What could be better than a dry trail, good Northern banter, quality heckling and the chance to throw down some competitive times! Whether you are a seasoned pro or have never raced before, we all love to try and beat our mates, and there is no better way of doing it than going against the clock at a local DH race! It goes to show what can be done with a bit of organisation and legendary marshals happy to sit in the cold with a stopwatch! That’s how I found myself in the woods above the quiet village of Wooler on a crisp sunny January morning, lining up to take part in the inaugural annual Cheviot Hill Riders (CHR) Wooler World Cup DH race! This is fun, grass roots racing at its finest!
With the new year just begun, my resolution is to do as much racing as possible, so when I was offered the opportunity to join the annual team CHR Wooler World Cup DH race, I jumped at the chance! Team CHR is a mountain bike club and race team based in Northumberland, formed in 2002 the active club organizes uplifts and timing days for a keen bunch of riders. Each year Team CHRs chief, Michael Strangeways, puts on the prestigious Wooler World Cup DH on the loamy hill above Wooler, an event where fun and participation is the goal.
I have not really done much DH racing, spending a lot more of my time cruising big mountain adventures and the odd enduro race, so I was really looking forward to checking out the event, and putting the FOCUS SAM1 test bike through its paces. We almost did not make it due to a last minute double van breakdown, but my buddy Knowli (James Knowles) managed to cash in a favour and borrow us a pimp Toyota Hilux for the weekend. With an early 6AM start, bags were loaded into the back of the wagon and the bikes carefully chucked in the pickup bed. Industrial strength morning coffee had failed to kick start our brains, so a stop at the awesome Coldstream Coffee Shop was essential, breaking up the 2 hour journey south. I set about choosing food from the amazing deli display while Knowli tried to discover how many espressos he could fit in a standard cup!
Arriving at the woods, riders with bike laden vans filled the car park, and warm jackets were kept on until the last possible moment. After a short uphill push through the crisp morning air to a hidden start deep in the forest, the woods were filled with greetings and banter as the Team CHR crew caught up on news. Despite the cold temperatures, the CHR Wooler World Cup had achieved the impossible, gifted with a weekend of dry, sunny weather in an otherwise soggy winter. The Wooler World Cup is a well loved event that attracts a big crowd, aimed at club members and new guests keen to see what the club is all about. The format is simple, a taped out DH track running around 1:30 minutes for most, one minute gaps and simple stopwatch timing. Competition is fierce, but it’s all for the laughs really, everyone trying to get a better time than their mates. Practice was permitted for the morning, with the final result being taken from the best of two timed attempts.
With the course being quite short, milliseconds would separate places! To move up the scoreboard, every corner had to be meticulously perfect, missing just one pedal stroke would see you fall off the optimum speed. Watching practice it was clear that the local rippers had developed very unique aerial style that really suited the terrain, pumping and keeping the bike in the air through the undulations kept things fast and smooth.
I spent the last year racing enduro stages that were usually over 5 minutes long so it was a real change to spend so much time on a short track. What would normally be a case of finding flow and looking for places to conserve energy became an exercise in perfecting the smallest details, inch perfect line choice would be needed through the roots and corners to see the winners through. What initially looked like a very straight forward track revealed a few stings when trying to carry full speed. The CHR lads were always on hand to cheer, roar advice and mock riders as corners were sessioned and bodged in practice. A particularity slick rooty section saw many riders go down hard and snapped my reverb barb on the first try, luckily it stuck in the down position as there was no time for sitting down on this track. Despite perhaps the most impressive face first collision with a tree I have ever seen, everyone finished practice and headed back up the short push back to the top for the start of the timed stages.
My first race run was a great laugh, being a non-member I was to go in 7th so there were plenty of riders at the top to cheer me on through the first corners. Coming out of the first corner I was met with huge bellows of ‘Pedal, Pedal! Great to keep up motivation. The track was pumpy, flowing and smooth, with pine needles covering the grippy hero dirt. I tried to ride the stage like an enduro, trying to be smooth and efficient, but definitely keeping too much back. After receiving my first time immediately at the finish, I headed back up the hill to cheer on the other riders and join in the ‘what time did you get?’ topic. There was a lot of local talent on show, the favourites were last years winner Steven Turnbull and local shredder James Purvis on a hardtail, with Sarah Newman representing the girls. Special mention needs to go to James Elliott who was shredding the hardest all day, and is only 11! Beating most of the field this is surely a name to watch out for in the future!
The beauty of downhill is that is makes for such a good spectator sport. As soon as you finish your run you can easily head back up the hill and cheer on riders coming down. The last and fastest riders were cheered the whole way down, the woods alive with the sound of baying encouragement. On my second run I pedaled my lungs out, and despite a few ‘overcooking it’ mistakes took a good few seconds off my time to finish 15th overall! Times were so tight that just one error of a few seconds would separate 5-10 places, everyone was pushing it and the motto of the day was ‘Well Held’ as riders careened through the roots sideways far faster than they intended.
At the end of the day the racing was over! For the second year running, Steven Turnbull took the victory over James Purvis by the narrowest of margins and everyone had a great time. But it was about more than times, everyone put in as much effort cheering on the rest of the guys as on the pedals! There was plenty of good banter and plenty of laughs, with a fair few riders enjoying their first ever race against the clock. With media full of big series events, electronic timing, team vans and attitudes, the CHR crew show what you can do with just a short track, a stopwatch and a bunch of keen riders.
So it’s the start of a new year, make it a resolution to try out some local racing, the UK is full of great clubs and local events. If you have not tried DH racing yet, what are you waiting for? It is not as cliquey as you may imagine and a lot of folks are there for the fun and experience! It’s a great way to build skills and improve your ability to learn stages, and most importantly it is also a lot of fun!
For more information about the Northumberland based CHR club, check out their website here
Words & photos: Trev Worsey