My First Product Review - Exposure TraceR


I’ve been writing here for over three years now and in all that time I have never done a product review, so I thought that it was about time I had a go at one:

I have decided to start small, very small, in fact just 39 grams. I was given my Exposure TraceR rear light last October for the 24hr World Championships at Fort William. The choice of lights which would have enough battery power to last all night at that event was quite small, but fortunately a couple of them were made by USE and the TraceR appeared to be ideal for the job, as indeed it proved itself to be.


Nearly five months later what are my thoughts on it? Well, having used it for commuting all winter it is still working. While this may not sound that impressive it is the first time that I have ever had a rear light which has lasted a whole winter, and I’ve tried loads from umpteen different manufacturers over the years. I’m not sure exactly what I do to them, but the problem usually appears to be water ingress around the seals and the TraceR seems to have been impervious to such things.

It is easy to use, the bracket is very simple and will fit almost anywhere and the button can be operated even when wearing big thick gloves.

 In-situ on my commuter bike. Not also the extra, accidental, 
product-placement for the handy Mt Zoom strap thingy

The battery life is excellent, more than enough for a 24hr in the Highlands in the autumn or a whole week of commuting, and it still carries on for ages even after the low-battery warning is given, a green, orange or red flash when the light is switched off. 

 Photograph taken leaning against the side of my van,
Camera in 'auto' mode, whatever that does, but with the flash off.

Of course, none of this would matter if the light itself wasn’t, erm, light. Not in the 39 grams sense of light but in the 75 lumens sense of light. Luckily it is 75 lumens so sticks out like a sore thumb from miles away. It has two modes, ‘constant’ or ‘constant with a slow flash being even brighter’ so it has the best of both worlds there. They claim up to 24hrs for it in the flashing mode, but mine seems to last loads more than that. I should really time it to do this properly but there is only so long I can sit and watch a light for and of course as soon as I leave it to do something else will be the moment when it finally goes out.

Is there anything about it I don’t like? There is one thing I would change. The battery is not removable, so you can’t carry a spare. This hasn’t caused a problem for me yet but could be a nuisance on multi-day trips without access to charging facilities but to be honest it’s light enough that you could just carry a whole spare light. Other than that it’s spot on.
  
Overall

Good bits
Durability
Brightness
Battery life
Weight
Simple mount

Bad bits 
The retail price (£49.95) is a bit steep compared to most other rear lights, but you do get what you pay for.

Guest Writer - Richard Horton. WCA 12hr Time Trial

Last year a team of four riders from Sleaford Wheelers set of to Wales to compete in the Welsh Cycling Association’s 12 hour time trial. We had the county 12hr team trophy to defend, I had the individual title and Richard the vet’s.

Owing to a slight shortage of photographs from this event I’ve reused some of the ones taken at the National 24hr but I’m sure no-one will notice, a picture of Richard or I on a time trial bike looks pretty similar wherever it was taken.

Richard has taken over writing duties for this one, so here is his take on the race:

WCA 12hour – 31st August 2014

A team of 4 Sleaford Wheelers entered the Welsh Cycling Association’s 12 hour Time Trial on the last day of August. Henry Thompson (off at 06:16), Kath Smith (06:22), Andy "Crasher" Howett (06:26) and the last Lincs solo rider for 2014, Richard Horton, off at 06:42. All the riders had personal targets; Henry and Kath to basically just finish as Henry had never ridden further than a club run, roughly 75 miles and Kath had recently returned from an epic 4,500 mile trip around the coast of Britain. Both riders had been drafted in at the last minute to make up a team for a shot at the LRRA 12 hour team trophy. Richard and Crasher had their own personal battle for 2 prizes, the Club 12 hour Championship, and Lincolnshire Championship, the latter a target of 236.9 miles and the former was a rematch of the 2013 title on the same course, Crasher on that occasion taking the win by a margin of less than 2½ miles.


At 06:16 battle commenced and by 06:42 all the club riders were on the road. The morning had started with light winds from the South West and hazy sunshine, ideal weather for the first leg from Abergavenny to Hereford and back, a distance of around 50 miles. The outward leg involves quite a reasonable climb and kept the average speed down. At the turn Richard had closed the gap down to around 10 minutes to Crasher who was just 2 minutes behind Kath and Henry, so Richard was averaging just a little over 21mph and was leading slightly but this is a marathon not a sprint and nearly 11 hours of this battle remained. At 40 miles checking in with one of our support vehicles the gap at the front between Henry, Kath and Andy was less than 2 minutes with Richard still around 10 minutes further back. 

At Abergavenny the riders were turned onto the first circuit of 24.839 miles. A welcome tail wind pushed speeds up to 27+ mph in places, probably faster for the really quick guys in the event, and a chance of a real push for Richard to close down the gap. Armed with 2 bottles of liquid feed and a medley of snacks it was clear that there would be no let up from Richard’s attack on the lead group of Sleaford Wheelers. 

A right turn at the Steel Horse Inn into a southerly and generally downhill stretch of about 6.5 miles took the riders into Usk, a brief hold up for traffic lights on the Chainbridge some 4 miles earlier was going to be an issue for all the riders on every lap (there was a knack to getting through this without losing any time - Ed) A left turn eastwards followed by another left and the riders were heading for Raglan. The team had expected to see the support vehicle by now but this had suffered a geographically challenged moment and was missing. Thankfully Kath had support all of her own and all the team knew they could at get something if they got desperate. A welcome sight on a bit of a climb after the left turn last year was a chap handing out rice pudding in ice cream cones topped with jam, and everyone was delighted to see that he was back. Rice pud seems to be the favoured fuel of endurance riders, being easy to digest and being a reasonably good source of carbohydrates and protein. 

Onward to Raglan and one of the rider’s least favourite parts of the course, a short sharp climb followed by a sharp left turn at the junction to continue climbing. Because of the junction speeds here are not much above 5mph. Leaving Raglan you join the A40 dual carriageway, a 7.5 mile generally downhill run back to the roundabout at the Abergavenny end and the end of lap 1. Downhill it may be but by now the course had turned into the wind and although it was possible to keep 20mph up for some stretches the last, and steepest, part seemed to take superhuman strength to get much above 15mph. The four riders struggled as the wind funnelled between the banking and the trees.

On this stretch Richard, and presumably some time earlier Kath and Andy, had overhauled Henry. 70-ish miles had been completed by this stage and Henry was entering uncharted waters. At this point having missed the support vehicle Richard had no idea how far behind Kath and Andy he was, had they battled harder on the A40 and opened the gap out? 

At last the welcoming sight of the Abergavenny roundabout and the start of the second lap was reached and the chance to bring back some of the lost average speed and hopefully the sight of Liz in the support vehicle. This appeared at about 85 miles after another welcome dollop of rice pud and jam. 

Replenished and finding he was just 6 minutes behind Crasher, and a further 4 behind Kath Richard reported that he had passed a tired but still moving Henry and then set off after Crasher. A spirited 3rd lap and the gap was down to under 4 minutes with Kath holding steady at 10 minutes. In effect, because of the different start times, this meant that Richard was 12 minutes in front of Crasher and 10 up on Kath. With Kath at this point circulating at the same speed as Richard was the danger coming from another angle? Kath had a personal best of over 236 miles to Richard's 227.


By now all riders had completed well over 110 miles and were getting to the half-way point, the only worries reported were that Henry hadn't been seen for a while and the rice pudding man had run out of jam. On lap 4 Richard continued the pursuit and at the support vehicle cruised up behind a stationary Crasher, who was busy eating yet more rice pudding. Kath was also beginning to slow, the gap between her and Richard was down to about 6 minutes. 

So 7 odd hours completed and now Richard was 16 minutes ahead of his main rival. Crasher set off with Richard giving him about 2 minutes lead whilst he refuelled. It would only be a matter of time before he was re caught and a small battle raged on the still tough A40 stretch back to Abergavenny with Richard holding the lead at the turn and what we expected to be the start of the finishing circuit. Having been passed by Richard Crasher announced that he was throwing in the towel in their personal battle and was just riding for the team title.

Judging by last year’s experience in similar conditions the dash back up the A40 for the first time would see speeds of around 30mph uphill (!) the riders would still be passed by the really quick guys though. Surprisingly as the lead rider hadn't completed 6 laps all 4 of our riders were sent off for another lap. This was not good news, Richard and Kath both reported they really couldn't face another stretch of the A40 east to west, into the unrelenting  wind, and although there was a visible gap between Crasher and Richard in front it wasn't a great amount and with over 3 hours still to go, it was by no means won. The A40 proved to be a turning point with Crasher re catching Richard just before the turn and announcing that he had got a second wind and was getting the towel out again.

This turn took the riders onto the finishing circuit, a 15.484 mile lap with 10 “timekeepers” spaced at around 1.5 mile intervals, the idea being that as you passed each checkpoint you were recorded until you complete your allocated time of 12 hours and stopped at the next timekeeper.

Now having a tail wind but being uphill the A40 was suddenly a different animal. Crasher had a lead on the road of roughly 30 seconds and Richard kept him in sight throughout the lap, caught him again while refuelling at the support vehicle, just setting off again just as Richard arrived. Nursing a sore hamstring and not being able to sit on the bike with any comfort Richard opted for a second pair of shorts, a tactic that had helped in the latter stages of recent 24 hour event in June. This cost around six minutes and more worryingly for Richard, let Crasher get out of sight.
With 1 hour and 50 minutes left, Richard had a lead of 10 minutes over Crasher, so was six minutes behind on the road. (We found it all really confusing too! - Ed) One more lap passed and somehow the gap remained at 6 minutes, both Richard and Crasher covering the near 16 miles in around 50 minutes. 

So with 1 hour left for Richard and just 44 minutes for Crasher, the mind maths calculated that Richard would finish on the A40 after the next lap. Outside of this battle, Henry completed his first ever 12 hour race and as Crasher and Richard continued their battle he headed back to the HQ having covered a very creditable 192.05 miles. 

6 minutes later Kath wrapped up her ride at 213.90 miles. Crasher had just passed the support and with only 5 minutes remaining elected not to refuel. Richard passed the same spot 13 minutes later, his rival had by now finished, but where and how far had he covered? Timekeeper 5 was just beyond this point and Crasher had not turned back here, timekeeper 6 was at the turn for the A40 and a complicated roundabout could have kept him hidden from Richard’s view if he was circling around to return to the HQ as Richard passed this point with a little over 2 minutes left. 11 hours and 58 minutes gone meant riding to the next timekeeper, which in this case was number 8, we had previously spotted that no-one had taken the 7th check-point.

Heading back up the A40, the timekeepers became visible and so did the figure of a Sleaford Wheeler anxiously looking at his watch, how long had he been here, how close was this going to be? Richard had to reach this spot less than 16 minutes after Crasher to take the title. He made it in a little under 12 hours and 4 minutes and, more importantly it turned out, just 14 minutes and 35 seconds after Crasher to give Richard the victory by just 85 seconds. An absolutely epic fight back from Crasher who was obviously tired from the previous weekend’s Gorrick 12:12 “TORQ in your sleep”, a 12hr MTB race, but Richard was just too strong.
Liz arrived with the support car shortly after but both riders elected to ride back to the HQ to await the provisional results. Amusingly this involved climbing up the embankment, a skill Crasher was far more adept at, to shorten the ride back by about 10 miles, neither rider really wishing to face any further cycling than was absolutely necessary.

The final distances were Henry 192.05miles, Kath 213.90, Andy 219.99 and Richard 220.77, a reversal of last year and even closer, it’s left it nicely poised for a best of 3 in 2015. In such strong winds none of the riders were ever likely to be able to challenge for the overall Lincolnshire title but Kath has won the women’s and Henry the junior’s.

How It All Went Wrong


I know I’ve been a little quiet on here recently, but that is because things have been far from quiet for me. Since my last post I have been moving house up to the Borders area. This a big improvement over the flatlands of south Lincolnshire, topographically if not metrologically. There’s also been jobs and a million and one other little things to sort out but I’m just about settled in now and can have a bit of a catch up on here. The most obvious omission from the last few months is of course my write up from the 24hr World Championship. 
 
I’m sure you all know how it is when a race doesn’t go well, you first just try to forget about it, and then look for the reasons why. There also comes a point when you actually have to sit down and write about it and I can now put this off no longer.

It is of course much worse when the race which didn’t go well is the biggest race of the year, probably the biggest race I will ever do, a World Championship on home turf.


The 2014 24hr World Champs were held at Fort William on the course at Aonach Mor. I headed up nice and early, on the Wednesday morning, for practice. It was actually quite a nice day, unusual for the highlands at that time of year.

I headed out for a practice lap or two, expecting it to be rather boggy and horrible, as despite the fact that it wasn’t actually raining at that exact moment we had had quite a lot of rain at home in the preceding days. I was however, pleasantly surprised, there was even dust to be seen in a few places.
The course itself was tough, especially a couple of the shorter but steeper climbs, which I knew would be especially difficult in the latter stages of the race. For some reason finding grip seems to get harder and harder as a race progresses. I think it’s because after twenty hours of racing all my finesse is gone and attacking climbs like that with enough speed just to get up them merely results in wheelspin and wasted energy.

I recognised a lot of the route from other races I have done there over the years, but there were some sections I hadn’t ridden before, including the decent down from the bridge to the start/finish which was a lot of fun. I was also relieved to note that neither Nessie nor the Blue Crane would be part of the course, they are challenging enough when it’s broad daylight and I am wide awake and I still bear the scars from several unsuccessful attempts over the last decade.


With the first practice lap complete a group of us spent some time on the first rock section, practicing it over and over again, trying to get the lines right and shouting encouragement at those who were struggling before the sun set and we retired for tea and cakes.

The thing I like most about these races, apart from the 24hrs of suffering and torture, the cold, the wet, the dark, the numb hands and feet, the endless energy drinks and bars, the wind and rain, the nausea, and of course the sheer exhaustion of it all is the people. They are, without exception, all lovely guys and girls and regardless of how well the race goes it is always great to see everyone again. It is such a shame that we all have to go to work and can’t just spend our time travelling the world racing with each other. We spent a lovely evening catching up with old friends before eventually calling it a night and heading back to the bunkhouse to bed.

Thursday morning was also bright and sunny. This was most unexpected, two consecutive dry days in autumn in the Highlands. After a leisurely breakfast we headed back to the track for another practice.
For some reason I was lacking any get up and go. I normally can’t wait to ride my bike, especially on bright, sunny dry days in the Highlands but on this occasion I really had to force myself out to ride. I did two laps and then had a bit of break while I helped some friends sort out some spare bikes and wheels. Ant from Mt Zoom brought me some new brake pads over which I swapped for a supply of Accelerade drink mix. I did one final half-lap before calling it a night and heading back to the bunkhouse.

Our neighbours had arrived, including Carole, my pit crew from the previous races in Australia and Italy, so we popped round for a cup of tea and a catch-up. We also took the opportunity to do some baking, getting plenty of food prepared for the race, including a fairly substantial flapjack and some rather nice homemade soup.


Friday was a much less pleasant day, it was raining hard when we woke up and didn’t really ease off until mid afternoon. My mojo had completely deserted me and I had just lost the will to go out and do anything, the idea of another couple of practice laps really didn’t appeal. We went into Fort William town centre to find a bike shop and stock up on clothing. I was applying the logic that the more money I spent on waterproofs the less likely it was to rain during the race itself and so I bought loads, tops, shorts and gloves. The rest of the day was spent sorting out all of the little tasks which need doing, sorting out all of the food, lights and clothing I would need and building my pit garage.

The rules for this race required the use of a rear light during the hours of darkness and the guys at Exposure had got a TraceR ready for me, which I had to go and collect. Not only is this one of the brightest rear lights out there but the battery life would be more than sufficient and, just as important although I hoped it wouldn’t be tested, the waterproofness should be easily up to the job too.

My fiancé Gina was there to help, full of enthusiasm but very little experience. This was her first 24hr, she had done very well at the Gorrick 12hr earlier in the year where she had helped me to a top-10 despite a broken bike but a 24 is a very different beast and much tougher on the pit crew. We had therefore tried to get a pit as close to other friendly faces as we could, everyone at these races is more than willing to help out if they see anyone else having problems. We were right at the end, just where everyone turned out of the pits and back onto the race track, we had Carole and the AQR team right behind us, Ant across the way with Stuart Goodwin, Iwona Szmyd and Gareth Hayes sharing his pit, and our Catalan friends Carolina and Marcel next door to them.

We had also left our cosy little bunkhouse and moved the van up to the pits, the awning meaning that could get between one and the other without getting too soaked. With little inclination to go for a lap we spent time chatting to more old friends and drinking substantial quantities of tea before getting an early night ready for the big day.

The big day itself actually dawned surprisingly sunny, the vast amount I had spent on wet-weather gear the day before had clearly helped. It had even dried up sufficiently for me to venture out on my dry weather tyres, not at all expected in Scotland, never mind Scotland in October.


The tension rose as midday approached, the 146 riders were called forward in the main arena, gathering together behind the pipe band. I don’t know where all the people had suddenly appeared from but the crowd in the arena seemed huge as we followed the band out towards the track, they peeled off and we were then lead out by the motorbike. He turned off at the bottom of the big hill and the race was on.

It never ceases to amaze me just how quick the early stages of a long race are, with 23hrs58mins still to go everyone was flat out up that hill, really going for it, desperate to be the first into the narrow singletrack at the top. I had started somewhere near the front but lost a few places as we climbed and found myself at the back of the leading bunch as we turned into the lovely swoopy section at the top.
There was one rider in the middle of this who was clearly very good at climbing, but much less good at the downhill bits, this allowed the frontrunners to get away into the distance with the rest of us line astern behind. The guy in front of me took ages to find a way passed, but I recognised her and shouted for space in Italian, which worked much better and I set off in pursuit of the leaders.


I was already some way behind the front runners at the end of the first lap, down in 28th place. I grabbed a new bottle of Accelerade and a couple of gels and headed out for lap two. The second lap was my fastest of the race, not quick by everyone else’s standards, but 46m46s was respectable enough, and although the next two were a little slower I managed to stay under the hour easily enough.

Me ahead of someone early on.
It didn't last.

Up at the front American Kelly Magelky had had an impressive start and was disappearing off into the distance, pursued by Scotland’s Rob Friel in his first ever 24hr. It is impressive enough doing a World Championship as your first attempt at anything but his do or die attempt at scaring the big boys was winning him a lot of plaudits. Englishman Richard Dunnett was in third with the defending champion, Aussie Jason English, playing the long game and taking it easy early on, content in the lower reaches of the top-10.

In the women’s race local lass Lee Craigie had shot off at the start, leading for three laps before her race came to a premature end. Former UK and European champion Ricci Cotter and kiwi Kim Hurst were battling it out behind her, but this quickly became a fight for the lead of the race, Ricci leading on lap 4 and Kim on lap 5.


Further back, I was struggling. The problem appeared to be mainly down to food, I just couldn’t seem to get enough of it down me. There was plenty there in the pits but my appetite had just deserted me, I was really having to force myself to get anything down, especially in the middle of the laps.
Darkness fell about 7pm, but attaching the USE/Exposure MaxxD and Joystick lights cost no time at all thanks to the clever mounting systems. With the disappearance of the daylight the temperature also began to fall, it was chilly enough for those of us out on the track racing, it must have been properly cold standing in the pits. A lot of the marshals had little braziers burning away, keeping themselves warm as best they could, they became a very welcome sight as the night progressed.

Midnight was announced by the firing of a big red distress flare from the start/finish line. Half way. The way I was feeling I wasn’t at all sure I could manage the other half, and just to help matters it was starting to rain.


That shower was actually the only rain we had during the race, probably only around 30 minutes in total, which for an October weekend in the Highlands is pretty good going. I was wondering why the race hadn’t been held in the summer, mid-June for example would have given us the best part of 23hrs of daylight and much better chances of sunshine. It turns out the answer to this was midges. They aren’t too bad, relatively speaking, while you are moving, but for those standing around, such as pit crews and marshals, it would have been absolutely hellish.

Anyway, back to the race. By midnight Magelky had dropped to sixth and Jason English was way out in the lead. Rob Friel was still impressing everyone and clinging onto second, he had been down as low as seventh on lap 6 but had kept fighting while those around him were starting to suffer. He was pursued by Dave Powell and my team-mate at XCRacer, Ant White. In the women’s race Kim Hurst was out front with Ricci Cotter and another kiwi, Erin Greene, trying as hard as they could to keep up.


My race was going from bad to worse. I was still really having to force myself to eat, and I really don’t think I was getting enough food. My legs were dead, the climbs were a complete nightmare and, a really bad sign, I was looking for any excuse I could find to extend my pit stops.

It is never a good thing when you get this stage, a pit stop should be as quick as possible, pause, eat whatever it is you’re given while the bottles are changed and the food in your pockets replenished, and then on your way again. I on the hand was sitting down (no, don’t do that!- Ed) fussing over lap times, positions, layers of clothes, anything I could think of really to avoid going out and riding again. It was hurting my race and I knew it but it was such an effort to head out again for yet another lap.

But head out again I must, and indeed did, many, many times. The course was brutal, by far the hardest I have ever ridden in a 24, and I could take a little comfort from the fact that other riders seemed to be suffering too. At one point I even managed to pass the legendary Brett Belchambers, well unlap myself, briefly. Even for someone of his stature the course was proving tough. Of course he wasn’t helping himself by doing it all in one gear, and I obviously had no such excuse.

I had first met him at the previous race at Stromlo, the 2013 World Championship, and he had obviously recognised me as he spoke to me before the race to apologise for the actions of his broccoli-wielding fellow Aussies. It’s a long story, ask me if you see me. He passed me again soon enough and disappeared off into the distance.

Brett on his dawn lap. Even moe impressive than his win in the 
singlespeed category and his sixth place overall was his ability
to ride all night in short sleeves. They obviously breed them tough
in Tasmania!

Actually, this made the defending champion only the third most famous person at this race. In addition to Mr Belchambers Guy Martin was competing. I was expecting him to do pretty well given his results at Relentless and the Strathpuffer over recent years, and he was indeed having a good race and would go on to finish 16th in the Elite men’s race, and 32nd overall. He did seem to spend a lot of time before and after the event being asked to pose for photographs with various people, competitors and spectators alike.

I’m digressing again, back to the race. I was having some terrible laps in the wee small hours, and getting slower and slower. My worst one was the one which began at about 4:30am. I had twiddled a very small gear up the main climb, and pushed in a fair few places too. I eventually reached the very top of the course, up by the big berms, and I felt rubbish, really queasy. I put the bike down and wandered off into the undergrowth at the side of the course, bent over and heaved up what little food was remaining in my stomach.

This left me feeling rather dizzy so I had a bit of a sit down on a rock near my bike, my back resting against a fencepost. I waited for everything to stop spinning, then dragged myself to feet and retrieved my bike. My GPS claimed that it had been stationary for over 20 minutes! How had that happened? I don’t think I had nodded off but with a delay of that length I can’t think of any other explanation. Stopping moving for that length of time had left me absolutely frozen too, which didn’t help matters at all, and so I had another stop at one of the burning braziers to attempt to get some feeling back into my hands. With the small fire on the bottom corner of my waterproof extinguished by a helpful marshal I set off again.

As I limped around back to the pits the sun was starting to reappear, just a feint greyness to the sky at first, it wouldn’t be until the end of the following lap that I could remove my lights. The sun coming up is always a huge psychological boost in these races and my lap times did indeed improve a bit, all the way from ‘terrible’ to ’poor’ in fact.

At the pointy end things were getting very exciting. Friel had finally blown up and was starting to struggle, but ages after everyone had expected him to, he was down at the bottom end of the top-10. Richard Dunnett, Mark Spratt and Richard Rothwell  were having a huge fight over the final podium place. After 23 laps Ant White had got the gap to Jason English down to a far from comfortable 14 minutes, and was gaining. With 3hrs still to go this was anyone’s race. The gap between leader Kim Hurst and pursuer Ricci Cotter was about the same in the women’s race, this was very much a two-horse race, Erin Greene was miles behind in third but with an equally big gap over fourth placed Danielle Musto.   

I was still plodding away, and there was a lot of plodding being done, I was finding that I just couldn’t ride up most of the climbs any more and so was just pushing up them in a desperate attempt to just keep myself moving in the right direction, and keep myself awake. The descents were not much better, my brain had about had it and concentrating well enough to be able to steer through the rocks was something of a challenge.

Me in Trying-to-keep-warm kit rather than team-kit.

I crossed the start/finish line at 23hr09min to begin my final lap. If I was still able to do the pace I had been doing early on I would have been able to get round in time for one more but this clearly wasn’t going happen. I made it round in one piece, relieved to cross the line at last but ever so disappointed with my result. I had had high hopes for the race on home soil but things just hadn’t gone well. I was 77th overall, and 23rd in the Elite men’s race at 24hr50min, a far cry from the dizzy heights of the 13th had achieved at Stromlo the previous year.

It was difficult to say exactly why I had done badly at the time, my bike had been faultless, the lights were perfect, I hadn’t broken anything. I clearly hadn’t eaten enough but nothing I had with me food-wise was new, it was all tried and tested, I just hadn’t been able to force myself to eat any of it.
However, it wasn’t long before the reason for my failure became apparent. I felt rubbish on the Monday, the day after the race, but I had just done a 24 and so was expecting to feel terrible. However, I was worse on the Tuesday and by Wednesday was properly ill. Tonsillitis. I was in bed for a week.
Suddenly it all seemed to make sense. Gina’s house-mate had had it. My lethargy in the days before the race was probably a good sign that I was coming down with something and should probably take it easy for a bit, but of course I had a big race to do, and that race must have completely trashed my immune system, there was no way I was going to fight it off after that.


Still, could have been worse. My ride of the weekend has to go to Craig Bowles, even better than Rob Friel I think (he eventually finished 10th by the way). Craig was racing in the 35-39 age group (I’m not sure why, as a former European Champion and World Number 3 he is more than capable of holding his own in the Elites) Anyway, after a steady start he had kept up some very decent lap times and had spent much of the early hours in 3rd or 4th places overall, before running into trouble on lap 21, when he started to lose positions rapidly. His chest was hurting and he was having difficulty breathing. He knew he couldn’t hold on to the overall podium position but he was leading his category and was determined to hold on to that.

Despite the pain he was in his final lap times were still pretty respectable. He eventually crossed the line to take 16th overall and the win in his class. However, he never did get to stand on the podium, Mrs B was drafted in to replace him as he was spending the first of several days in hospital, with suspected pneumothorax. No, I had never heard of it either, it’s when some air gets outside of the lung and enters the rest of the chest cavity. All vaguely familiar to anyone who has seen the 24 Solo film… Anyone who hasn’t should, it’s great.

Jon Hobson

Things were even more tense at the very front, Ant White was hunting down the defending champion Jason English in the closing stages. The gap was down to a little over 10 minutes at one point, but then disaster struck. Ant’s chain snapped, just at the crossover on the figure-of-eight racetrack. This would normally only be a 2-3 minute fix but the accumulation of 23hrs of cold, fatigue and the associated numbness left his hands barely able to hold a chain-tool, never mind work it properly. It took him an agonising 15 minutes, almost within sight of his pit, before he was able to get it back together and get underway again. His chance of glory had gone, but he had had a comfortable lead over Mark Spratt and was able to hold on to second. Spratt on the other hand didn’t have much of a lead over his pursuer and, having dropped from his early front-running position down to 9th at one point, Richard Dunnett was able to pounce on the final lap and get himself back into the final podium position.

Jason English’s employers had been far from supportive of his endeavours. Despite having won the previous four World Championships he was only given two days holiday to compete in the event. He lives somewhere near Newcastle in New South Wales, where he works as a teacher. He finished work at 3pm on the Thursday (all teachers finish work at 3pm every day don’t they?) and then drove down to the airport in Sydney. With the time zones working in his favour on the way here he landed in Glasgow late on the Friday and drove up to Fort William. He raced Saturday and Sunday, won, collected his medal at the venue and was already on the plane back to Australia as the rest of us were settling down at the post-race meal in Benavie, apart from poor old Craig. With the time zones working against him on the way back it was a late arrival back in Sydney and then back at work first thing Tuesday morning. He was quoted as saying that the nature of a 24hr race means that the jet lag may have actually given him an advantage!

Although the leading positions had not changed in the women’s race, with Kim Hurst crossing the line ahead of Ricci Cotter and Erin Greene it was a fantastic mix of nationalities, 10 different countries were represented in the top 15. Actually, the men’s race was just as diverse with 11 different nationalities in the top 15.

When WEMBO had first taken over running the World Championship in 2012 questions had been asked about their ability to attract not only a sufficient number, but also a sufficient range of competitors to make it credible. The fact that the 146 riders represented 23 different countries seems to have laid this to rest.

Elite Results

Men
1.  Jason English                             Australia
2.  Anthony White                          England
3.  Richard Dunnett                         England
4.  Mark Spratt                                Wales
5.  Richard Rothwell                       England
6.  Jason Miles                                England
7.  Einaras Sulskus                         Lithuania
8.  Elias Van Hoeydonck                Belgium
9.  Michael McCutcheon                Ireland
10. Robert Friel                              Scotland

Women
1.  Kim Hurst                                  New Zealand
2.  Ricci Cotter                               Wales
3.  Erin Greene                               New Zealand
4.  Danielle Musto                          USA
5.  Iwona Szmyd                            Poland
6.  Giuliana Massarotto                 Italy
7.  Lisa Kamphausen                     Scotland/Germany
8.  Alex Nichol                              England
9.  Elena Novikova                        Ukraine
10. Louise Humphreys                  Scotland

This race was also the 2014 National Championships, the titles going to the highest placed Brits, Ant White and Ricci Cotter. There was no prize for most cheerful rider but if there was this would almost certainly have gone to Pedro Maia. He would normally be a shoe-in for this award anyway, even in the pouring rain in the middle of the night while freezing cold and absolutely knackered, but winning his age-group had made him even more jolly than normal.

I would like to say a very big thank-you to the usual suspects, XCRacer/Scimitar, USE/Exposure, Accelerade and Mt Zoom as well as Spook, Fraz, Fiona and co from No Fuss who organised the event on behalf of WEMBO. However, the biggest thank-you must go to Gina for all her hard work before and during the race to get me prepared and keep me going when it got really tough, and then for looking after me the following week as I lay curled up on the sofa eating ice cream and feeling sorry for myself.

The pictures are all from Sportograf.


Happy New Year


It is always interesting trying to drag yourself out of bed first thing in the morning on New Year’s day. We were in Newtonmoor, having been at the traditional parade of flaming torches and fireworks display the night before.

We ventured into the next-door camper-van a little later than intended and found the occupants still asleep. Lisa had been feeling unwell for a couple of days but now Euan seemed to have picked up the lurgy too, it looked as though Gina and I would be on our own.

We had some tea and breakfast, and then some more tea, and then looked at the clock. Lisa had assured us that it would only take about 40mins to get to Fort William but we were already pushing it. The remains of the tea were poured into a flask and we hurriedly departed.

Lisa had reckoned without the speed and power of an aging Transit camper van and her 40 minute estimate was way off the mark. Over an hour after leaving we arrived at Aonach Mor, dumped the van and ran into the cafe to sign on, only just in time.

Final instructions before the start


The race itself was supposed to be from the car park at the bottom to the top of the ski lift, a distance of only about 3 miles but with around 2,000ft of climbing, just what you need New Year’s morning. Standing at the bottom and looking up the mountainside the top was invisible in the clouds. Of more concern was the huge amount of wind. This was even noticeable at the base of the hill and they hadn’t even tried to get the gondolas going.

It was therefore decided to amend the race slightly. We would race up the first two thirds of the climb, but then in a break from tradition we would have to race downhill again, back to where we started.

 Me near the front. I wasn't there very long.

Despite the hour of the day and the amount of whiskey which must have been consumed the night before the record 129 runners set off at quite a pace and disappeared off up the hill, me trying to keep up as best I could.

The lower section was mainly in the forest, and I recognised quite a lot of it from the various bike races I have competed in there over the years. The trees sheltered us from a lot of the wind but it really hit us as we emerged from the woods onto the top section of course. We battled upwards into the gale, now able to see the turn. Two marshals were standing, or at least attempting to remain upright, buffeted by the wind, where the trail crossed underneath the gondola.




I could see the leaders heading down as I climbed up the final section, they weren’t too far ahead but I always tend to do better on the uphill sections so I was expecting to lose more ground on the way back down. It never ceases to amaze me just how quickly the top guys can descend, if you have never been to a proper fell-race it really is worth going to see, it’s proper ‘brain out and go for it’ stuff.

Anyway, I went round the marshals, still standing, and launched myself over the top, trying to be clever and take the straight line down through the heather I had seen the leaders take. This would have worked were I as good at descending as they are but I’m not so it didn’t.


Back on the proper trail things levelled out a little and we picked up speed as we headed down the mountain. All the corners, rocks, roots and drops were huge fun to run, almost as much fun as on a bike.
There was a little bridge across the river followed by some very slippery boulders. Very slippery.

I hit them hard on my bottom and right elbow, paused for a moment as I waited for that winded feeling to subside and then picked myself up as the nearby marshal was coming over to check that I was alright. I set off down the hill again having now lost sight of the runners in front.


Me, about 6 feet before I fell.

I soon spotted someone else, his bright yellow top just visible through the trees, I plunged down through the forest after him, trying to keep up as best I could. I knew where I was at this point, I know my way around here pretty well, well enough to realise that this was not the way we had come up. Did the descent go down the same route as the ascent? The guy in front seemed to know where he was going, right up until the point the main track tried to turn right, away from the finish line, and he shouted to me to ask where to go.




Knowing where you are and knowing where the race is supposed to go are not necessarily the same thing, but I lead him left into the forest and down. We emerged very close to the proper route near the end and I just got him in a sprint finish, which was nice. He was followed across the line by the person who had been right behind me at the summit, so I don’t think our little deviation had had much of an effect on the result.



As I was standing at the finish waiting for Gina to cross the line we saw people coming from much further over than we had been so at least we weren’t the only ones.


Much needed tea and soup were provided for us all in the cafe and then it was time to set off on the long drive south.


The local guys and girls pretty much cleaned up in the trophy department, but the best finish was probably for 2nd and 3rd in the women’s race, just two seconds in it.

I finished 38th in the men’s race but was beaten by a couple of girls...

Men.

1. Nick Sedgewick       Lochaber AC

2.Tom Smith                 Lochaber AC

3. Peter Henry             Deeside Runners

4. James Espie             Deeside Runners

5. Steve Macdonald    Lochaber AC

...

38. Andrew Howett     Fife AC


Women:

1. Diane Baum             Lochaber AC

2. Sarah MacKenzie    Lochaber AC

3. Christina Rankin      Kilbarchan

4. Edie Hemstock        Lochaber AC

5. Mare Meldrum       Lochaber AC



And finally a huge thank-you to John Oneill for the pictures. 
Actually, looking at where the photograph of me on the bridge was taken from I wonder if it was he who picked me up? Difficult to recognise anyone with coats drawn up against the rain. If so, thanks again John!

Broken Bikes, Bruised Bodies And Bottled Beer


To celebrate the end of the racing season Shergie decided that it would be a very good idea to gather a few people together for a weekend in north Wales with some bikes and some beer. I met up with him and Tom in Warwick, left my van there and piled into his. We paused briefly somewhere near Oswestry to purchase as much beer as we could fit into a shopping trolly, along with a loaf of bread, some porridge oats and some peanut butter.




Most of the journey there was spent discussing van conversions and how best to go about such a project and it was quite late by the time we arrived at the bunkhouse near Dolgellau. Stuart had beaten us there by quite some margin, possibly down to not having a speed limiter on his truck such as we had been having to contend with, but more likely by just being a lot more organised and setting off on time.

He had already started on the beers and it seemed awfully rude not to join him for a couple, so we did. The conversation then moved round to the Transcontinental. There may be a few of you who have not heard of it but in summary it is a race across Europe. The start of next year’s event will be somewhere in Belgium, with three checkpoints to pass through (the summit of Mt. Ventoux, another somewhere in the Italian Alps and one more in Slovenia) before the finish in Istanbul. It is a proper race too, none of the overnight stops or anything like that which you get on the Tour de France, the clock starts in Belgium and stops when you reach the end, over 2,400 miles later. Make your own route (verified by GPS trackers) and look after your own food and sleeping arrangements.

It sounds like a lot of fun, but also quite daunting, and a logistical nightmare to plan. Riders have in the past had to be completely self-sufficient but next year there will be an option to race as a pair, albeit still with no outside assistance at all.

Anyway, the reason we were talking about it, other than the fact that it does sound a lot of fun, is that Stuart and Shergie have applied for a place in next year’s event. Just think about that for a minute. Shergie, the man who could get lost in his own kitchen, attempting to ride over 2,400 miles from one side of a continent to the other. I hope Stuart knows what he’s doing!

After a suitable amount of beer had been drunk we turned in for the night. I was awakened sometime later by some very load thrash metal coming from a speaker 3 inches from my ear, much to the amusement of everyone else. We had some porridge, piled the bikes into the truck and headed off to Coed-y-Brenin.



Rather surprisingly for this time of year in north Wales it wasn’t raining. Rob was already there when we arrived, getting his bike out of the car. Shergie decided that he would like to ride Stuart’s brand new Scott Genius. This was very brave of Stuart, the bike had only been to the shops and back to check that it was working, to all intents and purposes this would be it’s first ride. However, the front brake lever wasn’t quite to Shergie’s liking and so it was removed, the hose rerouted, and then the lever, which was connected to the shifter with a single M4 bolt (remember that detail) reattached.

Of the many trails we picked the longest, called The Beast, which is essentially two smaller ones ridden as one, which should keep us entertained for an afternoon. I was having a huge amount of fun riding my enormous Kona Stinky on the downhill sections, but then struggling as I tried to get it back up as best I could. As long as I was ahead of Tom on his nearly-as-heavy Commencal I was happy. The others were all flying along on their nice light bikes, Rob in particular on his fortnight-old Scott Scale hardtail.

We had a brief pause as Shergie managed to puncture the rear tyre of the Genius but it didn’t take us long to fix and we were soon on our way again. We had another stop for a cup of tea at the little café and made a fuss of the local cats.

Once underway again we decided to swap bikes around a bit. Shergie ended up on my Stinky, which slowed him down quite a bit, and I ended up on the brand-new Genius. It was the brief moment when I wasn’t on the brand-new Genius which caused some concern, Stuart found me sprawled across the rocks next to his new pride and joy, but fortunately no harm was done, either to me or to the bike.

Harm was done to a bike when Shergie climbed aboard Rob’s two week old Scale, he had managed to ride the best part of 25 yards before the hanger was ripped apart and he came to a very sudden halt accompanied by the sound of the chain pinging in the spokes.

We faffed around for a while, trying to build a singlespeed out of it before the lack of any sort of tension in the chain caused us to admit defeat. Shergie decided to scoot/push it back the shortcut way and the rest of us carried on, Rob trying really hard not to look too worried as Shergie was wrapping the chain around the carbon frame.

Shergie doesn’t have to actually be present in order for things to break. Remember the M4 bolt which held the brake lever to the shifter on the Genius? He had ‘tightened’ it, if that’s the right word, earlier that morning. On the very first climb after we had said goodbye to him the bolt decided that it would come out and disappear into the rocks. This left Stuart, who was now finally getting a go on his own new bike, with a brake lever swinging in and out of his front wheel. Rob, Tom, myself and a helpful passer-by walked up and down the last section for a while, searching in vain for the missing bolt, while Stuart tried to find another M4 bolt which wasn’t really doing very much, eventually stealing one from a bottle-cage mount somewhere. I can’t actually remember who’s bike that came from, must check mine when I get home…


The final section of the trail has two route options, we paused briefly to discuss which way to go, selected the one on the right, and then came to a halt again as Rob, who was riding Stuart’s other bike, the SC Tallboy, said a very rude word very loudly when he tried to brake into the first corner and failed to slow down nearly as much as expected.

The source of this profanity was identified as a broken brake calliper mount, the lower one on the fork leg had sheared completely and this had pulled the bolt out of the upper one. Luckily no-one was hurt but there was little we could do about this and so Rob limped back with his damaged bike while the few of us who still had functioning machines rode back to the truck.

Shergie had his own bike with him, a fully rigid carbon XC bike, but even bringing this into service left us with only four bikes to share between five of us. The idea of hiring a Fatbike for the following day was mooted, none of us had ever ridden one in anger and we were all keen to see what the fuss was about.

We spent a while back at the bunkhouse, in the fading light, removing the forks from Rob’s bike and fitting them to Stuart’s SC, trying to work out if the crown races were compatible and if not how easily they could be changed. We eventually got it done and then had a beer before we headed into town, to the curry house run by a local town councillor. The highlight of the walk into town was undoubtedly walking passed Gwydaf Evan’s garage, there’s a name from the past. This caused great excitement amongst our little group, but much less so when I sent Gina, my other half, a text message to tell her where we were, it was almost as if she had never heard of certain mid 1990s British rally champions.

The food was very good, cooked very well by the town councillor, and we had a chat with the town councillor before we left (he told us three times that he was a town councillor, so it must have been an important detail) Nice chap, but he did go on a wee bit. We decided not to head into Dolgellau’s nightclub, but instead to head back to the bunkhouse for some more beers and reminiscences of past races. Shegie nodded off almost immediately, the rest of us were all very well behaved and didn’t draw on him at all, although we would have done had we been able to find a pen.

In the morning we had a lot of porridge, I’m not sure who was cooking but they had clearly misjudged the quantities required. The honey had also disappeared and so we had to have it on it’s own, which was lovely…

On arrival back at Coed-y-Brenin we decided that even though we now had the same number of working bikes as we did people we would still like a go on a fatbike and so decided to hire one. A few laps around the car park had us grinning like lunatics and so off we set.


We had left my Stinky behind as this was noticeably slower than the other bikes on most of the course. No, it wasn’t just me being rubbish, I was flying up the hills as soon as I got on the fattie. This surprised me enormously, it wasn’t nearly as heavy and cumbersome up hill as I had been expecting. It was a lot of fun on the downhills of course, but wasn’t quite as rapid as some of the full sussers in our group.

Shergie was doing a lot better than expected on his rigid bike, but did look like he was having to try a lot harder than the rest of us. However, it was Stuart who had the first crash, on the brand new Genius which luckily escaped unscathed. He lost quite a bit of blood from his shin though.

We kept pausing to faff with the tyres pressures on the fattie, making them lower and lower as we went along, until at one tyre-pressure-adjustment-stop Shergie removed the valve core from the front wheel by mistake. We decided that this had made it quite low enough and left it alone after then.

I had handed over control of the fattie by then and was having a very good time on the SC Tallboy. I’ve ridden a few 29ers in the last few years but this is the first time I’ve actually felt comfortable on one, the first time one has handled like it should rather than leaving me feeling like I’m perched miles above it.  I was having a huge amount of fun on the final descent of the first trail, trying to catch Rob on the Commencal with Stuart on the Scott not far behind me.

Shegie on his little rigid bike was trying desparately to keep up with Tom on the fattie but, unsurprisingly, it turns out that you can’t follow the lines someone on a fattie takes when you have forks like that.

We eventually gave up waiting for them and headed back up the trail to see where they had got to, and met them heading down towards us very slowly. Shergie had performed a frontal dismount further up and now his hand wouldn’t move very much. Barely able to hold the bars it was obvious that he couldn’t ride any more, leaving the rest of us to carry on without him. He was patched up very a very helpful nurse at the café, a bandage and an icepack.



Just because he wasn’t there didn’t mean he would stop breaking things for the rest of us. After the accidental valve-core removal the front tyre of the fatbike had been a little too low and this inevitably punctured. Removing the tyre proved harder than expected, we ended up with the wheel flat on the ground and stamping on the tyre to break the seal. Once we had finally got the tyre off the rim it was nice and easy to fix, although pumping did take a lot longer than usual, and Rob’s gas proved a little inadequate.

The fatbike had been interesting. We had all very much enjoyed riding it, and there was an ex-hire bike, going cheap. However, we all asking pretty much the same question ‘would I actually use it if I had one?’ It was a lot of fun, but was this just because it was a novelty, something new and a bit different? I had actually enjoyed riding the SC more and would certainly use it more if I had one. Good though the fatbike is there isn’t really anywhere other than it’s natural habitat of deep snow or sand, neither of which occur in great quantities where I live, where it will be faster than a conventional bike. And ultimately faster is more fun surely, regardless of which bike you are on?

Having collected Shergie we did a quick tally of the weekend’s damage:
Broken mech and hanger on Rob’s bike – Shergie
Puncture on the Scott – Shergie
Crash on the Scott, no damage – me
Lost bolt from the Scott – Shergie
Crash on the Scott, no damage to the bike - Stuart
Puncture on the fatbike – Shergie
Broken brake tabs on the SC – Rob
Huge blue swollen hand, bandaged – Shergie
Tom didn’t break anything bike related all weekend, although he did manage to block the sink in the bunkhouse with porridge.

You may notice one name cropping up as the culprit more than others. This is slightly worrying as he and Stuart will be attempting to ride to Istanbul in the not too distant future. They have mentioned to me that they are on the hunt for sponsors and I think there could be a very good opportunity for someone here: Anyone who can lend them a bike or other useful gear and have it survive over a week and more than 2,400 miles of Shergie will clearly be able to point to that and tell everyone just how good and strong their bike or other useful gear is, if it can survive that it can survive anything! If anyone thinks that their bike or other useful gear is up to the challenge drop me a line on andythecrasher@yahoo.co.uk  and I’ll put you in touch. (Seriously, they are both veterans of many endurance races and know what they are doing, I promise)

The journey back was largely uneventful, apart from the steering wheel on Shergie’s van coming loose. This may come as news to you Tom, you were asleep and we thought it best not to mention it…


Before and after pictures of Rob's bike. No need to explain which is which.




There would have been more photographs but Shergie has dropped his telephone down the toilet and it no longer works.