3 Peaks CX

It all started to happen at the same time.

The cross season finishes, I quit my job, applications for 3 Peaks open, I’m making a cross bike and we have become a racing team.

I’m on the edge of the diving board. Toes dangling over nothing. My heart beats in my ears and my stomach and my eyes and my lungs. For six months, all I could think about is this very moment. Only I had no idea what it was going to be like.

It was raining but it stopped, Beth, Clare and I are lined up next to each other. JC and El take a photo of us. There’s maybe 400 riders in front. Forget all of the rules: socks are wooly and bikes are covered in pipe lagging.

1m66. That’s how tall I managed to grow. Nothing more, despite all the stretching and all the soup. In the eyes of mainstream bicycle manufacturers, 1m66 is exactly the same as 1m55 or 1m49 and a very small slice of the market. So they make one bike to fit us all and it doesn’t quite fit any of us.

I’m not ok with that. That’s why I started making bikes: to make one that would perfectly fit me. It has tons of mud clearance, no toe overlap, it’s got plenty of room in the front triangle to shoulder, my weight is distributed sensibly so it rides incredibly well. In my humble opinion, it also looks really boss.

The 54th Annual 3 Peaks Cyclocross Race starts with a small road section.

Turn left, asphalt becomes gravel, gravel becomes rocks, rocks become a vertical grassy wall. Small steps, don’t look up.

Making that first bike got me hooked. I know I’m not the only rider out there trying to adapt their body to what the industry thinks it’s proportions should be. Clare and I are roughly the same height, except her arms are spectacularly long. We always laugh about that. But an accident left her shoulder and back quite inflexible, making those long arms pointless for reach. Clare is an incredible rider but she’s never been not in pain on a bicycle.

On Simon Fell, I take a slightly cheeky line.

If you’re stuck behind someone, they are stuck behind someone, who’s also stuck behind someone and no one is going anywhere. I leave the safety of the long file of riders and start climbing alone. I planned to put studs on but it didn’t workout. My right arm has my bike locked on my back, with my left hand I grab grass to help me up.

I’m working in the office when I get the call. Andrew says something about Shand and Columbus and making myself another bike for a special race if I wanted.

Clare. 3 peaks. I don’t need another bike but she does. In June I’m back behind the torch and all I can think about is that race.

When I reach the top of the first peak, I’m smiling from ear to ear. The guys are waiting for us at the bottom with snacks and drinks, I just need to descend.

I just need to descend.

I hate going downhill, I’m terrified. The more I think about it to worse it gets. But this time I managed to not think about it at all. Before I know it, I see the guys waving at me to pull over and swap bottle. The landscape and 10 seconds of their cheerful voices will get me over anything now.

I designed the bikes to be the best at what they need to do: race cyclocross. They’re not show bikes, they are real bikes that belong to real riders. With every stroke of the file I had to ask myself once more: is it going to change the way the bike handles ? Spending an obscene amount of time polishing corners only makes the bike more expensive or earning a living more complicated.

The second peak is a blur of slippery steps. On the way up the last peak, I see familiar faces zooming past on their way down.

Go Neil!

Go Will!

Go Bruce!

But Pen Y Ghent was hell. Constantly struggling between riding and running, calves beginning to cramp, mental strength slowly losing terrain to exhaustion and the thought of going down any of the stuff I’m currently going up…

There is a small duck sticker on my stem, Charlie gave it to me when we built up the bike together. I direct all my thoughts to remembering the exact shape of duck and  the sound of the voice which screamed “you crazy lasse, you’re almost there” and make my wait to the top.

And on the final descent of the final climb, after going through rain and shine and wind and chill, climbing hundreds of meters, building bikes just for the race, training my brain and body to achieve my season’s biggest goal, after all of that, I slipped and I crashed.

I don’t want to make bikes for the people everyone has been making bikes for. I make bikes for the Clares and the Adelines and the Robins and the Aoifes and the Beths and the Simmos. Bikes to be ridden hard and bikes to make rider’s lives on the saddle better. And you know what: my filets aren’t filed but my bike rides better than anything else I’ve ever ridden.

Lots of people run to ask me if I’m ok. I’m still laying down trying to asses the damage.

I don’t know. Am I ok ? I landed on my face.

Dreams of completing 3 peaks start to shatter in front of me.

You’re bleeding but your teeth are ok.

So I’m not done yet.

I stand up and check my bike and that woman says “maybe walk for a bit” and I walk just a few meters and jump back on the saddle. Stupid double hop! When will I learn to remount properly. And my heart beats in my jaw and teeth and skull now but my legs keep turning and I block any thoughts about being hurt.

I reach the end of Pen Y Ghent. And follow the last bit of road as fast as I can.

And I cross the finish as a northern lad tries to pronounce my name in the microphone.

I dab my timer one last time, Clare arrives seconds after me and Beth a handful of minutes later.

We did it. I made us bikes to race the hardest cross race in the UK and that’s exactly what we did.