The Generation Race: Mountain Bike Orienteering

The Leinster family head to the Scottish Borders for a not-so-casual race against the clock in the Glentress forest, clocking in steep climbs, gnarly descents and more digital check points than
you can shake your dibber at.

Mum, where are my lucky pants?”

“Lins, have you seen my cycling shoes?”

“Do you remember where I put my gloves after Wednesday’s ride?”

These are the typical pre-race clamours of my Mountain Bike Orienteering team mates, husband Keith and son, Andrew.

Tomorrow is race day and that means a big pasta tea, no wine (ok, well not much!) and gathering all our race gear. In 16 hours time we will be immersed in an adventure of climbing tough hill tracks, swooping down sweet descents through the Glentress Forest and overcoming rural obstacles whilst racing against the clock.

Looking back

We took part in our very first Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering (SMBO) back in 2010 as complete novices (with a six year-old Andrew) and were immediately hooked. With two electronic Dibbers (used to stamp at each checkpoint) we gathered ourselves, our jammy pieces and our coveted jelly baby fuel and headed to the start.

And so our first SBMO race began…..We easily spotted the steep and marshy features on the map and beside them lots of lovely high scoring checkpoints.  With the gauntlet thrown down, our sights firmly set on the highest summit on the course.  The question was, how optimistic we were going to be about what can be fitted in to the 3 hours?

With a rough course decided, plus or minus a few detours we could make given a good head wind, we sped off along the road, crossing the bridge over the river and continuing along an easy road by the edge of the forest.  Reaching our first stop we dipped into the forest, spotted the checkpoint quite easily and stamped our dibbers successfully.

(Dis)orientated biking


Bagging a well-earned checkpoint

Out along the road once more with ridiculous grins on our faces, we were loving the thrill of the chase and had everything to play for.  Our next point was just off the road again. We turned down a grassy path, dropped the bikes to one side and made a quick dash through a kissing gate and along to a little footbridge which was home to our second check point.

The hard work began as we headed up a stony farm track and then up the side of a grassy hill.  We had to push our bikes up the last section.  With leg muscles straining and lungs fit to burst, I was somewhat surprised to see Andrew leap off his bike with alacrity and run ahead to open the gate for us.  He’d been so infected with competitive spirit that at no point in the race did we need to bellow “Are you pedalling back there?”

A little further on I realised that we had got a little creative with our map reading as we headed through tufty, heathery squelchy terrain. Bogged down (up to our knees in places!) we looked on as sensible bikers, previously behind us, whizzed along a very serviceable path.  How did we miss it?!!  In the interests of team harmony, I decided not to question this point too deeply and just bash on.  Save the de-brief for the drive home!

Once through this trial, we consoled ourselves with a jelly baby before attempting the long hill yawning out in front of us.  It was too steep and stony for us to ride all the way up, so we walk/ran it instead. I felt a pang of envy towards Keith as he reached the top of the hill ahead of us, but then he dropped his bike and ran back down to help out his weary team mates by pushing my bike up the last of the hill. We did some serious jelly baby guzzling at the top before heading into the woodland.

Swooping descents

We clocked in as many woodland checkpoints as we dared, leaving us barely enough time to reach the summit of Minch moor.  The tight switch backs on the way up proved tricky so reaching the top came with great satisfaction, though we had no time to admire the wonderful views.  Instead, we rush to the check point and surprised an unsuspecting hill walker with our dibbing antics.

So far, so good, but there was about 6km and 400m of vertical descent between us and the finish and only 15 minutes left in which to do it.  Normally, I take quite a measured approach to heading downhill on my mountain bike.  Unfortunately, I did not have that luxury, so I took my bravery pills and hurled myself downwards. Keith loves this kind of adrenalin rush, so was in his element and Andrew had been riding attached to his crazy Dad for 3 years, so had developed a grip of steel and a similar taste for speed!

With much relief we made it back onto tarmac road, re-crossed the bridge and hurtled into the finish, spent and happy!

We waited with fingers and toes crossed as the results were given.  We knew we had pushed our luck with the time limit, but would it have cost us dearly?

The final verdict was 200 points earned and 25 lost as we were 13 minutes over the allotted time, enough to earn us bronze and far exceeding any ambitious hope that we had had for the day.  Job done! We were kooked in Mountain Bike Oreinteering.

The Mountain-biking bug

Two years later and we’re busy prepping for our second SBMO event of 2012 tomorrow, calories and hydration are sorted. I’ve made a tray of home made Scottish tablet and another of energy packed flapjack Keith’s out in his beloved bike shed where he’s fine tuning our racing machines!

The days of the tag along have passed and we are developing a stable of fine aluminium bikes. I dare not blink for too long or Keith will have found reason to add to the collection.  Tinkering and twiddling, packing and double checking and eating gooey, just-out-of-the-oven flapjacks we can relax before getting a pre race early night..

Arriving at registration, Keith is amusing competitors by unloading a hundred bottles of ale from  Cairngorm Brewery (for prizes, not pre-race hydration!). After a quick briefing from the organisers our brief and our team’s two electronic Sport Ident Dibbers we gathered ourselves and headed to the start.

We first reset our dibbers then put them into the starting checkpoint to digitally “stamp” the start of our race. With the map issued, our time starts ticking. Time to deploy our secret weapon.. our 25km long piece of string… on a scale of 1:50 of course. Experience has taught us that’s how far we usually go so we have it measured out to assist us in taming our grand plans.

We undertake the usual quick debate about the areas with the highest value points, where the dead ends are, a speedy exit strategy and a quick check of the contours just in case we have unwittingly chosen a route up something ridiculously steep.

Untamed freedom

Route decided, we head off to the first checkpoint, worth 20 points. It’s at one of the entrances to the forest. Recognising one of the electronic dibber readers, Andrew collects our first points. Over the next three hours we travel 27.5 km over hills, through beautiful forest trails and up and down fire roads. We were lucky to have good weather to take in some amazing scenery.

This more untamed freedom of mountain biking is what Mountain Bike Orienteering is all about. It captures the essence of exploration and adventure for all with a competitive edge, whether you ride as a solo or a pair and regardless of age, experience or ability. The difference comes down to how many times you want to stop to eat flapjack or slow down to admire the scenery!

We were now faced with the fact that we were on the very summit of Makeness Kipps at nearly 2000ft, five km as the crow flies to the finish and, with only 40 minutes left, we were cutting it fine. Its a good job it was about 1000ft of descent all the way back down to arena.

Not wanting to relinquish any more points than necessary to the clock, we took the most direct but steep route back. “5 minutes left.. 3 minutes left…” we descended the rocky path at breakneck speed and hooned it down just in time for cake and prize-giving. Another great day of Mountain Bike Orienteering

If you have a sense of adventure, like getting out and about in Scotland’s outdoor playground and enjoy a spot of mountain biking, who knows, we may see you at the next SMBO event and share our race highs and lows over coffee and cake afterwards!
Words: Lindsey LeinsterScottish-Mountain-Bike-Orienteering

Want to know more about Mountain Bike Orienteering? Here’s our Scottish Mountain Bike Orienteering factfile.