Tuesday, May 10, 2011

2011 NZ Single Speed Nationals, in a Bunny Suit

For several months, the plan for Easter 2011 was a dirt cycle-tour: Queen Charlotte Track, the Waikakaho Walkway - called the Linkwater Longcut in the Kennett Bros' bible - followed by the Wakamarina back over the Richmond Ranges, then the Maungatapu Track to Nelson. Four pretty arduous days, full to the gunnels with fantastic riding, and surprisingly light on tarmac. Sadly, my esteemed buddy Simon was booked up, literally doing research for the impending 8th edition of Classic New Zealand Mountain Bike Rides. I tried and failed to rustle up a solid alternate, and although I'd booked a cheap flight back from Nelson, the shortening days, rain, and prospective solitude all contributed to my enthusiasm waning.

Sensing a weakness, my great mate Ashley suggested I flag the trip down south, and join her and some other friends on a mission up north: singlespeed nationals in Napier, followed by some riding in Rotovegas. It wasn't too long before I saw sense, and agreed. Road Trip On!

I've owned a singlespeed for a few years now, a funky steel Raleigh 29er whose funky colour caught my eye, and became the scratch to a couple of itches. Only a few rides old, I rode it in New Zealand's first singlespeed nationals, and had a terrible time. Despite the bike being fully rigid, I saw fit to run insanely high pressure in the tyres, and before the first lap of the Whakarewarewa forest was over, I'd blistered across both hands. I continued and was eventually lapped out, but not before rediscovering my penchant for sculling beer.

My second "SS race" went much better - a MTB Orienteering event at the relatively flat Waitarere Forest, and my first race outing after a busy season including the inaugural Kiwi Brevet. By this time, I'd replaced the very heavy steel fork with the carbon one I'd used on my 69er at the Brevet. I specifically chose the Raleigh for this race so I wouldn't be able to tear my own legs off by going out too hard. Not only did that work, but it also saw me claim the fastest time of the day, despite a few extra kilometres looking for a shipwreck on the beach which can no longer actually be seen (except on a map)...

Preparation for race number three saw another couple of upgrades to the Raleigh: a nice carbon handlebar, hand-me-down from Flux Turner, a sweet front wheel (ex-Brevet, Stan's 355 on Hope Pro II, built by the best wheel builder East of the dateline, Oli Brooke-White), and some new rubber, 2.35 Schwalbe Nobby Nic's front and rear. These arrived only a day before heading north, and I only managed to get the front tubeless. Nonetheless, I was much more careful with the pressure this time around.

I'd also upgraded myself. My summer's riding had much more of a focus on fun than ever before. Plenty of short rides, many involving some nice technical trail, over which I could feel my skills developing. Partly this was down to Flux Turner, and partly my company, especially Ashley and the venerable Ranger Steve. The Super D course on Mt Vic was also a great way of extending myself. While I didn't race it, choosing instead to drive a van 20 or so times up the ridge, I rode the course a good half dozen times, and was definitely a better rider for the experience.

I'd also finally got myself along to a skills clinic with Tryfan Ephraim. One of the local representatives of Gabby and Dodzy's mtbskillsclinics.co.nz, Tryfan and I had been casual acquaintances for years, but had never really had the chance to spend much time hanging out. A one-on-one clinic was a great opportunity to catch up, and to upskill in the process. Tryfan rocked round to mine for a quick coffee, and then we headed into Makara Peak to bust through a couple of clinics.

There were two things that came as revelations to me. I'd been a bent legs/straight arms kind of guy, and that was quickly nipped in the bud as Tryfan switched me into their patented brace position. I'd also described the way I'd constantly have to peel off speed riding tight singletrack when inevitably I started lapping at the outside edge of the track. Tryfan suggested a remedy for that, and I have to say the effects were immediate. I can't speak highly enough of the clinic - something I put off for years, not because I didn't think I had anything to learn, but for fear that I wouldn't be able to. As I wrote for PNP Club as an endorsement for the clinics to their members, it seems you can teach an old dog new tricks, and quickly!

The final upgrade for the weekend would be some performance race wear. I'm rarely seen racing in anything but my beloved Roadworks kit, but part of the charm of a singlespeed event is competing in costume.

A couple of weeks out, sitting outside a cafe in Aro Valley, jaded from a morning cutting a section of one of Wellington's newest gems, Transient, a plan was hatched. I'd be travelling north with four other riders: Leif, Hamish, Kah and Ash. Given the event would be during Easter, an Easter theme seemed a no-brainer. While I thought I'd make a very good Jesus, the prospect of offending someone was too painful, so when a posse of Easter bunnies was suggested, I had no comeback.  Bunnies it was!

Ash and I did a couple of missions to Farmers and The Warehouse, and on Wednesday night we met Leif and Leigh at Spotlight. There were a couple of odds and sods to sort out on the Thursday, but by then our costumes were looking promising.

I was the last to be collected on Friday morning. Ranger Steve had agreed to skip his waterpolo games, simultaneously enhancing both our transport and social opportunities. My Raleigh and Flux Turner were carefully stowed in the cage trailer behind Steve's Hilux, alongside the 6 bikes already in there. Leif and Steve only had one each WTF?!?! Hamish was working on Good Friday, but would see us up in Napier.

We had a good drive, and by the time Hamish arrived later than night, we were ensconced in our motel unit with costumes were almost done. Steve and I had been in charge of dinner, while Leif was on tails and Ash and Kah were sewing fluffy bellies onto our singlets. After dinner, we set to zip-tying wicker baskets onto the front of our bikes and rabbit ears onto helmets.

The distinct lack of pockets on the back of my "racing jersey" had me using a tri-bag on my top tube. I fired some jelly snakes and a peak fuel tube in there. I had stashed a pump and tube in a decapitated bottle, and also had a bottle of water onboard.

The next morning, things went pretty smoothly, and we were soon driving out to Eskdale Domain. We were all in race kit for the drive, and attracted a fair bit of attention as soon as we piled out of the truck.

Team photo #6
Team photo #22

I was feeling well hydrated, and after the first of a few trips to the loo, I discovered to my horror the distinct lack of structural integrity of my garb.  Uber-tight tights, and baggy undies had resulted in an alarming escape attempt which luckily I remedied before making it back out into a public space.  Still, it made me very nervous, especially with a couple of hours of racing ahead, and photographers abound...!

Baggy pants...

I sifted around for a bit, but turning circles on the domain weren't cutting the mustard, and I decided to slink away for a proper warm up.

I left the domain, and rode along the rail corridor for a bit, spinning my legs nice and fast.  I followed my nose right and across a bridge into the Eskdale Forest proper.  Just up ahead was "Bob" - Brenda Clapp - looking great in a superhero costume.  Just as I was catching her, I dropped the second bottle I'd tried to wedge into my basket, and by the time I'd collected it, she was gone.  Shame, would have been nice to wish the soon-to-be-National-Champ luck.

I tried out a bit of singletrack, and felt out of sorts - Flux Turner's lovely plush travel was not a feature of my rigid singlespeed, that's for sure.  After 200m or so, I was feeling like a sack of shit, so jumped back out on the gravel road.  No point getting myself worried!  I hoped that race-mode would give me at least a better perception of my riding...

I heard someone holler, and saw Ashley and Hamish, looking fetching in... exactly the same as what I was wearing.  I joined them, and soon we were at the area where we were to leave our bikes.  Many were there already, upside-down, resting on the seat and bars.  My basket was sitting slightly above the bars and my bike wouldn't balance like that, so I just laid it in the grass.

Soon our three was five, and our colony made our way back across the river.

5 bunnies, 2 clowns and Tom Lynskey

The race briefing was impending, but before it began we were able to catch up with friends, and admire the various costumes folk had put together.

Bunnies, Tom, Jonny and Tony the Tiger
At the briefing the rules of the game were explained.  I'm certain we were told we'd be crossing the river to our bikes, and again and again during the race (we only crossed it once).  Also, we'd have four laps to race, each with a shortcut through the beer tent.  Beer wouldn't be served on the first lap and instead we'd have to "eat an egg".  Access onto the course would only be granted once we'd found and eaten an easter egg on the far shore.  And without a word of warning, they sent us off:  "Go" said the woman in charge.

And with that, the mad dash across the river began.  As I ran up the bank on the far side, I was able to grab a couple of eggs easily.  I turned around, and sure enough a bunny was hot on my heels.  Ash caught my second egg, as I stuffed mine into my mouth.  Good to be in a team afterall!  Others weren't so lucky, and spent minutes searching.

I completely missed my bike - I'd entered the row of bikes half way through the row instead of at the far end as I'd done earlier.  I quickly realised my mistake, grabbed my bike and ran towards the marshalls.  I threw my egg wrapper into their basket, mounted up and spun furiously off along the course, flat for a period before diving into single track and inevitably kicking up.

The first lap was tough as expected.  My body takes some time to get properly warm, and while my heart and lungs catch up with the effort of delivering oxygen to my muscles, things feel pretty horrible.  The first quarter of the lap was almost entirely singletrack before we hit a fairly rough 4WD climb.  On the first lap I rode most of it standing, and it was tough.

After maybe 3 or 4 minutes the course peeled back into the forest, and it was back onto some lovely undulating singletrack.  It didn't take me long to realise how invaluable and opportune my clinic with Tryfan was.  One of my favourite movie lines of all time should have come to mind though (Mr Wolf to Jules and Vincent: "well, let's not start sucking each other's dicks quite yet") and before long I was picking myself up off the ground having ridden straight into a bank.  "SILLY RABBIT" hollered the delighted onlookers...!  Luckily all was well with my bike - handlebars straight, tyre still seated - and I'd only done slight damage to my basket.  Game back on!

About half way through the lap, Dave Sharpe came blasting past me like I was standing still, and soon enough I could hear the beer tent looming.  It had been many years since I'd eaten a raw egg, and it hadn't been particularly pleasant.  Still, this was a race, and I wasn't about to let a bit of extra protein get in the way of progress!  I swung into the tent, prepared for the worst.

It didn't come - the egg was just another marshmellow one.  I flung it into my gob, and hurtled off down the track.  Not everyone had taken the cut though, and about half a lap later Big Gav came by.  It was a bloody good shortcut!

Somewhere early on lap 2, I found myself behind one of The Incredibles. 

Mr Incredible, and Stealth Mode lurking behind
This was a rather disconcerting experience.  Normally in a race you can gauge someone's form by their legs - how cut are their calves?  Are they shaved?  This dude had baggy tights on, and my only clue to his quality was how bloody hard he was to get by.


With Ranger Steve's encouragement ringing in my ears, I maintained my chase.  What I lacked in style...

Leif stylin' it!
Ash stylin' it!

... I was making up for in effort...

Chase ON!
I got past Mr Incredible on the long climb, but he came back again on the singletrack, as too did long-time single-speed racer known to me at that time only as Stealth Mode.  His Lynskey was sporting a rather loud freehub - "Not too stealthy today bro" I shouted back to him.

Both guys beat me into the beer tent, but I was well trained back in the day.  BOOM!  I was out of there before either of them, the remnants of my tinny of speights dripping through my beard down the front of my already pretty drenched singlet.

It took Stealth and I another lap to finally ditch Mr Incredible.  I still wonder what sort of legs he was sporting under there.  They were damn good for three laps!

On one of only two flat, straight sections of the course, I grabbed a couple of snakes from my bag, and chucked them into my mouth.  I had some sort of swallowing malfunction though and ended up with a chunk of snake rattling around in my nasal cavity.  For the next half a lap, I'd occasionally blast my nose.  Eventually the piece flew out, leaving only a nice sweet smell behind!  Classic stuff!

The long climb on lap 4 had me in la-la-land.  I could barely push my gear seated, but, it was the only part of the course I could give my arms a rest on, so plugged away in the saddle.  I'd gapped Stealth, as on the previous laps.  Half way up the climb I noticed one of the straps of my tri-bag had come loose.  I fretted about it for the rest of the climb, and had a small brain explosion at the top, stopping to refasten it - AKA, I took my foot gingerly off Stealth's jugular, and let him back into the game.  The five seconds or so it cost me was probably the difference between giving him a target and being out of sight around the corner.  I'm such a novice sometimes!

Soon Stealth Mode was again whirring behind me, and as in previous laps, rather than ride with the pressure of him on my wheel, I let him by.  I couldn't hold onto him, and nor did I have him in my sights at the beer tent.  Twice already I'd been offered "Beer or wine" but I hadn't noticed how miniscule the wine offering was.  While the wench was cracking what would have been my third beer, I spotted the thimbles of wine, snatched one and scoffed it down.  Shot!

There were only a few minutes' riding left, so not much time for the alcohol to have an ill-effect. Ash gave me a good cheer as I came in, and Steve and Kah were there cheering too.  Goddamn it was good to stop!  Apart from my wee lapse midway through lap 4, I was really pleased with how I'd ridden.  One crash, and a couple of off-track excursions (two on the same corner) had been the worst of it.  I was pretty sure I couldn't have gone quicker.  Hydration-wise, I'd been saved by the beers.  Such was the busyness of the course, I'd barely touched my water bottle - except to empty it on the final climb...

I was pretty shocked to see a couple of local guys come in after me.  I never expected I'd be able to match the likes of Jonny or Tom, and while I'd have been pleased with my ride regardless of relative placing, it was a nice bonus to be ahead of such strong riders.

I went and congratulated Stealth, and many of the guys that had beaten us both in, including new national champ, Mikey Northcott.  

Leif was soon in, and Hamish rounded out the team.  Poor Kah had busted a cleat plate on the first lap, and Ash had just been lapped out by the fastest men at the end of her third.

We sifted a bit, and then made our way back across to the river.  Not before being accosted by poor Jonny, still in just his bib shorts, asking if we'd seen his mates who had his clothes locked away in their car.  Nor before I gave Steve a dub, him on the seat, me on the pedals, captured on film by Kah. Sadly I don't have an image to post, but, if you imagine a bit of bunny style, you won't be far off the mark...
We got a thrashing by the motelier on our return to our digs, but he got an even bigger thrashing by his wife for being such a prick to us, so all was well in the world.  We walked down the Esplanade and had a quick spa before getting suited up and riding back to the Speight's Ale House for the after-match.

The evening was warm, and we settled around a table outside and ordered some food.  While there the organiser swung by and asked Ashley and Dave to lurk near the stage on account of their great rides.  Soon, we were asked to come inside for the prizegiving, and the first name to be called was... mine!  "First Loser in the Old Buggers' class" read my certificate.  And, beaten by none other than the World Champion, Garth Weinberg!  What a hoot, and I was wearing my podium shoes and everything! 

Ash soon had a matching First Loser certificate...

First losers!
...and we bunnies collected a bunch of spot prizes to boot.  We missed the "Best Costume" prize, which went to a bloke much braver than I, dressed as Jesus...  Ballsy.

We had a great night celebrating and generally enjoying letting our hair down.  At the stroke of midnight, the bar we were in turfed us all out, presumably on account of trading rules for Easter Sunday.  We weren't too bummed though - our legs had handled quite bit in the day already - and we all saddled up and rode back home around the waterfront.

The next day we drove across to Taupo where we had lunch and an awesome rope swing into the Mighty Waikato.  Fuck me it was a long way down - turns out 90kg makes for a bloody good pendulum.  Part of my brain said "hold on" but luckily the "let go" side won on the day...

I wasn't flapping those arms, honest...
We arrived in Rotorua mid-afternoon, and after putting up the tents, jumped on our big bikes and headed into the forest.  We were just in time for a couple of shuttle-bus rides to the top, and rode Corners first up, before taking the much longer Billy T-Split Enz-Pondy etc back down.  My body was weary, but worse my brain was completely fried.  Compared to my companions, I felt subconscious about my lack of pep, but knew it was merely due to the intense concentration of the day before, rather than a sinister lapse into darkness.

As we headed out of the forest, it had started to rain again (our bikes by this stage were absolutely filthy, drive trains saved only by the shuttle trips to the top).  I was enjoying being on relatively simple terrain again when Ash and a couple of others peeled off the tarseal onto a bit of gravel road.  A few seconds later it was clear she'd picked out a bit of a short cut, and my legs instantly perked up.  She knew it too, and soon we were both at full noise.  I made the left turn and onto the third side of the triangle, watching in fascination as our paths converged.  Great stuff!  Nothing like a bit of racing when you least expect it! 

The heavens opened overnight, and next morning no-one seemed particularly interested in venturing out into the mud.  Instead, we enjoyed brunch together then cruised back to Wellington.  The highlights of the drive were a great soak in a bit of thermally heated water (fuck it's so cool NZ still has gems like this available without having to pay anyone), a sneaky iPod transfer between Leif in the back seat of Steve's wagon and Kah in the front seat of Hamish's car in a passing lane in the Manawatu somewhere, and the relatively quiet roads of the Wairarapa.  

Another fantastic trip chalked up, it was good to get home with so little laundry - the virtues of racing in such outlandish garb!  I'd had a top weekend, which I'd completely expected to.  Thanks to Ashley, Steve, and all my other friends on the trip for making it so.  On the other hand, the way I'd ridden, and my result had been completely unexpected.  If I'd won a six-pack, I'd have made sure at least a couple had gone the way of Tryfan.  And, once again, I'm left wondering what racing has in store for me next... 

Shouldn't have to wait too long to find out...


  1. Awesome post, full of lols! Great stuff, Sifter Bunny...

  2. I want to puke when I see you in your bunny outfit.

  3. Say what?! http://picasaweb.google.com/bushloveracing/WWR09?feat=directlink#5412327760708317570

  4. nice one JR! couldn't have told it better myself...although i might have added in the part where you were a dancin machine on saturday night!!! ha!