Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Red Kite Techie Devil 50km: Marmite

Star date: 12 July 2015
Location: Irfon Forest, Mid Wales
Event: Red Kite Events Techie Devil
Weapon gratefully borrowed: Pyga OneTwenty from Drover Cycles
Greatest strength: Growing a pair
Greatest weakness: Growing them a bit late in the day
Result: Need new trousers

This one really divided opinion. Who needs Kim Kardashian to break the Internet when you have the Techie Devil, eh? Listen to some people and you'd be forgiven for thinking it was like this:

On paper, it was a great idea. Take one of the country's most demanding old-skool enduro loops and spice it up with some hardcore nu-skool enduro descents hand-built for this year's Mondraker Series.

Lots of natural rocky goodness + Lots of twisty rooty goodness = Just what the doctor ordered!

Unfortunately the weather threw a spanner in the works, with heavy overnight rain sending some of the tracks deep into slapstick territory. The Mondraker Series is very much at the technical end of the enduro spectrum even in the dry (read what I made of round 1 here) and many riders soon found they'd bitten off way more than they wanted to chew...

The rain actually held off during the ride and there was even some sunshine.

My day didn't start too well either. On arrival, I had to sit in the car for ten minutes because it was raining so hard. A quarter of an hour into the ride, I was part of a group that missed a sign and headed the wrong way for a mile and a half. And sandwiched between the two was the Garn, a killer tarmac climb that soon has your legs screaming for mercy - and leads onto a loose rocky climb that demands levels of oomph and momentum your legs no longer want to deliver. I'm not surprised everyone else I saw was walking, but they could've moved out of the bloody way. I may well have lost traction at some point anyway, but after all that gurning effort I wasn't a happy bunny to be blocked off!

The first whiff of a descent then brought the first sign that not everyone was expecting the event to do what it said on the tin, as I (yes, me) whizzed past another rider. And on both the first proper descent (which I found pretty innocuous) and the first gnarly bedrock section, I passed people walking. As it happened, I cocked up the bedrock section - I picked a terrible line, got stuck in a cleft so deep there were kangaroos waving back up at me, and had to bail. So I too decided to walk... back up to the top so I could ride it again! I totally understand the need for self-preservation but it is called The Techie Devil ffs...

Little old me riding the unrideable descent.
Photo by Dan Wyre

Next up, though, was the now-infamous mudslide. I knew something was up from the queue at the top - and all the way to the bottom. Neil the organiser had told me it was his best track yet, but on the day it was mostly a slip 'n' slide scramble down 150 hard-won vertical metres. It really was very steep, winding tightly round the trees without berms or other support, and peppered with drops that seemed to need speed I'd never be able to scrub off afterwards. After numerous failed attempts to get going, I decided it was indeed beyond me and joined the procession trudging down the hill grumbling quietly. But then, towards the bottom, I spied event photographer Dan Wyre ahead. Quick, back on the bike for the camera! I actually then managed to ride 30 yards round several corners before losing it again, a huge improvement on my record of about 10 feet further up. Which goes to show that even an unrideable descent can be rideable if you have a big enough incentive...

Forget scratch 'n' sniff, try tilt 'n' weep. Go on, tilt your head/monitor/phone/tablet until the trees are vertical. The fact I'm on the bike means it's actually the flattest part of the descent...
Photo by Dan Wyre

It was a shame the rain ruined this descent. Not only would it have been a scary-but-doable cracker in the dry, but it seemed to dampen everyone's spirits and pave the way for a whole lot of negativity. Neil would have done everyone a favour by taking it out and sending us another way down the hill - which, to be fair, he did on the return leg.

The next two descents were built for round 2 of the Mondraker Series. They too were incredibly slippery in parts, especially after everyone else's locked-out rear wheels and flailing buttocks had rubbed away all the lovely grippy loam of summer to leave the slick, polished clay of winter freshly coated with anti-climb paint. It gave the opposite of grip, actively pinging you off the trail like two magnets repelling each other. And it was a helluva job to remount, not only you and your bike but even the trees seemed to be sliding down the hill.

I must've come off half a dozen times on the last descent before lunch (Mondraker stage 4). I was like a clown on an icerink. But I did ride all of it. In short bursts. Faced with an audience, I even did the rather scary drops at the top and bottom, with mixed success. It was a real handful but also an absolute cracker and my highlight of the day. Normally you surf down the best descents on a wave of euphoria rather than wobbling around like a hysterical clotz, but I'll take that.

Lunch at Coed Trallwm café was followed by one last hand-cut enduro descent (entirely rideable) and a rerouted trip home with two very big climbs, some very big puddles and two big but not overly technical descents that would, ironically, have been ideal for the riders who threw in the towel half way and took the road back.
A little something for the weekend

Once again Drover Cycles in Hay-on-Wye very kindly lent me their all-conquering Pyga OneTwenty trail bruiser to help compensate for my lack of sick skillz, this time fitted with the latest Pike-slaying Fox 34 forks.

Once again the bike performed impeccably despite a relatively modest 140/120mm of travel. Its surefooted indestructibility gave me the confidence to let fly like never before on the bedrock sections on the return leg, and even the most seriously ill-judged, potentially tyre-shredding, wheel-mangling, frame-cracking, bone-breaking line choices elicited nothing more than a Gallic shrug. Is there anything this bike can't handle?

Photo by Dan Wyre

The silky-smooth forks not only soaked up the big hits but were impressive on persistent road-drill rockiness, as confirmed by three comfortably dingless runs down the notorious Rim Dinger at Bike Park Wales two days earlier. They're still unnecessarily complicated, though, with three main settings and an "additional 22 clicks of low-speed compression adjust". The only settings I ever need are "on" and "off".

In a way, the bike and forks really came into their own towards the end of the ride on the less technical White Bridge and Preacher's Path descents, which were so overgrown in parts that you had no idea what in the way of rocks/logs/holes/monsters might lurk beneath. Completely letting go of the brakes and trusting the bike to get on with it in such circumstances was most unlike me.

While the Bionicon Alva I took down White Bridge last year was like floating on a magic carpet, the Pyga is much more involving and sticks to the ground like glue. Unless, of course, you don't want it to. I made a real breakthrough at Bike Park Wales getting a handle on that whole if-you-don't-like-the-look-of-it-just-jump-over-it approach. This bike has opened my eyes to a new way of riding.

Photo by Dan Wyre.

That said, I still hated the Havoc bars and I had a nightmare hauling the bike up all those hills. It's not especially heavy at 30lb, but I'm used to dancing up climbs on a 20lb featherweight and don't normally have to carry water on my back, which made me a right sweaty betty from the word go. It gave me a real insight into why so many people creep up the hills at events like these - seems it's not just down to too many pies. Even with the suspension locked out, much of the power I was putting down was getting lost in the mix. I never thought I'd need a XX1 cassette's 42t crawler sprocket, but I certainly did on the persistently steep and hurty bridleway climb at Coed Trallwm. As I didn't spin out at all, some would argue that the bike climbs well. For me, the fact that I eventually had to stop for a 10-second breather says otherwise. Let's call it a draw.

But like Margie Melons down the docks, the Pyga's very, very good when going down.
Fewer than half the starters completed the course. So did the haters have a point? Were the descents unrideable? Did the organiser get it all wrong?

As riders, we have to accept that it might occasionally rain in Wales. But it's very rare for the weather to actually wreck an event (Red Kite's own Little Devil in April springs to mind - so horrid were its constant rain and impossible headwinds that I still can't bring myself to blog about it). I've done plenty of XC races that have been total mudbaths, and you just have to get over it - or go online and slag off the organiser.

Of course, organisers too need to allow for the weather. The mudslide descent may still have been rideable for the likes of Dan Atherton after the night's rain (bet he'd have dabbed though), but it wasn't for the mere mortals who entered the event, so clearly it should've been pulled or made optional. But that was just one descent, what about the other 49½km?

 The mudslide. Bearded rider shows how it should be done.
Photo by Dan Wyre.

The whole point of the event was to go beyond trail centre predictability and really test people's skills/bottle. You have to expect an event called The Techie Devil to put you out of your comfort zone. And it did.

Of course, picking just the right level of difficulty is always going to be tricky. Did the organiser read his ridership wrong? There were certainly some who were walking the "easy" stuff and should probably have stayed at home. But even if we assume that the rest were still only of my very average standard, what are we left with?

Well, everything bar the mudslide was entirely rideable. Yes, I struggled to stay upright on some sections. Yes, I scared myself silly on some of the drops. But then that whole "I can't do that, I'm not doing that, no way - oh wait, I just did" buzz is what I come for. Isn't that what it's all about?

I think most of us ended up on our arses at some point.
Photo by Dan Wyre.
Maybe some people were disappointed to find they weren't quite as good as they thought they were (I was mostly delighted to find that I wasn't quite as bad as I thought I was). Which is kind of understandable, as those slippy-slidey descents were a far cry from the all-weather tracks you get at trail centres, whatever shade of black they may be graded.

And maybe the route was simply too long for many of the riders. I'm fit as **** and I found it physically draining on a trail bike. And it wasn't just the whopping 2,000 metres of climbing, some of it quite technical and very steep. The intense concentration required on the descents also took its toll.

So when you then hit Puddle Alley without a snorkel, do you have a hissy fit or get the giggles? I know from my guiding (shameless plug for Epic Rides Wales) that once fatigue levels get to a certain point, a complete sense-of-humour failure is all but guaranteed.

To be honest, the flowers and the scenery went unnoticed at the time.
Photo by Dan Wyre

So, lessons to be learned on both sides. But ultimately you can't please all of the people all of the time. In the immortal words of Taylor Swift:

The haters gonna hate, hate, hate
Baby I'm just gonna shake, shake, shake
Shake it off

I do hope there's another Techie Devil. I hope the weather plays ball, I hope the route is less punishing, I hope entrants will have realistic expectations, and I hope the descents continue to push my limits and develop my riding. The end.

P.S. Quote of the day: "Yeah, fine thanks, mate, just picking pine needles out of my arse."

If you're man or mad enough, the fourth round of the Mondraker Enduro Series is on 22/23 August.


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