Hit the North 3: It’s not about the bike(s). A science experiment.

So… my grand idea for Hit the North this year was to lay to rest any speculation that it’s faster on a ‘cross bike or mountain bike. In a two hour race, I would race half on one and half on the other.

After a second place in 2011 at this tough-but-cuddly suburban event inside of the M62 circle, I felt in a good position to prove in incredibly unscientific fashion whether the bike you’re riding is key on a course like that… 

The best laid plans, eh? Tssk. For various reasons (mainly listed below) it wasn’t ideal comparison conditions.

  1. Rock solid ground
    … even the “muddy bits” were rutted and solid (max temp was -2°C) dissolved away the significant advantage of a cyclocross bike.  They ride through mud better, and weigh less when compared to a mud-laden MTB
  2. Rider issues
    I’d had a few very tiring days and sleep-lean nights leading up to Hit the North this year. If you want  anything like this to work you need a stable consistent rider.  I was fit on Saturday, but not in race shape. Bleary eyed, tired dads don’t make very good lab rats.

Now for the science bit

The bikes in question were both well tuned and well prepared. If you’re going to do some experiment like this you need to ensure you don’t have some major issue blighting the science. Perfectly prepared actually.   My On One Dirty Disco and his dirty cousin the Planet X Dirty Harry are both race bikes. It’s not like I’m comparing some slack downhill machine with a time trial bike.

Erm.. that’s the end of the science bit. I’m not very good at this clinical stuff, am I.

Bad Science

So there we have it.  The course  conditions were unsuitable for the experiment, then rider was suitable for the experiement.  Just the bikes were.  So how did they feel?

If you got on board a carbon-framed 29er that’s fairly race tuned after being on an “all mountain” bike or some slack 26″ wheeler, it’d no doubt feel stiff and twitchy.  Getting on it after an hour of pounding oneself round frozen ruts, ice and rocks on a stiff carbon ‘cross bike with rock hard tyres made it feel like I had landed by generous bottom on a sponge.  Everything went all squishy and soft.  Very comfortable.  Don’t get me wrong.  Bolt through forks and all that meant that the bike went exactly where you pointed it immediately… but it just felt so damn comfortable.

… I think that’s the downfall though – and I started to enjoy the comfort, and suddenly find myself not trying as hard. Not pedalling flat out.  I was lulled info a comfy armchair and it affected my aggression more than anything.  I took refuge in a smooth ride.   Even the downhills, though no doubt ridden smoother and with a tad more grace, were no faster with 2.35″ tyres and 120mm of fork travel.

Maybe this is testament to the Dirty Disco more than criticism of the Dirty Harry.  It was a race after all.   A stiff, supercharged ‘cross bike is going to make you want to be aggressive. You want to throw it around a bit more and get on top of it.  I couldn’t have (happily) ridden all day on it so an hour was about right (and traditional of course…!)

So if you geekily examine the GPS tracks of my event you’ll find the penultimate lap (MTB) is about a minute and a half slower than the second lap (‘cross bike) – but if you remove factors like fatigue (physical and mental) then you’re probably right in saying there’s not much in it.  Even the 2011 event showed my lap times declining at an almost identical rate as fatigue started to take its toll (on just one bike).

Conclusions drawn:

What a bunch of tosh.  It’s not about the flipping bike, is it.   What a mega surprise.   As long as the bike(s) is (are) good.

Photo by Ed RollasonPiccies

Video of some crashes from the Hoi Palloi here 

Results here