Riding the Merida Brass Monkeys round one: Muddy wins and winter grins

The first round of the three date Merida Brass Monkey Winter Series got off to a sunny and muddy start last weekend.

Motivation can be hard to come by at this time of year. The weather has been doing its damnedest the past few weeks to nip any in the bud, and the bike and kit cleaning can be a bit tedious. It just sucks the motivation to get out and ride right out of you.

Mountain biking is brilliant fun in the winter though. An easy way to overcome any deficit of motivation is to enter an event, so I did just that, and entered the first round of the Merida Brass Monkeys last weekend.

Bikemagic’s man Dave “Pro Jaw” Arthur powering along on the Santa Cruz Tall Boy Al long-termer. Image: Joolz Dymond

Organised by the Gorrick team, it’s a very well run three date series of two-hour or four-hour races at various locations south west of London. Which explains its huge popularity and the fact it sold out days before the weekend. That and the fact the Merida Brass Monkeys event is well established on the events calendar now, and for many a firm fixture through the winter.

The three races offer well-designed courses that somehow manage to put fun right at the top of the agenda, though suffering and pain is usually pretty close behind. Courses typically have plenty os singletrack and just a tiny bit of fireroad, so they’re always proper good fun to ride.

Makes a nice change from pine forests. Image: Joolz Dymond

Or race, if that’s your preference. Because judging by those surrounding me on the start line for the two-hour race, there’s a real mixture. Up front there’s the usual skinny whippets with pointy elbows who take it really seriously but the further back you go the more relaxed the approach gets. And the baggier the clothing gets too. Racers and weekend warriors really can mix on the same circuit.

This opening round at Caesar’s Camp in Aldershot, just south west of Guildford, got the series off to a lung-busting start with reportedly the highest amount of climbing of the three races. A course featuring bit more fireroad than the usual mix, but the climbs were mercifully short and the payback was lots of technical singletrack that was still fast despite the muddy conditions. It was a good reward for the anaerobic workout on the climbs.

Despite some impressively heavy rain over the days leading up to the race, the course had drained well and under a blue sky was riding well. Even on summer tyres the course was, with a bit of good luck and careful weight balance, 100% rideable.

Experiments with chocolate custard as a chain lubricant were deemed only a partial success. Image: Joolz Dymond

There wasn’t an ounce of clean clothing or skin by the time I crossed the line, not on myself or any of my fellow racers. But I was surrounded by more smiling and grinning mountain bikers than I can remember at any other race. It may be a race, and we had numbers on our handlebars, but only a few were taking it that seriously. Most were out for a good fun ride and have a few laughs with their mates.

A positive change this year is the start times for both the two-hour and four-hour races have been tweaked so that they finish at the same time. That means a later start (and longer lie in) for the two-hour racers, and creates a better atmosphere with everyone crossing the line to finish at the same time. Nice.

Men’s four-hour winner Al Fairbairn (Hargroves CC) Image: Joolz Dymond

The next round heads to Windmill Hill, Deepcut, Surrey on Sunday 16th December and it’s worth getting your entries in early if you want to ride. The first round was nearly full a week before, so don’t leave it till the last minute. And I’ll see you there.

You can enter online at http://armycyclingunion.co.uk/?page_id=419

On Strava? Here’s my Strava of the race

Were you there? The pics here are by Joolze Dymond. She snapped everybody so you can find a pro pic of yourself at her website

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