could muster, It was a blast, due in no small part to the spectacularly rowdy crowd and bangin’ tunes on offer from a DJ at the course high point. This single feature set a festive mood and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone there on the day who didn’t finish up with a smile, or at least a crooked grin.
Photo Grant Moylan
I finished up the race in 7th place with a mud beard as if I’d just polished off seven courses of the stuff. A power wash for the bike and shower for the limbs, the latter plagued by some dodgy drainage which quickly rendered the floor of the bathroom as filthy as the lead in to the velodrome on course. We packed up Sean’s Carolla and drove back to realty, content at having indulged our dreams of racing cross in proper European style mud.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Cross-eyed at Terrey Hills

The past weekend proved to be a Sydney s(t)unner weather wise, and what better way to make the most of it than to bury oneself deep in lactic laced quicksand, spinning the legs in a fruitless attempt to escape from the 40 min smash-fest. As the second round of the MWMTB Club Winter series, the technical Terrey Hills course made up for a lack of actual hills with a tight twisty race course that demanded and rewarded precision riding in equal measure. 

Features included a lethal corner-barrier-stairs-barrier run up combo, a token muddy stretch, a gut clenching drop into a BMX tabletop, and a forgiving PVC barrier which was usually reserved for the equine inhabitants of the park. Check this sweet video here and Dave Bateman's great photography of the race here

Aboard my Gates Carbon Drive Hodala CX, I had made a departure from standard procedure by strapping on a set of deep dish carbon tubular wheels from my road racing days. With Schwalbe Racing Ralph rubber carefully glued on, the lower pressures afforded by the tubs proved to be a revelation.  The immense traction and bump absorption brought joy to the ride, at least as much joy as can be had in these short bursts of anaerobic suffering. Safe to say I'm hooked on tubs for off road racing, and will take my chances with riding them on road on the long commute to and from the race course.

With almost 2 months having passed since my last race, my expectations of performance weren't high. Punching my single (fortunately well guessed gear) up to speed, I sucked onto the wheel of the lead bunch. It wasn't too last however, as when tailing off the back of the group I got gapped when a rider decided to run rather than hop a barrier. Despite desperate attempts to get back on, the legs simply weren't willing.

I faded into lap three when the efforts of the previous two caught up on me but rallied back meekly and pulled off fifth. The course proved to be well suited to a singlespeed, so with a bit of high intensity riding and some effort to dial in my lines on grassy turns, I hope to be able to hang on at the pointier end.

A big distinction between this slick event and Christchurch's Southern Cross CX was the seriousness of it all. Despite the ridiculousness of pushing skinny tired steeds over barriers, paddocks and BMX tracks, there wasn't a costume or air horn in site! Perhaps it will just take a while for the rowdier aspects of the sport to catch on here in super civilized Sydney.

Bring on round 3 and 4 which double as the Sydney national series. Till then I've made it my task to boost the riding rowdiness of the local populace. Get amongst it Sydney!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Scone; fresh baked with butter, jam and a dash of cream

It had been a longstanding plan to join Ross (aka the Unknown Rider) and some of his chums on a bikepacking trip into the Barrington tops, a high plateau draped in rainforest inland from Newcastle, New South Wales. While riding induced back spasms ruled out Ross in the week leading up to the start of this particular ride, the show went on, led by bearded Barrington campaigner Brad (B-rad) with locals Jason, Gaz and newbie Chris.

Brad points out an epic trail in the distance
Dashing away from work with my bike and kit, I hopped aboard the express train to Newcastle. While limited space meant I couldn’t take a book, entertainment came from a fellow passenger providing a crack impersonation of Trent from Punchy. His Australianisims and cussing on all manner of topics from Fords to boat people kept the carriage lively.
Waiting at the train station was Ross, who had kindly offered to give me a ride to Brad’s house. From there we loaded up the Volkswagon of doom and headed for Scone, grabbing some sleep and our last night in a proper bed before we were to embrace the bush.

Our Scone digs
Newbie Chris proved to hold on to the vestiges of civilisation for much longer than the rest of us, grabbing a morning shower while the rest of us didn’t bother, knowing our skin was to become crusted with the hard earned filth that only a solid bikepack can bring.
Ollie working on his filth crust
For this ride I’d opted for a Freeload rack with a reprise of the solar charging system which I’d unceremoniously dropped after the disastrous showing of my prototype integrated rack in the Great Southern Brevet (link). While the early morning mist out of Scone produced more dew than volts, by the time the clouds had cleared and we’d made the pub for second brunch the battery was charging happily.
Solar panels at suboptimal efficiency
The road to Moonan Flat had been of the coarsely chipped variety which makes for easy going on treadlies, but as we rounded the corner  and headed to the base of the hill we hit the sweet smooth dirt that willed our bicycles up the climb.

Jason heads skyward
And what a climb it was. Topping out at 1500m, the 20km climb packed a solid 1200 vertical metre punch which got me pretty stoked. This particular fondness for long climbs is one of the more difficult things to explain (especially to non bikers) but a big climb like this (reminiscent of the ones in the Tour Divide) really is a fantastic experience. Twisting and turning up the mountainside while view become more and more expansive by the minute. The higher you go the cooler the breeze  until finally you top out with satisfaction and a bit of huff and a puff at the crest of the climb.
Up till the point I’d conquered the Barrington plateau climb I was convinced that Australia held none of the long ascending delights which are prolific in New Zealand, but this climb certainly set the record straight.

View from the top
The landmark at the end of this particular monster was an amusing Dingo fence, presumably to keep the pesky baby stealing critters from the national park on the other side. As one witty graffiti artist pointed out, the fence didn’t present a particularly strong deterrent.

Dingos welcome
Now atop the Barrington Plateau, the grades mellowed and just before dusk a claggy mist descended, the atmospheric conditions mirroring the muddy double track which took us across the plateau to within a stones throw of our destination for the night, Selby Alley hut. By the time it had got properly dark I’d learned how to make the most of the slippery track, keeping rolling speed up and using my dynamo light to illuminate the small patch of jungle in my immediate periphery.
Mist descends
Turning off down the corker, we switched from a riding focus to searching for our accommodation, an illusive structure built in 1955 which promised shelter from the drizzle, a glowing fire and water for our dehydrated space food.  A brief but exciting encounter with a trail traversing wombat proved a small distraction, but by the time we’d passed the waypoint and had seen no sign of a trail to the hut, we decided to cut our losses and pitch our tents on one of the rare trailside flat spots.
Poor Jason had neglected to bring a mattress (though no fault of his own) and despite my assurances, the lumpy tussocks didn’t prove that ergonomic. He was kept awake by the groaning of what we at first thought was a sasquatch, but later proved to be a windfall tree hung up perilously close to our impromptu campsite. I’m not certain that paper thin cuben fibre would have offered much protection from this falling hulk!

Tree of doom
B-rad and the others soon turned up and we shared stories of the days before grabbing an awesome nights  sleep (except Jason), lulled into sasquatch filled dreams by the groaning of the forest.

Morning cast a completely different light on the situation, and on riding back up the Corker we spied the well disguised trail which had alluded us at night. Slithering down the trail and stepping carefully across the log bridge we found the hut, and a family of some 13 hyperactive kids who had spent the night up there.

Selby Alley Hut
How's the serenity?
Saying our hellos, goodbyes, and restocking with water we kicked off for Wombat Flats, then the Link trail; an exceptional piece of trail which really made the ride. It was wet and stacked with poorly assembled babies’ head boulders which scattered and tumbled as tires grappled for traction. Like a long climb, a technical one gets me stoked, and the fact that any ups were rewarded with giggle inducing slippery downs made this trail the real deal. It was akin to the technical parts of Canterbury’s Wharfedale, complete with the odd fallen tree and wheel swallowing bog which Rohloff and drive belt munched through without protest. The sheer amount of sticks and vines which littered the track would pose a threat for dangly do dads on a derailleur, but with nothing to snag I could charge through the maelstrom with relative ease.

Jason shreds the link
Lunch and another quaint hut and we pointed downhill, taking in an eye watering 20km drop from Gloucester tops to flats, spinning out, tucking and finding the limits of traction on the rain slicked dirt road. Only the odd uphill car quashed the buzz, with fear of becoming a hood ornament keeping us from going proper fast.

Elation of the climb over, we rolled through the delightful farmlets and lumpy foothills to Gloucester, in time for a beer, dinner and a lift back to the train station.

B-rad played the role of ride instigator exceptionally well, and the post ride mood at the pub was buoyant, with a particularly stoked Chris vowing to throw his helmet into the bikepacking game. Personally, after my small taster of the terrain on offer in Newcastle I’ll be back with bells on. Perhaps most exciting is the Big Hurt, which links some of the best trails (ala Link track) with epic climbs for 750 km of totally awesome adventure.  All going to plan I’ll be ling up for this monster in late August, safe in the knowledge of the awesomeness in store!