Mt Stromlo Real Insurance 80km MTB Cruise

short story or long story? you take your pick




Drove SYD-ACT Saturday morning.  Did an 85km- 6hrs 10min ride on rough single track at Mt Stromlo.  Finished it just.  Of 32 starters in my category, I came in 19th.  Bike and body are busted.  Drove back to Syd Sat arvo/night.  Now in recovery mode.







Per my usual lead up to “big rides”- poor preparation and over exertion in the week leading to the ride came to the fore.  The Thursday night before the ride, a checklist was made, to ensure the Friday night packing and preparing went without a hitch.


My previous longest single track MTB experience was probably about 30km.  I thought my road riding would give me a good platform to take the 80km optrion up (it was actually 85km in the end)


After commuting home on the Friday night at a nice gentle pace, things were going to plan as I started to pack and tick off the list.  The changeover from commuting wheels to off-road wheels went well, until a quick lap in the garage highlighted a clicking noise coming from the front wheel.  A closer inspection showed the brake pads had worn to nothing, and the spring had broken.  Luckily I had 2 spare sets.  After about an hour of tinkering, I got the first set in.  Unfortunately it was not the right way, I should have known you’re not supposed to use a screwdriver and a hammer to carry out this work.  The damaged spring and pads were discarded and after watching a Youtube guide and consulting my handbook, I got the 2nd set in there properly.  All seemed good, just running about 90minutes behind schedule.


The car was packed up, and after checking the scores in the Cricket, I crashed out at about 11pm.


Alarm got me out of bed at about 3.30am, and into the car I went, double checking my list that I had everything.  It looked like world records would be set driving from Pymble to Stromlo, but an Iced Coffee and too much water stopped any chances of that.  4 stops between Mittagong and the ACT border added a good 10-15 minutes to the trip.  Roadworks on the expressways around Canberra, and 40kmh zones also led to a 7.15 arrival.  3hr 30 trip time- not bad, and plenty of time to register, do a once over on the bike and get prepped for the ride.


I certainly wasn’t prepared for the 8 or 9 degree temperature and cool breeze.  Standing around with only my hoodie for warmth wasn’t the best.  I watched 14 riders take off at about 8am doing the 100miler (160km).  Amazing to see a fair few of them on single speed 29ers…  How they can ride that far that easily on rough track I’ll never know.


I was brimming with confidence- how hard could 80km be???  Guessed I should do it in around 5hr 30min plus breaks, so maybe 6 hrs.  Race briefing at 8.50am, shivering in the cold, I looked around, and a few riders were not prepared also, but plenty of locals had the right gear.  


Finally, as the shivers took over my whole body, we got the countdown to start the ride- and we were off.  A nice pace over the asphalt, and straight into the single track.  The riders in front were kicking up the dust and I thought it will be a tough ride breathing in all this dirt for 6 hrs.  The pressure was immense- needing to hold the wheel in front, and not slow the riders behind.  Concentration was extreme, take the corners well, don’t lose balance, don’t unclip- keep pushing. 


Half way up the first climb, the blood was pumping, I was warmed up, and (weather) conditions were perfect.  The track was rocky/dusty & rough.  I’d managed to keep the pace high, and dropped the group behind me- out of sight.  After hitting the highest point at the lookout, the drop started, a nice winding descent, mixed in with some short traverses and climbs, I remembered that I don’t really have the technical skills to keep up with those in front.  As I lost sight of those in front, my rear brake started screaming.  Maybe I should have checked the pads on the rear also before packing my bike… 


Lap 1 done in just over an hour.  I pulled into the mechanics tent, and asked for them to check my rear brakes.  All clear given on the pads, but something was causing some serious drag on the rotor.  I had 2 options, keep riding- or let them bleed and recharge the brake lines.  I chose to ride on.


Up again, and then down the top of “the luge” over the handlebars I went.  Rear wheel came out of the stays.  Got it put back together, and the howling of the brakes got worse.  I had a look, and the rotor was severely bent, and the wheel buckled out of shape badly.  I suspect the mechanic didn’t put the wheel back in properly.  (not angry- considering they volunteer their time for the event)


I carried out on, finished lap 2 about 1hr 8min.  Time to have a drink and some muesli bar.  Feeling okay at this point, another 3 laps to go.  Hands and wrists were getting a bit sore from hanging on, and being at the ready to brake all the time. 


Lap 3 was going steady, my leg and arms were stinging from the rock-rash from previous fall.  Onto the fast winding section towards the nd of the loop, the front wheel caught the soft dirt, washed out, and I bailed out sideways, rolling into the bushes.  The bike was relatively unscathed, and I just had a bit of dust to brush off.  By the end of lap 3, over the half way mark, the mental challenges started to pick up.  The wrists and lower back were really starting to ache.  I had gone this far, surely I could go on. 


The 4th ascent was a nice climb, getting used to the corners, and which bits to look out for.  The introduction of a mid-loop break (back in lap 3) was a brilliant idea.  I needed water and food to keep going.  Taking about 1.5litres of water and 2muesli bars/bananas per lap kept the energy levels high, but after every half loop break, the descents got harder and harder on my body.  Straining to hold the bars, and painfully trying to press the brakes, I had to push on.


At the end of the fourth lap (about 1hr 15min)- I was really questioning whether I should go on, it had been about 4hrs 40min so far.  I had severely under-estimated the ride, or overestimated my abilities.  I was however, 80% through the ride, so what’s another 20%??


I set off, attempting to target a sub- 6hr total time, giving me about 1hr 20 to complete the final lap.  I thought things were going well after another solid climb.  The halfway mark I saw a marshall, and got busy chatting.  I don’t know whether it was a good chat, or whether my body was just appreciating the standing around and having a brake.  On I went- slowly, wincing in pain at every bump, every piece of gravel my front wheel passed, and in agony at every point i had to squeeze the brakes.  Washed the front wheel out again and over the handlebars I went again.  Up I got, brushed off the dirt as another 100miler passed me by, along with the friendly marshall.  ¼ of a lap to go and time for another break,.  I knew I could get there, but just how long would it take?  I looked at the time, and figured I could make my target time, with about 15 minutes to go.


I pushed the pedals slowly, kept moving, and finally I could see the end.  Rolling through in 6hrs 8min.  Over my target by 8minutes, but having considered everything, felt pretty lucky to finish. 


It was amazing to think, that even in my 5th lap- I was still noticing new things on the track and different views I hadn’t noticed before- I think that was the fatigue kicking in, maybe hallucinations.. 


I loaded the bike into the car, and about 5 minutes after that I heard the ppssshhhhh of a flat tyre!!  Bizarre- and lucky it didn’t happen out in the race.  A hot shower and a protein shake, I was back on the road at the 3.45pm.  A long stop at the Goulbourn Maccas to refuel myself and the car was much needed.  I had plenty of coffee and food all the way back to Sydney, breaking every 45 minutes or hour to make sure the drowsiness didn’t take charge.


Arrived home at around 8pm.  A big day- driving about 700km and riding for 6 and a bit hours.  I was totally exhausted, but still buzzing from the caffeine and sense of achievement of finishing the ride- the most demanding I’ve done. 


I’m not looking forward to seeing the bill at the bike shop to repair the bike, and I’m not sure how many days/weeks it will take my body to recover, but simple tasks like opening a door or a bottle of beer are painful….Good to report I was back in the saddle Monday morning for a gentle paced ride to wok…


I’ll never know how the 160km guys did the ride, and did it so quickly, but it is just amazing to think I could hardly walk, let alone turn on the tap to the shower, while these guys still pumped more and more km’s on the track.


Lessons Learnt


  1. Keep the MTB well serviced- to avoid last minute, or during race problems…
  2. When funds permit- get a dual suspension MTB.
  3. If you remember to pack sunscreen, try to remember to put it on.  Even if it is cold and cloudy!  Sunburn is not feeling good…
  4. Work up to long distances.  Diving into 80km probably would have been better doing a couple of 50km or 60km rides beforehand.
  5. Take warm clothes if headed to Canberra.

Views: 127

Comment by Michael S. (Boxhead) on March 8, 2011 at 6:05pm
Marathon effort Steve.  No wonder you're tired afterwards. You've got 12 months to work up to the 160. ;-)


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