Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Chasing the mojo, Zak Holmes hits Borderline Events at Caersws with all guns blazing.

(Photo copyright of Chris Griffiths)

Caersws, my first race in Wales, the second race of the season and hopefully less of the technical nightmare that was Innerleithen. Let's get this Borderline Event underway.....

We travelled down on the Friday night, arriving after after three and a half hours on the road, although there'd been some scattered showers the weather seemed to be behaving itself and putting the tent up in the dark mustered all of our Bear Grylls skills!

I really shouldn't have tempted fate by mentioning the weather because by the time I had signed on and got everything ready the heavens had opened... brilliant!   Walked the course in the pouring rain and first impressions of top sections were good, really fast and flowy with the ground still compact and hard, thankfully the rain hadn't affected it.  The top consisted of tight, steep switchbacks which is my kind of riding and made me very excited to get on the bike.  Next up were the bus stops which had unfortunately been affected by the rain and looked very slippy, I was making mental notes as I went.  The course became muddier the further you ventured, although still technical you could see that the riding was going to be absolutely flat out and where riders needed to issue caution across the roots that had became extremely wet and slippy.  Once out of the bottom you were into a grass field to the finish line. Job done!

Practice runs got underway and I was on the first uplift.  My first run felt really good, the bike felt so sweet, the Michelin tyres were gripping well and coped easily with the constantly changing terrain giving me a further confidence boost.  Throughout the day the bike just kept getting better and better, I was loving the track and managed to get seven practice runs in.  No faults, hitting some good lines and absolutely railing my FTW Industries bike!

(Photo copyright of Chris Griffiths)

Race day arrived and it had rained heavily over night, everything was absolutely soaked! This amount of rain would have changed the track so I went straight up to get in some more practice runs in.  As expected the course was muddier and and a lot slippier, I was taking it full on speedway style through some of the corners!  Had to change some of my line choices, especially in the lower sections which had changed a fair bit and was catching lots of people out.  I struggled with grip in the muddier sections, especially across the roots so I decided to change my front tyre from a Michelin Wild Grip R to a Michelin Dig R which then worked amazingly well! I'm running the new MK4 Burgtec Penthouse pedals which shed mud so easily, Dave and the guys have worked hard on the new design still keeping their huge amount of grip and trademark looks.  Over the morning's practice I got in three runs and was happy with the change to the track and my new line choices.

(Photo copyright of Chris Griffiths)

Time now for my first race run!  After such a confident morning I over cooked some sections and experienced a few stop-start-stop-start moments in the switchbacks which lost me time however the rest of the track ran pretty smoothly and I finished with a 2m 16.517s which saw me sat in fourth place.  I wanted to do better though and decided to go all out on my second race run ... this didn't work out too well as a rather large crash slowed me right down, a total rider error with only myself to blame.  As a result of this I slipped down to sixth place and disappointed wasn't the word!

A good weekend overall, a top course despite the inclement weather and a learning curve for me.  The bike ran superbly with, thankfully, no technical issues this time around.  Next up is Penshaw, see you on the hill punks!

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Sunday, 20 April 2014

Life on the road...... a very warm welcome to the team's first road racer, Megan Hopper.

It's Lee here....... OK, I can't keep it to myself any longer, this news is so new that even some of the bike team don't know about it yet! 

We have a new, and up to now secret, seventh member to our North Eastern cycling arsenal. It's also a big first for the team too... both Frank and me will be supporting the wee 16 year old whippersnapper Megan Hopper with her road crit and cyclocross races. 

She'll be letting rip aboard her incoming bespoke FTW Industries crit frame and forks currently being cut and welded up by the master that is Frank The Welder as I type.

May I take the pleasure on introducing the lovely Megan Hopper to you all...... welcome aboard Megs!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Into The Woods.... Northern Downhill TT Enduro, Hamsterley Forest 30th March 2014

Hi guys, it's Angie here again and you've caught me on the fly, it's a whirlwind of riding, rocking climbing and country scrambling with my new dog, I've hardly been able to sit still!  I reckon our Steve should write more blogs too!  Speaking of Steve, he's over in Wales doing some filming with The Tea Lady for a new video so keep your eyes peeled.

2014 is the Northern Downhill crew's first real stab at a series of Enduro events.  Being a single day format with practice in the morning and then racing throughout the afternoon it was set to be a tiring day however with just three stages it was enough time to master the courses and give it full beans!

The morning of the race I was excited to try out my Orange Five as had been fettling with various settings, as you do!  Combining the lowered front end with a set of Michelin's Wild Grip R tyres I figured that with a couple of downhill stages being soaked from the wet weather these bad lads would chew it all up really well, I was later proved right!

Stage one started down 'Section 13' followed by a fire road sprint off the left before dropping down onto some technical wooded trails and then onto the Descend Hamsterley's National Points Series downhill course to the finish.  The tracks were running sweet and it felt amazing to be back on some proper downhill stuff.  

(Photo copyright of Tom Harrison)

Stage two was down 'The Transmission' with the single track sprint at the end, this is always a fun track to race on despite it being completely man made, the bike was running incredibly well, keeping it nice and fast.

Straight back up the hill for stage three which started on the Phil Saxena designed 4-Cross track and then went went straight back into the woods, down over the fire road and finishing again on Descend's NPS downhill course.

(Photo copyright of Robert Blackburn)

All three tracks were very well thought out, quite varied and not too pedally which is always always a bonus!!  It would however be nice to have more trails of the forest being utilised as there's such a great scope in the area.

Unfortunately the timing hadn't worked on track one so times were based across last two tracks.  Helen Gaskell smashed the overall win with me taking 2nd.  Steve then killed it for 3rd place in the men's.

I've been inspired to ride more steep gnar again, watch this space!! 

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Sunday, 13 April 2014

Technical Nightmare..... Scottish Downhill Series Season Opener, Innerleithen, 22nd-23rd March 2014.

Hey everyone, it's Lee here, I’ll let Nick open the blog up and then we’ll all hear from both Nick and Zak as we go along…

So it was exciting times, first race of the year, first race with the new strips, first race with new toys and first race with a new team mate Zak.  I’ll let him give you a low down, welcome to the team Zak!

Hey thank you Nick, it’s Zak here and none of you out there know me, “Hi there!”.  I’m one of The Development’s new riders and this is my first blog update so here goes…..

As one of the newest members of The Development the Scottish Downhill Series 2014 season opener race at Innerleithen was the first opportunity to prove my worth.  A new team with an awesome new bike and not to mention the first time on an actual bike in months!  In fact my FTW Industries baby has only been built a day, yes, I know that that was certainly cutting it tight and that this race was going to be rather interesting!  I’m ‘FB10’ mounted, opting for 26” wheels for the time being, the bike is unlike anything I have ridden before, Frank Wadelton certainly knows his stuff.  I’ve watched Nick race on these frames over the past few seasons and would never have thought I’d be on one too, what are the chances eh?!

Zak's 26" wheeled FTW Industries 'FB10' set up

Nick's 27.5" wheel adjusted 'Odysseus' FTW Industries set up

Being sans bike in the off season meant searching for alternative ways to keep race fit, both Nick and me have been doing a ton of Crossfit classes with the aim to improve our strength and endurance.  Still early days yet though we can both certainly feel the benefits already, time now to put the theory into practice!

Travelled up on Friday evening, as soon as we got there the snow began to fall, winter arrives in March, brilliant!  Saturday morning dawns and it’s all looking rather picturesque to put it politely.  Up we both went for the a morning track walk and thankfully despite the snow laying on the top half of the hill it didn’t affect the track, phew!

With that out of the way, grabbed some scran, got changed and back off on the bikes for some practice.  In order to get to the uplifts you had to ride for about a mile along the road where you’re then faced with massive queue which is a bit of a bad mark for a premiere series such as the SDA to be honest.   Although I do understand and appreciate the issues with closing the lower road for an event weekend, ah well.

When I got to the top it was time to test my bike out for the first time with my first practice run, this was its maiden voyage.  Although the track felt great, I had a few unfortunate mechanical issues which continued throughout the day.  Spent more time fixing the problems than being on the course, my own fault though as had rushed to get the bike built and ready only the day before, so can’t complain, I know.  Nick was having a better time of it, I’ll pass you all over….

Innerleithen’s harsh on kit, no two ways about it and this track was a great way to get used to the new Michelin Grip R Descend tyres and Dorado forks, a perfect assault course with all of the changes in terrain on the way down.  I found out the Michy’s not only have superb grip but roll amazing well.  I was catching people up for most of the way down, couldn’t fault the tyres or my suspension system, all working in conjunction flawlessly, superb.  Our bikes were garnering a lot of attention, my fitness however was letting me down.  As Zak’s said crossfit is helping a lot, everyone raising the bar, you need to be totally on the ball, and we will be!

(Nick in practice, photo copyright of Ian Linton)

There was a big hoo-haa this weekend with British Cycling banning action camera filming and thus neither me or Zak were able to fit our cameras.  This is a massive step backwards for the sport (since the race British Cycling have back tracked and now allow cameras in practice but not race runs) so we have no onboard coverage, sorry guys and gals.

The track was really good, it’s hard to go wrong at a place like Inners, the top was quite pedally (which is not my cup of tea) however the bottom nice, fast and tight with some big deep soft ruts which were fun but damned hard to nail.

I’m getting a coffee, back to Zak…..

On Sunday, both of us took the morning’s practice as a fresh start. This was when I could started to get the feel of my new bike, the Michelin tyres came into their own in the tighter sections at the bottom of the course, they aided my confidence, especially through the loose rocks.  My Manitou suspension was pretty much dialled, I’d spent a wee while the previous day working on the settings getting the Revox and Dorado set up running sweet.

(Photo copyright of Andrew Brandon)

I had people complimenting me with the bike asking questions about where it came from, we will add a link at the end of the blog for FTW’s website.

Race head now on!  My first run came with a load of mistakes and a fair few crashes, crossed the line with a 4:11.67 which isn’t good, at all. The perils of trying too hard.  Nick had a slightly better run but he too made mistakes, very disappointing, so sorry!

(Photo copyright of Ian Linton)

Back up for my second run, took it steadier, still made a few mistakes but nothing as bad as the first run, crossed the line with a 3:54 placing me 20th which was deflating as I was just outside the top ten last season. Argh!

I headed back, got changed then walked up the track to meet my mates and watch Nick go past on his run, the setting sun was giving everything a golden glow.  Back over to Nick, good coffee?

Damn fine coffee fella.... after the shitty first run I was keen to make up some time on my second one.  Everything suddenly went monochrome!  The sun was dropping, the dark woods were getting darker and I really should have remembered Tom Barker’s sage words from the 90’s; …”get some lights fitted for the early season races lad!”…  isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing, pah!  I pushed hard in the low visibility but as soon as my eyes adjusted to the dark I was hit square on with sunshine in the open sections, swearing blue murder (apologies to the spectators for my foul language were you in earshot!).  Made far too many mistakes and had to resign to the fact I wasn’t going to hit the podium, not even close to it.

(Photo copyright of Barry Primrose)

So…. Zak?  Overall the whole weekend was a huge learning curve for me the new bike set up necessitates a different riding style which I’m not used to yet.  I’m going to getting myself over to Hamsterley pretty sharpish to rail the trails.  Want to get back on top of my results and build on the work I’d achieved last season, I don’t want to let anyone down.  I will be riding a lot more with the other team riders too so lots to learn.

Finally, a huge thanks to Lee for taking me on and giving me this new experience along with getting everything together for this season and a big thanks to all the sponsors!

If you’d like an FTW frame all the contact information is here: Frank The Welder Website

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Redemption...... From Fort William to Innerleithen on the Scottish Enduro Series

Fort William:
When we first heard the news that there was going to be a Scottish Enduro Series that was it, our minds were made up and our Michelin tyres would be full of proper Scottish mud. Neither of us could wait, Scotland is renown for having natural technical and sweet trails with little in the way of that uphill malarkey, the way trails should be! :)
Fort William is one of my favourite places in the world, I’m not sure why, is it the journey up there going through Glencoe?  Is it the excitement of seeing the railway running alongside the West Highland Way that I walked when I was just a wee sprout?  Or probably more the fact that it’s so close to Skye and all the happy memories I have of these places both on two wheels and on foot.
Anyway let’s get to racing!  This was a No Fuss Events organised race and those bad asses know how to put on a bloody good party!  The format was simple; rock up, sign in, grab the bikes and get some practice in, decide what time you want to set off in the morning for your race run with all of your friends (and aiming to beat them, ahem!), take the climbs as they come and smash the hell out of the descents. Booyah! 
(Photo copyright of Dan Gibson)

There were four stages and they were all different, and no word of a lie, they were all amazing; rocks, roots, and ruts, ‘ruts’ you say? Did I mention the ruts? Flipping heck, talk about moto lines, these were insane.  Steve and I finished practice and our grins said it all, we had just ridden some of the sickest tracks ever in UK Enduro racing!

(Photo copyright of Colin Olden)

Fort William is pretty notorious for its rain however I’d say we have been pretty lucky in the past with ‘blue bird’ days here so when it chucked it down all weekend with no let up I wasn’t about to complain, it’s all about keeping the equilibrium you see.  Needless to say the tracks became pretty cut up and you just had to laugh the schadenfreude way with seeing mud covered people upside down in front of you! It was real nice to see Frazer, the organiser, lurking in the undergrowth watching people crash - great spectator spot Frazer!

(Photo copyright of Colin Olden)

(Photo copyright of Colin Olden)

I couldn’t have cared about my result here if I am honest, I know that sounds awful but a weekend of riding those tracks was enough for me, it was fantastic.  I took home a 5thplace and Steve was knocked down to 34th after snapping his chain 10 seconds into his first race run and having to run pretty much the rest of the track, gutted, he was feeling fitter granted but gutted nonetheless!
A brilliant weekend overall, even getting 3 points on my driving license and a £100 speeding fine on the way home couldn’t spoil this one!  Next up is Inners and we’re aiming to get it pinned!
'Innerleithen', a name synonymous in the bike community with steep, rock strewn, rooty and dark tight twisty trails, it sure didn't disappoint for round two of the POC Scottish Enduro Series.
Steve and I rocked up the Peebles way at 9am, grabbed a couple of coffees, got our entries and dibbers sorted followed by a quick catch up with our friends, our start times were from 12-noon.  It’s such a nice relaxed format at these races, ride along with your mates in between whilst aiming to kick their arses as you smash through the stages, yes I like that! :)
This time around we had five stages to contend with and yes, it was raining again; track one was a slog to get to and a slog to get down, lots of pedalling from the top of Minch Moor.  Stages two, three and four were all pretty much made up of Innerleithen’s various infamous downhill tracks.  There were some new and incredibly steep root infested sections of the stages that were sick to ride and left you still stuttering after finishing the courses but nothing that my Michelin Wild Rock R2 tyres couldn’t handle, they’re bloody awesome things!
(Photo copyright of Malcolm Porter)

Oh yes, after lowering the front end of my Orange Diva Five I have noticed a massive and positive difference, it’s so much better on steep turns, to the point where people were coming up to me afterwards saying I had the course nailed down!  So to all the ladies out there on Orange Fives, lower the front end a bit if you haven’t already then get out back out there and rail!

(Photo copyright of Ian Linton)

Stage five was a really tough start; in our race runs I held Steve up here because I hadn’t managed to get out of the way in time. He caught me and I rammed him off the track making him crash, whoopsadaisy, sorry Steve! He probably would have made top five if it wasn’t for me, I felt so guilty and was very apologetic to him afterwards.
The casual race format of this series is spot on, you get to choose what time you set off on Sunday. We both chose 11am and had a nice lie in. The later start meant that although the tracks were more chewed up it also meant they were more worn in, taking the riding conditions into account (wet!) this proved to be a bit of a boon, also made the conscious note not to get in Steve’s way this time around!
(Photo copyright of Ian Linton)

Race runs for me went okay apart from stages three and four where my chain kept jamming with the mud being packed into it and where I had to get off and push.  

(Scottish mud? You got it!)

That definitely cost me a whack of time on the flipside though I got joint third place (where there were also two ladies on joint second) so can’t complain too much about that, just didn’t make the podium, damnit!

(Photo copyright of Ian Linton)

Overall another amazing weekend, track’s were out of this world, nothing else comes close, it was a good redemption for my place at Fort William, just sad that that I didn’t get on the podium steps.
Wondering how the others have been getting on with their downhill races now, just popping a ND(H)uro report together for you all, gimme a few.
Angie xx

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Thursday, 10 April 2014

The Borrowdale Shakedown - time to put the Orange Fives through their paces

Every couple of weeks I get the urge to go and ride in the Lakes, I just love the whole getting away from it all and smashing some loose wide open lines with my mates. Borrowdale is the perfect playground with which to get to grips on our new Orange Fives and so, once some phone calls were made, a motley bunch of loveable rogues were soon put together and we hit the A66 across the Pennines.
The warmer Spring weather was starting to hit and it was soon to be a really nice day. Rather than starting at Keswick, i.e. the way all the guide books recommend, we started at the Swinside Inn.  This meant that we thankfully missed the big road section and could instead go up and over the gorgeous Catbells twice - a fully stacked day of rock strewn climbs and descents galore, perfect for seeing how our new bikes handled.
Getting up and over Catbells isn’t easy, a technical climb to start you off where you need to get that rear wheel dug right in and then as it gets steeper the bike goes up and over the shoulders.  

I found my Five Diva easy to carry, it’s a lighter frame to what I was riding previously and this in turn held more advantages later in the day. You see the descent over the other side is absolutely nuts, really steep with very tight corners.  My Five skipped its way merrily down the descent with aplomb, the combination of the 27.5 wheels being fully armed with the new enduro Michelin Wild Rock’R2 tyres and the light frame made for excellent handling and traction.  

Having said that you can’t rest on your laurels down here, I did take a spill or two such is the technicality of the terrain, Steve was the only one who made it down clean, whooping away as he went.

All too soon we were crossing over the bottom of Derwent Water to the start of the big climb up to Watendlath, ready for the next descent…… rocks, rocks and more rocks in no particular order. The last time I rode down there I was on 26 inch wheels, these new 27.5 puppies quite literally swallowed the trail up.  Still getting used to the Diva, which was the whole point of the day, I made a note to drop the front end a little bit when I got home, just to balance the front to back weight out a little, other than that I couldn’t fault the frame.

We had a quick ice cream stop at the picturesque Rosthwaite, for our defence they make their own gorgeous ice cream here and it would e a shame not to try the local delicacies! 

Back on the bikes and up the next mega climb to the Honister pass. From here it’s a U-turn into a traverse and then down another sick loose descent to Grange.

I was pretty spent by this point but it wasn’t over, another hike a bike up Catbells was definitely worth it for the descent on the other side, I came a cropper again towards the bottom getting my bike tangled up amidst rocks and boulders.  But hey, still smiling, that’s the adrenaline buzz for you.  

 Loved the day so much we all went back up with a bigger bunch the following weekend, in the snow!

All in, the Diva is a very agile bike, I need to drop the front a little bit but it’s more or less dialled in from the word go, definitely benefits from a dropper seat post I must add.  Acceleration is good and it feels really stable in high speed rock strewn turns, I’m looking forward to railing this baby at the enduro races.  Look out!

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