Find A Gear You Like And Stick With It

I am writing this on a day of great historical importance. Some of you may have noticed, some of you may not. Today something has occurred which has never, ever happened before. I have been in Wales for five consecutive days and it hasn’t rained on any of them!

Friday was spent riding at Afan Argoed (since when I have received lessons on how to correctly pronounce it) It has been a while since I last rode a singlespeed, and I was slightly concerned that the Welsh hills might not be ideal terrain for one, but I was pleasantly surprised. I changed from the 34/14 I use at home to a 34/16 and it was fine, although 4,820ft of climbing in less than 40 miles was still a bit of a shock to the system for a Lincolnshire rider, I’m normally lucky to get 2,000ft in 100 miles!

On Saturday I was riding at Margam, a sneak preview of the course to be used for the Margam Madness event at Easter, more on this to follow shortly.

The trip to Margam had been the reason for coming to Wales, but as always with these things I ended up succumbing to peer pressure and so on Sunday morning I found myself on the front row of the startline of The Goshawk Enduro in Wentworth forest, 400 other riders lined up alongside and behind me. I had never even heard of it until the Wednesday! This was just supposed to be a bit of fun, nothing serious, just a nice ride around the local countryside. So how come I was standing there between Matt Page, former European 24hr Champion and Gareth Hayes, former bronze medallist at the European 24hr discussing who had been doing what training over the winter? What happened to my nice relaxed Sunday ride? I blame Gareth.

The first four or five miles were on tarmac and so the pace was pretty quick right from the off. I got a good start but the limitations of the gearing immediately became apparent when it started to get steep and people began coming passed me.

The course itself was pretty good. It’s not an area of the country I’ve been to before, just somewhere I keep driving passed on the way to The Valleys. There was a good mix of fireroads, singletrack and the odd section of tarmac. Despite the weather over the winter the course was surprisingly dry, there were of course some wet and boggy sections but not nearly as many as I had been expecting. The majority of the course was singlespeed-friendly too, there were a small number of sections where I had to get off and run but most of it was ridable.

Since the first climb I had been riding along quite happily at the tail end of the top twenty, and had passed the first checkpoint in under an hour. However, about 15 minutes later I found myself in amongst the backmarkers. This was a little peculiar. I was overtaking people who I clearly should not be racing, there were two other guys with me with whom I had been swapping places all morning, but the three of us were flying passed everyone else, far more people than should have been ahead of us.

There were three options for the race, 25km, 35km and 45km, the longer of which was the one I was doing. I just assumed at first that the routes were completely different, even though I had seen no signs indicating where we would split and that our course was merely crossing one of the shorter ones. What had actually happened was that a couple of hundred people had missed a large section of the track and so those of us at the front suddenly found ourselves at the back again! This wasn’t anything deliberate, just a case of one sign not being as visible as it could be and everyone just blindly following the rider in front.

This did however mean that we suddenly had loads more people to overtake, which was a lot of fun, and of course this race doesn’t actually count for anything so no-one really minded, although it was a little frustrating for those of us who had been doing well.

We had no idea whereabouts we were in the race by this stage but having lots of people to chase spurred us on and we kept up a decent pace for the remainder of the race. The weather helped too obviously, it was just nice to be out in shorts in the sunshine again after all these months.

It might sound a bit odd but this race reminded me of how I began mountainbiking fifteen years ago, just going out and riding the local woods as fast as I could, linking up various forest sections with fireroads and country lanes, and the retro bike just added to this sense of nostalgia.

Those who did the shorter routes (the actual shorter routes, not the unintentional one) missed one of the best sections, there was some lovely singletrack at the end before the final road blast back along the side of the lake to the start. This final tarmac section was the only place all day where a singlespeed really felt inadequate, my legs were spinning madly but the guy I was racing just stuck it in the big ring and shot off into the distance

I eventually crossed the line 36th in the long race. However, when I uploaded my GPS data a couple of days later it placed me 9th of those who had done the whole thing, although this is probably equally meaningless as not everyone was carrying one. All in all I thoroughly enjoyed it, despite the problems. It was a lovely piece of the country which I have never been to before and I am pleased with how I rode, I’m feeling quite confident about the rest of the season.

Those who did the whole thing should have ended up with something
which looks very much like this. 29.5 miles, 4,364ft of climbing

Monday and Tuesday were also dry and sunny, making the five in a row. I stayed a couple of days after the race to ride at Cwm Carn and then the Forest of Dean, two very different, but equally good places to ride. The new Cafall trail at Cwm Carn was huge fun but it was also just fun to head out into the Forest of Dean and explore, although it would have helped enormously if I could have remembered exactly where I had left the van...

So anyway, why a singlespeed? Aren’t singlespeeds outdated technology which makes what would otherwise be a pleasurable experience needlessly hard and difficult, when there are much better, faster alternatives available? The same could be said of any bike, ever since someone first attached an engine to one the humble pedal bike has been outdated technology. Doesn’t make it any less fun though!

Thanks to Ian Harvey Read for the pictures

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