Wild Wheels and the Willo Enduro

The relaxed, friendly vibe on the start line speaks volumes about this event.

The relaxed, friendly vibe on the start line speaks volumes about this event.

I’ve already written a story on the Willo Enduro for Flow Mountain Bike, so I won’t repeat similar thoughts again here. What I didn’t write about in that article, though, was the way my own experience of the race was made even more special due to riding an unfamiliar bike.

My Merida 96 was out of action due to an extended and much needed service.* But in a strange turn of events, and a few pinching-my-arm-while-saying-I-can’t-believe-this-is-real-life moments, I found myself on board Chris Southwood’s Trek Superfly. This fast, pro, 29″ dual suspension bike is super pimped; Roval carbon wheels (beautiful ride feel), Sram XO trail brakes (so solid), an XX1 drive train (oh so quiet). I was too busy riding to take any photos of it, but you can read about it here.

My trepidation about lasting the full 75km distance of the Willo Enduro turned into excitement at having more time to discover the joys of a different rig. I’ve never had a solid ride on 29” wheels before, so each section of the course was a chance to discover mountain biking all over again – and each lap was a chance to get a bit better at it. I was laughing out loud on the singletracks I was having so much fun. And then, on the fire roads, I was having a great time as well (how does that happen?).

I felt gutted to see Nienke Oostra's race hampered by an irreparable mechanical. She more than made up for it the next weekend with 3rd at the Capital Punishment. Flying!

Despite all the fun I had on my own ride, I felt gutted to see Nienke Oostra’s race hampered by an irreparable mechanical. She more than made up for it the next weekend with 3rd at the Capital Punishment. Flying!

As my legs became more tired, my skills smoothed out so lap times were quite consistent. Soon enough, the third 25km lap was over, I crossed the start/finish area for the final time, learned that I’d come third and got covered in champagne. I didn’t think I was riding that hard, but at one point I vomited in my own mouth, so I must have been giving it a bit of a crack.

Soaking people in bubbles is as much fun as railing trails!

Soaking people in bubbles is as much fun as railing trails!

What I enjoyed most about riding the Superfly was the way it changed familiar experiences on the trails. That’s not to say it’s better than my own bike, in fact my lap times were about the same as I would have expected on my regular rig. But it was exciting trying something different – experiencing the unfamiliar rather than the comfortably-familiar.

Southwood’s bike is also a size bigger than what I would normally ride. While I adjusted the fit as close as I could, it was always going to cause a few aches and pains after four hours of racing. But given that racing usually hurts in some way or other, this was enjoyable in its difference as well. Different things ached, which meant different plans on my part in terms of strategy. Best of all it meant that when I jumped back on my road bike on Monday nothing was too sore in my regular riding position.

Racers talk a lot about getting everything just right before a race. But what I loved about this experience was that it required flexibility; in time, attitude, body position, riding style. And on top of an already excellent day, it led to a great result.

Future pinners looked like they were having lots of fun on their bikes too!

Future pinners looked like they were having a wild ride on their bikes too!

So thank you, Southwood, for the loan and for the ridiculous amounts of fun it resulted in. I’m not even sure how you say thanks to someone for such a generous gesture, but hopefully that Dark Horse coffee blend I swapped you adds for heightened experiences on the trails as well!

Thank you so much to Dan Mackay for all the images of the day as well and to the Southern Highlands and Canberra Off-Road Cycling Clubs for such a well-run event.

*To quote my first local bike shop, On The Rivet, in Canberra: Kath, when you bring things in for repair, it’s always complicated.

Me: Is that bad?

On The Rivet: No, it just means you ride it.

Me: Oh, OK. So that’s good then.

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