Thursday, 2 April 2009

Whinlatter Challenge – Taking a Knife to a Gun Fight

When I first heard about singlespeed riding like most people I reacted with the ‘what’s the point??’ attitude.. why limit in my view then where and what you could ride.. surely you were just limiting the fun??

I then met a few guys riding them.. was still not convinced but had a spare geared bike.. had a need for a very cheap to run bike as I was about to go back to Uni and couldn’t afford the maintenance costs of running a geared bike over winter.. so with a big pile of parts left on the workshop floor of TSW Cycles a fully rigid singlespeed was created.
I rode this bike allot…. I used it for training, big days riding in the peaks and on a few occasions to some success racing… I discovered that it wasn’t just a ‘niche’ item in the bike collection but a great way of hassle free riding… I wouldn’t say it the ‘Purest’ form of riding or any crap like that as I am happiest when I’m just riding.. Doesn’t matter what I’m riding.

With this in mind I asked for a singlespeed to be one of the 2 bikes I get from my sponsors Genesis… I upgraded my IO with some personal choices and to make it a little cross compatible in terms of parts with my Altitude for racing... the IO has been my bike of choice for racing so far and so when Whinlatter Challenge was announced I didn’t hesitate to sign up to ride singlespeed for the advertised 30 mile race.
With the entry list detailing those riding singlespeed it was clear to see that it wasn’t the weapon of choice with SS riders only accounting for a small fraction of the large field of 400+ riders..

Whinlatter forest is typified by long, long, long fireroad climbing and technical descending… in short to take a fully rigid singlespeed to this race was a likened to bringing a knife to a gun fight.
The Saturday before the race myself and Grace travelled to the Lakes to be greeted with overcast weather on the brink of snow... Staying with Richard’s (Rothwell) dad in Keswick was a god send saving valuable money needed for rest of year... John (Rothwell) kindly let us stay and made us feel very welcome again.

After coffee in Keswick it was decided that a walk to finish off the day and also register for the race which was open for a few hours on the Saturday was a good idea… Grace, Richard, his wife Charlotte and myself had a short walk at Whinlatter as flakes of snow fell… it looked as though it was going to be a cold race in the trees

Charlotte cooked a fantastic bean chili for Saturday’s dinner and an early ish night was had…
Sunday morning I awoke to Sunshine!!! Clear blue skies… with much confusion I breakfasted and got ready... Periodically checking the skies for tell tale signs of poorer weather approaching but the skies remained steadfast in there clear blue appearance.
When we got there the place was full to the brim of riders.. an amazing turnout of 400 plus for a first year event just proving the popularity of this format of event and further more justifying that the BCF should be looking more into promoting and supporting this community of riders… there are riders outside of Velodromes

With a quick warm up we were on the start line and nicely near the front…. I spotted another friend ready to start… another Richard.. Holland this time… first race for him and weather as being very kind to us all with the continued sunshine...
I looked around at the other bikes near the front and as suspected I was 26 gears short of everyone else I could see... oh well nothing to do but enjoy myself… I scheduled this race to be a hard effort concentrating on descending well... it was easily gonna be the hard part anyway.
The start went okay… I eased into the gear sitting in the top 15 riders at the front.. Rothwell just in front and trying not to work myself too hard with a long way to go and little chance of rest..
The starting climb was epic... Described as 4km long and this was easily believable… by the top I was really having to stand on the pedals the turn the 32X16 gearing... but still maintained a steady pace and let the other riders get on with their race.
As predicted the course was extremely unfriendly to those with only one cog… the climbs were very long and just outside the gearing so I was struggling to get on top of the ratio... the descents were rocky but manageable if attacked at speed on the rigid forks… a few people were already sidelined with pinch flats.. I hit a rock very hard and was surprised when the tyre stayed up but this was only as the wheel had shifted in the frame... ( note: tightened and check wheels before every race) not a great issue as the inbuilt tensioner’s on the IO frame kept it ride able till I could complete the lengthy lap and retrieve a suitable tool from Grace to fix it… bottle change and fix went easy and I was out on second lap..

I didn’t have the energy to muscle the big climbs second time around so was reduced to a brisk walk which to be fair wasn’t much slower than the people around me… there was always a brief moment of joy as a rider caught me up... followed by deep dissatisfaction when they realized I was riding singlespeed.. I suppose it like knocking down a man with no arms... it’s no real achievement… made worse that when the gradient on the climbs allowed and I could ride I regained a lot of places... Must be soul destroying to be passed on a climb by a singlespeed rider…

Its not just the climbs that time is lost when you’re not geared as there was a lot of flat out lengthy descents and a healthy section of road where all you could do was spin your legs or tuck for speed..

The finish came in 3 hours 59minutes…. 36 miles …. 54th place and 1st singlespeed rider... I was 40 minutes behind Rothwell in 7th Place and about 30 minutes in front of Holland in his first race after he took a decent sized fall on his 2nd lap.
Overall I had a great day… one of best races I have ever done… course was exceptional in my opinion and I am itching to have a go next year with gears

My legs felt good and strong... looking forward to getting the Altitude set up for Wildboar 24 and seeing what I can do

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

luddites of the world unite!shouldnt you be nailing this post to a tree some where instead of using the new fangled inter web? its ok,i'm just bitter that you still kill me on the climbs even when you are always stuck in the wrong gear!