Thursday, 27 October 2011

Dusk til Dawn Report

Apologies the race report is a bit long but it was an eventful night.

Pre Race

Saturday morning and the house was busy with final race prep and packing of the Van. I ate as much as I could at lunch until I could not even contemplate another slice of cake. Mark came round at 2pm and we hit the road. I had been checking the weather forecast for Thetford all week and it had always forecast that the D2D evening was going to be mainly dry. This was until Saturday morning when it forecast drizzle from Midnight with heavy rain at the end of the race. As we drove up the A12 towards Thetford the drizzle started. But this was only 3PM. Having arrived early the drizzle continued all the way to Thetford. On arrive there was the usual prerace faff , set-up, registration and lugging stuff to the comfort of the Solo marquee which was there for the evening service. This all done I lined up on the start line at 7:45PM in the now light rain. People had been on the start line since 7:30 but 7:45 was keen enough for me for a 12hr race that started at 8PM. On the start line I felt good. I had made a mental agreement with myself that I was not going back into the Solo marquee until it was all over. (I have only ridden solo once before and on that occasion I made the mistake of stopping to eat and do bike maintenance. On that occasion I found that it was always very difficult to get going again and although my riding remained pretty constant my stopped times got longer and longer.)

Mini Lap & Lap 1

The klaxon went and we were off. Well the leaders were off. My part of the field took a while to get going. Once rolling I stuck to the plan, just ride steady. 12hrs is a long time. I had a 4hr Saturday ride planned. This would be a warm-up training ride immediately followed by an 8hr enduro race when Sunday came around. So on the first lap there was no hurry. In my own mind the race did not start til Midnight. Despite this on the mini lap behind the quad bike I was moving effortlessly through the field I had lined up with. Sure the leaders were long gone but I knew I had to ride to my own capabilities. Through the start/finish banner for the first time and we were out on the 1st true lap. My riding companions had started to thin out but there was a continuous stream of riders ahead and behind. Not having done a pre ride of the lap all the turns and drops were a new experience. The ADL handled them all in its stride, flattering my riding skills. At this point the course was still in good condition and I settled into a small group of riders. One in particular was riding similar to me. He was in full Giant riding kit and on a Giant bike. His riding style was steady and I had only caught him very slowly so I decided that it would do me good to sit behind him for a while and use him to control any other enthusiasm that I might pay for later in the race.

At the end of the first lap I still had plenty of food and drink left so decided not to stop at all. It looked like a 2 lap load up was going to be a good strategy. Mark was stood outside the solo marquee so I barked at him that on the next lap I would like a new bottle, a couple of gels and 1 bit of solid food.

Lap2 was much like the first. The pace behind Mr Giant was comfortable for me. The course condition was still good. We had done 1 lap now so I was starting to recognise and enjoy parts of the course. We were able to ride out of Tom's pit on the second lap as it was not covered with riders like it had been on the first. The second big drop still caught me out on the rooty section and I went the wrong side of the tree again. Apart for Mr Giant and myself there were a couple of other riders around us that were riding more in bursts so that they would come by quite quickly only for us to catch and pass them again 5mins later. Being with Mr Giant was definitely helping me keep a steady pace and I knew that was going to pay off in the end. The rain was really coming down now and I was glad that I had started in my full rain coat. I only had a T-shirt underneath and on the faster sections I could feel a slight chill but on the slower sections through the woods I was plenty warm enough.

The end of the lap came around quickly and I was ready for my pit stop. Mr Giant was on the same strategy and his pit crew and Mark were stood about 5m apart. Mr Giant stopped briefly with his crew got what he wanted and was gone. I stopped at Mark and noticed that he was empty handed… I had not told him that I was not going into the marquee. I quickly explained that the marquee was for broken soles and broken bikes and that I did not intend to enter it. He quickly ran in and collected some food. Mr Giant was now out of site and to further extend he lead on me I managed to drop a gel just over the start/finish line. I stopped to pick it up and was off again.

Lap 3

The first part of the lap was a long fire road section. I rolled along this a got some food down. The fire road now was like a river bed and there was a lot of water coming up. I was glad that we had fitted the rear mud guard before the start. Comfort in these long events is key. In my experience all the little things that was getting to you and really drag your mood down. Mentally I was having a whale of a time. The bike was just working…. The geometry made for fun riding and I was just enjoying each section of the course rather than projecting into the night and thinking about how long there was to go. Infact I had no idea what the time was and decided not to ask. If I could concentrate on the here and now and just ride til someone told me to stop that was going to be an easy thing to do. I had an ipod shuffle with me but had yet to turn it on. Again I had decided to save this until I needed a mental pick me up. Right now I was having a ball.

I re-caught Mr Giant at the end of the first fire road section and had a joke with him about the relative skills of our pit crews. The course was now starting to get slippery in places. This was the only thing I was concerned about as I did not have the possibility of fitting mud tyres. This was because I only had 1 wheel set, as the rear wheel was hub gear and the front wheel was dynohub, and having gone tubeless to avoid stopping for punctures. Fortunately the Mountain King front was providing enough grip and the X King on the rear was not sliding uncontrollably. Mr Giant was also starting to struggle with grip. Half way round the lap we got passed by some team riders who were fresh but were not travelling a lot faster than us. I decided that I could go a bit faster so latched onto a new wheel and left Mr Giant. The new wheel only lasted 2-3 miles before he went too hard for me on one of the climbs and I let him go. I was now truly solo and was feeling good so got on with just riding. The ADL helped a lot here as it was all working flawlessly. I had no chain suck and had all 8 gears that I had started with. The tyres were manageable and the geometry and 150mm fork were making the technical stuff easy. The only thing that was in the back of my mind was brake pads. I had not started with new pads and by now there was a fairly constant sound of mud, grit and water wearing them away even when you were not using them. I started trying to use the brakes as little as possible. I did not want to have to waste time later on change brake pads if I could possible get away with it.

At the end of the lap I saw Mark and told him I would need a food and bottle again next lap. He had already got a tray waiting with a selection of goodies on it as I sailed past.

Lap 4, I knew I was making headway now. All was going well and I was over 3hrs in. I could feel my legs but it was fatigue that was easy to ignore and I knew all I had to do was keep eating and all would be well. There were parts of the course that I was really beginning to enjoy now and I was noticing more and more of the mile markers on the trees. I still did not have my music on and had not yet required a jelly baby boost.

I was also starting to become the envy of the majority deraulier geared riders although I think they saw the hub gear and not the belt. The 8sp Alfine was still working without fault and the belt had meant that I had not had to worry at all about lubrication. Not that lubrication for the chains was much use as it would have been washed off pretty much as soon as it had been applied. It was difficult to tell where I was in the solo field and to me it did not really matter. My goal had been to ride without stopping and that was being achieved.

Half way round lap 4 was where I had my first issue. Riding with the dynohub meant that I had 375 lumins of light from the bars but I also had a head torch to look round corners and into holes. This was the time the batteries in that torch decided that they had had enough. This was not too bad as we were now 4.5hrs into the ride. I had spare batteries so at the next fire road I stopped to change them. Things did not go to plan. The light would not open so I had to take my gloves off. In opening my tool bottle I managed to drop a tyre lever into long grass. I decided to concentrate on getting the light working again so that I could search for the lost lever. I dropped the light while I was loading the batteries and thought I might have lost one. After many minutes of trying to sort out the headtorch I gave up. It was giving out a small amount of light but not enough to ride by. The dynamo light is only on full power when rolling so to find the lever I stood the bike on it's end and rolled it on the front wheel backwards and forwards until I found the lever. Many minutes lost I got back on my bike and rode the rest of the lap. The next section was mainly single track and included the beast. Now only having a light on the bars was fun there was loads of light but not always in the right place. When I dropped into some of the whoops on the beast I was half way down them before my eyes had adjusted and I could see the roots that wanted to throw me off. But it only slowed me a fraction and soon I was coming into the start/finish area again.

Mark was outside the marquee with his hostess tray. I stopped and asked him to swap the head torch for his as fortunately we have the same one. He started to do this and sorted my food and drink. It also gave me a minute to get a bit more solid food down. Lighting fixed I set off for lap 5. My spirits were still sky high and I knew I now had another 4hrs before I needed new batteries again.

Lap 5

On lap 5 the course was now getting really bad in places and on some sections it was better to ride off the main track on the grass to the side. Everything was working again and I was riding with a grin on my face. The bike selection was brilliant and I was reminding myself how it had been last time I had ridden at Thetford in these conditions when I had had constant chain suck which also happened at a critical point and led to either falling off or at least to walking. Non of that on the ADL. All I had to do was keep turning the pedals and keeping the bike upright on the ever more slippery course. I was soon past the 8 mile marker and thinking about completing another lap. Soon after this I was lapped by the leading solo. He was now 10 miles ahead of me. It was not a surprise as when I rode solo 4 years ago the winner did 36 miles more than I did and I was still going to complete my strategy.

From the 9 mile marker to the start/finish was a continuous up hill drag. I was on this drag now and looking forward to completing another lap. At one point there was a loud bang. I wondered if the belt had started to slip. The belt wears quicker in those extreme conditions just like a chain. The belt had not been new at the start of the ride so it could be wearing out. I don't normally have massive torque so I was not too concerned. I could use my gears to keep a lower torque and reduce the belt slipping. 300 meters later this was not an issue. I hit a steeper part of the track and went to pedal harder when suddenly I was pedalling fresh air. Looking down there was no belt…

I went back and collected the snapped belt from the trail. I walked the rest of the course until I got to the solo marquee and met up with Mark. He looked devastated. We had not brought a spare belt so it was game over. The time was 1:15am. When the belt had snapped there had been about 7 hrs to go to the finish. I entered the marquee and it was everything I had imaged. There were broken souls and bikes littered around. Men looking cold under towels & blankets while partners scurried around sorting things out for them. I was still feeling up beat. I could not carry on but I knew that physically and mentally I could. If we had only brought a spare belt along. But we hadn't. We packed up fast and got on the road. Might as well get home and grab some sleep. Might even be able to do something useful on Sunday.

Post Event Analysis and Conclusions

There was much discussion on the drive home about why the belt had snapped. We had always been a bit concerned about the first generation of Gates belt as the rear sprocket has no shedding clearances and we had though that mud may make the belt wear excessive. We believe what happened was the belt picked up a stone that was too large for it to get rid of. Either the stone had to turn to dust or the belt had to give. This was the bang that I thought had been the belt slipping. This broke 4 of the 6 carbon strands in the belt. The belt then hung on for another 300m up hill before totally giving way. Up until this point the belt solution and hub gears had been the ultimate solution and I believe still can be. The purpose of prototypes is to use them for learning and there are more positives than negatives in the result. Although the belt had worn significantly it had not slipped up until the break point. The belt and hub gear combination with Mark's frame design are definitely the Mountain Bike I want to have for all my long day and enduro riding as well as everyday local trail rides. There are still 2 alternative belt solutions that should be better for clearing foreign objects that can be tested and rest assured we are already in progress to get these on the ADL and tested through the winter when conditions are at there worst.

As for the results I was only recorded with 4 laps in the official as I did not really see the point of crossing the line when I knew that I could not continue. I had a quick analysis of the results and my positions on each lap were

Lap1 – 24th

Lap2 – 17th

Lap3 – 11th

Lap4 – 10th

If I had not broken the belt then on lap 5 I would have been 5th. I compared my lap times to the winner and 2nd place and was 17% slower per lap than the winner and 9% slower than 2nd. Assuming that I would have continued to have a similar offset to them as the race continued it looks like I would have been fighting for the final podium place. Roll on ADL testing and future endures.


  1. Great write up, I guess you've seen this mod for the Gates Drive? This may have helped with ejecting crap from the drivetrain.

  2. Hi Clive,
    Yep - the centre-track is one of a couple of new belt-drive options we're testing out at the moment. Originally we were supposed to be riding the CT for D2D, but the delivery was unfortunately delayed...
    Will drop some pics into Flickr later
    Cheers, Mark