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….


Posted in Races, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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.

DSC05522 (Large)

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.

20140906_232931_022 (Large)

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!

20140907_000929 (Large)

Posted in Races, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

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
Posted in Races, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

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



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pedal Through Winter

Most people dread the onset of winter.  The frosty mornings, the bitter winds, and the abysmal, all-encompassing dark – long days at work punctuated by deep, cold darkness at either end.

In the immortal words of pop culture, its coming is as inexorable as Game of Thrones quotes themselves: winter is coming.

In the depths of the approach, some withdraw, hibernate, embrace the warmth of the doona.   Going gently into that cold night – rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

For those rare moments escaped into the sunlight, it is truly glorious – the warmth of distant ball of fury piercing the crisp morning air.

Winter brings the promise of adventure to new places, exploring new terrains, and roaming the great expanses of a Wide Brown land, without fear of sunburn, heat-stroke, or that constant lingering fear of dehydration.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Interviewing theSeb: Seb Dunne

Sometimes you are privileged enough to ride with some fantastic folk and go on some good adventures.  Every now and then, these people go on to do amazing, inspirational things.

The below photo is from the start of the Fitz’s Extreme in 2014, shortly before Seb and Beth transitioned into BikePackingBeastMode.


Over the next year, Seb and Beth Dunne smashed out a Kiwi Brevet as a practice ride, then proceeded to ride the Tour Divide at cracking, epic paces, although in one case, with slightly too cracking a pace for a suspension fork.

Edridesbikes sat down with Seb around a gas heater on a rainy Canberra night, with Seb’s cat Bruno purring contentedly on his lap, and the jovial manner of the conversation belying a steely glint of determination in his eye..

Talk us through the inception of the Tour Aotearoa, and the first Kiwi Brevet you did in early 2015 – where you emerged from long rides and almost broke the mythical 4day mark.

NZ have been pouring cash into the construction of an ever increasing network of off-road trails in recent years.  Tour Aotearoa evolved as a way for the Kennett brothers (authors of numerous guidebooks on NZ mtb’ing) to introduce a trail from the tip of the North Island to bottom of the South connecting a lot of these trails and other back roads along the way.


Similar shorter events (Brevets) of around 1000-1200km having been running in NZ for a few years.  January 2015 Beth and I headed across the ditch to ride the 1200km Kiwi Brevet around the top of the South Island as a training ride before the Divide.  It was the longest event of this type I’d done  before but managed to have an awesome time just doing solid but steady days trying to find a pace I thought I would be able to sustain for TD which was almost 4 times the length!  I finished in just over 4 days and made me realise what a massive undertaking the Divide would be.


Beth and Seb in Blenheim, post Kiwi Brevet

From Kiwi Brevet it was all guns blazing for the Divide – what was your main motivation?

  1. Finish, 2. Enjoy, 3.Have a strong ride

I wanted to finish.  TD is such a long event where so many things can go wrong you can never take it for granted that you’ll finish.

Aside from that I hoped to enjoy the experience as much as possible.  The route goes through some seriously stunning scenery and I wanted to be able to take in and savour this while still riding the sort of distance I was aiming for.

I didn’t have specific expectations going into it but felt I had the ability and had put in the necessary training to have a competitive ride.

It all went pear-shaped at the Divide in New Mexico – talk us through it.

I’d just crossed into NM one evening and hit a small water bar at the crest of a hill.  My bike made a bad sound which I got off to check as I thought my stem might have slipped and twisted.  It had started to sleet so was walking my bike down to some trees and my front wheel separated from the bike.  The steerer tube on my fork had sheared clean off. I knew straight away my race was done but was very fortunate to not be injured at all.

Getting out was a bit of a mission. I think I was about 15km from the nearest road and would struggle to carry my bike that far.  I started grabbing some gear to prepare to walk straight out that night but changed my mind as it was getting late and the weather had closed in a bit.  Dylan Taylor had caught up and said he’d try to get a text out later which I hoped would navigate the interwebs to my family so they wouldn’t stress.  Walked out the next day and was fortunate enough to get a lift to Chama after less than 10km where I took the Cumbres steam train which was leaving shortly mainly because lunch was an all you can eat buffet and a city on the other side seemed like it might be an option to source a new fork.

You caught up with Biking Bethany and finished together.  New Mexico sounded like the hardest part.

New Mexico is hard!  Colorado, although generally at higher altitudes, has nice steady climbs and smooth, well-formed roads and generally plenty of resupply options – it was probably my favourite State.  Almost as soon as you cross the State line into NM the tracks deteriorate and there are several tough 200+km sections with no or limited scope for resupply.  I struggled at times even having had a 3 day off-route holiday eating and sleeping while I got a new fork sorted.  Perhaps my body had started to go into recovery mode and wasn’t all that happy about riding again.  Beth has been doing some really long days before I joined her so she was pretty knackered and I found it difficult to see her in the state she was in.

If Beth wasn’t there I likely wouldn’t have finished TD last year so I was grateful she was happy for me to ride with her. We got on with the job at hand.  We both had a few really hard days toiling through NM but there was comfort in suffering through the struggles with the person you loved.  Finishing together was a bit of a blur after riding all night but something very special that we had both dreamed about doing and is a memory no one can take away from us!

Talk through your relationship with Beth – you guys have shared some crazy adventures and have shared some amazing experiences together.  How has Beth shaped your riding?

We met through riding but both did relatively tame stuff back in those days.  Since then we have definitely both grown a lot as riders.  Our thirst for bigger challenges and adventures has fuelled of each other.

Beth has always been a bit more active a racer than me.  I’ve usually been content just riding my bike.  In recent years Beth has had times where she has been racing XC and 24hr MTB races before turning back to her cycling roots on the roadie and spent a few seasons racing the National Road Series.  Bikepacking became the next channel for her to challenge herself and satisfy her need for adventure.


I used to do more running than cycling with orienteering and adventure racing my main past times.  I’ve always been a terrible runner though and increasingly found it took a toll on my body which cycling didn’t.  Cycling was something we could enjoy together and I seem to have done more and more since we met.

I think the main influence she has had on my riding is her attitude of just going out and trying something rather than fretting about whether it’s a good idea or not.  There’ll always be reasons not to do something or ways to justify spending more time thinking about an idea but sometimes you just have to launch in to something and give it a go.


Beth and Seb, pre Tour Divide 2015


– Tour Aotearoa – you didn’t really prepare as hard as for the Divide and seemed pretty relaxed, and made the whole thing look rather too easy.  What were the best parts?

I didn’t really do much specific training for TA other than some steady volume mainly on the road over summer.  Certainly nothing near what I did for TD last year.  I focussed more on knowing the route and hoped I could wing the rest – I think it worked out OK.


Seb and Ollie bromancing New Zealand

Aside from the scenery which was sure to be spectacular, I think the best parts were the people – both locals and other riders.  It ended up being a very social tour.  Such a different experience riding with others.  We had a fantastic group of like-minded people in the North Island which made the time fly even though we were covering good kms.  Like a series of Survivor bikepacking style, the group got smaller and smaller and eventually I ended up riding with Ollie and had an absolute blast navigating most of the South Island together.  I estimate I only rode about 300km (10%) of the tour alone while I can think of at least 8 days on the Divide I didn’t see another rider.


theSeb in his element

6am coffee and cream buns in Wanaka before a frigid dawn ride over the Crown Range singing Shania Twain with Ollie springs to mind as a great moment.  One of those times where the ridiculousness of these adventures is very apparent.

Another highlight was the West Coast Wilderness trail which was probably my favourite section of the tour.  A fantastic, purpose built trail between Greymouth and Ross.  I’d had a bit of a tyre/tube debacle in the morning so was riding solo again an hour or two behind Ollie.  Managed to score a nice sunny afternoon with cracking West Coast scenery and loads of people out enjoying the trail.  Some of my fondest memories of the ride.


 I’m sure there weren’t that many, but what were the worst parts?

I was fortunate enough to not really have too many bad bits.  We realised we would likely come in under 10 days (the event isn’t a race so imposed a 10 day minimum finish time) so we backed off a bit the last few days which meant finishing a lot fresher than in previous tours.  Also the mandatory 6hr stop each day means it isn’t an exercise in caffeine fuelled, sleep-deprivation.  I really like the format of the NZ brevets.

I did have a bit of problem with my breathing the first night so I stopped early to recover but felt better the next day.  Think it might have been related to the warm and hard ride down the beach and to make the first ferry.

We got super lucky with the weather.  Only sustained bit of drizzle was one evening riding over Rahu saddle and up to Big River Hut.  I felt bad for riders who copped some pretty nasty weather later in the event.

The stench from Ollie’s shoes was probably one of the worst parts.  We shared a cabin on the ferry to Picton and his shoes already stank even though they were barely 24hrs old after his original pair got flogged in Wanganui and he had to buy new ones!  I’m sure he would have some stories about my odours though…..


Seb and Ollie at the finish

What were the mental tricks for getting through the worst parts?


I try to not take things too seriously. It’s just riding bikes for fun…..a long way.  Sing a song, have a laugh, take a break, check out the scenery, stop and smell the roses.


In these long rides I find emotions change frequently.  Whatever you feel now you’re sure to feel something different in 30 minutes.  If you’re feeling down it will get better and if you’re feeling good just enjoy it as it likely won’t last forever.

Another trick is not to think about how far away the finish is….this can just be demoralising.  I try to break things down into smaller more manageable goals.  This usually involves thinking about my next meal!


The minimisation of faff-time and efficiency is definitely a Seb strength – run through the morning routine on the trail

I’m really a bit of a chugger at heart so figure if I can be a bit more efficient with my time off the bike then I can ride slower when I’m on the bike 🙂

Typically in the morning I’ll grab something to eat straight away just to try and get some fuel in to the body first thing.  Gear on next including an extra layer to make sure I start riding as warm as possible.  Roll away the sleeping kit, check everything packed onto the bike OK and give the chain a quick lube if I didn’t do it the night before.  Sometimes a quick bit of body maintenance (teeth brush, chamois cream etc) depending on how I’m feeling and then get rolling.  Aim for 10-15mins max from alarm to on the road.


Next plans? Another crack at the Divide?

Yep am in for the Divide this year.  I honestly didn’t think I’d ever be back after last year – not because I couldn’t face it or anything but because there are so many other things out there I’d like to do.  TD has a way of getting under you skin however and late last year though the idea of returning started growing on me.  Before I knew it a few things had fallen into place, I’d booked flights and off I go.


It looks like being another super strong field this year.  Excited at the prospect of another crack and chance to put my best foot forward with the experience of last year fresh in my mind.

You can follow the progress of theSeb and all the other mad folk at http://trackleaders.com/tourdivide16

theSeb would like to thank his bike sponsor Chumba, his cat Bruno, and most importantly, his wife Beth (partly for putting up with him – but also for the inspiration)


Posted in Epic rides, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment