Today started cloudy with a light breeze wafting from the north. I decided to have my second try at one of the two targets which I’ve set myself for this year’s mountain biking. It’s a simple matter of beating my best time from last year from the top of Edge Gate Lane to the summit of Great Hill and back to the start point. A simple matter it may be but over 20 minutes of riding whilst trying to maximise speed is a massive commitment. I would need to focus on speed for the entire period of time and pace myself so I only reached exhaustion at the end. On my previous attempt a stronger wind and lots of loose gravel on the surface of the trail had meant that I was 48 seconds slower than I needed to be to beat my target of 22 minutes 19 seconds.
I took my usual, mainly off road route to White Coppice and was feeling good about the conditions. The slight breeze would not seriously diminish my speed and I’ve been finding the gravel packing down to some extent since my last try. I took the easy side of the goit, a straightened river, and climbed gently up Brinscall Woods, where I was overtaken by 2 other riders. After a short tarmac stretch on Edge Gate lane my challenge began. I clicked my stopwatch and set off. I was perhaps a little too enthusiastic at the beginning and realised I needed to reduce my effort if I wasn’t to exhaust myself before the end. I kept plugging away, gradually changing up through the gears as the gradient of the gravel trail lessened. The loose gravel was fighting me, slowing my progress, especially where the bed of material was deeper. At least I couldn’t feel the wind. Later I used Strava to analyse my ride and found that my time to the top of the hill was 29 seconds quicker than when I set my target time on 29th March last year. The rough surface later on has deteriorated further so I just tried to maintain my momentum. Every moment I was heavily invested in thinking about my pace, making sure I turned the pedals through the entire circle rather than just on the down stroke. I use clipless pedals where your shoes attach via cleats so you can pull up as well as press down. There’s also an advantage to being stuck to the bike over rough ground. The last thing you need is to have your feet bounce up from the pedals which is something else to think about when using flat pedals with no attachment.
I reached the top and turned around, starting my descent in the blink of an eye. After the first, flowing, twisty section I got over a stile as quickly as I could and pressed on. I avoided the roughest section by taking a smoother, though maybe slightly slower track to the right. I’d chosen to ride my 16 year old Whyte JW4 which is a lightweight but more flimsy feeling bike than my modern Boardman FS Pro. My reasoning was that the older bike is lighter to help on the climbs and has lower rolling resistance due to it’s narrower tyres and smaller 26″ wheels.
The suspension of the Whyte JW4 is not like that of other bikes. It is a linkage rather than a conventional telescopic fork. It reduces the bobbing of the suspension caused by pedalling forces which reduces wasted energy. Less wasted energy means more speed!
It’s perhaps a little out of it’s depth on the long section, strewn with sharp rocks so I feathered the brakes to take a bit of speed off. After that it’s all about the pedalling. The gradient is mainly a gentle downhill with just a couple of shallow rises. I could tell that I wasn’t as fast as I have been in the past because I wasn’t reaching that point where you have no more gears to change up into but your feet are a blur, spinning without being able to get the power in. I was easily within range of the gears. The loose gravel can’t have helped and I could now feel a headwind, whereas I hadn’t felt a tail wind on the way up. I kept the effort up to the end and clicked my watch. 22 minutes and 13 seconds, just 6 seconds faster than my target. I was delighted. A target beaten. I took the fabulous woodland single track descent through Brinscall Wood. On one section I’d recently set the fastest ever time on the app. Strava at 1 minute 13 seconds, which I’d subsequently beaten by one second. Today I beat it again at 1 minute 11. That means that I’ve ridden it 4 times recently with times of 1 minute 11, 12, 13 and 14 seconds. How consistent. I wouldn’t have expected the Whyte to be the faster bike but I have a real soft spot for it so was very pleased.
I rode home over Healey Nab for it’s great downhill and at home eagerly downloaded my ride on Strava. I was shocked to find the time Strava gave me for my targetted segment. Last year I’d chased 22 minute 20 seconds and managed 22 minutes 19! This time Strava gave me 22 minutes 19 again. I firmly believe that the stopwatch is the ultimate arbiter so I’m happy to declare that I beat my target by 6 seconds. I’m glad the challenge is out of the way, really, because I can have more fun riding the trails but having a target is a good motivation and certainly helps you to improve your fitness.