So, whilst many of you were suffering over hill and dale in the Chilterns 100 – well done all, I decided to ride the one-off Merida Summer Monkey Enduro – Another mtb race.
This follows a slightly different format to the last one (time not laps) – I signed up for two hours; which means as many laps as possible and try and sneak past the finish gate before it closes for the extra lap. In practice, for this superb 7.5 mile course at Caesar’s Camp, Aldershot, if you aren’t lapping in 35-37 minutes, it will be a three lap race.
I’m in the two hour vets race, which go off with the young whippets. Merida have a full factory team, as do 4Fourths lights and a few others. A lone Dynamo and myself make up the London Clubs (with a Handsling in the four hour race). I position myself near the front for the off as there is only a short sprint to the first singletrack. Mad dash and spin as I hold position top 15 for the first section. The first half of the course is lumpy but only moderately technical. The whippets on carbon 29ers are moving away, but my trusty 26lb steel singlespeed (SS) hardtail is doing me proud, despite some short hard climbs.
Photo courtesy of 1st Gear Cycles (it’s steeper than it looks!)

Then five of us take a wrong turn (uphill) – hmmm, that never happens at Hillingdon! Back on track, but we’ve lost five places and are charging to regain ground. A lovely (if you are a climber) long firetrack climb of about 3/4 mile to the second half of the course allows me to pass riders and regain some positions, but Merida and the placings are long gone. Sharp turn, into some technical forest tracks and I puncture a sidewall, the tubeless tyre seals with half a CO2 cartridge and I am back underway for the “Decent of Flints”. More a half-controlled downhill crash on a loose (read painful) surface. Speed carries the day and I enter the last section, another fantastic piece of singletrack, swoopy, tree-lined, tight, with one tabletop. I follow the lines of a very fast lady on a full suspension and catch her to complete the first lap.

Second lap, the tyre is still leaking, a sharp corner sees the front wheel buckle about 1cm off true and I reinflate. The tubeless tyre pops back on with a confidence-inspiring crack and I get back underway. Passing people on the climbs is again straightforward, no spinning for me, but SS makes you climb fast (or walk), panicking on a downhill drop-off, and cruising the flinty downhill. The last singletrack section is as good the second time and I have my lines now.

Last lap, tyre is now at about 10 PSI and the bike is decidedly unhelpful and choosing its own lines (which aren’t much worse than my own!). Steering is a fight and steering downhill will be impossible, not a great situation but… “Never, never, never give up!”. No neutral service here, just a helpful marshal on a quadbike who says “Yup, you’re in trouble, you are miles from the start!”. Unlike a road race, the course is a bit like an ant on acetone, you could be anywhere if you don’t know the site – I don’t. I limp around letting the other racers pass, but am still not passed by anyone from my race. Eventually at the end of the long climb (passed four more riders in other races, even with a flat front tyre) it is obvious that I will either be walking back or need more air. As luck would have it, three non-racing riders appear from another trail and one has a pump! Another satisfying crack as the bead seats on what is now a very sad looking front rim and I am away.

The final (for me on three laps) descent of the flints on the brakes is not pretty – classic roadie on a mtb stereotype. I ride the last section of singletrack, the bike jumps well but the front wheel washes out due to tyre pressure depositing me ungraciously into a thorny bush, then to add insult to injury it decides to lead me through one final gorse bush for good measure as I am lapped by the winning Merida rider on his fourth lap. I limp home with the front tyre rubbing the fork for three laps in 2:16, and a mid-pack 19/36. Great fun, and the organisers Gorrick are to be commended for another excellent race in perfect conditions.

The next race will be Torq 12:12, an overnight enduro on August 24th. If anyone fancies making a team and having a go, drop me a line, I could be persuaded.

Kind regards,


PS: There will be no Second Sunday Swinley Skills Session mtb ride next weekend on account of me either 1) recovering from serious injury in the Nocturn Track Bike Race, 2)  recovering from a hangover after surviving said race, or 3) riding the Dragon Ride.

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