On Sunday Aron and myself headed to Kent to compete in the first round of the PORC DH race series. Neither of us has much experience racing and we’re certainly not downhillers. We don’t even own DH bikes, never mind race them. So turning up on our trail bikes we did feel a bit out of our depths. It turned out we weren’t the only ones on little bikes. Whilst the majority of the field was a sea of Santa Cruz V10s, Giant Glory’s, and Nukeproof Pulse’s all armed with +200mm of travel and built for the sole purpose of getting down a hill as quickly as possible. A few had arrived on short travel bikes and even a couple of hard-tails were present.
We soon got our bikes out, collected our race numbers and started to make use of the pre-race practice line. Aron was a bit more sensible and had a look at some of the trickier sections of the track first and started to pick out some lines. In my ignorance I had already thrown myself straight down the course without looking to see what I was letting myself in for. I got a few surprises but made it down ok. We had plenty of opportunity pushing back up to see what lines other people were taking and to get a closer look at some of the features.
The course was a good one. Starting with a sprint down the start ramp into two massive table-tops, a ski jump and a small double, it certainly was an action packed start. Fortunately the rain generally held off for out runs but the loamy ground at the top was soft and soon cut up by everyone’s knobbliest tyres. The opportunities for air time on the start straight were followed by a couple of very fast bermed switchbacks down the hillside, quickly leading into a formidable rock garden. The rocks weren’t massive, but there were plenty of them making a complete maze of line. To make things more difficult at the bottom of the rock garden there was a steep switchback in a deeply eroded trench into which you had to enter with needle threading accuracy.
A few more tight turns and a few rocky chutes took you further down the hill to the hazard of the bomb hole. The bomb hole was home to a nice big stagnant pond which had attracted a crowd of spectators eager to see someone fall in, they didn’t go home disappointed. After dropping in and holding your breath you needed to complete a wall of death style berm around the edge of the stinky pond followed by a small step-up jump out, this lead to the start of the muddy sprint close to the bottom of the hill.
A series of strong pedal strokes were needed to crank up to speed for the gap jump. A few competitors race was ended by this jump, including a friend of mine from another club. After casing the jump his wheel closely resembled a ready salted pringle, one with a nice big dent where the landing had taken a bite out of it. If you survived the gap jump, or took the chicken line, you were greeted by an incredibly tricky series of muddy S-bends. These nearly put me on the floor every time I passed through.
The final S-bend was a real fight between rider, bars, tyre and trail. Winning the fight and getting the bike pointed in the right direction wasn’t easy. Especially since the local trees were on hand to give you clip and put you down if you started to lose the fight. I now have some very swollen knuckles thanks to one particular silver birch. The final straight was a 100m sprint to the finish line on an off camber, root strewn, cut up, wet mud bath of a trail. You had to fight the camber and prey for grip from the rear tyre as you tried to accelerate the bike towards the bottom of the course and the finish line. We both managed to keep upright in our first two runs and set fairly competitive times putting us just into the upper half of our age categories. Aron ended up coming 21st out of 47 in Masters and I came 26th out of 67 in the Senior category. Bring on round 2!!!