I got into cycling back in the early 90s. After years of playing rugby (from 6 year old scamp to battered 21 year old wing forward), I had a year of doing very little, piling on the lbs and ultimately resolving myself to get fit. Circuit training led to mountain biking and I completed my first race 1993. I loved it, finishing 3rd in the novice category in a race at Dare Valley Park. Mountain biking eventually led to athletics, triathlon, road cycling and cyclo-cross. While I’ve always enjoyed MTBing, I’d parked it as a race discipline and plans to return in 2015 were significantly set back after breaking – and dislocating – my shoulder and arm on the trails at the Forest of Dean. It remained however, an itch that needed to be scratched.
So it was with great excitement that I recently received a rather gorgeous new cross-country mountain bike; an Orbea Oiz M20 29er. This black and mint green carbon beauty offers 120mm of travel in a super light XT equipped, monocoque package, a flying machine that significantly eclipses the capabilities of any of my previous off-road rides (which includes a smorgasbord of rigid, hard-tail and early full-suspension rides). Now equipped with the tool for the job, I entered the first round of the Welsh Mountain Bike Series at Afan Argoed, one of the best mountain bike centres in the UK.
So Sunday arrived. A mad, wild, early spring day that brought sun, rain, wind and hail in roughly equal quantities. To say I was nervous about racing was an understatement. It was not nerves about the effort ahead or where I was likely to finish. The nerves were brought about by errant thoughts of further high speed encounters with unyielding rocks. Still, fear – as Ranulph Fiennes reminds us – is a good thing, an evolutionary thing that stops us from trying to wrestle with bears, cuddle pythons or handle 10 feet drop offs when our skillset won’t allow it.
The familiar faces on the start line lent the race a competitive, friendly air. There were guys here I’ve been racing against for 10 years plus in CX and others I knew by reputation. When the race started – gun, whistle, hooter, I didn’t notice which – the pace was fast and furious, a relentless hard drive straight up the fire road and onto the slalom descent. It was here that my skills – and the bike – got an early test. Whizzing around the berms, the bike flowed beautifully with the suspension offering the right balance between ironing out the bumps and maintaining speed. At the base of the slalom a rock ledge offered the ‘A’ line (the ‘B’ meant turning and cutting speed). I flew over it but my weight was much too far forward. I shifted myself back and the Fox 32 forks did their job, preventing what would have been an impressive aerial display for the small crowd goal hanging at one of the likely crash sites.
Slalom turned to muddy field and muddy field to grinding climb. Adjusting the bar mounted suspension lock from full-to half-to lock out, reaped dividends. The bike climbed like a demon.
The Afan course is defined by three things; long climbs, the slalom descent and a super long singletrack descent that incorporates ‘the graveyard’ section of the ‘wall’ trail. The latter section is special. A high speed zig zagging loop that incorporates tight berms and short rock climbs, the Oiz was extremely impressive. It felt tight, precise, offered superb grip when clambering over rocks and gave me the confidence to push the speed back up to levels that I haven’t enjoyed for years. The most satisfying feeling of the lot was speeding through the forest ‘A’ line, a gnarly little section of slippery rocks, which in places, look like they’ve been at the wrong end of an axe. There was huge advantage in doing so; the ‘B’ line was significantly slower and far more awkward, causing riders to jink back and forth on a muddy slippery section. I tackled the ‘A’ line on each of the three laps, getting quicker each time; this is the difference a good machine makes to potential route choice.
After an hour and a half of racing I finished with the biggest smile on my face for years. It was a combination of faith restored in mountain biking at speed, enjoyment at the excellent race offered by Matt Page of A-Cycling and an appreciation of the difference a really capable bike can make to your off-road riding. Thank you mountain biking gods, A-Cycling and Orbea respectively.
Summary of Oiz M20 29er
- Moncoqcarbon full suspension carbon 29er.
- XT equipped, 120mm of travel
- Fast, light and responsive, an aggressive cross-country bike.
- Rides like a dream, turning this wary MTBer into an XC racing convert.
The Orbea Oiz is available from Cyclopaedia.