By: Damian Groves
A Valley-iant StartIt‘s been a long grueling offseason here in the UK, one to really test your minerals on the trails! Phrases like “winter miles get summer smiles” and “good job skins waterproof” have worn a little thin! Still, I‘ve persevered through the slop with sunny times in mind. After evaluating the highs and lows of last seasons antics, I decided some changes were needed in both my bike set up and my approach to training off the bike. I switched back to flat pedals, bolted the Burgtecs on and broke out the five tens. I figured that pedal power wasn‘t my weakness but a little more commitment on track and through the steep gnar, wouldn‘t go amiss. Happy with the outcome thus far. The next change I made was to fit a coil shock to my RIP 9 RDO (a Cane Creek in-line coil to be exact). Not only did this improve the already amazing suspension platform (resulting in more small bump sensitivity and better traction and stability in corners) but it actually gave me more room for a bottle cage - a win-win! Things off the bike were a little harder. The first person I consulted was my good friend Harry Shepherd down at Kore Fitness. His history on the Cross County Olympic development program as a teenager combined with his qualifications and love for training like a man possessed made me confident he could help me find the gains I was looking for. I never thought less bike time and more time swinging from monkey bars or burpee box jumps would be the key, but as winter wore on, I was knocking time off my usual hunting grounds, both up and downhill.
Bike Park WalesBefore I knew it the first race of the season at Bike Park Wales was upon us. Deep in the South Walian valleys, Bike Park Wales (locally known as Gethin) is a mountain bike Mecca for mountain bikers in the UK. Consisting of swooping, bermed runs, tight gnarly rock sections and some huge jumps for those brave enough, Bike Park Wales is a personal favorite of mine and one I visit regularly. What was always going to be a tough day for man and machine was made even tougher by the sub-zero temperatures and baltic winds (appalling weather even by British standards!). Reaching a shocking -8 degrees, the water in my bottle was turning to ice. With this in mind, I knew I had no time to waste. First up for stage one - “Dai Hard” - tight, twisty, technical, and tidy, quickly becoming the go-to description for this trail. A nostalgic one for me, this trail was used as the race track for the Dragon Downhill series all those many years ago when I was a teenager. However, this old, downhill course was no match for my RIP 9 RDO. The longer travel and aggressive geometry makes short work of this rugged terrain. This bike eats gnarly trails for breakfast and this day was no exception. She was the sublime rocket ship she always is.
AfanA fortnight later and another Welsh adventure - “Afan Glyncorrwg”. Famous for its epic views and vast scenic landscapes I knew the stages would be far more of a physical challenge than the previous race two weeks ago. After a sighting lap, I went for a basic but effective tactic of getting in the hardest gear I could and pedal as quickly as possible. The mix of hard pack and slate surface made for some very dicey moments but I knew if I had the minerals to persevere, I had the fitness to pull a result I‘d be happy with. I came away with 5th, 6th and 8th giving me 6th position overall in the pro men category. Needless to say, I was stoked with that result. A top 5 position was my goal and I came up just short - but that‘s just racing. Marginal gains are what it‘s all about, and for me, I feel things have definitely moved in the right direction. I‘m determined to reach the top 5 at my next race and who knows the prediction for the rest of the season.
This is my fourth year riding Niner bikes and my second year aboard the RIP 9 RDO. I can honestly say it‘s the dream ride! The CVA suspension platform is the perfect mix of supple traction and pedal platform to give me confidence in corners and power delivery on the sprints. Its aggressive trail geometry and light carbon chassis is the perfect mix for slaying the trail and cruising the climbs, all tied in with its neat cable routing and built-in swing arm protectors - keeping things classy even after a dirty weekend in the woods! I‘d highly recommend the RIP 9 to anyone from enduro racers to weekend warriors and everyone in between.