"It would be sweet for some ladies to come and do the Open Female Category so I’m not the only one in it!"
The Scottish Downhill Association (SDA) have created two new categories for 2016, Open Male and Female, these are designed for anyone 19 years or over who want to try out Downhill (DH) mountain biking in race conditions, but do not have a Downhill mountain bike. Diana McLaren was the first to try it out, so we were eager to find out how it went.
"I was sitting at the top of the DH track at Ae forest in 2015 when I had a random idea that I was going to give it a go a year later. I’d walked the track with my other half and decided that asides from the scary looking Ae step down, the rest of the track really didn’t look too bad.
My initial idea of a DH track was something you’d see in the UCI world cup and therefore I could never possibly give DH a go without years and years of experience and a big DH rig. So, whilst sitting at top of the track, I informed the other half that I was going to give this a go next year on my little trail bike. I’d said it, therefore I had to do it. I’d only been riding intermittently for 6 months at that point so I had a fair bit of practicing to do!
Racing Ae slipped my mind whilst I spent the rest of the year enjoying my bike. March 2016 quickly appeared and I was reminded that I had made this verbal commitment of starting DH. A last minute entry was made, thanks to the lovely SDA people. I was pointed in the direction of the new Open Female category and informed that there would be chicken runs round all of the big features. So I packed up my bike, borrowed multiple pieces of body armour, goggles and a full face helmet from my other half and headed off to Ae.
My mountain biking experience is pretty limited and I’d only raced a mini enduro at Dunoon before attempting Ae so it’s difficult to compare. I’d never ridden a DH track before. However, asides from the massive step down which I happily avoided, I found everything at Ae doable. The track was more challenging than any natural and trail centre trails I’d ridden before as there were a few steep, off camber and loose sections at the top. It was all manageable with a couple of practices and bit of commitment.
I enjoyed the format of DH, with the multiple practice runs on the Saturday. I was really nervous and it was massively affecting my riding, however getting to practice the track multiple times allowed me to session tricky sections and allow the nerves to subdue a little.
Again, I was really nervous on race day and was even contemplating only doing one race run. I was the only girl in my category and was given a 3 minute gap between myself and the next category which allowed me to take it pretty easy on the way down. I felt physically sick on the start ramp (I’d never ridden off a start ramp!) but adrenaline got me down. I made it down with one fall and was so buzzing that I decided to do the second race run. It went a lot smoother and I was so stoked at the bottom that I just managed my first DH race.
I have a 140 mm Canyon Spectral which seemed to cope with everything pretty well. It’s the only bike I’ve ever really ridden so no idea how it compares to a DH rig, although I imagine it’s more unforgiving on rough and steep sections. Again, the guys at SDA were really helpful and told me which venues my trail bike would be suitable for."
So, what advice would you give to somebody who was considering giving it a go...
"Do it! I’m not particularly experienced or rapid down trails but I managed it. Get in touch with the people at SDA and ask which venues would be best for your first go. The open categories are great if you don’t have a DH bike. Everyone is really nice, supportive and will help you find the right line if you’re a little unsure of some tricky sections. There’s also the option of booking an uplift day on some of the DH trails to get a little more experience first. In hind sight I should have done this as I think I’d have been a little more confident if I’d ridden a DH track before, rather than just winging it!
I will definitely be continuing with DH. I managed Ae forest but I was pretty slow so the aim is to come back next year and smash my time. I’d also like to try some of the other venues and have already been in touch with SDA to see which ones would be kinder to a DH beginner on a trail bike.
However It would be sweet for some ladies to come and do the Open Female Category so I’m not the only one in it!"