Battling on the Beach

The rest of the Singular team seem to be turning in to runners, parents or both. So it was left up to me to fly the flag at the second occurrence of Battle on the Beach – a unique race on the south coast of Wales. Reports of last year’s inaugural edition had been overwhelmingly positive, so this year I made up my mind to make the long drive over to Pembrey Sands – just past Llanelli.

I loaded up the A8 of Fury with bikes and fuel for an early start Saturday so as to avoid traffic and get there in reasonable time to set up camp and get a little ride in. I had quite a selection of bikes on board – Kite disc proto, 27+ wheeled Swift and the full fat Puffin went on the rack….

Locked and Loaded

Plus my planned race bike of a singlespeed Gryphon inside…

race bike inside

Better pic of the race bike

beach racer

Arriving around midday I quickly linked up with a few old friends, we circled the wagons and created a bit of a makeshift Singular display area in the campsite – their bikes added another Gryphon and Puffin plus a blast from the past in Jo’s Hummingbird and Steve Day was there with the Rooster 29+ proto.

circle the wagons

The weather was stunning – mid to high teens and bright sunshine – this is about as good as weather gets in Wales and it’s not even April! We got kitted up and headed out for a lap. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, all I’d heard was of a long drag along hard sand up the beach, then fun single and double track through the dunes and forest on the way back. That turned out to be pretty much exactly true. The ride up the beach wasn’t as much of a drag as you might think – the sand being packed hard and a fortunate absence of wind. And the trails coming back were indeed a nice mix of sinuous singletrack and duney doubletrack.

The feature of the night was to be roller racing – which was fortunate because the clear skies meant as soon as the sun went down the mercury plummeted to somewhere around 0. I was hopeful my track legs might stand me in good stead – but a 250m qualifier with zero resistance wasn’t exactly playing to my strengths. Nevertheless I made it through to the knockout rounds and advanced to the semis. That was a bit longer 500m and I was only just beaten out by the eventual winner – in any case it certainly got the blood flowing!

Even donning all of my clothes before bedding down in a rather chilly tent didn’t really keep me warm and I had a fitful night’s sleep. Waking to find a heavy frost surrounding us was no surprise. The sun quickly melted that though and tea and Jon’s bacon baps got me moving.

600 souls assembled at midday for a mass start across the sand. I managed to secure a position somewhere towards the front. To run across the soft sand was definitely the right choice, unless on a fat bike you quickly got bogged down. A remount honed from a winter racing CX stood me in good stead and I was soon charging along the hard sand spinning with all my might. Gear choice amoung the singlespeeders was interesting – I went a little bigger than normal on 32-16. I knew this would not be big enough to keep up with those on gears on the beach, but there were some sharp little pinches in the woods which wouldn’t be rideable on anything much bigger.

An initial glut of people streaming past me in the big ring slowed and I settled in to a nice bunch and got sucked along in a pattern of spin like fury then coast – and repeat. Once we got off the beach on the first lap we had a further open section to try to reduce bottlenecks before hitting singletrack, which was moderately successful. As it was we were generally off the bike for the steeper bits so I could have gone with a bigger gear… Still, it was all good and it’s not like I was there to win.

Well, it was all good until I felt my rear tyre going a bit squidgy just as we entered the dune section about half way back…. I optimistically had just popped a bit of sealant in the Dugast Fast bird tubulars, crossed my fingers and didn’t take a pump or anything with me. This was silly. Still, the good thing about tubs is you can still ride on them to some extent even when flat. So I did that in a somewhat gingerly fashion and combined with a bit of running meant I’d only lost maybe a few minutes by the time I finished the lap. That gave me time to think about what next. I’d grab the Kite disc proto – that was set up with some nice 42mm Maxxis Hookworms and was pretty much ready to roll. It was at the campsite though and was all locked up – and Jo had the keys for safekeeping…. Fortunately I spotted her quickly at the finish area and retrieved the keys.

By the time I’d swapped bikes I’d lost maybe another 10 minutes, but it was a beautiful day and a fun course so I pressed on. I wasn’t officially racing any more as I’d entered the SS class and was now on a geared bike, plus I’m not sure whether bike changes were even allowed. Not that it mattered, I enjoyed the fun bits and hurt myself a bit riding solo with gears along the beach.

Finished - photo thanks to Tom Cutting

This is really a brilliant and unique event. A whole contingent of experienced beach racers from the Netherlands were over – they do a lot of beach racing there but without the singletrack – they loved it and took the podium spots. Steve was 2nd SS on the Rooster and friends Dan and Jane smashed it on the fat front SS tandem 🙂 That was probably the most unique bike out there, but everything from CX to fat bikes could be seen on the course – and they all had their place. Brilliant event organisation from Matt, Nia and their team makes this weekend one that is already in the calendar for next year!

Last lap on the beach

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