Cyclist No.1 Race Bristol Oktoberfest

We raced the Bristol Oktoberfest and put the new Marin Rift Zone through it's paces.

Cyclist No.1 Race Bristol Oktoberfest

I've always been keen on taking Cyclist No.1 to the races, particularly endurance and marathon events. I think the social vibe at these events really captures what the UK mountain bike scene is all about and it's a great way to meet real riders and make new friends. And no event holds more true in this respect than the Bristol Bike Fest. With the usual Kona/Mercedes Vito Sport backed Cheddar Bike Fest a no go this year, organiser Paul Newman brought the Autumn event back to Bristol to race the same course as its summer-time sister event.

Due to shorter days, the now named Oktoberfest is an 8hr event and carries a Bavarian theme as its title suggests. If you've not raced at Ashton Court you really should get down here one year. Despite only offering around 100m of climbing per five mile lap, the course is mostly singletrack and it's nice and technical too! Despite its reputation among locals for being potential mud fest, it really does hold up pretty well in the wet and those claims are perhaps a little unfair. But we didn't have to worry about that, the last fortnight has been almost completely dry and a fast but brutal Bike Fest was on the cards!

We turned up racing as Cyclist No.1/Marin/Twin Six - Twin Six providing our jerseys throughout 2010 and Marin providing bikes in the form of a new Rift Zone prototype and the special edition Black Line Pro, which we currently have in for review. We'd entered the 8 hr male pairs event, myself racing alongside Reviews Contributor Scott Cornish.

We didn't have overly high hopes for the race, Scott is usually a 12-hr soloist or a multi-day stage racer and I'd committed this year to my 24-hr solo effort back in July. I still wasn't feeling particularly recovered and Scott has been having a mixed season - our practice lap Friday night confirmed this and as a result we were hoping to creep inside the top 10 at the very best.

Bristol Oktoberfest

We signed on early Saturday morning, kitted up and set the pit area up. I never like doing the run to the bike on the first lap so I made my excuses and Scott agreed to do the first lap. What a good call this was! Scott rode an absolute blinder and despite all his whinging the night before he was one of the first riders round - so quick in fact I was almost caught out for the transition. We didn't know at the time but we were already in second place in our category and around 4th or 5th overall!

I powered out of the pits, straight into the big ring, the Rift Zone feeling instantly good. The course starts with around a mile and a half of undulating very technical singletrack, I know it well and the Rift Zone felt great. I set about hunting down the leaders and I could see them all ahead as I exited onto the main Ashton Court drive. I was about 30 meters back as we entered the first climb and felt slightly confused at finding myself at the sharp end of a bike race! 

Bristol Oktoberfest

Photo by Hwe Pang

It didn't last, my strength is in the singletrack and I'm not a natural climber. The leaders shot away like the hill wasn't even there and the more trail bike rather than race bike weight of the Rift Zone (a fairly vanilla and common sense build coming at 26.5lb) exaggerated by the vastly more experienced racers dropping me ahead. As I crested the climb, already on the verge of blowing up I saw the two Bike Shed teams and Craig from Zero G come by in quick succession - bollox! 

Chasing them down through the wooded section and through the bomb hole I was right back on them, the Rift Zone again making mincemeat of the fast rooty singletrack. I could tell already that I had a real weapon on my hands. Down the zigzags and along the bridleway I couldn't make a pass but by being held up in the singletrack sections I'd had a bit of a rest and was no longer VO2 maxing for the first time on the opening lap.

I managed to tail Craig from Zero G and one of the Bike Shed riders up the climb and despite losing Craig in the lower quarry trail slog, I could still see the Bike Shed rider and I caught him half way down upper quarry. This was my turf, my trail, I was on his back wheel and I'd already decided when and where I was going past. As he stuck to the cleaner line on the left, I sized up the small jump to the right of the trail, threw in a couple of big pedal strokes and launched the Rift Zone airborn. My foot disengaged from my SPD but I landed cleanly in front, clipped back in, and set to work gapping the Bike Shed rider.

A bit more climbing, a bit more descending and then a climb back up to the start finish area. I thought I'd done enough to at least bring the lap home in 4th. But the Bike Shed rider came back on that final climb and I followed him in a few seconds behind. 

Still, our perspective had completely changed. My laps were just about good enough and Scott was riding really strongly. A few more laps in, first and second were starting to look out of the question but we were fighting Zero G and one of the Bike Shed teams for the final podium spot.

Photo by Tom Gale for Vito Sport

My laps were consistent but sadly not quite quick enough and while Scott would retake 4th, I'd lose it and come round in 5th. But we got our break as I passed one of the Zero G riders stood trackside looking annoyed. It was now a two horse race for that podium spot.

However, despite Scott's best efforts and frighteningly metronomic pace, from around half distance, I was losing us around 2-3 minutes a lap to every 1 minute he was gaining; our fate was sealed and we eventually finished 4th.

It's funny how your perspective changes though. This was by far and away my best ever race result but with a podium so close at one point it's hard not to come away a little disappointed. And it reminded me of my twentyfour12 race. I only wanted to finish in the top 20, but when I finished 14th and reaslised I missed out on the top 10 by simply spending too long in the pits and not going round one more time - suddenly an element of dissapointment kicks in despite you doing better than you'd hoped. Perhaps that's racing?

The Marin Prototype

You may have seen it on race day and I had a lot of people ask about the Marin prototype I was riding. It was the final prototype built before Marin committed on the new Rift Zone design. We're expecting a full production bike in soon but we're able to give you some initial thoughts now. 

Marin Rift Zone

First of all, it wasn't a perfect first introduction to the bike. It arrived late Friday night and I had to build the bike up at 6:30am on Saturday, and then guess on a setup which would see me through the race. I didn't get the setup right and the bike was a touch too soft and wallowy even with the propedal on, despite the sag looking about right. I think the Fox F-Series RL fork was also developing a fault, something I've seen in several OEM RL versions of this fork where a valve on the rebound damper apparently clogs and you lose rebound damping on small repeated hits.

But despite all of this, the Rift Zone has got real potential - with the above issues it should have been a nightmare to ride but it wasn't. Climbing was a little tiresome but this was purely down to setup, and it was a real monster in the singletrack. A typical modern Marin in terms of stiffness and gung-ho attitude, but unlike the longer travel Mount Vision and Wolf Ridge bikes, the Rift Zone felt really low and focused. I've never pedal-struck a Marin full susser before and I don't think this was just because of the overly soft setup - it genuinely felt different to normal 'perched-on-top' and lofty Marins.

It was great fun taking the berms at the end of the upper quarry trail with increasing speed each lap, no brakes, just flipping the bike over side to side - a real buzz to ride! And the final rocky downhill section of the lap was great fun to just straight line all the ugly rutted sections, and I was even able to make a few passes on this section. While it didn't exactly make up for my climbing performance it certainly accentuated my riding in the techie sections and I think a lot of riders will really like the Rift Zone for that.

I'm really keen to get the production bike in, the XC8 model should come in around 25.5lbs at a guess and I think once getting the setup right, this could be a bike I'd like to spend a lot of miles on.          


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