Tuesday, December 23, 2008


A LITTLE TRAINING RIDE that gone out of control. My ride today was meant to be a quick 2 hour spin around the East Link bike trail ended up being a little epic ride around Melbourne's inner suburbs. And quite it ride it was, 95.21 kilometers was the final tally and almost entirely ridden on bike paths away from cars.

IT ISN'T VERY OFTEN that I get inspired to go for a bike ride that is devoid of dirt, rocks and jumps, but for reason of doing something a little different, I decided to make the most of today's cooler weather condition and go for a road bike ride. Well, not exactly a ride on a proper road bike, but instead on my trusty clunker that is my commuter bike. A 1992 GT Borrego that was converted into a single speed courier bike by the previous owner, complete with matt black powder coating, decorated with left overs from my other GT bike builds. A Shimano 105 rear mech running with a 11-32 SRAM 8 speed cassette (Yes it does work), and old FSA cranks off Damien's Cannondale coupled with a 36T chainring off my BMX bike finished off with a set of Shimano Deore wheelset that nobody wants. This baby looks like a mongrel but it does its job of churning away road miles admirably well, all without breaking the bank or attracting any attention as it gets left out on the street. It was as stealthy as it can get.

SO THE IDEA WAS TO RIDE SOUTH along the new Eastlink bike trail to Carrum then head back home as the weather wasn't exactly looking too promising, but as I headed South towards the beach, the head wind was strong so I gave in and turned around and headed North towards Ringwood instead. With wind behind me I managed to get to Ringwood in less than 20 minutes with out too much effort. So I thought, why not explore other linking bike trails? Armed with a water bottle and basic essentials, I headed deep North into Mullum Mullum territory not knowing what to expect.

THE SCHWERKOLT COTTAGE wasn't exactly what I was expecting to find smack bang in the middle of Eastlink freeway crossovers, but that where it was. A historic remain of early German settlers built next to the Mullum Mullum Creek, these cottages have been immaculately preserved by Parks Victoria and have become a bit of local destination for BBQs or taking the dog for a walk (and pee). Smoke barns & homes built from stacked stones, a cellar built from a disused mine shaft and a display centre showcasing the antique machineries the early farmers used were highlights of this cottage. Looking at my bike resting against the caged display of tractors, I can't help and think my bike has evolved much.

I DIDN'T KNOW THE OLD KOONUNG BIKE TRAIL was now linked with the Eastlink bike trail, otherwise I would have turned around and headed home, but by the time I realised that I was in Doncaster and heading towards CBD was when I first noticed the city skylines. Distracted by the very cool looking exercise machines lining along the trail, I stopped at each pockets of exercise points and had a bit of play. Fell off the step machine a few time too as it was tough to master, and got the obligatory weird look from other trail users, but I didn't care. I said it before and I'll say again, I'm a big kid when it comes to play time. What's the point in life it you can't have some fun?

PROCEEDING ALONG THE TRAIL I soon reached Studley Park junction and much to my surprise, my knee wasn't playing up nor was I feeling any ill effects from my impromptu ride that was now really turning into a bit of a major event. Rode past Dights Fall and not really certain where I was heading next, I accidentally stumbled across Collingood Childrens Farm and St Helier's Convent which my colleague Jen had been raving about. By now I was ready for lunch and the Convent Bakery made a perfect place to stop for a bite. Luckily my backup stash of $20 note in my road side repair kit was still in there, albeit a bit grimy, so other than getting a bit of dirty look from the waiter, a chicken & avocado bagel with drink was demolished in quick succession.

NOW FUELED UP AND SUN'S SHINING BRIGHTLY, I kept riding along the Capital bike trail and it took me through Kensington then past the Melbourne Zoo, before reaching the Dockland precinct. As someone who works in construction industry, I can't help but take the time out to checkout the scenery. A lot of money has been sunken into this place and it look all trendy and very flash, but I couldn't help and feeling this was all very pretentious and wondered if people living around here were really happy, as undoubtedly it would have cost a decent fortune live here only to be stacked like sardines in apartment complexes and to have to put up with all the people, noise and blinding lights daily, with the niggling knowledge that this isn't a place to raise a family and in 10 years time this place will become an urban decay like it did in Southgate.

BY NOW it was getting into mid afternoon and what started as a late morning training ride was getting a bit out of hand, so before my body packs in as it usually would, I thought I do the right thing and start make my way home. The odometer on the bike was reading 65kms and that's pretty much bang on my usual endurance limit. So with my last $4.50 I stopped at the Southgate foodcourt and got myself a chocolate bar for the road and headed down the Gardiner bike trail, a path which I have ridden many times before to commute to work. Leaving he noise and the traffic of the city behind and heading east, the harsh concrete jungle and roads soon turn into something that I'm more familiar with, surrounded by trees, dogs, kids and people who are out there for no other reasons but to enjoy their local parkland in the sun, and I for one didn't mind that the last 25km of my 95km epic ride was finished among these surroundings.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


THERE ARE TIMES when riding a mountain bikes become a bit of a chore. It's hard to believe I know, but it happens to the best of us and I'm sure we have all been there before, when you just can't be bothered with it all. Paul's been there recently, nearly selling his beloved Epic & turn to the dark side to get Tarmac road bike, and more recently the evergreen Damien declaring also that he's lost his passion for mountain biking as well.

IN MY CASE, after the recent Kona 24 MTB race and, I must admit I have also lost a bit of my usual enthusiasm for mountain biking. OK, admittedly my previous weekend at You Yangs with mob from Bicycle Victoria was great fun, but I vividly remembering the climbs to the summit being a real pain in the arse, with my knees playing up and the constant struggle in forcing a myself uphills when other riders easily gliding by, a clear indication of my deteriorated level of fitness. Even yesterday afternoon's quickie through Lysterfield Lakes on board my beloved Xizang didn't bring much smile to my face. I need a change of scenery and road bike just doesn't cut it for me, although I am acutely aware that putting miles into road is exactly what I need to do to rebuild myself to be in any shape to tackle Otway Odyssey next year.

LUCKILY FOR ME, within my stupid little collection of GT bikes I have a BMX bike in the fleet, and as a bonus there are 4 BMX tracks all within 30min of driving from home, so this morning, instead of doing the usual one hour MTB ride, I decided to do something different and pay my local BMX track a visit. It was a novelty to be the only person at the track, but I guess being fairly early in the morning most kids are enjoying the chance to sleep in during the school holiday. This worked to my advantage as I didn't need to be self-conscious about my lack of ability on board a BMX bike compared to the much more youthful track companions, whom can take to air at will. The lack of other riders allowed me to quietly put in laps of practice around the track without being interrupted.

SO FOR OVER AN HOUR THIS MORNING, I was able to be totally absorbed in learning how to ride a BMX bike again under a clear blue sky. My only audience were a couple of magpies and they were content to watch me putting in fast sprint intervals, followed by laps of moderate track works to strengthen my knee and improve my breathing. Riding a small 20" wheeler also turned out to be a great way of refining my riding skills in general, be it clearing double jumps, pump rhythm sections, rail berms, and generally fine tuning my spatial awareness for things happen so much faster on a small bike, that unless I stay focused I tend to end up crashing. Granted I don't know if I really have progressed much from today's track work, but suffice to say I freak out a lot less now as I roll towards a table top jump at 40km/h.

Not to mention having the entire BMX track to yourself was an odd but refreshing experience.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

2008 KONA 24 HOURS, Forrest, Victoria

IT NEVER CEASES TO AMAZE ME that something so simple as riding a push bike can mean so much to so many different people. Kona 24 Hours this year was no exception. Some of us are out there for fun, some of us are out there with a point to proof, others are just out there whether they can ride or not but mostly people are there for a bit of mountain biking adventure.

TRYING TO EXPLAIN the concept of riding a bike nonstop for 24 hours is usually greeted with curious amazement or total ridicule by those who don’t ride, but what they fail to comprehend is that there are elements within a 24 hour event that cannot be easily summarised unless one’s had a go in participating and experience it firsthand. Call it a weekend camping event with bikes or whatever, but to treat this event with disrespect, it can cost you dearly.

THE BATTLEGROUND FOR THIS YEAR’S KONA 24 is once again in the magnificent Forrest MTB Park. A slice of mountain bike heaven carved out by none other than Australian MTB legend Glen Jacobs. It featured miles of twisting single track in an otherwise pretty isolated piece of Victorian bush land. Sweepers, berms, rollers and hip jumps are all signature Glen Jacob affair but for the reason of safety, the race organisers have opted for tracks without too many technical features. I find it a bit of shame because in my opinion, rider’s skill and bikes are progressing every year, therefore so should the track that we compete on. Cross country tracks needs to get more technical, not just to sort out road bike riders from true mountain bikers, but if Aussie riders are to take it to the international level and compete on par against riders around the world, we need more technical stuff to ride in.

MY PARTICIPATION THIS YEAR was already determined 364 days prior during last year’s Kona 24 hours. Andrew, Caleb, Marissa and myself all made a pack to return this year after surviving last year’s slog. This year, we’ve managed to convince 4 more newbies to join in our little fanfare. Brenton, Stephen, Ben and Kathryn have all signed up. With them they bring a mixed level of personality and experience; but more importantly, right attitude towards the event – a healthy dose of adventure carefully mixed with some anxiety and hint of caution.
SEASONED VETRANS DON’T TAKE THIS EVENT ON LIGHTLY and after the disappointment of previous year, Paul’s return to this year’s event earmarked a new level of personal achievement for him. Now sporting Total Freedom Machine colours, it symbolised an end of his association with his previous sponsor Total Rush. Paul’s new green, red and white livery was comically close to a Christmas tree but there was nothing funny at about his preparation to this event. Toned up and ready to battle, the smiles in the camera was hiding a rider with a lot of point to proof; to please his new sponsor and redeeming last year’s disappointment. Not even his wife was immune from his drive to succeed. She was there shadowing his every move to ensure that no details are missed for his 24 hours of torture ahead.
IN A CLEAR DEMONSTRATION of outrageously sound organisation skill, Andrew has managed to bring everything bar a kitchen sink & plasma TV to this year’s event. Twin marquees, mushrooming tents of sleeping quarters in the field behind, gas heat lamps and plenty of food & drink making our team pit the envy of the field. Ben rocked up with boxes of mixed fruits enough to keep a zoo happy, with enterprising Marissa completing the picture with a laptop to time our progress. The ever cautious Kath brought a bed and massage roller just in case. Me? Lame excuse persists. From a sore knee resulting to my botched race at Bendigo 4 weeks ago, to being under prepared or whatever, no excuse was going to save me from this 24 hour that will sort me out whichever way I tackle it.

IN A CONTINUATION OF PAST YEAR’S FORMAT, the race was divided into 3 segments. First 6 hours will be on a circuit loop, to be followed by 12 hours of night racing on a separate circuit, then finally round up by another 6 hours of racing on a 3rd loop. The justification of this was to ensure that technically dangerous circuit are eliminated from the night laps. This I can’t argue, crashing hard in the middle of the night isn’t much fun. So at 1 minute past midday on 29th November, 2008, hundreds of riders set off into the single track to commence their event that would end in 23 hours and 59 minutes.

THERE ARE A FEW METHODS GOING ABOUT how one should tackle a 24 hour race. Pace yourself or go hard and blow up, rest then repeat, the choices are only limited by your imagination and resources. Common logic should dictate the soloist riders starting slow and finish slower, but often this aren’t the case as their progression are often more rapid than those who race in a team. 6 rider teams behave like a pack of wild dogs, barging their way through the course like hyenas after deer, while others seemed to be content to sit in their tents over a Power Bar watching others sweat out over on the course. Our pit was split up into 2 teams of 4 and the agreed strategy of taking things as it come provides ample opportunity for individualism in this event. Be a clown or taking it serious, there was a place for all. Andrew was out to put himself to test, while Ben, competitive by nature, was going to see to it that a non competitive cyclist can mix in with the season riders. Brenton, Steve and Kath showing some nerves while Marissa and Caleb cracked jokes with each other. All I cared about was that I was going to ride my bike again in Forrest.

WITH A TEAM OF 4 in our group it was awhile before it was my turn to commence my 24 hour campaign. Conscience of my deteriorated level of fitness and knee issues, my goal was to finish the race without incurring further injuries. Under the glaring eyes of the crowd at the transition zone, I proceeded to clear the very first steep hill climb after start / finish line, when I really should have walked up it. So out the window it went my conservative race approach, all within 50m of starting my race. As usual, the long non-technical climbs irritated me whereas descends and technical terrains kept me happy. If only the whole race was to be like that. A bit of overconfidence in a loose corner sent me crashing off the bike but beyond that little spill, my progress was linear and unexcitingly steady.

THE SECOND LAP after a round of rider rotation meant that by the time I headed out again, I would be tackling the night loop just before the sun set. There’s nothing like riding in a sunset in Australian outback. Wildlife stirs while air cooled. It was pure magic riding conditions. The lights I was carrying wasn’t necessary as there was still enough daylight to see where I was going, and this gave me a huge advantage over others who will have to track the same course in the darkness. Poor Kath, a total novice to night racing, had the unfortunate draw of tackling her first ever night lap unseen in total darkness and to no surprise she didn’t like it. By then Caleb also did his back in and had called an end to his race campaign, so after a quick conference Brenton and I would take turns to soldier on and see how far we could push.

DE JAVU. That’s all I can say about my body. Not long after I headed out again, my legs started to do the usual trick of cramping up just when I thought things were going rosy. This was becoming an annoyingly regular occurrence on all my long distance rides and I’m at lost how I can overcome this. Sure enough my knee soon followed suit, each heavy pedal stroke was greeted by a pain that’s just too complicated to write here. The ride back to pit soon turned into a fine balance between pushing in the dark and not packing my knee in. When I finally completed my lap, I was 20 min overdue. Upon my return to the pits, broken Matt (he destroyed his ankle a month earlier so no riding for 6 month) was there in our pit, drowning his sorrows over a beer with Sandy who also missed entering this event through indecisions, Both harbouring some regret for not being able to participate in this event while I ditched my bike and gone searching for some ice.
While I sat in pit nursing a knee feeling like a grapefruit and listening to Matt and Sandy discuss life’s trials and tribulations, Paul soldiered on unwaveringly by our pit. Paul’s event has been a quiet but determined progression, never buckled under pressure on his way to a strong solo finish. When Brenton returned from his lap, we all agreed we to take time out and get some sleep in preparation for a big push next morning.

GOOD AFTERNOON, Good Evening, Good Night and Good Morning- all of which probably mean the same to a lot of us over the last 24 hours. The sleep didn’t seem to reduce my swollen knee but the daylight did brighten all our spirit. Kath then Brenton went out first only to return complaining the new lap format being more difficult than it needed to be. But I was determined to give the 3rd circuit a go, despite going against sound advice from Caleb that I should sit out. You only live once and I was happy with my decision to head out as I got to ride the fabled Mariners Run, a technical track best described as being similar to the “Karate Monkey” track in Whistler, albeit without the steep gradient. The technical bits were immensely enjoyable despite the hill climbs doing my knee in again. A big wild slide while burning through a berm kept me awake for rest of my lap for otherwise a steady progress to the end. As I completed my lap I noticed no one but Kath was present. No doubt that everyone’s had enough of riding and gone somewhere for a cold beer. Content with finishing my stint and ready feet up, I had not noticed that Kath headed out for another lap so she can beat her XC racing nemesis Megan Lawson. For Meagan to be ahead of Kath in a race it was like waving a red rag to a raging bull – no way was she going to take this sitting down. An hour and twenty minutes later, Kath sprinted past the finish line and returned grinning like she’s just won lottery.

THE AFTERMATH OF AN 24 HOUR SLOG usually results in a field littering with walking wounded, but this year the carnage level seems to be down thanks to a less demanding track and milder weather. Our cause was made a lot easier by two particular individual’s endeavour, from organising entry to this event to picking up after others., credit must go to where it is due and we all have a lot to thank Andrew and Stephen for. Everyone took away something unique from this event, and for those who got something positive out of it, they’ll no doubt return to this place another day.