Saturday, July 21, 2007

Mountain biking hardcore madness

Canberra is mountain biking nirvana. I've been riding here for about 15 years, back when Stromlo hadn't burnt down, when front suspension was a novelty, and only wankers wore bike shorts. The MTB scene in Canberra has grown massively since then - you only have to go to the annual 24-hour race to see how many people are into it. If you're coming down to Canberra, and have the slightest interest in riding on the dirt, chuck your bike in the back and we'll go for a ride.

Ada, Alison, Brendan and Peter did just that, joining me and Sarah (on a bike borrowed from my brother-in-law) for a day among the pine trees.

You can see how hardcore Sarah is - she doesn't even wear a helmet while bombing down Majura.

Here I demonstrate a good technique getting over a log at Sparrow Hill, an awesome 30km single track loop halfway between Queanbeyan and Bungendore. Observe my bent arms, weight back, and I should be looking off somewhere into the distance if you believe the Thredbo cannonball instructors, but if I'd followed their advice I wouldn't have noticed that I was heading for a fall. Don't worry, I made it through ok.

Alison is looking shaky, a tense face, front wheel not straight, possibly going a bit slow, but she pulled it through and made it over ok, no doubt in part due to her baptism of fire at Thredbo.

I think this is Ada's second run, which looks great, dead straight, good form, a bit slow from memory, but she got over. Extra marks for having a second go after a massive bail the first time around, which you can see on her facebook profile.

Brendan - nothing wrong here, nice and calm.

While we're in a MTB mood I might as well share the carnage of Thredbo's cannonball run. Alison got a gift certificate when leaving her last job, and convinced Ian and I that riding down the international standard downhill track at Thredbo would be fun. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but about five seconds in I realised this was a lot tougher than I thought it would be.

It was a fantastic day to be up there. We got kitted out with body armour, shin guards, elbow pads, and helmets with face protection. I thought this was overkill at the time. We then got the chairlift up, which in retrospect was the highlight of the day. The initial part of the track was a simple fire trail, but the next part was insanity. There were two foot high drop offs every two feet, which made staying on the bike as difficult as being on a bucking bronco unless you had dual suspension, which none of us had. It was like riding down very steep stairs with twists in it. To make things more difficult for me I had clipless shoes which meant that I either had to risk going down with the bike, or have very limited traction on my pedals. I opted for limited traction, which made things even harder.

We did this on the Easter long weekend, on the busiest day on the cannonball...ever. So the track was full to bursting with people who really shouldn't have been on there. Falls were common. The pace was slow. One girl fell off and got her foot caught in a rock crevice, almost twisting her ankle. The instructors were saint-like in their patience.

You can see Alison and I here at the first rest stop, about five minutes in. One girl had already requested to be pulled out, so we had to wait for the van to come and get her. I'm trying to convince Alison to keep going, under the naive assumption that when the instructor said that the worst of it was over, he was telling the truth. It took me another hour to get down, and Alison a bit longer. It was tough...damn tough. The only positive of the day for me was that I was used as an example by the instructor of how to fall off a bike properly, ie. go limp. If only there was video footage. Ian also displayed good form when he fell off by attempting to grap the foilage as he went down the hill.

Ian managed to blag a proper downhill bike once we got down. Note the huge travel on the front forks, the tractor-sized tyres, the generous rear travel. This is why the instructors can tell you to look at the horizon, because these bikes do all the work for you, you just need to pick the correct line. On the original bikes we had there is no hope, the track is not designed for bikes like that. The lesson was learned. Downhill is a different sport. I'm sticking to cross-country from here on in. I'll leave the downhill to adrenaline junkies looking for kicks in the snow boarding off-season.

Just to make myself feel better I've include a photo of myself coming off the last lap of the 2004 Mont 24, the must ludicrously ridiculous physical exertion I've ever put myself through. To be fair, I had a cold, was not terribly fit, and had only purchased my bike about a month before-hand after a long period of not cycling. I took it as a bad sign that I cramped up in the calves halfway through my first lap. It was a worry that my main competition on that last lap was a fat 12-year old. I was the slowest in our six man team by a long way, but I did not care in the slightest. I was ecstatic to complete all three laps and go home for a bath.

Even so, looking at this photo makes me feel so manly that it gives me tingles in naughty places.

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