Sunday, October 19, 2008

Maungakotukutuku MTBO (from the vorb files)

I had a great day out there today, though I hardly would have described it as a sprint. My bat-sense was in fine form, and even when I went wrong, it worked out OK.

The highlight of my day was the quality of my bike. I haven't done a lot of mountain biking lately, and the last time my Specialized Epic had been used was round 2 of the MTBO series in Wainui (July?) and before that, the Cyclic Saga in mid-March. I'd raced my Giant XTC on Mt Vic last weekend, but apart from that, most off-road riding this year has been on my trusty Raleigh XXIX single speed.

Apart from fantastic traction from the 29" wheels, the single most noticeable aspect of that bike is the absolutely lousy quality of the Avid BB5 (?) brakes - a low end cable disk, with pad adjustment only on one side, and a front rotor which is way too small for my size (and riding style), and I suspect for the larger wheel. Anyway, I'd hatched a plot to move the better BB7s from my Epic onto the Raleigh, requiring some new brakes for the Epic...

I consulted with Oli, my generous, experienced and completely trustworthy sponsor and friend. He presented me with a list of options, including Avid Juicys of various flavours, Shimano XTs, and the new Avid Elixirs. I read some online reviews of the Elixirs (weight sub-Juicy 7, and power like the Codes) and was impressed by the sharp price, consequently giving these the nod.

A few days later, they were fitted to the bike, and Oli returned it to me as clean as it has ever been, and sporting a new BB, and some new cable outer to boot. Taking my bike to Oli often freaks me out, and I'm very grateful to him that he doesn't give me a hard time about it, but the fact is, I must be a sponsor's nightmare. I am USELESS at maintenance, and I am pretty damn hard on my gear - a combination of my riding style, and the types of ride I tend to do.

The course today consisted of 27 controls, all within 2.5km of the start finish area (as the crow flies, but definitely not as the bike rolls...). It was a mass start and I was pleased to find that my initial plan was different to virtually everyone else's as I picked up the control within a stone's throw of the start. While this worked nicely for me, as it enabled me to ride a complicated set of 5 controls alone, within 1 minute of the start, I was almost completely drenched after splashing through waist deep water - this was obviously going to be a wet ride.

I made a navigational error heading for my second control, but I soon worked out where I was - in fact, on the way to what was meant to be my third!

The chain suck which had plagued me at Wainui did not arise on the climb up on to the ridge soon after. I made my way somewhat erratically north along the ridge, ducking here and there for controls, on foot pushing the bike fairly frequently. I misjudged a perfectly mapped intersection, but again the error worked in my favour as I had a good solid climb up a loop, which enabled me to approach a control from above, rather than pushing through a long boggy section from below. Ironically, I lost my clip card on a fern, and back-tracked 150m to the control, through the bog in my search for it (it was within 5m of where I had stopped, just well camouflaged!).

I put the drive train to a severe test on a steep, very low cadence climb soon after - the sort of thing Simon absolutely excels on, and I usually watch in wonder from behind, on foot. The Fox F100X forks I now have were a post Cyclic Saga addition, and are not only lighter than my old forks, but much better suited to this sort of riding. The bike was absolutely rocking today...

Back down to the valley, several stream crossings and boggy puddles later, I had about 30 seconds of chain suck. I tried to select a "helpful" gear, and ran up some steepish singletrack and this worked a treat - the drive dried out (I think?) and all was well again.

I'd left the hardest navigation to last, though I'd got the hills over and done with. It went well out there today though, and I got back without a wrong turn (plenty of stopping to ponder the map though). I quite a few places I chose a route that may not have been quickest, but made navigation a lot easier - a good move I think!

As I pulled into the finish line, I had to laugh as Simon was already there - he'd thrashed me by about 15 minutes last year, with a finishing time of about 1h15. It turned out he'd missed a couple of controls though, so had time penalties! Craig Starnes, who I'd shared a ride out with, and had seen several times on the course (usually heading in the "other" direction) swung in about 3 minutes behind me. Nice to get the win!, after just shy of 2.5 hours riding

I was amazed at how fresh I felt at the end, so obviously all the road racing I've been doing was not a complete waste - though it has sapped my will to ride to the lowest levels in the context of the last two years. In a new twist, my arms felt awesome, and I put this down to the new(ish) fork, but particularly the new brakes. Finally, I have brakes that seem well matched to my weight and style.

Whatever else Oli did to the bike during the week, it was absolutely perfect, and it did just what I needed under tough conditions. A great team effort!
Originally published on vorb

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