"I don’t know about you but I need a reason, some motivation to get out in the winter and ride. I don’t just mean a knock about in the woods for a bit, but to actually ride and train.
Step forwards the Merida Brass Monkeys Winter Enduro Series. This is my incentive to train through the wet, freezing, gloom of winter.
I completed the series last year, coming second overall, but these races also hold a slightly sentimental value as it was at one of these in 2009 that I had my first taster of MTB racing!
Merida Brass Monkeys XC - 24th November, Minley Manor
The Brass Monkeys series is a cross-country enduro style race, not to be confused with gravity enduro!
These XC races consist of a timed period where you ride as many laps of the 7-8 mile track as possible. There are various categories and length of race to choose from; 4 hour, 3 hours (just for the vets) 2 hour or 1 hour fun ride, which are then split into your normal male / female / vets etc.
Everyone is out on the track at the same time so the Brass Monkeys’ team stagger the start. The hard-core 4 hour lot kick off at 9:30am, the 3 hours at 10:30, the fun riders go at 10:40 and the biggest category doing the 2 hours start at 11:30am.
Riders set off all together at the allotted time and aim to ride as many laps as they can. The course is live until 1:30pm, and if you pass through the start/finish gate still inside your race time then you can complete the lap you are on. So, if you are racing the 2 hour race and pass through the start at 1hour and 55 minutes into your race then you are still allowed to carry on and get another lap in. This is a good thing. No really!
The race is not won on your position when you cross the line; it is won by the most laps completed in the quickest time. So a rider completing 4 laps would win over a rider completing 3 even though the 3-lapper finished earlier.
What bike to bring?
For these types of races a cross-country orientated bike is preferable but there’s no hard and fast rules – just “run what ya brung".
I ride a Kineses FF29, which is a 29er hardtail with 120mm forks which I think is perfect as this race is all about getting the power down. The tracks aren’t too steep or rough so 120mm forks are fine. On the other hand, my boyfriend prefers to ride a Giant Trance 29er with front and rear suspension, and it’s still well suited to this race.
At the event 29ers seem to be the favoured wheel size for XC racers. Their fast rolling capability makes light work of the roots and peddally sections of the track. You do however see all sorts though, from 26 inch wheeled hardtails to trail bikes, making it accessible for all.
The first Brass Monkeys race of the season
I entered the 2 hour race as I did last year. The course for the Brass Monkeys race is always brilliant, they are full of fast flowing single track. The organisers really work hard to create tracks that test you both up and down a hill. It really is grin inducing even when you are pushing so hard you can’t even say your own name!
This year is no different with the first race being as exciting as ever! I am so nervous at the beginning of the race, lining up with all the other 220 odd riders. I always try to get on the start line early to get a good start position. I try not to get stuck behind riders slower than me as once you hit the singletrack it can be tricky to overtake.
Remember though, it's winter and I’m stood there freezing in much less clothing than is really acceptable, knowing that soon I’ll be puffing and sweating away!
“Be bold, be cold!" my mate says - brrrrr! As soon as the race gets underway though, it’s all forgotten.
Passing through the start flags there was a quick sprint across the field to join the main track. This can be carnage as you try to navigate around riders without cutting anyone up and causing a crash. The course quickly dropped us into the woods where the singletrack began.
Right from the off this was enjoyable with tight loamy hairpins. I realised the going for this race was going to be fabulous; it was fairly mud free, it was grippy and more importantly the roots were dry. Bonus! From here the track took us on a winding journey through the trees keeping us on our toes with a few technical features.
The course was interspersed with small sections of fire road which were great for grabbing a quick drink. One of these sections, over a bridge, was where I was overtaken by Laura Sampson. Laura won the series last year and I know from experience she is an extremely fast and skilled rider. She zoomed past on a short, mud covered tarmac slope, but unfortunately slid out and went down. Thankfully she was okay, but it may have slowed her up a little.
Plunging back into the trees onto yet more singletrack, the course kept up its fast pace and the fun factor. Swooping up and down I even found a few berms to really stick the bike into.
One of the hardest parts of the course was an open uphill section across a field. This was such a slog, it felt as if the mud was holding onto the tyres like glue. Finally at the top the course entered the woods again and I breathed a sigh of relief and more singletrack fun ensued.
The end of the course popped out again onto the field and it was then a quick race across it to go through the timing barrier – first lap done. My GPS watch showed that one lap was 6.45 miles, a bit shorter than usual for this series. Knowing that I usually get 3 laps in, I started to think there as a possibility today that I would manage four.
After getting into my stride and settling in during my first lap, I felt stronger in lap two and wasn’t overtaken by any more women. In the final part of lap three I was riding hard in order to try to get a fourth lap in when Laura Sampson finally came past me. I held her off for about a mile on the single track and was pleased to find my technical ability has definitely improved after riding gravity enduro, but she put the power down on a fire road and sped past.
This drove me on even harder as I didn’t want to be left behind if she was going to get a fourth lap in. Keeping her in sight until the finish line I came in 3rd place, 30 seconds behind her. The winning lady in the 2 hour category was Mountain Bike Orienteering European Champion Emily Benham, also the only women to do four laps of the course.
Want to find out the full list of results and times? Check them out here.
Get stuck in
So, back to what I was saying about this race being accessible for all. You don’t have to have the jazziest piece of carbon fibre machinery or be totally lycra clad to enter.
Get your baggies on, fill your water bottle, grab your bike out of the garage and enter! Jump in at the deep end and go for the 2 hour race to really test yourself or if it’s your first race experience, why not try the 1 hour fun race to simply get a feel for it? Their XC races are perfect to set you off in the world of competitive cycling!
There are three more races in the series - find out when and where at the Gorrick racing website.