Hardtail fanatic Ace Woodley swapped out his trusty solid back end for a full squish bike to race the Fort William event last weekend!
Words and photos: Ace Woodley
The www.nofussevents.co.uk Hope Downhill Enduro race happened last weekend, year 5, and being older,weaker,battered i had a late entry wild stab at eventing on that squishy bike i bought years ago.....
After doing the no-fuss Mac-avalanche down Glencoe on a rigid SS 29er (with v-brakes) there where rumours about what i would actually turn up on for Fort William (i did try out the 29er from the big wall-ride to motorway), i had already planned not to go HT this year due to being a bit battered and i was curious about what riding a squish-er down the fort would be like. In my head....a magic carpet ride where i stay seated and just blat down the mountain laughing my face off at how easy it is. I even got as far as trying it on with Orange for a loaner, that got as far as them asking what i would like, i replied "whatever you feel is best for the track" would have been happy with a coil Alpine or 322, that's as far as things went, my contact Vaughan went off sick(broken collar bone) and the new PR man hadn't started yet, sort of fizzled out (turns out no bikes where free/available that weekend). This may have been a good thing, as i would have had a bike i couldn't afford to buy anyway, or pay for after i cartwheeled it through a rock garden. Plan B, in a box somewhere is most of a 2007 SX trail.The bulk of a bike was found, even had the original chunder tyres, at 1.4kgs each they should be fairly rock proof. I put out some feelers for some bits, Uncle Sam came up trumps and Thomson sent an aid package of a nice seat-post and a 50mm 4x stem, (gravity post is in proto stages, bars should be ready for public in September) somewhere out there is Gwins back up chain-device from Gamut, it hasn't arrived yet so the old faith-full P30 was doing another tour of the fort (4th time now). The large SX frame was stripped down cleaned up, spring rate seemed about right, shock knobs worked, nothing had seized up, slack shuttle in place 66.5o HA, i found the original 11-34 cassette which will be handy for the ride uphill at the start. I have been using the brakes on a HT, i fit new rear pads, doing this cause's the cylinder top cap to burp fluid(plastic caps)With raiding the HT and some mix and matching a race-able SX is ready 2 days before the race....if the gwinner arrives by 10am Friday it will be fitted. It dosen't, pack the car and drive up Friday, sleep over in the Nevis range car-park and start the day with a fry up (caff opens at 9am) It rained most of the night and is on-off showers for the day. Build the bike up and go for a practice roll down to check out what rocks have been added and moved about since last year. Also, the track has seen action from lots of weekend warriors, a Halo BDS, an SDA and a World-cup, so as normal we get the rough end of the season's use. Only some minor changes up top, slight change after the boardwalks, i am in auto pilot and hit the HT lines i am used to, there is a drop off with an off camber ramp to it's right, i roll over that, and slide off it, bit greasy, the switchbacks are unchanged down to the deer fence crossing. From here to the woods seems rougher looser than before, the wall-ride to the big hip is unchanged. The new motorway, the first jump claims a few during the race, i have a loose stab at it and don't like it, flat land, you have to carry some serious speed to clear it. The tables are fine, the off-beat wall had been tweaked early season, seemed to kick the back wheel up a touch, finish line is the same. Bike seems fine,brakes are fine, two minor scares from rear rebound, neck ache already. I save myself and go check out the rumour on FB that another HT'er is racing a Rigid Raider ! and bump into some interesting things around the car-park.Mark Amer and his home made bike, no IGH just single speed, we raced the dragons together back in 07, nice to see old faces. This is MK2 frame (Mk1 is here on dirt already, homemade bikes article a while back) he has been here a few days and already had a practice day. We get onto home-building, BTR racing and i make sure he chats to Ste from HT as he is about to make his own frame as well. Have to be confident in your welding to race here, Mark was.Ste Tomlinson, Orange Hit-man, first timer as well like Mark, and has also been about for a day or two to check out the track.Here we have Joe Krejbich, Dialled Alpine, seasoned enduro'ist now, next to him is first timer Gareth Chilton on a Ragley Bagger.James Simpson, Cotic Bfe and another i think first timer. Still one more hardtailer to find, i of course am getting lots of abuse and general piss taking for turning up on the squisher :) however the cosmic karmic balance is being held in check by Jesse Wigman and his bike......yes really....i reckon i could do 3 maybe 5 tops on it, but i wouldn't want to race it here.My SX is classed as old being a 07, i started racing an 04 P3 with no canti tabs, Jesse's is pre-04, he thinks he might manage 10 runs, he will see how it goes. The joke is the last few races Jesse's old Manitou Sherman's seize up mid race and he is running rigid anyway. Deffo a one off, he didn't have a fork available in time to race, so just whopped a rigid on...nuts !Alastair Maclennan junior, all prepped for the uphill sprint start with the non-fox-spesh-approved shock lockout mod, this was in full force again this year, get a good start, sprint a DH bike uphill.I did look at the SX, not really an easy way to lock it out so i had to rely on the pro-pedal knob working.Think that's Roslyn Newman another first timer looking for a pit area spot to bag, i meet her again mid run in part 2.Pit box, everything you want must be in the pit area, so spare wheels booted to roll, i don't have any spare 8" brake rotors as i normally use a 6"rear 7"front Hope monoM4 system, but that won't fit the 66fork. Track pump, spare tubes, tool box, while riding i have a small camel-back with a multi tool/mini pump/tube/lever, and the faith-full cans of Deep heat for the fingers and Deep Freeze for my neck, spare gloves and water and munchies for the next 6 hours. Spare parts choice is hit and miss, i have a spare saddle in case i crash and break mine, bit hard to hang the bike to a gondola with no saddle and of course try and ride back down, gears and chain are not really needed after the start, and it's quite common for riders to lose bits during the race.
A riders brief is called and the change of format is given out. 6 hours of racing, or until a rider hits 15 runs, those on the way up as the leader crosses the line get another lap in, those on track are on there final lap.
Chipps the editor of Singletrack mag who somehow managed to borrow a 322 :) and also another first timer.I might be over thinking things, i ended up between Chipps and a 322 and Vaughan from Orange on a 322, next to the bikes i tried to score a loan of, i also got the 13 race plate, got a lot of piss taking over that as well, things were not looking so favourable. I do have a pair of full length waterproof trouser on my bars, i whip these off in the impending queue for the first gondola ride and put them on for the first lap. We have on-off showers and 2 years back i flayed all the skin off my sack and crack because waterproof shorts didn't stop the fine granite sand working it's way where the sun don't shine, and it was a lot wetter that year, not taking any chances this time. Bike set standing up, in a easy to spin off gear and the pro pedal knob dialled in, Chipps is excited because he's just found out how much seat post he has to play with and sets it up xc style, which is a good move, i wonder if the suspension is set for his weight and his own staffers are unsure if he will survive intact. As long as i don't get a rebound spike when jumping something i will be happy with mine.
We await the start of 6 hours of hell...fun...racing !
Part 2 to follow, the (death)race itself