Killer Kielder

Anyone who has taken the slightest interest in rallying over the last few years will have heard of 'Killer Kielder.' The racing up there is tough and unrelenting and is renown for taking it's toll on both man and machine. It's no different on a bike.
The drive up to Kielder had been lovely, warm bright sunshine, windows open, really looking forward to the race. It began to rain about 9pm on the Friday and didn't stop until early Sunday morning. I chose my campsite by default on the Friday night, as I had managed to get the van stuck in the mud when merely attempting to turn around I elected to spend the night there.
I arose at 5am on the Saturday, had a slightly eclectic breakfast of cold rice pudding and bananas as it was raining too much to bother trying to get the stove working, and then made my way over to the start. I appeared to be the only person who had thought to bring an umbrella, so I would be the only one to at least start the race relatively warm and dry.
There was a controlled lead out behind the truck for the first couple of miles, I made my way to the front and when the truck pulled off to let us passed and get the race proper under way I lead for a short time up the first climb. We soon split into various groups, I ended up with Titus's Rich Samuel and a couple of guys I didn't recognise and we followed each other closely for some considerable distance.
Within an hour I was already feeling the need to change my front brake pads. I had 4 spare pairs with me but worked out that if I used them at the that rate I would be through them all before half way so I decided to keep going on the until the last possible minute. Fortunately the majority of the course was forest tracks, various fire-roads and LandRover tracks where braking performance was less important. It is a little bit nerve-wracking to be hurtling along at 25mph in the big ring knowing that if I've miss-read a corner I can't do anything about it, but I survived.
We came to a singletrack section around 9am marked with the three Caution arrows and I decided that this was a good a place to change pads as any. It only took a couple of minutes, but I lost a lot of places, riders flying down the fireroad, braking and then dropping into the corner and out of sight, except Jack Peterson. When I looked up I saw him come down the fireroad, carrying much more speed than everyone else had done and turn into the corner. I thought 'he's going well' and returned to my brake calliper. I heard a noise and looked up again to find him pulling himself out of the bushes on the wrong side of the track, his bike a few feet away. Too fast.
It wasn't long before I felt the need to change pads again, both ends this time. However, I again had to ration them and decided that I couldn't afford to change rear pads at all, the rate I was using them at I wouldn't even have enough for the front, so I kept going. I overshot one turn on a descent and had to retrace my steps back to the course.
I looked behind me and saw a distinctive orange helmet chasing me down. Corby. I'm not letting him beat me. We passed through the first check point in 36th and 37th place, 5 seconds apart. I opened a bit of gap in the next section and took the opportunity at the next water stop to throw a couple of cups of water at my brakes, meaning he was right behind me as we headed up the next climb.
He gained on me down the next descent and was less than a yard behind when we hit the bottom. There was a large puddle across the track, I went right and Steve elected to go through. Bad idea. His front wheel disappeared completely and when I looked around I saw him splashing around almost up to his waist trying to get his bike out. Those of you who know how tall Corby is will get a sense of how deep his hole was!
Coming down the next descent I overshot the next corner, narrowly avoiding one of the marshals. cresting the top of the next climb I heard an almighty bang as my rear tyre exploded. I held the bike in a straight line and, using mostly my feet and the heather, brought it to a stop. It took around 3 minutes to put a new tube in and use a gas canister to inflate it.
I had forgotten just how cold the gas gets when discharged and spent the next couple of minutes breathing hot air onto the cylinder in an attempt to remove it from my glove, much to the amusement of the other riders streaming passed me.
Being stationary anyway, and having nearly hit a marshal, it seemed a good idea to change my pads again. 2hrs since the last set, not really good but there is nothing left. Rob came passed me while I was doing this, called to check I was OK, and then carried on. No sign of Corby though, wonder if he drowned?
New pads in and tyre fully inflated I set off again. Less than a mile later there was another very loud bang as the tube went again. No racing punctures in over two years and now two in one race. I got my other spare tube out, but I had no gas this time, merely a foam sealant. That should be fine, probably even better than just gas. I managed to get most of it into the tyre, with a few large globules of foam floating around and getting all over me and the bike. I was just putting my things away when there was one final very loud bang and the side of the tyre blew out, a slit around 2 inches long, right along the bead, sending another huge stream of foam across the landscape, much to the enjoyment of the passing riders. I had no idea that the canister contained that much.
At this point I was only around 2 miles from the halfway food stop and I knew I had a tube and a gas waiting for me there, I’m sure I could think of something to fix the tyre, so I set off on foot. After around half a mile I came across someone furiously rummaging in his pack for his missing Allen key. I lent him my multi-tool and he generously gave me a tyre boot and a (29er!) tube, which I just about managed to cram in. We set off again together. I stopped at the feed station to collect my new tube and gas, and to throw some more water at my brakes. However, within a couple of miles the split in the tyre was getting ever larger, up to about 5 inches. The tube and tyre boot were bulging out the side of the tyre and catching on the chainstay to such an extent that the wheel was having difficulty turning. Letting pressure out to reduce the size of the bulge created a whole new set of problems.
I continued as best I could along the fireroads, riding with an almost flat rear tyre and no brakes at all, overshooting any downhill bend I came across. The singletrack was nigh on impossible, so I elected to run. My intention was to find someone with a serious, non-tyre related, problem who was about to retire and ask if I could have his good tyre from him. Bit cheeky, but worth a go.
The first likely candidate I came across was having trouble with his brakes, but when he asked for help I didn’t have the heart to pretend I couldn’t help and then run off with his tyre, so I helped him fix it and got him on his way again. The only other broken down person I came across merely needed to borrow a chain tool. By this stage I had been scooting along, running and walking for nearly a dozen miles, I had been on the go for over 7 hours and it was dawning on me that a) I was increasingly unlikely to find a tyre donor b) I was not going to make the cut-off, not even close and c) even if by some miracle I did make the cut I couldn’t run the next 40 miles.
And so this race became my first ever DNF in over 12 years of bike racing. I was gutted, I had been looking forward to the race for ages and I felt fine, despite the conditions, the training had worked perfectly. It was shame to be put out of the race by such silly problems.
Anyone who didn't believe me when I said that I had not only worn one of rear pads away but also the backing plate, and was braking on the piston have a look at these photos. I think you can tell which is the 'before' and 'after' picture.



It doesn't seem to have done the brake much good at all...
Of the 800+ entries only 177 made the finish. Well done to you all, that was a properly tough race.
I will be back next year, hopefully in the dust and blazing sunshine.
Just got to try to get the van out now...

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