A tough day at the office – Enduro World Series #2, Tweedlove, Scotland

Sometimes Enduro racing can be a cruel sport – laughing in the face of all your planning, preparation and training. This weekend saw my number come up after 2 very successful and incident free seasons – it’s one of those inevitable facts that we don’t like to talk too loudly about, but when you repeatedly spend weekends plummeting down steep, rocky, rooty tracks at insane speed, the laws of physics and probability guarantee that at some stage, you’ll end up wrong way up. This time it was my turn!

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As we packed the van to make the pilgrimage to Tweedlove for the first ever EWS round in the UK, I was feeling sharp and ready for action – this was to be my second Enduro World Series race and I knew that I had to expect savage stages, physically demanding transitions and some very, very fast competition – this was after all the top 300 Enduro racers in the world! As my phone pinged Facebook, Twitter and Instagram updates from Peebles, one update stood out and shook me – Italian SuperEnduro series champion and friend Manuel Ducci had crashed in practice on stage 2 and broken his ankle! In between laughing at his brilliant “waiting room” pictures with a skeleton he had found in the hospital, it dawned on me that this was a supremely gifted athlete with outrageous technical skills – and just practicing the course had ruined him. Clearly I was in for something pretty gnarly!

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Tweedlove was not only a big one for me as a racer but also for Bionicon – the event had been tagged as the ideal place to pre-launch the forthcoming new bike, the awesome Edison Evo! Having seen behind the scenes as the bike was developed over many months, I couldn’t wait for us to pick up Basti Schub from the airport with a pre-production version, in all it’s 650B, variable geometry & travel Enduro tastiness!

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Trade stand set up and some catch ups with various friends & contacts done, it was time to get out and practice – I joined my friend and former team mate Russ Turner (now riding on his new team Yeti SB66 from Rockets & Rascals) to hit stages 3 & 4 for the morning – there was no messing with the Innerleithen stages for day 1, seriously steep and gnarly chutes, full of mud, drops, switchbacks and roots to catch you out! In fact I was caught up by Life Cycle/Ibis rider Valentina Macheda while I hugged a tree on 3 – certainly the strangest “ciao” I’ve ever said to her! It was obvious that the aim of the game for day 1 would be survival – the stages were steep, rooty and slippery, and would definitely be taking no prisoners come race day!

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Race day came round and I woke up feeling good & strong, having got a good sleep, plenty of food (sorry to the hotel for that!) – it was time to go! A nice little on stage interview from my old friend, SuperEnduro and EWS co-founder Enrico Guala (looking good in his kilt!) and it was time to get my race started. A long transition to stage 1 in surprising heat had us all suffering – in fact the only highlight of a long slog was seeing a certain Gary Forrest’s 12 year old graffiti on an old reservoir wall. Seeing the top guys coming back round to go to stage 2, with broken bikes, obvious crashes and all suffering didn’t help with the realisation we were in for something serious.

I got to the top, padded up and changed into my full face, got in the zone and revved myself up nicely – the rider in front of me had dropped out, so I had no 20 second man, just a 40s gap to try and close. The eternal wait for the starting countdown was hard as ever to bear – but finally it came. 5-4-3-2-1-GO!!!!!!! Straight on the gas, pedalling hard across a seriously fast moorland track! Ruts made it lethal so I stuck to the left out of them so I didn’t risk catching a wheel and flipping out (which I later heard Martin Maes had done!) before even hitting the woods.

As the flat out approach stage dropped into the mega-dark woods, I caught sight of my 40 second man – I must have been tanking it to close that gap! That was it – time to hunt. This section was seriously steep with turns, roots, drops and hollows everywhere, with the roots polished and slippery mud everywhere. I was making nice progress when around a third of the way into the stage, I slid on a root, clipped my wheel on a stump and highsided – what happened next is a bit of a blur. I remember wrapping myself round a tree really hard, and feeling the instant deceleration forces rip through my head, neck and shoulders. Instantly I knew it had been a big stack, but instincts took over and I jumped back on. The second I got back on the bike though, I knew I was out – the best way to describe my feeling is a mix between sea sickness and 10 pints of wife beater – I was wobbling all over the place and could hardly stay upright! A very nice marshall helped me down to the fireroad and that was it – my race was done. As I waited to check myself out properly and let them know I was out of the race, I saw the rescue truck coming down with Cube Action Team rider Scotty Laughland with his arm in a sling – I’d already heard that stage 1 had taken out Graves, Maes and now Scott – how many more had it scalped?!?!

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Rolling back one handed through Innerleithen I bumped into Manuel Ducci and Jerome Clementz at a café – Manuel’s description of the live timing as a “war bulletin” reinforced just how wild it was out there – and seeing the grace and acceptance which these two top riders viewed crashing and injury made me realise that you can either get upset & angry or accept is as something that’s going to happen when you do hundreds of high speed runs in a year.

Back at the team tent it was time to tell the guys about my crash and get sent to the medical tent for a check over – luckily my collarbone was ok, it was just whiplash type strains on my neck & shoulders with a bit of bruising as well. Some serious mansize painkillers and doctor’s orders to “relax and have a few beers tonight” eased my mind & put paid to fears of any serious season affecting damage!

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Later in the day as we saw results coming in, tales of crashes, smashes, DNFs and injuries filled the arena – day 1 was described as the hardest and most technically challenging EWS round so far and believe me, they weren’t wrong! Over the last few days, lots have people have asked “are you angry at crashing?”, “you must be so annoyed” etc etc – while it’s always a shame not to finish, it’s inevitable when racing at this level that you’ll crash at some point – and when there are tracks like this, it’s a matter of when not if. So I’m cool with it – it goes with the territory, and the key thing is not to get angry but to refocus, learn from it and carry that forward to the next race!

This week’s goal is to rest, recuperate and try to loosen off the soreness in my shoulders so I can compete next weekend at Bristol Bikefest where I’m hoping to shake up the XC crew on my Alva in the 3 hour race – and luckily there’s nothing like the steep madness of Innerleithen to contend with!

Big thanks to everyone for their support – Bionicon for an awesome bike, Onza & Silverfish UK for my supremely grippy Ibex tyres, Carbonal for pimp rims, One Industries for the helmet and pads that saved my bacon this weekend, Vizion Goggles for keeping my eyes safe and Trail Head for skills and race coaching – here’s to a great season coming up!

Andy :-)

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2014 season kick off and pre-EWS Tweedlove bike check!

Well it’s countdown time!!!Just a few days ahead of the Enduro World Series round at Tweedlove in Scotland and I thought it would be cool to do a really quick bike check.

Lots of change from my 2013 spec – but shock horror(!!) I have stuck with 26” for this season as I am really loving the Alva Air 180 and with the changes done over winter, it’s faster than ever.

So many changes and upgrades have been done – tons of weight off but performance increases and no compromise on strength, there simply was no way I would take risks.

Several key new parts that differentiate from the 2103 season – all helping make the bike more ready than ever for racing and shredding this year!

EWS

First up – the all new suspension system. At the end of last year, I was running a pre-production Bionicon G2S fork cartridge with the new compression damping cartridge and dual air chamber. I’m now on the full production version – it’s super-smooth, awesome small bump compliance but doesn’t blow travel at all. I run it pretty firm at around 18% sag so it sites high in the travel.

The rear shock has also been upgraded from the X-Fusion O2 RCX to the all new custom specced Magura TS215 – big thing I noticed is how much more compliant it is, how much slicker the initial stroke is and how it definitely seems less sensitive to getting hot over a long rough run. I’ve just about got the tuning bang on now – seriously impressed!

As you’ll see from the photos, I’m rocking some pretty pimp rims this year from new sponsor Carbonality – these are a 33mm wide, 30mm deep carbon rim, with a 27mm internal width and hookless bead. Weighing in at just 440g a piece (same as a Stans Flow), they are super stiff, really strong and have made a big difference to handling. The bike feels a lot more direct, and on tight switchbacks and rock gardens where wheel deflection/flex can cause wander, they really can be noticed!

As with last year, I’m running Onza tyres after being super-impressed with them last year, not only in terms of grip but also bulletproof construction – the lovely guys at Onza and UK distributor Silverfish UK sorted me out a massive box full at the start of the season, so I’ll be running a mix of Ibex 2.4, Ibex 2.25 and Canis 2.25 dependent on conditions.

Drivetrain is the ever lovely SRAM X01 with 10-42 cassette and 34t chainring. NarrowWide and clutch goodness means it just works perfectly and doesn’t drop the chain, ably supported by the new Bionicon C-Guide Eco for a little extra chain wrap. For particularly rocky courses I have the option to add a taco and/or top guide from Brightline Components.

Bars also come from Brightline Components – 780mm carbon badboys with a 32mm rise. I’m absolutely loving these so far!

Brakes are the trusty Shimano Zee with sintered pads – I may test out the new Magura MT7 later this season but right now, these 4 pot monsters (on 203mm rotors) deliver all the power and modulation you could possibly want – especially when tired and with arm pump setting in……

Watch out for lots more updates now the season gets started!

Big thanks in advance to all the brands supporting me and the Bionicon team this season – Bionicon, Onza, Silverfish UK, One Industries Europe, Vizion Goggles and Carbonality – hope to do you proud in 2014!

Andy :-)

http://www.bionicon.com
http://www.onzatires.com
http://www.silverfish-uk.com
http://www.c-guide.org
http://www.carbonality.com
http://www.viziongoggles.com
http://www.oneindustrieseurope.com

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Long term reviews – Bionicon Alva 180 Air/Superstar Sentinel Wheelset/Shimano Zee brakes

Evening all,

As promised earlier this week – here’s the long term reviews I’ve been threatening for a while!

Now that 2013 is over, it’s time for me to reflect on kit from last season, and look to 2014 and what I’ll be running……..

Bionicon Alva 180 Air

First up, let’s take an overall look at the bike I ran for the whole of the 2013 season, seeing action in the Enduro 1 Southern UK Enduro series (15th overall in the series in 30+ category, with 3 out of 4 rounds raced), 2 SuperEnduro rounds and the Enduro World Series final among many others – the awesome Bionicon Alva 180 Air. Lots of people have questioned “why a bike so big?” – well when you can build a 180mm bike with adjustable travel & geometry that weighs in between 30 & 32 lbs dependent on kit spec and it climbs as well as the 160mm version, why not?

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The Alva has seen some hard use this season – from horrific muddy, steep UK courses to the rocky, twisty, dusty and punishing tracks of Italy and it still runs like a dream. In fully slacked out mode, it has a 65 degree head angle so really hits it, but with a 31lb build in my current setup, it can get back up nicely too. Early in the season we broke just under 30lb with a very light build, but that was a bit of a compromise with very light tyres. It was a good challenge though and saw lots of people picking it up in disbelief!

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Suspension action has been great, especially once I added the new G2S damper cartridge to the fork, giving lots more mid-stroke support. I found the best balance was 25% rear sag and 15% front, with around 60% compression damping wound in on the fork for good support. The rear shock, an X-Fusion O2-RL, has been great and has needed just a quick service after SuperEnduro Monti Della Tolfa. With a big season, I’ve killed a pair of shock eyelet bushes, but that’s to be expected. Pivot bearings have been easy to service and grease though so are still running super sweet. Overall, it’s been a fantastic bike and a big step up from the Edison I rode in 2012.

Superstar Sentinel Wheelset

I’ve been running the Superstar Sentinel wheelset all season too – this wheelset is built around Superstar’s new Tesla hubs with 72 points of engagement and their Sentinel tubeless ready rims which are 26mm wide external and 21mm internal. They’re laced up with Sapim double butted spokes and have stayed good and tight all season with just the odd retrue on the rear being needed.

The overall weight of the wheels came in at under 1700g for the pair, so really light. I’m quite a lightweight rider at 74kg, but bear in mind the rim profile is the same as a Mavic Crossmax SX so they’re still a decent size – and a whole season’s Enduro racing suggests they are more than up to the job. The rims are still true, with just a couple of little dents from rock strikes, and the hubs run smoothly on SKF stainless steel bearings. Now the freehub is bedded in nicely, it makes a great “angry wasp” sound too!

Highly recommended – and if you are heavier or ride with less finesse, it’s worth looking at the Sentinel’s tougher brother, the Tactic rim at just 30g more weight.

Shimano Zee brakes

If you look carefully at various pictures, you’ll spot that I switched brakes towards the end of the season – I ran Zee all through 2012 and LOVED them! My 2013 bike came with SRAM/Avid X0 brakes and to be honest, they were really good, with a nice lever shape, good power and good modulation. The problem was that the power was only “good”, not “great”. I finally overcooked them in Italy and realised that despite their light weight, beautiful polished finish and lovely feel, they lacked the real big power output of the Zee so I took the plunge and went back to the Shimanos.

Zee Brakes

Straight away, it’s so apparent Shimano have nailed these brakes – trimming the hoses and bleeding the brakes with the new funnel system is ridiculously easy and something anyone can do, unlike so many hydraulic brake systems.

The lever shape is great, perfect for serious one finger braking.

Power is phenomenal, especially when coupled with big rotors for heat dissipation – asides from being able to brake later and harder, the big benefit for an Enduro rider is the fact that as you get tired towards the end of a long race or ride and the dreaded arm pump is kicking in, you don’t need to use any forearm strength to get the anchors dropped. This is probably the biggest benefit of the Zee asides from the pure power and ease of maintenance!

I’ll be running Zee on all my bikes from now on – the small weight penalty is well worth it as they are by far the best brakes I’ve ever used.

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BAD NEWS!! Cedric Gracia injured in a big crash at Mega Reunion

Just seen this update on the Enduro MTB Magazine website – looks like Cedric Gracia has had a nasty crash at the Mega event on Reunion Island – click the pic below for full story, but needless to say, Cedric is a much loved, highly regarded member of the Enduro elite and it’s safe to say everyone will be rooting for him to make a swift and full recovery:

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Enduro World Series – race report and bike check!

Hi all,

Apologies for the lack of postings of late – it turned into a mental end of season with a ridiculous amount of racing – I hit up the Superenduro Sprint round in Tolfa, then a week later was racing at Aston Hill for the 3rd round of the Enduro 1 X-Fusion Southern UK series, then a matter of weeks later was off to race the Enduro World Series final in Finale Ligure!

The great news is that I finished 15th overall in the Enduro 1 series in Masters, with one round missed due to the EWS final, and I had a pretty good race in Finale, finishing mid pack among the world’s best Enduro racers, which I was well pleased with! I was also featured in the awesome Enduro Magazine – click the logo to read my feature:

Lots of people have been asking about my bike this season – here’s what I have been running:

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Bionicon Alva 180 Air frame & fork kit
Bionicon G2S fork cartridge
X-Fusion 02 RL shock
Superstar Sentinel/Tesla wheelset (tubeless)
Onza Ibex tyres (2.4 DH front, 2.25 FR rear, tubeless)
SRAM X0 drivetrain (1×10, Type 2 rear mech, X0 shifter)
SRAM X9 cranks
Absolute Black direct mount chainring
Specialized Command Post dropper post
Superstar Racer carbon saddle
Superstar Descent 780 bar (780mm wide)
Superstar Excel lock on grips
SRAM X0 brakes
Superstar Alpine 203mm floating rotors
Superstar XCR top guide
Bionicon C Guide

The bike has run like a dream all season – everything on it has functioned brilliantly and lasted really well.

Watch out over the coming weeks for a few updates on my new 2014 spec!

Andy

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New Enduro movie coming soon!!

Just seen the teaser for this – looks AMAZING!!!

Awesome filming, all the big stars, some incredible riding…….. Can’t wait to see the film!

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SuperEnduro Monti Della Tolfa preview video

Well it’s almost here! Really looking forward to my first Italian race of the season – the awesome Monti Della Tolfa round of the infamous SuperEnduro series!! Having raced at Finale last year, and with Finale on my schedule again this year for the Enduro World Series final, it made loads of sense to make another trip out too.

Tolfa is not far from Rome and it looks like there are going to be some awesome stages – can’t wait to get out there to race and of course see all the SuperEnduro crew and my many Italian friends.

Check out the awesome promo video:

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