I had to spend a considerable amount of time searching my attention deficit disorder brain on this one, and whilst I still couldn’t reliably stand by this, I think the last time I participated in a pure and unadulterated Downhill race was 1998… Quite possibly wearing a full length Dainese pressure suit (oh and fuck yes, I mean full length) thrust atop a Foes Weasel 2 with the highly dubious Rock Shox Judy XL triple clamp fork and its outrageous 120mm of travel – Sick as bru.
Just typing that sentence makes me feel significantly older than I feel or hopefully look, but given all this talk of washed up DH stars turning up in ENDURO (which I suggest no longer applies to Sam Hill), I wanted to turn the tables and see what would happen when a washed up ENDURO non-star went across to Downhill.
Given my almost double decade hiatus from the DH scene, I thought it best to careen back in at the gap jump deep-end with Round 2 of the NZDH Series in Napier. There’s a reasonable case to say that I didn’t really think through the entire scenario of what awaited as I was more preoccupied with seeing what the track was like, getting the Nomad 4 onto some radder terrain to begin our bonding in earnest and hit a desperate attempt to generate some Dirty blogging material. Its fair to say my fall from grace of daily posts, to weekly posts, to now monthly has the same flavour to it as a dying democracy.
It therefore didn’t take long for me to feel not unlike Johnny Utah on his first day learning to surf in this new and slightly alien scene…
To highlight my deep investment in a lack of forethought, I’d prepared for this with a shit load of gravel grinding & road miles, with a smattering of dirt rides in my usual perverse/inverse preparation fashion. I was so casual about the whole affair I almost cunted up the actual day of the race and missed it altogether. There was a definite stench of “It can’t be much different from an ENDURO right?”
Ok, so I wasn’t quite prepared, but nothing new there… How different could this actually be? The fresh scent of wide Minions and the glow of Kashima emanated from the pits upon arrival, there were tents and high fives, number plates & zip ties, people nervously looking for the portaloo to shit themselves silly and as it turned out, much like ENDURO, queuing was a quintessential part of the game as well:
However, there was definitely something rather distinct about being back in the DH scene like an imposter with an ENDURO stench. In the immortal words of Monsieur Denuto, the vibe is somewhat different at a DH race… If I was forming a coalition government or a corporate CEO trying to drop an anal tongue dart to his investors I would say that “Its a grass roots scene with an eclectic mix of characters whom have varied and colourful backgrounds and language”
Or, if I was a bit of a cunt, I would probably say, with a slight look of horror in my eyes “Holy fuck this is bogan*” with a plum ENDURO elitism tone in my voice. With a shiny new rig, my ENDURO drink bottle and my Garmin sticking out like a dildo at a bible study class, I was now deeply alarmed that people were going to think I was from Auckland. Its definitely a short trip from Motocross to DH, which makes sense.
It would be fair to say the contrast from discussing what varietal of Vino Rosa one might be drinking that evening in the Aosta Valley mountains during an ENDURO race to now overhearing how “Da boyz don’t fucken wanna go to town eh, cos its heaps too much cash to get fucken munted as, eh” was intriguing. The string of one liners during the shuttle uplifts indicated that an ENDURO event this was not.
*For northern hemisphere readers I believe you use the term ‘chav’, I may stand corrected
Ignoring for a moment that potentially I’d turned up to find the NRL of cycling disciplines before me, I tentatively stepped out of my ENDURO echo chamber and into the world of triple clamp forks and road cassettes on DH bikes to embrace my inner mongrel. Ignoring the looks of horror when it transpired I was the only person rolling with a “drink bottle” and a Gamin visibly adorning my bike (I can neither confirm nor deny if I initially tried to hide it in my pocket before its incessant beeping pissed on my charade), I got down to the business of spreading my E scent and more importantly, seeing how the Nomad 4 rolled on a decent stretch of terrain.
And that’s probably a good place to start – The Napier DH track is an excellent hidden gem which you really wish you could ride every day. Add in shuttles and after the first run it quickly became clear the order of the day was to ram in as many laps as possible. This was accentuated when I worked out that given my extreme gap jump phobia, I was going to lose so much time that an actual race result was irrelevant.
With that out of the way then, it was time to relish a course that was just hard enough to thrill you, without any thoughts that it may also want to kill you. Stacked with more pussy lines that an Access Hollywood bus, I could fill my Shimano boots with avoiding a potential hospital visit whilst still grinning like an idiot son in law (that one’s for you Kush) as I played in the loam and endurogasimed through the steep sections.
Speaking of steep sections, this was the first outing for the Nomad 4 in the low setting, and Oh La La, what a treat that experience is. Key pre-flight briefing is to keep those cranks level at all times to avoid catastrophe, but the stability and poise this magical machine displays in the steep stuff with that 460mm reach, 64.6 deg head angle and V10 like linkage means the debate about whether or not this descends better than the Nomad 3 is over faster than a Trump campaign aide cops a plea deal.
Given, as I understand it, the limited access to this sweet little DH track, I got my froth on and proceeded to attempt to win practice and ram in as many laps as possible. I oscillated back and forth between the rampant joy of a sensational new bike on an excellent track, and the terror of mistakes generated through overconfidence emanating from such enjoyment. There was also the all important lesson that a Minion SS on the back is sensationally fast rolling, but a less able ally when you shit yourself and really need to slow down, where it quickly transforms into a slightly useless cunt.
Rather than use up everyone’s precious attention span’s with words to describe how time expensive my gap jump phobia was, allow me to shut the fuck up for a bit and roll tape on some of the antics from the day. As Archie’s riding rightly points out, it appears I was losing 4-5 seconds per gap jump perhaps, which all adds up when there are 7 on the course. Enjoy the Dirty panting soundtrack:
I guess this is the time to point out one of the nice aspects of the DH format for a change – The repetition. Hitting the same trail more than once or twice like the usual ENDURO caper allows for means you’ve got a reasonable clue as to not only how to avoid mildly maiming yourself, but also how to maximise on the fun. There’s nothing like intimate knowledge of a trail to really get your Dirt froth on and start dropping some fistings.
Kudos to the NZDH Organising crew for putting on a seamlessly run event with excellent shuttles and a brilliant course, possibly one of the easier ways to ease oneself back into a DH race… Well, except for when you LOOK AT THE TIME!
Louis Hamilton (yes, actually his real name) won the day with a scintillating 2.15 (or as they say, “cunt is pinned eh”), while I took a far more measured and ‘New Dad’ approach to break the beam at 3.07. In general cycling terms this is referred to as a fucking slaughter, based on inescapable maths, but the numbers don’t paint the picture of a rad day out enjoying a new bike whilst ensuring I didn’t arrive home wearing a nappy when I had plenty to change.
Yes, that’s a mild justification for going slow, but it also happened to be my first race since first child arrival, so it was always going to be slightly slower – Never fear, I’m not going to bust into a post about parenting and cycling, I’m still firmly an amateur in both camps.
Right, off to plan out my next ENDURO and prepare for the inevitable DH hate mail while I think about next months post…