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No Time for Clowning Around

30 July 2012

30 July 2012

No Time for Clowning Around

The Three Ring Circus is one of many interesting-looking mountain biking events put on by the team at Wild Horizons; who (from all appearances on their web site) seem to be quite an eccentric mob who relish putting bikers in pain (as well as presenting them with spectacular scenery). Many more serious riders (so, not the TriHards) see the Three Ring Circus as a good prelude for the Highland Fling, which is one of the races in the Australian MTB Marathon Championships, but for most of the punters, it’s just a really good ride, with an excellent atmosphere.

Clean mountain bikes

This year, the TriHards defied their name once more and sent along only a pair of riders from Canberra. Junior, who was viewing this (and pretty much any other riding event he goes in) as more training for the forthcoming Tour De Timor and the Cyborg who, it seems, just enjoys pain.

The race is held in Wingello State Forest, which is near Bundanoon in the Southern Highlands of New South Wales; making it an excellent event for both Canberrans and Sydneysiders (apparently the TriHards Sydney branch, who had put in an excellent turnout for the more distant Husky, were still cleaning their bikes and couldn’t race). With such close proximity, the TriHards elected to drive up from Canberra early in the morning rather than make use of the camping on offer (and the night performance). So it was that they left on a nice, sunny Canberra morning - there wasn’t even much frost about! The great weather continued all the way to Marulan, where the eager duo paused for some coffee before heading off the highway and towards the event centre.

Then, as they wound their way towards Wingello, the TriHards noted a certain dampness in the area; no rain specifically, just damp. And, as they grew ever-closer to the event hub, the dampness seemed to increase. Not into rain, just a kind of soggy, hanging mist that shrouded the forest.

The hub, a hive of activity.

Now, we should probably point out that the team at Wild Horizons seem to have a gift for understatement. So, when they say in the event briefing “Space is at an ABSOLUTE premium for camping and parking so please follow signs and instructions” what they really mean to say is: “There is no carpark; you’ll be parking on the side of the access road, if you come late, you may have to do a 50km warm-up ride to get to the hub.” Though, we suspect that this is the organiser’s way of ensuring riders have a decent warm up through walking or riding to the hub and back; and that they linger at the hub and partake of stalls and coffee goodness rather than wander all that way back to the cars.

Border Collie watching the bikes.

In reality, they needn’t have bothered as the hub did turn out to the hive of activity and humour with a fantastic atmosphere for young and old. There were performers roaming around, starting a conga line of bikers, plenty of stalls to look at and drool over as well as food vendors and the most valuable coffee van! On top of all this there was some interesting music, and commentary going over the PA system. They even had not one, but two, border collies! Although "The Man" had also invaded this event, with tax collectors running around the centre enforcing the new Carbon Tax. Anyone caught with a carbon bike had to cough up money for the Dry July charity. Fortunately, neither of the TriHards have the sort of money to afford (or justify) a carbon bike, and were spared such pain (leaving more money for coffee!)

All those payments towards Dry July seemed to have been in vain, as the light mist turned into a light, drizzling rain. Entrants were assured this was actually the plan, that the tracks were in fact a little dusty, so they were just endeavouring to increase the tack-level. The ever-prepared and experienced outdoorsman Junior was not at all phased by the change of the weather, wandering warmly around in this arm warmers, and thicker jersey, while the Cyborg-who had left home believing nowhere could be as cold as Canberra-wore only shorts, a light jersey, a a cold, thin sheen of moisture... Fortunately, the hub also held fires and space-heaters.

It wasn’t too long before 400 riders began to move to the start-arch in a self-seeding selection; with the elite riders right under the arch, and the TriHards back in the crowd; the Cyborg shivering and shaking began to turn blue in honour of the first leg of the race: the blue Ring.

Riders at the start arch

Blue Means Cold!

Four hundred riders passed through the start arch in a long, slow procession and out onto the firetrail - looking much more like a dirty Tour De France than a mountain bike race! Riders stretched out the width of the firetrail and as far as the eye could see up the road (well, as far as the Cyborg’s rain-covered, foggy bespecticalled eyes could see at any rate). And, as could only be expected, there was an accident about three minutes into the race where one rider clipped another’s rear wheel, sending them both sprawling on the ground. Amazingly, however, nobody else went down, and many, many riders called out to see if they were okay on their way through.

Mountain bike peleton

In just over 12 minutes the leaders of the pack streaked through transition, while the TriHards passed through closer to 20 minutes later (it was, after all, their first time at the event; they had to enjoy the scenery!)

Red Means Stop!

Then it was onto the Red Ring, said to contain the infamous "Wall". The red ring is the business end of the race, the longest leg, with the most climbing, and some technical single track. Neither the Cyborg nor Junior faltered, riding straight through transition and onto the Red Ring.

Not too long into the ride the field came to a decent climb. The Cyborg listened as somebody, at the top of the climb, asked breathlessly, "So, was that the Wall?", which brought out some laughs, and another handily replied, "Nah mate, you’ll know when you get to the wall!" So, the trepidation began to build. Around the corner, up another climb, down a hill, around another corner and then it loomed.

Riders hiking up a hill.
Side view of riders hiking a hill.

This was no climb, no hill. Not even cliff would do it justice. The Wall was a slow-moving mud waterfall. The Cyborg approached, and tried to build up speed, only to find his wheels spinning out of control; even if had’ve had some traction he would be blocked by the field attempting to push their bikes up the vertical quagmire. Just pushing the bikes up this treacherous track was incredibly hard work!

But then it was done; the worst was over... Not so fast. You see, the team at Wild Horizons really ensure they put the "Mountain" back into Mountain biking. The red ring had more climbing - much more climbing to come! And when the sign came up for “Great Wall&rdqu;o, it is fair to say the Cyborg, staring through his foggy spectacles, gasped in despair at the thought of a bigger wall! Fortunately, he was mistaken - it was named after the Great Wall of China because this leg of single track flowed across the ridge of the mountains, providing a nice, fast and flowy track for the riders to enjoy after all their climbing.

Then there was more single track, followed by more - with a few technical rocks and roots thrown in, just to keep the unwary on their toes! Before too long all the pain of the climbs was forgotten as the riders rode through the verdant woods of Wingello. And, as the Cyborg’s legs began to recover, the 5km to Transition sign came into view, and more single track. So, it was time to put the hammer down. After all; it was only five kilometres to go!

Rider jumping a root

With few riders around, the Cyborg began to push through the single track, fast and descending, thinking this must surely finish at transition! Descending switchbacks on dark, tacky dirt, he saw cameras ... which are never a good sign on a track. If there’s a big camera set up, that normally means it’s a place where there are big accidents. Sure enough, the Cyborg rounded a corner for a large rock drop; fortunately the Cyborg, who’s sunnies were covered in mud and water, couldn’t see it until he’d ridden over it, so it wasn’t a problem at all. The long, sloppy stretch of mud about 100m further down the track, however did prove to be a problem, but at least it was a horizontal mud patch!

Bike and body now covered with the extra mud handicap, the Cyborg continued his trek to transition. Uphill to transition. With a crusty chain grinding through the clunky rear derailleur and a front derailleur that refused to move. Nevertheless, he made it through to transition and, whilst sipping a drink and eating one of the lollies provided, spied another rider pull up under the water tanker and wash his bike off; what a fantastic idea! So, the Cyborg gave his bike a quick rinse then, after some encouragement from other riders, headed back out onto the course for the final ring.

The much more experienced Junior, knowing the damage that can be done by riding on a muddy bike, took the wiser option and halted his journey at transition, keen to ensure his bike would still be in working order for the Tour De Timor!

Yellow Ring

It’s probably worth pointing out here a couple of things about the Cyborg’s bike. First of all, it’s a 2 x 10, which means it may not necessarily be the appropriate bike for the Three Ring Circus (though, nor is a unicycle, but that didn’t stop people!) What’s more, it hadn’t been serviced in quite some time - in particular not since it’s mud-baths at the Husky. So it was hardly surprising that just as he began to push the bike into the first climb of the yellow ring, the Cyborg was caught by chain-suck, and stalled on the hill. Though, he didn’t let that deter him, and freed his chain from the sticky mud to continue up the hill and around the corner.

To more climbing. And more climbing. So much climbing, in fact, that the course setters had put out signs instructing people not to stop! Not being one to read instructions, the Cyborg stopped shortly after; though it was due to seeing someone in trouble and offer them some gels. However, the other rider already had some, and was just resting! So, the Cyborg hiked his bike to the next turn, then began to ride again. Up another hill.

Before too long it was onto the home stretch, riding dirt roads through southern highland farms (and spotting some very fresh beef on the way). Just as the Cyborg began to wonder if there were roast beef rolls at the hub a single-speeder came alongside. While the Cyborg’s bike was rapidly becoming a single-speed, he couldn’t imagine anyone voluntarily doing that to themselves - particularly over the mixed terrain of this course! The Cyborg pushed past this madness, and (at the 5km mark) began to ride for all he was worth towards the end.

Finally, after 3:09:48 he was done - and his bike was still almost working! Junior greeted the Cyborg at the finish chute, and they headed back towards the car to head home. Even getting out was a bit of a trial, with the Adventure Truck in 4WD mode until the TriHards manage to exit Wingello. After only a few kilometres of driving, they were back on the highway, and into clear skies and dry roads!

Race Stats:

Although conditions of the race were somewhat reminiscent of the swamps of Dagobah for R2, he did in fact survive the race and manage to keep recording information, although there may be an error factor in the distances due to his polling techniques.

A not very dirty mountain bike
Ring Distance Ascent
Blue 6.44km 106m
Red 26.53km 1,049m
Yellow 18.08km 572m
Total 51.05km 1,727m

The Thanks!

Many thanks go out to Wild Horizons, and their sponsors, for putting on a fantastic event, and a challenging ride!