Friday, 16 December 2011

Redbull Downforce - My Last Race :)

This post has been somewhat put off as it marks a turning point in my cycling career. Earlier this month I took part in the RedBull Downforce race which ran right past my house down the steep, greasy and somewhat hairy streets of Swansea. It was a cracker of an event, unusual and impeccably well organised. The race was amazing fun showcasing some of the UK's top mtb talent to a totally different audience and at a very unique venue. It was a cool mix of riders ranging from trials riders and Dirt Jumpers to some of the top DH boys, there was also a few of us 4X riders in the mix for good measure. It showed what a great mountainbiking city Swansea is, the track was lined with crowds and there was amazing support despite a mixed bag of weather. Racing didnt quite go to plan, I came off the bike both runs coming in 16th place overall. Fellow Swansea student Greg Hampton had a stormer and just missed the podium taking 4th spot. I have to thank Surf-Sales who managed to get me a bike to ride right at the last minute. They sent down a Transition TR450 to play with for the weekend! DH bikes have seriously come on since I last raced one. The suspension was so beautifully balanced and despite the big step up from a hardtail it still felt lively and elegant to ride.

The real news however is that I have decided that this race marks the end of my competitive cycling career. I have never quite managed to grab the top results but just being in the game and getting to compete regularly with the top riders at both national and international level has been an incredible experience. I have to thank Cotic for the fantastic support they have provided me with along the way. When I started riding for them Cotic was a small, and to me at least, a fairly unknown brand. It has been awesome to watch Cy's ongoing perfectionism with bike design driving the company forward. Cotic has developed a strong reputation based on some great products. I am looking forward to watching their future progress and can only imagine Cotic will go from strength to strength. Just check out the new Cotic Rocket, a stunning mismatch of steel and aluminium that Cy has elegantly crafted together to create one hell of a trail bike, it put a massive grin on my face when I got to ride it! I also would like to thank Surf-Sales who have helped me out with protective gear for the last few years.

I guess its sadly growing up but work is the new focus, I have my PhD to finnish. I am currently involved in some really cool projects right on the forefront of technology, its a really exciting place to be. The microscope techniques that we are developing are being applied both in the field of life science with work studying toxicology and human health. We are also working on graphene which has the potential to transform electronic devices of the future, think faster circuits/processors, smaller sensors, cheaper and more environmentally friendly touch screens. This for the moment is driving my need for progression. Bikes will never go away but for now I have other games to play!

Finally thanks to anyone who has taken the time to read this blog, the internet is a great place to share stories and its been good fun sharing adventures with you guys out there!

PS: I also sneaked on to the Redbull and Dirt websites, check out the links here for more pics and coverage:

Redbull photostory

DirtMag coverage

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Tuesday, 22 November 2011 - Coloured object tracking from webcam image using Python + OpenCV

I have recently been playing with OpenCV in Python for webcam image analysis. This real time analysis of camera footage can be of real benefit to some of the microscopy techniques that I work on. Here however is a more lighthearted project which I created for a talk I am giving in a local school. The program tracks a yellow object and uses it to control the mouse position (see vid below).  I thought it would be fun to replace the overused laser pen with a rubber duck for the presentation and show the kids how easy it can be to achieve what at first looks like complex tasks with some basic programming. Full code given at the bottom of the page.

First a brief bit of background. OpenCV is a cross platform, open source computer-vision library created by Intel. This means it is free to access by anyone and will work on any operating system. I am using a Python implementation of OpenCV in this example. Python is a fantastic language to start out with. The syntax is very simple and it works as both a basic scripting language and a higher level object orientated programming language. In short it is easy to pick up by those with little programming experience but is capable, when in the right hands, of producing complex programs using techniques that are now commonplace in the more, shall we call it, 'professional' languages such as C. Python is again open source and cross platform so is free to use by anyone on any computing system.

I have been really impressed at how accessible OpenCV is. It has a lot of very powerful functions built in and with Python does not require extensive programming knowledge to access this potential. It really is straightforward to capture and display webcam images and perform object tracking or face recognition type tasks. It also seems to be massively under-reported on the web, hence why I thought I would add this example which is a slight twist on some of the others out there.

The code is given in full below, it is fairly extensively commented and also provides some additional functionality so dont be too taken aback by the length of it. There are some bonus features built in that are not necessary for simple tracking. I will give a brief overview here but is should be reasonably obvious what is happening by following the code (Hint: start at def main() at the bottom)

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Sunday, 11 September 2011

BFe's flying Wideopen

Its all happening in this months issue of Wideopen magazine. Theres a nice interview with Britain's very own World Champ Danny Hart. A follow up review of their longterm Cotic BFe build and to top it off I somehow sneaked into its coveted pages as part of Alistair Keens writeup of our Scotland World Cup adventure.

Best of all its free to read over the Web so follow the link below to check it out.

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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Harthill NPS and National Champs

The big news from last weekend was that Luke 'Limbo' Limbrick took home the Elite National Champs Jersey. This was a trully massive event, usually riding for in the Senior category he managed to step it big time and raced like a hero to beat the pro's at their game. In the final he had to fight hard with Pat Campbell Jenner as the lead swapped a number of times but Limbo wasnt having any of it at and held the lead at the finish taking the win. The crowd were on their feet screaming as the underdog thrashed it to the finish. Serious celebrations followed and a highly ecstatic looking Limbo was on the podium sending the Champagne corks flying.


Once again we had another very wet and windy weekend of 4X. This time up near Chester at Harthill. The track was an interesting one. It has the potential to be a really nice track but in my view it just falls short on the final touches. It is too narrow and encourages a single file procession and some of the lips and landings really aren't great at race pace. The short start straight lead into a 90 degree right hander which saw a serious number of collisions. One line leaving this corner and no room previously to separate the riders created a lot of four rider pileups and some heavy crashes. The track is very sandy and so the corners are super loose both in the dry and the wet which was a lot of fun to ride and livened up the racing with plenty of crashes. There was also a gusty cross wind to contend with down the pro line. A lot of riders were having their wheels blown out from under them over the second pro jump. It was clearly the quicker route but a heavy gamble due to the changeable weather conditions. The track and conditions came together for some real crash heavy racing. By far the most crashes of the season took place on this track which created some lively racing but not really for the right reasons.

More Mountain Biking Videos

The national round went ok, in the motos I had a win two 2nds and 4th after Mop rudely took me down on the first corner. I was through to the quarters but this was it as I ate sand once again on the first corner taking me out of the comp. The national champs was a little more successful. I had a good qualifying run and made it through the first knockout round and then took 3rd place in my second knockout round leaving me in 20th place overall.

More Mountain Biking Videos

The champs race was massively competitive and action packed. The Semis saw Will Evans take out both Nate Parsons and Jake Ward in the first turn. The finals followed and Scot Roberts and Scott Beaumont came together in the first turn leaving Luke Limbrick and Pat Campbell to fight it out for the top places. Somewhere through the proceedings Isaac was taken down on the first straight catapulted through the air using his head to smash through a marker post and bring him to a stop. Jono Jones held it all the way to the last rollers before choosing to throw himself over the bars and across the line. Dowie and a few of the other big guns were sent to the floor on the pro line along with many others during racing. There really was too much of this camera pleasing action to comment on, unfortunately most of the camera men were hiding this round. Duncan Philpott was out representing the togs and has put together a few awesome videos of both the racing and the shockingly sunny pumptrack challenge which went down on the Saturday night.

Another good weekends racing, with any luck the next round down in the south west will be a warm sunny event where we can stick on some fast tyres and see some rapid, dry racing, my fingers are crossed!

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Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Epic Week: Afan NPS, Afan Euro, Glentress and Fort Bill World Cup

Afan NPS4X:

To kick the week off we had an NPS 4X round and a European 4X round on at Afan. The guys at Bryn Bettws Lodges had done a huge amount of maintenance to the track prior to the race weekend. The track was looking really good and was absolutely flying on the Friday night. There were a good number of riders hitting the pro line and the track was running fast and dry. This all changed come race day. A massive load of rain fell over night and the start of racing was delayed as we all hid waiting for the rain to stop falling and the wind to die down. The track was running much slower but was fast enough to make for some good racing and by the end of the day a formula one style dry line was forming making passing one for the brave taking on the greasy alternative lines. Saying that this was one of the best 4X races I have ever been to for overtaking. There were moves being made the full length of the track and a hell of lot being made and stuck on the last corner. It goes to show wide corners work and produce fantastic racing! I had my best result yet at the NPS taking 2nd step on the podium alongside Gareth on 3rd who was giving me a lift to Scotland, a great start to the week for both of us.

More Mountain Biking Videos

The Euro went less well for me. They do a worldcup style system with timed qualifying runs leading to straight knockouts. I qualified in 35th place after loosing my clips out of the rockgarden and got knocked out first round of the knockouts.


From here me and Gareth loaded up and headed to Glentress with Mop Head, Keeny, Jess Greaves and Chris Ratford. We spent a lot of time in the skills section messing about on the jumps and having a lot of fun. It was great to have a chilled out session throwing the bike around in the air, I have still barely jumped the MTB since the leg got broke so it was nice to start feeling confident again with the wheels off the ground. Chris Ratford was on camera duties and got some brilliant shots on the jumps and through the trees. They had just finished a new section of the blue run. It was the most amazing section of trail featuring probably of the order of 50 berms, all perfectly smooth and shaped so that it was flatout off the brakes the whole way. A huge amount of fun I definitely recommend visiting that place. After a bit of ghetto camping we did the red run the next morning then back into the cars up to the Fort. We had heard on the way up that the Glen Coe race got called off due to 70MPH winds and snow and so we were a little apprehensive about what the weather might be like up at the Fort.

The World Cup, Fort William:

This was both mine Mop Heads and Keenys first world cup. Gareth was the seasoned vet of the group having entered Fort Bill last year. The nerves and excitement really started kicking in once we had gone up and taken a look at the track. The whole scale of the track is way beyond anything seen at nationals. The jumps are big and intimidating and the style of the track meant there were some very awkward looking features. The worst bit was the amount of time we had to sit around and think about it before we were allowed to actually get the bikes out and give it a go. This came in the way of two 90minute practice sessions. One on the thursday and one on the friday right before our timed qualifying runs. This gave a really pressurised atmosphere where there was no time to mess about. We had to step it up right from the start and get the track nailed. It was really interesting, the big jumps that typically on a national level track would be massively intimidating and scary were not too bad. The gradient meant there was tonnes of speed to be found without even trying. This made sending the big jumps easy as there was no need to worry about making the distance on the larger gaps. With the big jumps done and that mental game out of the way my focus was on the first straight which was somewhat awkward and required good rhythm and committed pumping to get down fast and smoothly.

The track kicked off abruptly and continued in that manner most of the way down. The gate dropped with enough room for one pedal before hitting a steep sharp roller and into a double. This lead to a camel triple type thing that most riders were picking on to then dropping down the other side. The quicker line was to jump over the camel hump and push the back wheel into the backside of the transition, this was somewhat risky and with not much room between jumps required good skills to pull off without binning it. There are then two doubles into the first wide loose corner. This lead into a massive roller that could be pedaled over and into a decent sized double. The next roller was big and took some care. Hitting at race pace it was near impossible to keep the bike on the ground over it and it naturally sent you onto your front wheel well past the landing transition. I and a few others had a good stack here in practice trying hopelessly to hold on following a very heavy front wheel impact weight fully over the bars then finally digging in and pitching over on the loose entry to the next corner. This next corner had two main options, a wide entry following the berm or a loose inside line cutting tight to the flag. The corner was up over a hump which unweighted the bike and made it very easy to loose the wheels trying to keep it tight. Loads of moves were being made here, if you were in front it had to be ridden defensively however lots of people were using the extra speed from coming wide to capitalize on other riders mistakes and make a pass stick. The entry to the rock garden was a similar concept with a wide line carrying speed or a tight inside line on the flag. The tight inside line setup to allow the rock garden to be jumped and cleared but the run in was by no means straight forward and jumping the lot required commitment. The rocks themselves were not bad to ride and there were a number of lines through them. After this point most of the racing was done. It was on the pedals and off the drop into the big table which had been reshaped this year making it longer and with a steeper landing. This jump felt beautiful to boost and kept the crowd entertained as the riders flew past. A really loose right hander lead into the steep sharp quad that I think no one jumped in full this year. A sprint to the finish dropped the riders into the large and packed grandstand area with the big screen and loud commentary amping up the atmosphere and making it by far the coolest event I have taken part in.

Friday night saw qualifying, I actually didnt find this part too scary. The top of the track was fairly empty of spectators and it didnt feel any bigger than a normal event. On the gate I got my race head on and was fairly relaxed and focused. I had made the decision to take all the safe longer lines and try and hit them fast and get the cranks in wherever possible. There were 89 people entered and 64 places available so this was the run where it had to count. The qualifying runs are timed with the quickest riders going through. My logic was that the looseness of the track meant that a load of people would wipe out and so staying safe and keeping the tyres underneath me would pay off. I put in a reasonable run with no mistakes and got to the bottom just inside the top 60. There were 10 more riders at this point to come down and so it was by no means guaranteed. Mop Head was in a similar position and we both had to wait for the board to cycle through to see if we had scraped in. I placed 62nd and Mop made it by the skin of his teeth in 64th place. I think it is fair to say we were both ecstatic, we were the only UK Senior riders to make it through qualification and this meant we were in the game to ride in front of the crowds and freecaster the following day.

Another round of practice and things were starting to get really intimidating. I spent most of the session on the top half of the track trying to get relaxed and comfortable on the bike and ignore the large crowds accumulating at the bottom. It is ok come race run as there are so many other things to focus on and race head makes you oblivious to anything going on beyond the extents of the track but in practice I found it hard to ignore all the spectators and I wasnt really enjoying riding in front of all the people. The setup for the race was cool. It was fun being up there with all the big names and lining up on the gate the adrenaline was really kicking in. I was on the gate with Dale Russel, Pat Campbell Jenner and David Graff. Off the start I felt that Dale was edging towards me and veered to the side, this unfortunately messed up my timing on the first straight and left me trailing by the first corner. I did my best to catch up but was never close enough to the action to be threatening any of the higher places. No one made any serious errors and so that was it, I was out of the comp. To be honest I couldnt have cared less. I was so happy to have been part of an event of this scale and getting that far was a massive achievement for me particularly this year having just come off the back of a fairly decent injury and able to get back to form in time for this event. Final position was 60th place which I was super happy with for my first ever World Cup.

Watching the rest of the racing was really cool. The intensity of the top guys is absolutely nuts. Everything from raw power to the lunacy of of the lines they are prepared to hit is so much further beyond anything I have previously experienced in 4X. There really is a big jump up moving to World Cup level 4X and rightly so. As a spectacle it looks absolutely fantastic the coverage and the way the event was setup and run makes it look really impressive and great on TV. This is the sort of action that can spread the sport wider into the public domain and we really are in a position now to push it to a bigger audience. It was amazing to be part of such an event and an incredibly intense experience. Part of me now wants to run away having ticked that box and said I have done it, the other part wants to dive in and have a focused effort to step my game up and take on a few more of these world class events next year. I guess we will have to wait and see on this one!!

Big thanks to Chris Ratford for taking some awesome pics throughout the week and for Cotic and SurfSales whose excellent support and fantastic bike allowed me to get to the World Cup and take part in such a fantastic event. To see the action in full check it out on Freecaster My heat is about 24 minutes in!

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Friday, 27 May 2011

Big week ahead.

Works done and I am packing up ready for an epic week on the bikes. This weekend it all kicks off lightly with a National 4X on the saturday and then a European 4X round on the Sunday up at my local track in Afan. We are then packing up the cars and heading North to Glentress and Inners before ending up at Fort William for my first ever World Cup. It is an interesting mix of nerves and excitement at the moment, well saying that right now it is a frantic dash to get packed and make sure nothing is forgotten!!

I will keep the updates coming via Twitter so keep an eye on my account (@RobbieRickman) to find out how the week is developing.

The Wideopen boys have a nice preview and timings for this weekend up here. There will be plenty of Pro's down for this race and Sky TV are there doing the filming so its worth checking out and mixing with a lap of The Wall if you are local. The track is literally at the top of the final decent on that trail.

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Tuesday, 10 May 2011





This weekend saw the 2nd round of the NPS 4X series at PORC right down in the south east of the country. The track features a narrow start leading to a tight left hander putting a lot of emphasis on getting a good gate. This leads out over the bridge and down the main straight which is probably the fastest straight of the season. It is flat out with long low jumps and fires you into a large bermed 180. The next 2 straights have been modified this year providing more options for overtaking for those keen on the pedals. Both feature big 180 degree corners. This spits you out over two left handed hips and over a road gap into a loose corner, the finish line is more or less in sight by this point and only a seriously ballsy last minute move would allow the finish order to change. A flat left hander leads into a new double and then some drops and then a short sprint to the finish line. The track is a blast, very hairy in places and I think the changes they have made meant it was racing well with moves being made on the middle section of the track. The weather was a real mixed bag, mainly it was very hot sunny and very dusty but overnight we were getting massively heavy rain which cleared the dust and greased up the lower flat corners.


The motos were highly heated and looked very well fought in all the categories. Senior seems to have stepped up again in competitiveness and there are a lot of riders pushing hard to make the quarters. Unfortunately in the Senior quarter finals there was a very serious crash. The officials made the right decision to call off all further racing off. The rider, Scott Shepherd was taken to hospital via air ambulance. I think its fair to say that everyone on the 4X scene is thinking about Scott and we all wish him all the best in making a full and speedy recovery.

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