‘Ard Rock was a last-minute decision for me. I have mentioned several times in past blog posts how I am absolutely not made for racing. My mindset is one with a competitive nature and I enjoy riding my bike as an escape. To race would lead to a slippery slope of itching for a better time. That’d lead to obsessing about training and nutrition and then riding with the intention of getting faster rather than just for fun. I’m sure. With that in mind, I’m probably a little biased when writing this. Full disclosure is given here: my opinion does not run with the masses.
When Ben from Cycology Media messaged me to say there was a ticket for me if I wanted it, I actually sat and thought about it. My gut reaction was to avoid even tempting myself into looking at a timesheet. The curiosity got the better of me though so with less than two weeks to go, I readied the best way I could think. I headed to the North York Moors and rode 18 miles up to a trig point. Then down. That’ll do, I thought. It’s a similar distance, I’ll be able to ride it. No worries.
I was wrong. Kinda.
‘Ard Rock was the longest, hardest day on a bike I’ve ever done. It was a similar distance to that moors ride I’d so naively completed, but the elevation simply wasn’t close. 2000m of climbing over roughly 30km just wiped me. I won’t lie, I almost called it a day several times. And I only rode the sprint, not even the full seven stages. ‘Ard Rock was a lesson in humility for me, without question.
I’ll spare you the details of waking up on the wet campsite the day after practice and thinking “yep, that’ll be slick.” I won’t go on about the huge climb to the start. And the transitions between all the other stages (especially that brutal push up to stage two). In fact, I’ll not really mention the riding at all – although the descents were decent enough for the most part. Instead, I want to explore my thoughts on whether I’d attend again.
Whether you’re interested in racing or not, ‘Ard Moors delivers on the ‘something for everyone’ front. The event village – only a short pedal down the road from the campsite – was packed full of brands, food trucks, music, and a pump track. There were bike demos, freebies to win, folks behind small businesses, and a food section. Between the racing, there was plenty to do; you could definitely find a place to grab a meal and meet a few folks. Oh, and there was food.
The racing was lost on me, really. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed the atmosphere and the chance to actually strap a number board onto my bike. The descents were long and interesting enough to keep you on your toes (especially when riding blind) but I found that some of the stages were so battered by weather and other riders that sections were simply unrideable. Stage 2 was a mud bath towards the bottom and I stopped for a while watching rider after rider slipping, spilling, and sliding down to the finish. Reassuring as it was to know that it wasn’t just me, I felt that stage was ruined by the fact several of us had to stop to clear out our bikes of mud simply to roll down a few hundred yards more and repeat the process.
On the build-up to ‘Ard Rock, I’d watched loads of people getting their bikes ready on social media. Story after story of people fitting tyre inserts, changing tyres, servicing shocks, and so on. I added a touch more air in the tyres than normal, expecting an onslaught of rocks, and left it at that. It turns out there wasn’t much more I needed to do, actually. The trails were technical in places, there’s no denying, but I’d built them up in my head. They were fun but they weren’t overly technical.
By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I re-fuelled in the car, grateful that I’d taken down my tent earlier that day in the expectation of being tired. As I sat there, I contemplated my return next year. And I decided I’d love to go back. I’d love to go back to soak up some of that atmosphere, to chat to folk and make new friends, to see some of the latest tech in the flesh. But not to race. Instead, I’d be keen to photograph the event and perhaps ride a few trails on the demo bikes.
I’m glad I rode in a race but it just wasn’t for me. I’ll stick to messing about in the woods or shooting the folks who live for going fast on a racecourse.
Photo credit: TSPhoto.