Riding Inspiration: The 2016 Scott 24 Hour

The 2016 Scott 24 hour rolled around as the 18th consecutive, and slated as the final in a long standing sequence of an incredible race.  Although I’d only partaken since 2007, the race (in its glory days) had drawn up to 3000 people into a tent city amongst the forests of Kowen, then later back at the dust bowl of Stromlo.

From my perspective, it’s a good time to take a step back, and look at just four of the riders who have inspired me.

The Disciplined Racer

A horrible thing about 24hrs is that they start at midday.  While most races are a frantic explosion of preparation and narrowly avoiding imminent disaster for an 8am start, 24hrs start at the very civilised time of midday.

This also means there is far too long to get nervous, break the morning-poo-world-record, or also get excitable, listen to some pumping music, and go wild.

In past years I’d become almost notorious for irresponsibly fast starts.  With a lovely climb ahead of you, a hefty dose of adrenaline, and a wild explosion of energy disturbingly contained through the whole morning, a fast start is always tantalisingly floating – because after all, fast is fun, and fun is fast.

If there is one thing I’ve learnt from the man who has dominated the sport, it’s that endurance racing is much more about discipline than heroics.  The discipline to contain excitement on the first lap, to ride sustainably, to eat and drink, and to be quick and efficient through the transitions.


A true champion. Photo by Russ Baker

The first lap started with an admirable degree of restraint, and some pleasant chat on the climb, with Jason commenting flippantly on his low heart rate while mine orbited in the stratosphere.  The descent soon provided the opportunity to push away and try to open the field up, with the eternal delights of Western Wedgetail, Skyline and Luge tempting fast, aggressive riding.

This plan worked well, but after a couple of dry days, areas of the track had packed hard with erratic, skatey, marble rock over the surface.  Grip was completely lacking, and in the wake of riding in wet conditions, I was completely out of touch with cornering on the loose surface.  A massive wash-out soon followed, with some bark of the knee, and a stinging cramp ripping through my left quad.

With my wings somewhat clipped soaring too close to the sun, I attempted to settle back and sit into a rhythm.  Jason caught up and I sat on for a little while, content to be patient, as we rolled onto the second lap.

It soon transpired that the crash had also ruined my shifting, with chaotic ghost-shifting on the climbing range.  I gave myself another reminder not to panic, and plan carefully, 2 laps of single-speed inspired climbing followed before a speedy bike swap.   We rolled onwards with rapid rolling double feeds from Phil and Seb.

After three hours of patiently sitting on Jason, I was beginning to sense his impatience to test me.  The afternoon was warm but with pleasantly cloud cover and a sprightly easterly breeze, and the trails, while wet in places, were holding up beautifully, with smooth lines settling into the marbles.  On the first climb, the pace soon ramped to 30km/h.  The tests had started.  Over the next three hours, surge after surge followed on the climb, and I tried to use the long, flowing Stromlo descent to recover.  My legs were riddled with little cramps from the crash and a right hip flare-up from Beechworth resurfacing.  It looked ominous.


Early race fun. Photo by Russ Baker

It’s in times like this that you can look for the wisdom you might have learnt from your opponent.  The ability to keep perspective, to be patient, to know the limits, and to remind yourself that is an extremely long way to go – and plan ahead.

Eventually, around 6pm, the elastic snapped.  I didn’t bother panicking or going into the red to close the gap, instead taking the opportunity to settle into a steadier rhythm and wait for the night.

The Singing Singlespeeder

Almost relieved to be able to back off the pace, we’d soon donned lights and were heading off into the night with heavy, crampy, tired legs.  While the course immediately began to slick up with the descending dew, I relished the colder temperatures and the opportunity to bring the legs back around into better condition.

If there’s one racer I’ve learnt from immensely over the years, it’d be the bearded giant – a man with a massive beard and an even bigger heart, Brett Bellchambers.   Brett’s the sort of guy who will just roll around all day, having a ball, and finding a happy place on the bike, irrespective of what the race does.


The Beard at Sunset.  Photo by Rohan Thomson

Coming through the sunset, I took the time to enjoy a spectacular cloudburst over the western horizon of the Brindabellas – that place of so many grand adventures.  Certainly a happy place, and a skyline that fills me with an immense feeling of identity and home.

Content to be racing for second, I focused on finding a happy place on the the trails.  Finding a rhythm on the climb, knocking off lap by lap, and enjoying the fantastic flow on the way back down.  Belting out songs at anyone and everyone I could find.

At about 8pm, a particularly bad version of “Eye of the Tiger” over the bridge into the Luge was met with a response of “oh, there he is!” – and I was stunned to see the yellow stripes of a Pivot jersey only 20 seconds ahead on the Luge.  On the subsequent scoot around Slant Six to Wombat Junction, the immortal ballad of Teenage Dirtbag soon hit the airways.

There is nothing quite so motivating as remembering your awkward 12 year old experiences of loneliness at the year 7 disco, and I was soon bombing down the remaining descents with a wonderfully atonal falsetto screech.

While this was probably a terrible race tactic – in the sense that the singing was that awful to be around – somehow, it helped control the adrenaline of the catch.  Slipping away over the course of the next lap and into the night, it was time to channel the happy place Brett had so regularly found.


And so, the night flitted away, with songs, cool air, climb by climb, then enjoying the descent back down.  Channelling my inner singlespeeder – dancing on the hills, and finding skids and fun on the descent.


Photo by Russ Baker

People talk a lot about training tactics for events.  For me, it was very simple – over the course of a wet and cold winter, I’d fallen back in love with threading a cone of light through a forest of darkness, the rush of the unfamiliar corner, and the cool night air on my skin.  The night ride had, one more, become a happy place.  I plodded on, oblivious to gaps, focusing on the unrelenting tempo.


Phil dominates the rolling feed. Photo by Russ Baker

The Lunatic

There is no question that riding a bike between the hours of midnight and dawn is a silly exercise, and one that runs counter to most people’s natural biological clock.  For this period, it’s time to channel the Lunatic.

The Lunatic isn’t really the Lunatic.  He’s the guy with the brilliant sense of perspective on what his adventures are, and what they mean.  The guy who’s so well adjusted that, however hard it gets, it’s still better than being at work.


370 burpees!

For me, this inspiration was close at hand – with the superb Phil in the pits.  As a man who’s ridden solo across Canada and Australia, my dominant impression of Phil is his insurmountable ability to flourish in the face of adversity.  The tougher it gets, the more he loves it – whether it’s a brutal hike-a-bike, ridiculous weather, or just a freakish storm.  To keep himself occupied, Phil was doing 10 burpees for every lap I did – surmounting to a monumental 370.

The Lunatic is well positioned to ride through the witching hours.  I marvelled at the city streetlights shimmering on the horizon.  Every lap, I used the cool air on the descent to keep myself uncomfortable, and force myself to warm up on the climb once more.

People tend to reflect on 24 hours for the glamorous moments – the sunrises, the highs, the joy of the finish.  The reality has more to do with suffering, soreness, and an interminable slog.  Added to this was significant chain suck on both bikes in the sloppy conditions, and the stress of a snapped chain was never far from my mind, and I threaded careful lines on the descents to keep the tyres safe.


the reality…

While the reality may be slightly grim, it’s also slightly mad.  And in that madness, lies the hope.  It’s madness. Go with it. It’s the best part of living.

With my first caffeine shot piling into the blood, I plunged deeper into the heart of darkness, looking to the east each lap for signs that might betray the coming dawn.   Not knowing gaps, through the night I felt the pressure of the inevitability of the final six hours of truth bearing down on me.  I’ve raced Jason enough to know how strong his second morning is.  When the sun comes up, it’ll be on like donkey-kong.


The Mongrel

The come down from the joy of dawn was a rapid and rude one.  While the brilliance of dawn starts with a soft and cleansing beauty, it soon gives way to the garish truths of illuminated day.  There are some truths that shouldn’t be illuminated.

Usually, this is related to the return of fresher riders to the track from the 6+6 or sleeping teams, and they blow past you like you’re standing still.


Moff at dawn – a gutsy 4th place

I’ve found in the past that the past 6 hours require the biggest and deepest pushes of them all, and in this case, with the unexpected weight of the lead on my shoulders, and the pressure of Jason bearing down on me, I had to find some deep motivation.


Photo by David Blucher (Flickr Trainspotting)

In times like this, it’s time to find the inner mongrel.  The guy who, although the nicest man on earth on the exterior, can turn himself inside-out in pursuit of a goal, and push through unreasonable levels of pain.


The Mad-Dog himself

There is no-one who, in my mind, fits this bill better than Jason McAvoy.  An inspiration to get into long races, Jason could pull himself inside out to bring the dream across the line for his family with a fierce competitiveness that summoned strength unforeseen.

With the rising sun, I was riding on the strength of the night, but with a sense of pure paranoia.  Knowing Jason’s unrelentingly strong finishes, I had no idea of what gap I had or the lap pacing I would need to maintain to stave him off.


Finding a smile. Photo by Russ Baker

Settling in to 40 minute laps, I had to fight the urge to count the laps down and dig deep to stay focused with a body waning in the heat of the day and the rising sun.  McAvoy style, I channelled the motivation of the people who’d supported me over the years: people like Phil in the pits, a long suffering family putting up with cycling over real-life development, and an endless line who’d supported me in 24s over the years: it was too late and too close to let them down.

I was relieved around 10am to hear that the gap was steady and my lap times were sufficient, and I could back off the pace slightly to bring the race home safely and sustainably.  With a few dying minutes to go, there was even time to sneak in another lap – an idea that seemed well planned for about five minutes until my legs caught up!

There are a few people I need to thank for helping me achieve a life-long dream:

  • Phil Byron, super-burpee-man, pit boss, who did an unbelievable job managing 24hrs of chaotic rolling feeds
  • Seb Dunne, Brenton Rogers, Brendan Morant, and everyone else who jumped in to the pits
  • Onya Bike for keeping the old Black Beauty running smoothly, and supplying the yellow Bumblebee at late notice – I couldn’t have asked for better bikes than the Anthems
  • Canberra Off Road Cyclists for keeping the 24 hour dream alive a little longer; it’s been an amazing ride with an amazing community.

Riding bikes is fun!


A champ to share a podium with!

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6/3 Hours in the Saddle at Beechworth

The divine, glorious, all-knowing and loving conservative press in Australia would have you believe that cycling is a form of social degeneracy and anarchy with dangerous degenerative elements and criminal intent that threaten to destabilise the very fundamentals of our good, car-loving, intolerant society.

They couldn’t be further from the truth.  Cycling is, in fact, bound by a system of rules more arbitrary and laced with prejudice than an inflammatory Sonja Kruger rant.

The rules are expounded on the writings of the Velominati, a secret cycling society akin in internet presence to the (now-mythical) Sydney Secret Singlespeed Society.

We are the Keepers of the Cog. In so being, we also maintain the sacred text wherein lie the simple truths of cycling etiquette known as The Rules. It is in our trust to maintain and endorse this list.

This blogger’s battle to embrace, obey and ascend to spiritual enlightenment by the rules has been chronicled in numerous Back Yamma Bigfoot write-ups over the years.   After all, Rule No. 1 simply reads: obey the rules.

Back Yamma was postponed this year, due to somewhat troubling fact that most of Central Western NSW is actually underwater, and a 100km kayak around a flat forest is a little less exciting than a mountain bike ride.


However, the 6 Hours in the Saddle at Beechworth promised trails with great resilience to gratuitous and capricious precipitation.

The two days before the race were, by Australian standards, of monsoonal proportions.  I awoke early in the morning of the race to the sound of rain drumming on the roof.  Trails pre-dampened are one thing, but the addition of falling water changes the dynamic entirely.

It was time to consult Rule 9:  If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

Huddling beneath a rain coat, I relied on the internal glow of pure badassery to keep me warm in anticipation of the race.  Epic photos of mud splatter could follow, worthy of a Rapha photoshoot.  Photos in greyscale or sepia cast tone reflecting the sky and true epicness of the day.  The unfortunate reality was that epic riding would have to be earned, and actually raced for.



The race started with a splash across the golf course and into deep, boggy grass.  Perhaps distracted by working out how best to portray it on social media, I went slowly through the grass, and into the singletrack far further back than intended.  I whipped out the rule book and consulted Rule 70:

Rule 70: The Purpose of Competing is to Win.

With this stunning epiphany I tried to move up the field.  While the golf course had been wet, the trails were admirably dry, with grippy, granitic soil and swooping turns rock gardens nestled between the gigantic granitic boulders of the forest.  Pushing heart-rate up to a level not sensible for 6 hours, by the end of the lap, I had tagged on to the back of the leading group of riders, possibly assisted by a bit of navigational confusion.  On the tarmac run into town, I shamelessly ignored Rule #67:

Rule 67: Do your time in the Wind.

No-body likes a wheelsucker, expect possibly the person sucking wheel.  Sitting on and merrily enjoying the tow and a hefty dose of spray, we barralled into town and out on another lap.  Riders rolled between the front.  I ducked and dodged to avoid doing anything in the wind.  Abundant excuses about having to ride for 6 hours were on the lips, should I be challenged.  In this circumstance, it was time to attempt redemption by going for Rule 19:

Rule 19: Introduce Yourself

If there is one possible way either to make up for poor etiquette or make yourself even more unpopular, it’s by attempting conversation.  This either results in some good banter or alternatively in awkward and menacing silences.  In the context of a wet and muddy race, it worked quite well.  The second lap passed in a series of jumps, hucks, and chat amongst the trails.  With a shabby pretext established,  on the roll back into town, Rule 67 was flagrantly ignored again.

Rule 42: A bike race shall never be preceded by a swim or followed by a run.

Coming through for the third lap, and with the rain continuing to fall, the carnage on the course was beginning to show.  The golf course was now basically underwater and a slog through deep and gloopy slop and a deep puddle akin to a bog.  After a brief and muddy descent, a sharp pinch soon followed.  Struggling to find traction, it was time for a muddy run up the hill, flagrantly breaking Rule 42 in both pre and antecedents.  With an attempt at a graceful flying cyclocross leap onto the saddle which resulted in little more than a dissonant crash of cleats, a stumble, and a rather tender groin, I was off and riding again.

With the course slower and without buddies to ride with, and with the body cold and muddy, I began to struggle a bit.  4.5 more hours in this?  Would my brake pads survive?  Would the chain hold out and not snap?  With the course degrading under the weight of the wheels, each climb felt slower than the previous laps.  This misery was compounded on the headwind roll back into town.  It was time to consult the immortal Rule #5:

Rule no. 5: Harden the f*ck up!

Rule no. 5 is the ultimate refutation and rebuttal to just about every whine ever heard on a bicycle, whether internal or external.  While perhaps too frequently abused by those whose bikes never actually go outside and equate riding with some sort of atavistic asceticism, it provides short shrift to most excuses.  I was in a good position in the race, the Anthem was performing flawlessly in the conditions, my tyres were managing the mud well, and everything was actually going rather well, if a little bit muddily.

From Rule no. 5, Rule no. 6 soon follows:

Rule 6: Free your mind and your legs will follow

Freeing the mind from the distractions of pain, mud splatter, and other trivial forms of discomfort, I settled in for the last lap with a bit more focus.  This probably coincided with finding out that the race would be called just prior to the 3 hour mark.  With a happy mind, I spent the last lap enjoying the trails, flipping around the rock gardens, swooping the corners, and absorbing the beautiful Australian bush.  The waterfalls gurgled pleasantly, and the granitic environment provided the perfect backdrop for the beautiful flowing trails.   Despite the best efforts of the rain, it had still been an awesome day out on the bike.


Some thank yous (ewes) for this one:

  • The Beechworth Chain Gang team for putting the race on – always a hard call in the wake of belligerent and rapidly changing weather.
  • The Quaglios for putting us up in beautiful Yackandandah – with its own brilliant trails!
  • Onya Bike Civic for keeping the Anthem purring through a wet winter
  • The Velominati for providing the path to true two-wheeled ascension to enlightment





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A Hollywood Story: The Wagga 6 hour

Despite not indulging in many movies, I’ve observed that there is a basic pre-meditated script to most Hollywood movies.  Set in disturbingly upper-middle-class environments, with the air of optimism in the American Dream almost fragrant in the air – and real life problems like job security, or depression and despair in the dustbowl.  Nor are there hard-hitting statements on the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma and a preacher from Atlanta…

Instead, the stories are set in a neat and principled America dawning to a sunny day with Hope in the air.  Invariably, they follow largely the same plot.

In a crude sense, you could compare a bike race to a film in that it has a beginning, some stuff in the middle no-one really remembers, and then an ending.  Or perhaps, that bike racing floats in a pleasant abstraction of real life where there is an air of optimism and dreams, and real life problems don’t matter, and the sun always shines perfectly on a beautiful day.

Setting the Scene

The Wagga 6 hour is a much-loved jaunt around the trails of Pomigalarna at Wagga, held by the MTB Wagga.  Pomigalarna sets out a beautiful 13km course with good variation of terrain between smooth and rocky, steep and swoopy, and plenty of nice natural bushland scenery and views over town.  It’s a happy hunting ground for a fun day on the trails.

In the past couple of years, the race has also formed part of the Evocities MTB series – a little mountain bike series pointing out why massive cities with no open spaces and cripplingly high cost of living may no longer be the ideal manifestation of the Australian Dream.

Fortunately, the slow and inevitable decline of the Australian dream is far too deep a topic for our fluffy Hollywood script.  Your narrator (setting a resonant Everyman tone with a whiff of nostalgia) has enjoyed some success in recent years at the Wagga 6 hour, but was all too cogniscant that presence of the Evocities would bring some excellent competition.

A Dramatic Twist

In every Hollywood film, there is a dramatic twist that plunges the protagonists against the woes of the world, and requires at least one emotional epiphany and lots of courage to overcome.  In this case, the weather happily obliged with a solid 40mm drenching of rain on the Friday night, transforming dry trails into a wetland, and the surrounding flood plains into, well, flooded-plains instead of the usual barren wastelands.

The call was made – the show must go on, due to the draining nature of the trails.  However, late on Saturday night, another storm blew through with an additional 5mm or so of steady rain.  This meant that not only would the ground be saturated, there’d be running water on the trails – a sure sign for some muddy carnage.

It was with this air of dramatic trepidation that a motley crew of 150 riders assembled on a grey and bleak morning at Pomigalarna.  Swarming on the start line, the poor martial soon made the comment: “there’s an awful lot of testosterone here.  I can smell it!”


Photo by David Bardos

Perhaps the air was truly redolent with ambition, or just with nerves about the trail conditions.  Either way, when the whistle went and we catapulted up the hill, heart rates rapidly rose on the wet climb.

The Startling Epiphany

In every Hollywood film, there’s a moment of truly divine illumination about some inspiring and conveniently opaque moral truism.  In my case, it was the realisation that, if I had any hope against Shaun, Jason, Stefan, Lloydy and Dan, I’d have to go beserk from the beginning.

There is no beginning to a race quite so conducive to adrenaline-filled epiphanies as a nice fire-road climb.  It begs heart rates to be maxed out, eyes popping out of sockets, ragged breathing and legs fighting imminent incapacitance from a surging tide of lactic acid.

It’s a moment on a prayer – somehow hoping that a ridiculous intensity will click into a magic rhythm that can be magically and mysteriously maintained for 6 hours.  It’s belief in something like a Hollywood tale – that with a bit of a self-belief and hefty stupidity, you can somehow leap of dazzling void of form and achieve the impossible.

Pushing hard through the slop and the mud, I was looking to see if I can find some magical inspiration and superhero legs.  Looking over at the end of the first lap, I could see that Jason was being very attentive and rapidly coming across the gap.

I consoled myself that he looked like he was turning himself inside out, with numerous pain faces and a tense body.  None of this was a consolation when, on the steep Col de Croix, he powered past me and dropped me like the proverbial stone.

Regaining composure and bridging back on down Wagga’s stunning final descent, I took a moment to stabilise my epiphany in the reality of being the weaker rider of the pair, and settled in for a very hard day.

The Emotional Collapse

Swinging around for the third lap, we swapped off for the muddy singletrack.  Already, the course was a tale of two trails- while certain sections of the course were dry, tacky, and downright delicious, others were rapidly exploding under the weight of wheels and the surface moisture.  Drivetrains were grinding in the slop, and brake pads were rapidly wearing thin.


Photo by David Bardos

While on the front and pushing hard, I had a momentary lapse and a big pedal strike.  The net effect was a dropped chain.  Even with a quick restoration, a brief implosion had occurred in my brain.   The gap instantly blew out as I struggled to find rhythm through the mud and close the gap.  The cadence of the first few laps was gone and my lines were poor and messy.  A silly crash soon followed on a slow uphill switchback, which required re-alignment of the bars.  It was at this point I also realised that the air seal in my forks had failed, and they had effectively jammed down at zero travel.  Nursing the front end down the descents would be one issue, but the bigger challenge would be preventing pedal strikes with my bottom bracket even lower.

With my little Hollywood dream imploding in front of me, it was time to look for some alternative inspiration.

The Requisite Bad Guy

Every Hollywood story needs a good old fashioned villain – one of such base mendacity that the only possible reaction is utter revulsion.


Bombing my around the back of the course, I soon encountered this villian.  With a crescendo of angry squarks, a low flying forward pass soon followed.  Spiralling away, a vicious dive-bomb followed, with the slap of claws on the helmet.

The Promise of Love

The theme of perfect romance is always lurking around the corner in any good Hollywood story.  The heroic protagonist somehow meets the misunderstood, lovely, and conveniently beautiful love interest.  Significant and meaningful glances are exchanged.  Poetic silences lapse after said eye contacts, perhaps signified with a secret lingering smile after some exchange of whispered words.

The promise of eternal and undying happiness under a golden sunset across fields of flowers, hand in hand  through the golden light.


Truly cringe-inducing

Given the gender splits in mountain biking, the fact I was coated in mud and completely blown, the odds of actual romance were approaching the staggering depths of probability usually reserved for standing around awkwardly at the high school disco.

Instead, I fell back in love with mountain biking.  The 0mm travel Anthem was bucking the “super slack” Enduro trend and was actually climbing rather well with its crazy steep head angle.  The bits of the trail that were dry really were superbly good fun.  The weather was rather pleasant for riding.  The soft corners became tests of a good two wheel drift, and seeing how far the traction could go.  The blown out sections became experiments in mud explosion.  And somehow, miraculously, I was holding down second place.


Corey nails the drop – photo by David Bardos

Positive thought leads to positive thought, and even the hardest parts of the course were soon tempered by that wisest of motives: you could be at work right now, and remembering how much I love racing a bike.  

Enjoying the things that were going well and bombing around the trails on a fun bike, I was forced to snap into reality hearing that, with a damaged course becoming increasingly more treacherous, the race was to be shortened to 4 hours.  Realising with a jolt that Jason might not be too far up the road, it was time to find a little adrenaline and coming charging home hard – albeit still 5 minutes down the road.

A Moral Conclusion

Crossing the finish line, the paddock was teeming with very muddy, but very happy riders.  Despite the difficulty of the weather, it was fairly safe to conclude that mountain biking had still won on the day, and everything was wonderful and happy with the world, and that they all lived happily ever after.

A big thank you to MTB Wagga for another great race and for making the best of the bad conditions – we’ll have a dry race soon!  A huge thank you to Maree Beresford for slinging bottles for about 5 riders simultaneously, while local legend Dan powered to a 3rd overall.

Thanks also to Onya Bike for keeping the bikes running despite the tortures of a wet winter, and to Hammer Nutrition for keeping the fuels coming in.

Next up  – a return to Back Yamma, and Redefining the Rules….


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Tathra Enduro, and the Crisis of Modern Masculinity in Mountain biking

It was a typically barren Wednesday winter’s night, and I was trudging the cold grey shotcrete of a basement carpark to a bicycle cage.  Entering behind a colleague and with a quick hello, I got the following response:
“Oh. I  thought you were a woman with heels … you could do the catwalk with those tights on”.

Transitioning to a softer shade of scarlet with embarrassment (or was it perhaps a twinkling of flattery, and a secret desire to dance?), I awkwardly shuffled off towards my bike, distinctly lacking in a laconic manly gravitas.

This comment seemed somewhat representative of the crisis of modern masculinity, particularly in the cycling world.   And yet, for a misogynistic, male dominated sport, mountain biking has a particularly odd relationship with conventional images of masculinity.

Trammeled somewhere between the world of the hipster and the tradie, there is no crisis in the world quite as ridiculous or hilarious as that of modern masculinity.

A Sense of Beauty

Cycling through the great natural expanses of the world, it is difficult not to feel a resonant appreciation of the deep and mysterious beauty of the world.  An epicurean aesthete pretentiously projecting romantic ideals onto the world.  Nature is, in fact, nasty, brutish and short.

20140907_143254 (Large)

Truly rubbish.

The Cultivated Self

Perhaps the greatest conflict of masculinity in cycling arises from the apparel.  Form fitting and garish, it is defined as much by its controversy as anything else.

There is no controversy with cycling greater than the obsession with lycra.  Perhaps the driving factor of Australia’s rampant cyclist hate, lycra is like the Weapon of Mass Distraction in Duncan Gay’s Holy Crusade Against Sydney Cyclists, all in the glorious name of Bending Over Backwards to the Road Lobby, and attempting to deflect attention from the fact that your city has crippling transport infrastructure issues – because the truly Australian way to deal with crippling issues is to find minority groups to blame for everything.


Shabby PPE and a dirty big road: quintessentially Duncan

And while Duncan Gay and the Sydney tabloid media can happily absolve themselves from the injuries and deaths that will result from inciting hate against vulnerable road users, the question of lycra will always remain a prickly one.

The problem of lycra is that, while most of us will look like this:


Secretly, we dream of looking like this:


But really, pulling off looking good in lycra really does require a certain European flamboyance.  The ability to wear a pair of rainbow leggings to a pub and intimidate the surly locals.  The ability to flaunt social conventions of style –  and somehow pull it off.

Very few people actually achieve that, and the subsequent cultivation of image becomes something of a self-obsessed farce.  Matching socks.  Colour coordination throughout.  The latest Rapha colourway.

All this progresses to a scary new level on the topic of manscaping.  While numerous reason have been posited for the shaving of legs – and some with more merit than others (better for massage oil, better for crashing, better for mud) – the suspicious fact is that hair will always mask muscle definition.  The immortal question then remains: is it a Venus treatment, or the French double-up with Gillette?  And the next question – where to draw the line?

It was profound questions like this I pondered, as I sat up reading Jane Austen the night before the race, and reflecting on the most amiable pleasures of convivial felicity.




Start lines are, of course, the optimal point to exercise the cultivated self.  With the immaculately conceived kit colourway resplendent in the morning sun, the latest Oakley generation sunnies a brilliant visor to mask the eyes, and calves flexed for optimal definition, it’s very important to look casual but deliberate.  Every moment must be savoured for a potential dramatic instagram post later.

This stands at odds with how starts play out.  At Tathra, the start was an odd mixture of a neutralised piano affair down the road, with a steady roll along the bitumen.  This soon gave way to stupid attacks.


Moff chases the break

If there is one thing that defines the racing tactics of most mountain bikers, it’s reckless attacking.   In spite of the fact that the start loop is probably going to be tactically neutral given the immense kilometres of pancake flat tarmac punctuated by a scrabbly dirt climb – it usually leads to the race exploding.

On the approach, the attacks came repeatedly and without much effect.  Ever scraping late to get onto the fashionable trend, I threw in one heading around the head-land and found myself having to continue on the climbs.  When Trekky came around, total implosion seemed imminent.  In circumstances like this, it’s important to do everything you can to mask the severe possibility of spontaneous conflagration and hide it physically.  This often has some fairly strange facial manifestations.  For all the heroicism of dramatic attacks, the reality has more to do with dribble than glory.


Near death. Photo by Warren Purnell

The next issue that always arises is how to look for the action shots.  I’ve long since learnt that my attempts to smile for photos will result in photographers putting their cameras down, or possibly even running off screaming into the bushes.  It is instead far more important to bring out the best pain face imaginable – because, after all, the manly expression is one of heroic suffering, somewhat anathemic to the premise you might actually enjoy the thing.  Suffering is somehow the masculine currency of the thing.

Somehow, the climb passed before the mist completely enveloped my vision, and we were soon barrelling into the singletrack.


It’s never quite certain how much fun you’re really allowed to have on the bike.  There are two components to this – the uphill and the down.

Uphills are an interesting case.  There is definitely a degree of masochism to enjoyment.  Feeling the good burn or some sort of ascetic cleansing experience often come to mind – perhaps best embraced by the “sufferfest” training regime.



Say no more….

For me, this kind of suffering has always been justified more by racing.  With a bit of red mist descending, somehow the pain isn’t really such a bad thing.  Thresholds of pain somehow magically give way to mastery – the mythical good hurt.

Tathra was one of those magical days where I was feeling the good hurt.  The lactic was flooding, my breathing was hoarse, and I was feeling ever in danger of complete implosion.  But, with insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster, somehow, mysteriously, it was all going rather well and rather good fun.    Bombing through the early trails of the loop, the pace felt fast and fun, clinging on to wheels, trying to pre-empt little crashes, and generally bouncing around on the limit.  Trekky lifted the pace again on the next climb and split away.  On the subsequent descent, Blairy soon powered away from me and Mark.  We gradually closed over the Evil Tom climb… which brought us to the descent.


Bonus Bananas on the climb!


Descending has always held a little more credibility with the crisis of masculinity – because nothing demonstrates manliness like hucking off a 20ft gap to flat.   With a decent shot of adrenaline somehow galvanised by a body fighting lactic from the climb, descending is a very unique beast in itself.

It’s important to roost the corners, huck every rock, roost the berms – and, of course, shred the gnar.

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Shredding the Gnar

Tathra provides gnar in abundance – with every climb rewarded by swooping corners, the rocky gullies of Bridges, sandy corners, and tight chutes.


Dave on the gullies

The next question that immediately arises comes from the instant need to document the life.  Mountain bike photos are always a challenge.  Action shots need to ensure that the setting is as dramatic and cool as possible, cast in epic light, and worthy of a few Pinkbike kudos.

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Channelling Bashy

Or, you could just have a spectacular crash:


Clinging onto the coat-tails of Blairy down the descent down the descent, I hung on for dear life and decided that – if nothing else – the descending would be amazing fun, and some gnar would be suitably shred.

Sure enough, with a hefty dose of adrenaline, a few glimpses of mortality and the frailty of life, and tyres miraculously not flatting as they were clobbered through rockgardens, I began to forget about the pain in the legs and got thoroughly into racer-boy-zone.

Racer Boy

Mountain bike racing is a disingenuous thing.  One moment, you’re rolling around with someone and having a very civilised chat about how enjoyable the trails are, and the next, you’re doing everything in your power to drop them.

Or, perhaps, the opposite occurs – busting on the front, snot and dribble issuing forth from every orifice, body pushed to the limit, the rider with you will make a cheeky little comment: “I’m thinking we should wind up the pace soon”.


Racer boys don’t even notice the costume….😦

Finally offering to roll a turn with Blairy, I was in two minds.  On the one hand, working together would offer the only hope you keeping in any kind of contact with Trekky up the road, and holding off Mark.  But I was also feeling the appealing of attacking and going flat-out on the hills in an attempt to break free.

Perhaps this raises a rather startling mirror to the nature of the racer boy.  A maniacal egotistic desire to win, somehow veiled by a shabby facade of friendly banter.  When Blairy popped off the back with a mechanical issue, I was quite happy to trade banter and collaboration for going for it.


If there is one aspect of masculine behaviour that has been present since the dawn of time, it’s stupidity.  Having pushed my hydration strategy a little bit too hard, and with more than a few poorly conceived violent attacks, my legs were in strong protest, and considering cramping at every opportunity.

The final 25km loop was a strange mixture of focus and moderation, enjoying descents followed by violent cramps, wanting to push harder then rapidly realising the need for conservatism just to survive.


In the box! Photo by Di

But a mountain bike track through beautiful south coast bush in the nascent spring sunshine, with views over the sea: there’s no better place to indulge in a little idiocy, and a huge thank you to Tathra Mountain Bike club for making it happen, even after a violent East Coast Low.  A big thanks also to the Moffitts for putting me up in Bega the night before the race and providing a fantastic carbo load!  It doesn’t get better than riding bikes on beautiful trails in better places – however much of a crisis of manliness you endure along the way….

Which brings me back to the first point.  A sense of beauty?  Naaah, mate!

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Doublethink in Mountain Biking: Evocities Tamworth

IN 1948, a rather wise man who’d been down and out in Paris and London and fought in the Spanish Civil war penned a rather dystopian view of the future – this seminal work known simply as “1984”.

His vision of 1984 was not a pleasant one.  A world controlled by a totalitarian police state, where the infiltration of the state into private life was complete to the point of mastery of thought – and the ultimate crime was thoughtcrime.

The similarities between the world Orwell predicted and the government powers enlisted in the wake of 9/11 and such events have been written ad nauseum and conveniently ignored by most people (perhaps the journalists have been vapourised). More recently, the complete intrusion of freedom of thought has been shown by companies like the great Bookface selling all the information they can about you – e-profiling – has shown that even our thoughts are really not that impregnable.

However, as this blog is completely and utterly apolitical (VOTE MIRABELLA OR SHE’LL TAKE AWAY YOUR HOSPITAL FUNDING) and ostensibly about bicycles, I’ll focus on a different area.

Orwell’s totalitarian state functioned around the notion of doublethink.  

Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.

Doublethink pervaded the world of 1984.  The ability to accept something that was logically impossible if told to do so, and to adapt logic to create a supporting argument to suit the task.  Freedom, Orwell’s Winston wrote, is the ability to say that 2+2=4.  Later, under extreme duress, Winston is persuaded that 2+2 can indeed equal 5.

There are numerous forms of Doublethink around in the world:

Personal: “climate change is really bad.  But I can’t do anything about it as an individual.  I mean, look at China!”

Celebrity  (and, with poetic irony, the host of Big Brother): “let’s restrict freedoms and create severe discrimination to defend freedom of expression”

Political: “we have a debt and deficit problem.  And we need to get rid of these revenue-raising taxes on ideological grounds.”

Corporate: “all employees shall be experts on exacting contract law in their professional capacities, but shall be completely blind to illegal and immoral breaches of personal employment contracts with the company”

Travel: Spending 15 hours in a car to do a 5 hour bike race is demonstrably a great use of a weekend.

Yet, travel we did – a long slog up the highway through misting winter rain, then plunging up the Hunter Valley and over the range to Tamworth.

Our patience was rewarded – warm, dry trails set on the native hillside above Tamworth.  With challenging rock garden sections, slaloms of sublime flow, and tight and twisting, there was no doublethink required to enjoy Tamworth.

Reccy laps in the evening light

Reccy laps in the evening light

Doublethink on the Start Line

Self-seeded start lines are always the ultimate exercise in doublethink.  When races like Capital Punishment used self-seeded group starts, the ultimate in doublethink was evident – with something like 80% of the field predicting it would finish in the top 10% of the race.  Mid-pack racers with grand aspirations file in front row and centre, elbows out, or park in front of faster racers.  Of course, the chaos that often results from this is spectacular – with grand hooks and swerves thrown, before imminent implosion on the first hill.

This is the truest art of modern doublethink – the ability to understand what is involved in a race, yet simultaneously place oneself in aspirations of a position that can never realistically be maintained.

Tamworth, however, was refreshingly free of such action – with a small but very speedy field.  World 24hr champ Liz Smith headed up a women’s field replete with junior national champions, Cam Ivory lined up – missing out on Rio for the grander scale of Evocities – alongside Jason English, Drapac rider Sam Spokes, Andrew Lloyd, Stefan Merriman and myself – a nice little gaggle of trouble for a race, and with rather a few titles in various disciplines between them.

Doublethink on the Climb

With the impending firing of the gun, blowing of the whistle, tooting of the horn, or other mechanism to set free the imaginary leash of frothing rabid mountain bikers, the start happens.  Amidst a flurry of lycra-clad limbs and a concerning crunching of drivetrain components, forward momentum somehow eventuates and the field streams out onto the course.


Almost invariably, the start is conducted at hectic, unsustainable pace.  A sublime act in doublethink, somehow convincing oneself that break-neck sprinting is the appropriate starting strategy for a sustained effort.  Scrambling up a loose fire-road, it was a matter of maintaining the best position possible while avoiding spontaneous combustion.

It is, however, all about position.  Positioning into the singletrack is critical for getting out into clean space, and onto clean trails.  Slotting into the singletrack in a good position and on a speedy wheel, the start was going well.  Bombing down the first rock garden, I got a little loose and reckless.  A dropped chain eventuated.

Scandalously, much like the experience of Andy Schleck in the Pyrenees in 2010, no-one waited for my dropped chain, as I fumbled in an uncoordinated panic to perform a basic mechanical task.  Jumping back on, a decent gap had soon formed to the front runners.

Early-race Doublethink

One would think that after years of racing, I might have acquired sufficient experience to know how to handle a minor set-back with maturity and foresight.  Instead, I engaged in some hefty doublethink of my own.  I justified high pacing on the climb on the theory that, as long as I wasn’t pulling a gratuitous pain-face, I couldn’t possibly be going too hard.  I justified poor lines on the rocky descent on the basis that I’d have to push hard to close the gaps.

This doublethink soon extended to other factors of the race.  Despite sweating hard in the warm Tamworth sun, I was persisting with a limited hydration strategy of a bottle every two laps, justifying a lack of bloating as an improvement from lower fluid intake.

And so, the race chugged along fairly well.  Slowly grinding my way back into the top three with Cam and Jason vanishing into the distance and Lloydy and Stefan lurking ominously behind, the race was progressing nicely.  The Anthem was rabidly devouring the rock gardens of the track and plodding efficiently away up the steep climbs, the legs were spinning along nicely, and so far, I hadn’t splayed myself over the rocky descents.

Stefan - so fast he's a blur

Stefan – so fast he’s a blur

Something unexpected soon happened – I started closing in on Jason.  For all my lack of foresight, this time, I slowed to think rationally about it, and soon reasoned that he must have had a mechanical incident.  While my doublethink-voice was saying that the best possible strategy was to invoke complete annihilation and launch a crippling attack that could only be maintained for 2 minutes – and somehow miraculously maintain it for another two hours – delusions of grandeur were soon put aside by the onsets of a few cramps.

Doublethink to the Finish

It would seem completely implausible for dehydration and cramping to result in the middle of August in inland Australia, but with a warm sunny day and a climbing-heavy course, riders were soon stained with white bands of salt on jerseys.

It is a fact universally recognised that Canberra in winter is basically the frozen wasteland north of the wall.  Doing the vast majority of my regular riding around dawn or well after sunset, I’m acclimatised to riding in very cold conditions.  18 degrees and sunny therefore presents itself as rather a rude shock.

In the midst of some on-setting cramps on the climbs, delusions of grandeur were rapidly shelved and I focused on nutrition and hydration to make for a sustainable remainder of the race – effectively, damage control.

It’s moments like these where I call on a hefty dose of doublethink to find the fun in the midst of suffering.  Athletic exertion is inherently defined by a delicate balance between pleasure and pain – between smiling and suffering.

Maintaining Type 1 fun is all-important, however.  With trails like Tamworth, sometimes all it takes is a step back from racer-boy mentality into hairy-legged-hubbard mentality.  Enjoying the flow of the trails, or the moment of adrenaline dropping into a steep rocky chute.  Immersing in the flow of the berm next to a gurgling gorge of a creek.  Somehow masking out the pain from the mind and riding on the happy thoughts.

But it was alright, everything was alright, the struggle was finished.  He had won the victory over himself.  

Doublethanking Finish

There are a few people I need to thank for an awesome weekend:

  • Tamworth Mountain Bike Club for a great race on cracking trails
  • Gaz for the driving and company for the epic trip
  • Onya Bike Canberra for keeping the Anthem running happily and speedily
  • Maxxis for the awesome Ardent Race tyres – held up beautifully in the rocks!13895442_1225110530855795_8288628540406414121_n
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The Total Inadequacy of Language

For this post, I’ll borrow the words of others:


To experience sublime natural beauty is to confront the total inadequacy of language to describe what you see. Words cannot convey the scale of a view that is so stunning it is felt. In such moments natural beauty becomes a kind of devastation – it is pure encounter, too compressed in time and space to be properly contained – Eleanor Catton, author of the Luminaries



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Riding Cliches: Albury 6 Hour

The Albury 6 hour has been a favourite race of mine.  Over the years I’ve raced there, I’ve had such exciting events as mangling a drivetrain, going hypothermic in a winter blizzard, forgetting all my food and racing 6 hours on about gels, or possibly even having my car fail to start in order to get there in the first place.

Let’s cut to the chase: Albury is a fantastic place to race bikes, even with a distinct tendency to invoke misadventures.  The trails at Nail Can hill are set into natural scrub, with plenty of climbing, and an abundance of natural rocky terrain, including greasy off-camber chutes and harrowing descents.

Typical Albury terrain - fun!

Typical Albury terrain – fun!

To old school mountain bikes – rocks rock.  A technical test demanding a push, and the limit of the bike’s traction, technically discriminating, natural, and oh-so-rewarding.  Rocks change according to the conditions, and open up line after line of opportunity.

To be honest, in the modern age of 64-degree-head-angle-#enduro#sleds that need giant six foot berms to get around corners without blowing new lines, rocks are an endangered species.


You rock, rock.

While the fact that enduro bikes are basically the mountain bike equivalent of soft-roading SUVs (with more incoherent rambles to come upon that topic at a later date) may actually have little to do with that, it felt pretty exciting to be racing tight, technical and rocky trails.

The Albury 6 Hour also helped me define a few riding cliches, with a wildly divergent personality through various phases of the race, aptly enabled by the lingering presence of a rather nasty flu.

Cliche 1: Reckless Racer Boy

The race start up a fire-road always brings on the offset of the reckless racer boy.  The reckless racer boy is the one who, charging off the start line, seems dangerously disposed to snapping a chain at any instant, limbs flailing in a wild and abusive cacophony that somehow results in forward momentum.   Amidst the kind of swerving and rocking and rolling up the climb, the descent is met with a loose, choppy style that defies both the laws of physics and of cumulative probability.

Starting this way, I soon found myself sitting with Tobias and Shaun in a state roughly analogous to that of supercritical failure, or perhaps risk of spontaneous combustion.  This is the inevitable corollary of the reckless racer boy – the earth shattering kaboom.

In instances like these, I usually revert to another cliche.

Cliche 2: The Trash Talker

There’s a trash talker in every bunch and every race.  The person whose concept of wit is incisive and perfectly timed remarks.  Perhaps the most legendary is known for remarks such as “I thought you were having an attack…” or perhaps to a Canberran at Stromlo…. “I thought you were a local”.

In my case, this usually transforms quickly into Dad jokes.  I’m quite excited about the prospect of becoming a dad one day, simply to utter forth such nuggets of cringe-inducing gold that my kids will hate me, notwithstanding present failings at fulfilling fundamental biological imperatives.

Rattling off such wit, the actual dad in the race was soon so embarrassed he chose to gallop off up the road, and I’d soon lost the leading pair.

Cliche Number Three: The Self-Absorbed Athlete

Over the next few laps, things started to go a little downhill for me, and not just in the sense of enjoying the descents.  I lapsed into the most regular cliche of them all – the self-absorbed athlete.

The Self-Absorbed athlete is so wrapped up in their owns paroxyms of performance that they don’t actually enjoy a minute of it.  Quite frequently, they actually break themselves before the start, and stand around hoping the race might actually be postponed.

The self-absorbed rolls around the track, elbows out, face a studied expression of stoic and heroic suffering that will hopefully make a re-shared photo later on, focused beyond the point of talking to anyone else, and serious beyond measure.

The excuses compile and self-perpetuate.  The vacant thousand mile stares abounds.  The rationalisations emerge.  The sickness the week before. The poor week of training.  The fact that the Australian Sports Commission won’t pay for the 3 week European holiday.

This all came to a head about 3 hours in, when I noticed a smooth-looking rider chasing me for a couple of laps.  I struggled bitterly, bouncing off rocks on the descent, and mentally preparing my train of thought for justifying a DNF.

Cliche Number Four: The Disturbingly Chipper Lunatic

This low point was suitably relieved when I discovered, shortly after being passed, that this (rather nice!) chap was actually riding in a pair.  Suitably relieved and relaxed, the course and universe in general became rather fun again.

Perhaps this just coincided with a caffeine gel, but I soon transformed into another cliche: the disturbingly chipper lunatic.  Riding around with an absurd grin, doing jumps, making incredibly bad jokes, and attempt to strike up conversations with all around.

The problem for the Disturbingly Chipper Lunatic is that this chipper, happy behaviour can seem rather insincere and callous to those who are struggling.  Enter the scenario – riders struggling up the horribly steep fire-road pinch in the cold, with tired legs, tired bodies, and creaking bikes.

Lunatic: How’s it going?😀😀😀

Innocent Bystander: urgh, alright, looking forward to the finish

Lunatic: Oh really? I’m riding solo and I’m just starting to have fun!

Innocent Bystander:  …. You’re a jerk.

Lunatic: Have a good one! You’re doing really well, keep it up!

Innocent Bystander is later shocked to find out that the Lunatic was, in fact, actually enjoying himself, and not just trying to be a jerk.

The Lunatic was leaping off rocks, enjoying the sweet hurt on the climb, and generally having rather too much fun on the track.  The climb represented the challenge.  The rocky pinches were the joy of the moment.  The slick descent the sheer adrenaline rush of descending on two wheels.  These were happy hunting grounds for lunacy.

Liz Smith on the trails - photo by Otto Davies

Liz Smith on the trails – photo by Otto Davies

Chugging along, this soon made me think of the two riders up the road…

Cliche Number 5: The lovely monster

Tobias – finishing up in second – could be described as a lovely monster.  Or, in fact, the loveliest monster on the planet, with an infectious love of the sport and riding up hills only matched by the speed with which he does it.

Tobias swooping - photo by Otto Davies

Tobias swooping – photo by Otto Davies

Riders lie awake at night, terribly afeared of this monster, devouring Everests at a rapid pace, only later to say “I was just having fun!” while the self-absorbed athlete is thinking all sorts of dark and dreary thoughts about retirement, coffees in the sun, and taking up trail running.

Cliche Number 6: The #pro

The guy a minute up the road represented another cliche, but one rarely found, if much aspired to, particularly amongst cliche # 3: the #pro.

The #pro operates with effortless style.  Somehow lacking in mud, somehow flying down descents as fast as ever, polite in passing, and effortlessly efficient at every single turn.  A marketing shot without the insincere flurry of desperate hashtags, and a race perfectly executed with calm precision.

A flying #pro.  Photo by Otto Davies

A flying #pro. Photo by Otto Davies

The race, up the road, can only be recalled from what I saw.  Shaun utilised skill and smooth lines to open small gaps on the descents, with Tobias marginally stronger on the climbs, but working harder every lap to close the gap.  In a battle of conservation of energy, Shaun eventually prevailed in a protracted ding-dong epic.

Still, to race around in the presence of monsters and #pros is pretty good fun, if only to hang around for an hour.

A big thanks to Albury Wodonga for another excellent race on a fun track – I’ll vote for Nail Can Hill again in 2017 instead of smooth trails and berms!


Thanks as well to those who keep the lunacy alive, in particular, Onya Bike Civic, for keeping the Anthem running like new.

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