If mountain bike racing in the UK had a spectrum, at the red end you’d have events like the Highland Trail with its duration measured in days. At the violet end would probably be something like downhill, with a duration measured in minutes and fractions of a second.
1. a band of colours, as seen in a rainbow, produced by separation of the components of light by their different degrees of refraction according to wavelength.
2. used to classify something in terms of its position on a scale between two extreme points
I’m not usually one for racing at the violet end of the scale; something to do with not enough margin for error, and requiring more emphasis on outright skill than actual fitness. But, I guess it’s good to operate outside of your comfort zone once in a while.
The Annual Forest Products Challenge is an event that is most likely off the radar of many folk outside of the forest industry. Run for the past few years in the gravity enduro format, it involves riding popular segments of the blue/red/black trail at Coed Llandegla as fast as you can without making any mistakes or falling off. The event is well put together, with Sports Ident timing, catering, Mountain Rescue, and professional photography courtesy of Laurence Crossman-Emms. All the excellent photos in this report were taken by and are copyright to Laurence Crossman-Emms.
A check of the equipment of choice for other colleagues in the industry seemed to imply that full suspension was de rigour. This presented two problems; 1) I don’t own a full suspension bike, and 2) the event was two days before the Yorkshire Dales 300 (YD300). To ease my travel arrangements, I’d elected to do the this event on the way to the YD300, so this was going to be one bike affair for both events…
With a relaxed start, we set off up the long first climb in glorious sunshine, eventually reaching the top of the first stage at the start of the blue downhill. From here, it was eye-balls out through the singletrack and eventually to a gradual climb, which at full-tilt left that unpleasant taste of lung at the back of your throat. Average heart rate: 180 bpm. My max heart rate is apparently 189 – I didn’t even know it went that high anymore.
As we worked our way down the course, the stages varied from pedally to degrees of technical and jumpy. Nonetheless, I started to find some flow. The bike of choice for me – that is from a choice of one – was my trusted Shand Bahookie. It was still fitted with gears and the 29+ front wheel from the Highland Trail. As was the case in Scotland, it took the trails well, and I found confidence through the berms and over the table tops (though I shied away from getting too much air), and power for the uphill sections until my legs were full of lactic acid. As balanced as the bike felt, I did seem to be finding the limits of the larger front wheel. Stutter bumps on entry and exit to berms were punishing, even with only 12 PSI in the tyre. By the end of the third stage, my left hand had a blister on my palm at the base of my middle finger, making it difficult to grip the bar comfortably, which was also likely to be an issue for the 300 km I was soon to face in Yorkshire.
For those less adept at the downhilling side of things, there was an opportunity to claw something back on stage 4, which consisted of a good dose of uphill in the middle of one of the black sections. I was fading by this point but gave it as much as I could anyway. Another 5 minute segment with a heart rate largely in excess of 180 BPM was dispensed with.
With a little over an hour and a half on the clock, I took on the last descent to the finish. Time to light whatever I had left in my legs, which was enough to have my heart rate average 179 bpm again and bring me to the end with a total accrued time of 35:21 for all 6 stages, and 6th place (out of 44). I was only 3:10 off the pace which considering these events aren’t quite my strength, and I was on a rigid bike vs other more capable riders on bouncy bikes, I was pleased with.
At the finish, we were treated to a barbecue and some ice-cream while we swapped experiences and timings from race. It was a great event, a social highlight of the forestry calendar, and in shared good company with others in the industry. But perhaps next time, I think I’ll come armed with more suspension. Something like a Shand Tumshie perhaps?
Link to Strava Activity: https://www.strava.com/activities/622839118/