Jamesy Boy Shirley’s Season Update

September 25 2012

Roy Bridge's most famous bicycling superstar James Shirley has been marching across Scotland pillaging trophies and podiums spots all summer. Here's his latest update:

It’s been a while since my last update so I’ve got a lot to fit in…

 SDA Dunkled

 A couple weeks after my success at the Endurance DH it was time for the 4th round of the SDA series at Dunkeld. All the parts had now arrived so my shiny new 322 was ready to race. The course definitely suited a dedicated downhill bike with its endless rock gardens and rough terrain. The top section was the same as always and yet I was still surprised by how intimidating it looked on my morning walk. After crossing the fire road the course turned off to the right on a brand new course which was taped wide and fast with plenty of options before rejoining the classic finish straight/stump huck.

 The clouds hovered above us all weekend but they managed to hold in their moisture leaving the trails dry and loamy in the woods – an absolute treat to ride. The bike felt great with its rock eating rear suspension. Only 7 weeks after suffering a T6 compression fracture I wasn’t confident enough to push myself to the limit but riding at about 95% I still felt pretty fast and a little bit scared as trees and boulders whizzed by.

 Race runs were on Sunday afternoon and I did the classic James routine: my first run was smooth and steady and my second run was faster but with more mistakes. The end result yielded two almost identical times which was good enough for 2nd place in the senior category (10th overall) behind local boy Gavin Black.

 SDA Ae Forest

Jamesy Boy launching the stepdown at Ae Forest aboard his 322.

 Not long after was the final round of the Scottish downhill series in Ae forest. I normally prefer riding and racing my Five but the other racing alternatives that weekend were a UK Gravity Enduro in Wales or an Irish Gravity Enduro across the water. As well as being closer to home, I also had my eye on a good SDA series result since I had already done 3 out of 4 rounds (despite a poor performance at Innerleithen which wouldn’t have helped my cause). Another good reason is that the SDA races are some of the best organised events with great prizes and enthusiastic volunteers who donate so much of their time. With dwindling entries for the last two rounds I thought it would be good to show some support. 

The course was another classic Ae Forest route taking the line to the right from the top of the hill. To spice things up, a new section was added in the dense woods at the bottom which proved to be a bit of a challenge when the roots started shining through. The weather just about managed to stay dry until an all mighty down poor at the end of prize giving. I felt comfortable on the bike but I wasn’t fully pinned. I don’t think I ride/race downhill enough to be quite on the limit but, at the same time, that’s the reason why I still enjoy it. Downhill racing is fast and dangerous and it’s good practise for the more demanding enduro stages. At the end of the weekend I finished 3rd in the senior category which was good enough to take 2nd place in the series. 

Another race, another podium. We feel sorry for James' mantlepiece.

Tour de Ben Nevis

My most recent adventure was the Tour de Ben Nevis. I knew from past experience that it was going to be a tough day out and I wasn’t wrong. The route leads all 390 riders on a 72km epic round the hills and through the bogs of the Scottish Highlands. Unlike a traditional cross country race, the loop was split up into 5 timed stages and the winner of each was awarded 400 points. Second place on that particular stage would be awarded 399 points, third place would be given 398 points and hopefully you’re starting to see a consistent pattern for points and positions. The winner of the event is the person with the greatest number of points. Two stages were technical downhill stages, one was a long land rover track climb, another consisted of a carry/climb and the entire loop counted as a stage on its own. With such a variety of riding, clever bike choice and preparation becomes quite important.

My bike, however, remained in standard James spec with the exception of a dropper seat post which only ever comes out for races. The Orange Five is, in my opinion, the perfect all round machine thanks to its low weight and good angles. A sensible build with a short stem and wide bars also helps the handling. Strong, light-weight Hope SP-AM4 wheels keep things rolling and 2.2” Conti Rubber Queen UST tyres will grip to anything without causing too much drag. 

Two fine pieces of engineering. James' Five would see him safely into 3rd position at the Tour de Ben Nevis.

The race started on a cold and sunny morning behind a pipe band on the High Street in Fort William. Riders were led out onto Lundavra Road by a couple of moto trials bikes where the real beginning of the race was to take place. The pace was high and a group of about 12 riders broke away up the first long, steep hill. I kept in touch with the lead bunch along the tarmac road and onto the West Highland Way until I stopped, about 6 miles in, to take off my sweaty long sleeve base layer. After my quick pit-stop, I found myself riding along in my own little bubble of fresh air and tranquillity. The peace was soon broken when I arrived at the top of the first stage. The descent down to Kinlochleven is a fast, rocky walking path covered in large loose boulders and broken up by the occasional square edge drainage channel. For 3minutes and 27 seconds it kept me on my toes as I rode down the trail and past the first handful of puncture related victims.

 As soon as the descent was finished, my saddle was raised and my X-Fusion compression dial was turned for the long climb back up to Mamore Lodge. Not long after the lodge I dibbed in again for the start of stage 2 – my least favourite enduro stage of all time. It is basically a 16 minute climb up a horrible land rover track with sections of soft sand and/or loose gravel.

 Once the pain was over, I had to endure a good few miles of bumpy track and deep water splashes until the river crossing at the first bothy. This is where the 3rd stage started. I had a tactical pee just before the dibber to lighten the load for another predominantly up-hill stage. The path was narrow, steep, loose and disappeared into bottomless bog on many occasions. I am not a very good runner so I tried to ride the trail for as much as I could. Once the summit of the climb had been reached I was treated with a fast section of stony quad bike track back down to the second bothy where I found the end of the stage.

 The course then continued to descend down towards Spean Bridge and into Leanachan Forest where it followed parts of the old ‘Puggy Line’. As I climbed up to the top of the ‘Blue Crane’ for the 4th stage I eased up to give myself some rest. Unfortunately for me, Roger Campbell-Crawford still had some power in his leg guns and came flying past at an alarming rate of knots on his massive 29er xc thing. I didn’t fancy trying to overtake again on the downhill so I mustered up some strength to beat him to the top. I just managed to dib in before him and set off down the jaggedy trail breathing hard and feeling a little bit delirious.

James Shirley, Ruari Watt and Huw Oliver all brought their Fives home in the top 4 overall and enjoyed a well-deserved sit down at the Orange truck.

By the bottom of the stage I knew I was almost home and gave everything I had on the last mile or so back to the distillery where the race finished. I cruised along to town where I was greeted by a print out of my times, a very tasty hog roast and Pete Scullion with two big thumbs up. I’m not sure if they were to celebrate the successful return of ‘Jamesy Boy’ or simply to signify the fact that he was stoked on feeling fresh as a daisy. 

After we had completed our gruelling tasks for the day, it was now time to challenge the organiser’s mathematical skills… Congratulations go to Dave Henderson who took the overall win with a grand total of 1988 points on a cross country hard tail! Looking at his times it is clear to see that he is an absolute beast: he smashed all the fitness related stages by a mile. I can’t help but think that if he was riding an all-mountain bike then he may have taken the win by more than just 1 point in front of local legend Ruari Watt on his purple Five. I was happy to finish best of the rest in 3rd position with Huw Oliver (also riding an Orange Five) following close behind in 4th.

 As time passes, I tend to forget about the pain and suffering of the race and I look back with fond memories. I can’t say the actual experience is terribly pleasant but the satisfaction of competing and completing the event is fantastic. No Fuss has done really well to create a unique event that questions your choice of bike and challenges the rider’s skill, speed and endurance all in one go. 

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