On Sunday we took part in an unusual event. Imagined by its creators as a mountain bike race, it was 100% on road. But as most of that road was unsealed, and some of it was fairly bony with solid rock protruding through the gravel, it was not a road ride as we know it. Starting and finishing in the surf town of Raglan, the course took us around the edges of the forest that covers Mt Karioi, a volcanic lump that looms behind Raglan’s famous lefthand break. Based on advice from friends I prepared the road bike with fresh tyres and a tune-up.
My road bike is not the kind people race on. It is hand made in Otahuhu, and it features geometry more suited to touring than racing. It is designed to allow fat tyres to fit, and has a range of gear ratios that allow me to climb any hill without humiliation, admittedly at a postman’s pace. Its creator is David Benson. We have been racing bikes together for more than a few decades, if you can call what we do ‘racing’. Mt Karioi was the latest episode in our long series of bouts.
The Benson (bike) is perfect for backroads and likes a bit of gravel for variety, but I do worry about wrecking it when I find myself taking a short cut across the forest and end up on Split Enz. So when Gayle offered me the loan of a cyclo-cross bike for the lap around Mt Karioi, I took it. Cyclo-cross is the new singlespeed, apparently, but there is something about spending an hour in oxygen debt while performing undignified gymnastics in front of baying spectators that leaves me unlikely to sign up. If I wanted to experience a cross bike, this was the day.
At the place we occupy in a race these days, there is a wide variety of competition. In this event it was really wide: fit-looking fellows on singlespeed mountainbikes, women on top-shelf cross country race bikes, pink-faced men on cyclo-cross bikes (that would be me). The contrasts in experience, mount and fitness were brought into focus by the race itself: unlike a mountain bike race, where riders are very quickly sorted into a long procession, or a road race, where the glue of aerodynamics creates bunches, this race was a constant series of passing manouvres. The unsealed roads were closed for the day, and the multiple lines made passing easy. There was no drafting, or not much: clear forward vision was required. The singlespeeder on the 29er might be left behind on the steep climb, but he might come back again on the corrugated twisty downhill. The woman on the carbon xc bike might not like the fast curves on loose gravel, but here she is again on this grind to that ridge, and there she goes. I wonder if we will catch her before the finish?
I spent the entire 45kms being dropped by DB, and slowly catching him again. It was the longest 45kms I have ridden I think, the only bits that were not uphill were attention-grabbing, teeth-rattling downhills. It was also one of the more scenic. The whole event was really well organised by the local community, there was even a bar at prizegiving.
The cyclo cross bike was more fun than you would think, and my road bike is dressed for an outing which can come another day.