With another year fast drawing to a close I found myself, surrounded by left over turkey and trying to avoid eating the last of the Quality Streets, thinking about 2016 and how it all unfolded for me and my racing. They always say hindsight is wonderful thing. I am all too often reminded of this by those who have been on the planet longer than I. Experience is a valuable thing and to have been there and done that is an important building block in life and I can add a few more experiences to my memory bank this year.
Back on Kona for 2016
I was really delighted to be given the opportunity to ride for Kona again in 2016. For those that have followed me from my first season racing, will remember I was racing on a Kona Process back in 2014. I was riding for a bike shop at that point, Hart's Cyclery and was lucky enough to get a good deal on a Process 153. I had very fond memories of that bike and when the opportunity came up to race for Kona directly through their European race programme, I jumped at the opportunity.
I was able to pull together a cool little press release with the help of Trev Worsey (Enduro MAG) and it even made the PinkBike home page. Glen Thomson filmed the promo video and everything went crazy. News of me riding for Kona spread far and wide and I was overwhelmed by the messages of support from everyone wishing me well for the season.
Highlights weren't too hard to come by this year. I've had loads of fun racing and riding my bike this year and it has been a blast. My first race of 2016 was round 1 of the Scottish Enduro Series in Dunkeld. It makes the highlights list purely for how challenging it was as a race course. As you'd expect, this early on in the season things are still a little wet in bonnie Scotland. Dunkeld is a truly epic venue and it made for an epic race. I finished up 11th on the day but was happy to just get through that race without incident, it was pretty wild.
Another race to make the highlight reel has to be the Tweedlove festival. Every year Tweedlove comes to the Tweed Valley and it's better than Christmas. All the best riders come and the racing and trails are next level. I always enjoy the long summer nights riding dusty trails during the festival and I always mark the "TweedLove International" as one of my biggest events in the year. It is like a mini EWS with some heavy hitters involved.
But before that race even started, I took the opportunity to give some cyclocross racing a go. The "LoveCross" event is one I always looked on at and wished I was out there in years gone by. Now was my chance to get involved. I was able to get a pairs entry with someone called Anthony. I had never met Anthony until before the race night but we seemed to work well together and we both played out parts and took the win in the lovecross event. A nice way to start the week and the positive momentum continued for me through the rest of the festival
Getting back to the enduro, the International was a two day event and the weather held off and it was dry (kind of). I decided to race a specially prepared Kona Process 111 for the race. To my surprise, after day 1 I was in 12th place. Very close to the top 10, almost all of whom were full time professional racers. I knew I would struggle more on day 2 but I kept the spirits high and the corners pinned and I ended up finishing 18th. I was really happy to grab a top 20 finish at this race and to have it all happen in my home town was even better. I can't wait for this race to come back next year!
No highlights list would be complete without including one race from the newly formed British Enduro Series. Being the first year the series had been operating, many racers were unsure if the races would be well organised or a disaster. Thankful, as it turned out the race organisation was second to none. Very professional and very well thought out, the BES looks set to be among the best national series' in the UK. My favourite race from the year was the final round at Innerleithen. A race where I had to overcome alot of obstacles just to get to the start line.
I was forced to ride an unfamiliar bike because the post office hadn't quite got the memo I needed my race bike for the final BES and I had just finished a week of university exams, which were my final degree examinations. No big deal really (gulp). Despite my chain falling off on every stage and the bike trying to kill me I still managed 10th place and even a 5th on one stage against top national racers. I really enjoyed this race and it sticks in my memory as one of the good ones.
The last highlight of the year, fittingly goes to my final race of the season. The SES at Ae forest. Me and Ae have never really got on all that well and this race was no different really but with one small exception. I won my first ever stage at a Scottish Enduro. I've been close to winning a stage before and I've even podiumed at an SES at the end of the day but I've never had a stage win. It was special but so unexpected. Only two days earlier I had taken delivery of the new 2017 Kona Process 153DL. Not only was this bike radically different in terms of sizing than my outgoing 111, but it was also 27.5 as opposed to the 111's 29" wheels I was so very used to.
But on stage 3, I did it. I won my first stage. The rest of my race didn't go that well and I headed on the long drive home early because I was a little sad at how my last race went. Looking back on the results I saw I managed to sneak a stage win and it filled me with joy. Going into the offseason knowing that I can do something and I can achieve what I want to achieve gives me powerful motivation.
No end of year review would be complete with a couple of low points along the way. This year there were a few and they tended to come just when they weren't wanted (as they often do). Some were mechanical issues which cost race results, some were crashing but all are experiences I have learned from. The best thing about making mistakes is that each time something goes tits up, I can learn why shit hit the fan and make sure it doesn't happen again. Each mistake is a chance to learn something new. At this early point in my racing career I can afford a few slip-ups here and there but I am always working on correcting my course and getting back on track ASAP.
The first lowlight is undoubtably TweedLove Vallelujah. An early season race and part of the 3 Tweedlove Enduros making up the overall "Triple-Crown". This was a race I felt I had a good shot at winning. Most of the stages were very similar to the ones used in the 2014 Scottish Champs which I won in the senior category and I knew I'd go well. All through practice I felt like I was flying. Confidence was at an all time high and I was ready for racing. Then, after stage 1 it all came crashing down. After the first stage it became apparent that my rear shock had blown its air seals. The bike was stuck, compressed at 60% of travel and my cranks would catch to ground at every opportunity. I decided I shouldn't give up and rode stage 2 with the blown shock, which made the most horrendous noise every time I went near a compression. At the bottom of the stage I decided I couldn't continue and was all for giving up. However, my girlfriend arrived with her shock, which was the same size and I swapped it out with my own. I continued with the unfamiliar shock and managed to salvage enough time to finish 3rd overall, even winning the final stage. It was at this point I was told changing shocks was against the rules of the event and I was disqualified. I was upset at this as even in the EWS you are permitted to change rear shocks but I had to accept the event directors decision. A bitter one for sure but now I run a coil shock. See, lesson learned.
Next up is the Scottish Champs. I finished this race in 5th but blew it in terms of tactics It had rained really hard in the days leading up the the event and after practice it rained overnight. I thought setting off late in the day would have allowed the tracks to dry up and for the mud to move about. The opposite was true. The fastest guys went first in the day, I went last. By the time I reached the top of each stage it was totally wrecked. Ruts in all the wrong places and more slippery than fairy liquid. At some points I was genuinely riding out of my skin. I didn't have so much as a near miss, which given the conditions wasn't bad. Despite the challenges I faced, I salvaged 5th but this race goes in the lowlights because it was an opportunity missed.
My last lowlight of 2016 has to be the Dunoon round of the SES. It makes the list for being the only enduro race I did not finish. I'd never been to Dunoon before and didn't know what to expect. I thought it'd be something like Glenlivit (read pedal hard) but it wasn't. It was awkward, technical and steep. I decided to bring my XC bike to this race, which was a big mistake and proved to be my undoing. Coming down stage 4, there was an almighty compression. It swallowed my 29" wheel whole and put a colossal dent in the rim, puncturing the tyre in the process. All was not lost though because I had a spare inner tube. I began pumping it up. Then all of a sudden, BANG! The valve snapped off the tube and that was it. I limped home and was really disappointed. What was the lesson? Don't bring an XC bike to an enduro.
No year in review would be complete without a small section dedicated to the bikes I rode throughout the year. I've been through a few bikes this year for various reasons. I started out with the 2016 153DL which was awesome. It was super reliable and rock steady. However, I decided that 29" wheels warranted a try and I switched to a Process 111. A bike I have very found memories of.
Getting back on a 29er was something I had wanted to do for a while as the big wheels suit me. I will freely admit the fact that Kona's 29er, the 111's minimal rear travel number was something that concerned me (111mm). I needn't have worried though because it truly was an excellent performer. As a race bike it was a solid and didn't let me down. I was constantly the only elite racer on something with less than 140mm rear travel but it didn't matter. The geometry, coupled with the lively riding characteristics made for a special and memorable bike. One I'll never forget. I ran it with a 140mm fork and offset bushings to slacken it out a little and I was stoked to see Kona employ similar ideas into their new 2017 Process 111.
For 2017, Kona cooked up something very special indeed and things have come full circle for me. I'm now back on a 27.5 bike in the form of the new Process 153DL. The toptube has been lengthened and it now has one of the longest reach figures on the market in the XL size at 510mm. I feel that I finally have a bike I am comfortable on. It is certainly the biggest bike I've ridden but has a low standover and stubby chainstays to keep things nimble. I am currently getting it all dialled in for 2017 but testing so far seems very positive.
Throughout the year I've been lucky enough to receive support, help and guidance from many different people but there are a few who stand out in my mind, without whom, I'd be unable to even go racing. Those people are;
Keith and Scott at Kona who have been fully supportive of all my adventures and helped me get bikes sorted quickly. The support from Kona has been truly exceptional and I wish to express the deepest and heartfelt thanks to the boys.
Jonathan at FallLine Cycles - where to start with Jonathan. He's truly one of a kind. A chance encounter to fix a fork led to a friendship and I am so very grateful for all of Jonathan's efforts and support this year. He has his work cut out looking after my bikes as I'm quite hard on components but his skill and expertise has helped ensure I have the best performing bike race after race. He goes above and beyond for me and I am truly proud to call him a friend.
Hannah at Extra / CrankBros - Hannah was kind enough to support me with CrankBrothers pedals this year and its been awesome. Their support at the races has been second to none and her and Owen always ensure my pedals are running smooth. I am stoked to be working with her again for 2017.
Ally at RideIt - Ally is the owner of RideIt and the grand master designer behind my awesome race jerseys. I will always be thankful for Ally's support and I am honoured to be a RideIt rider
Scotoiler - longtime supporters Scotoiler always ensure my bike is kept looking like new race after race. The team at Scotoiler have been there from day one and I am proud to use their products.
FullBeam Bike Lights - FullBeam supported me with the "worlds most powerful bike light" ,which I can assure you is a valid claim. All the cold winter nights training were made possible by having use of their lights. Thank you, guys.
My family and girlfriend, Niamh - Most importantly I wish to thank my family for all that they do for me. From lending me the van for the weekend to giving me the encouragement I need when I don't want to go out and train. They have always been there and remain my number one supporters.
Last but certainly not least, to my girlfriend, Niamh. She has travelled to almost all the races with me. She gives up her weekends so we can spend time together. She is chief chef when were on the road in the van and is always waiting with a warm drink and a reassuring cuddle after I've had a rough day on the bike. I am so lucky to have her by my side on this bicycle racing adventure. I wouldn't be able to do what I do without her.
So here's to 2016. A year full of ups, downs and everything inbetween. I can't wait to see what 2017 has in store.
Till next time,