A man walks into a shop..

Amber - 8 weeks

.. sounds like a setup for a joke. Very much like the one we’ve all heard before. First time was eight years ago ending in this punchline where the search for furniture finished in finding a dog we weren’t looking for. What are the chances of that ever happening again?

Based on the available evidence in the photograph, pretty damn high. However on diving deeper into the available data, of which the headline is Carol’s firmly held maxim of ‘one dog, one wife’, ‘two dogs, no wife‘, the result was uncertain at best. This iron principle resisted the slightest bending even when tested in the white heat of numerous friends offering puppies with a cute score of 100. On a scale of 1-10.

Murf’s not getting any younger. Like his best mate, he’s going grey around the edges, a little wider in the middle and a fair bit slower in the twisties* Other than the prospect of any type of food, he only becomes noticeably animated when another dog turns up to play.

So my angle was to position him as an ageing playboy who yearns for a younger partner to spice up his life. The other – unspoken – reason is in a few years there will be a dog shaped hole in our lives that I’m absolutely unwilling to fall into.

For all of this, Carol has been understandably steadfast as it is she who holds responsibility for adult behaviour in this family. Which includes considering how  to fit a second dog into a busy schedule of school, clubs, trips and holidays. And a husband who will regularly waves an airy goodbye before buggering off to ride bikes in foreign climbs for weeks on end.

The odds, then, not entirely in my favour. Serendipity is quite the wonderful thing tho, fate rolls a dice and sometimes – just at the edge of probability – you’re looking at a double six. Or the lovely person who sells me life-giving java beans innocently offering a phone full of images cataloguing the early lives of her labrador pups.

Accidents abound. Her two dogs were separated by a stair gate but the primeval urge to couple proved this was no barrier, leaving the bitch to deliver three healthy puppies a couple of months later. All were spoken for, but we pleaded if any became available then a perfect family would be on the point of ecstatic explosion if one could come home.

Possibly overdid a bit there. Next day tho, Carol returns with no.1 child to show this absolutely is a family affair, but with holidays looming we’re second in the queue.  I’m in full expectation setting mode, but secretly hoping for fate to roll me a second double.

Dropping aerial anchor in San Francisco**, my phone beeped with a hazy picture and a clear message the pup was going to be ours. Much rejoicing in the little family unit until jet lag kicked in, but regular PUPdates(c) tied the thread across two continents. The pup was both lovely and clearly and a bit of a hooligan. Many pictures of her eating things, anything really, attacking her sisters, her owners and – for reasons not entirely clear – the dishwasher.

It’ll be fine I thought. She’s a lab. Placid. Check out Murf. Exhibit A over there, couldn’t be any more laid back even if we spiked his food with skunk-weed. Arriving home, the kids and Carol had their first experience of Amber – both her innate cuteness and needle sharp teeth. I was out riding of course. I mean pups are important but I hadn’t been on a proper bike for three weeks!

Thursday last we fetched her from the vets. And the owners who were a little teary to let her go. Got me as well. Lumpy throats and promises to bring her back soon eventually separated her from the mother ship. Back home to our pup proofed house and – basically – BEDLAM.

Murf went predictably mental when a self-throwing stick cowered under the chair. Since then he’s had an expression of extreme tolerance that pretty much translates to ‘she’s not going home is she?‘ The pup steals everything. Shoes, food, paper, boxes, wellington boots, electrical leads and, in an audacious heist, nearly a full bottle from the wine Dalek.

And all of Murf’s toys. Or her toys as they have been re-appropraited. It’s funny watching the short legged pup playing wall of death as Murf attempts to swing her off the end of his favourite stick. She’s fearless tho, and he’s so bloody good natured that there’s only ever one winner. Twice he’s swatted her with a big paw but even when she’s chewing his tail or sitting on his head***, he just turns those big brown eyes to me that say ‘Senior Man here. Bit of respect wouldn’t go amiss‘.

Probably not going to happen. At nearly 10 weeks she’s growing fast enough to notice it on a daily basis. She’s peeing on the floor a little less and starting to understand total anarchy isn’t the prevailing world view. Still a pup tho and a very different personality to Murf.

I hope she makes him happy. I think she will. She’ll certainly make us happy. It’s like having two kids, you never halve the love for one of them, merely double it. I know not everyone gets pets, but I wouldn’t be without them. Even when the latest addition just chewed my iPhone 😉

*to be fair neither Murf or I were very fast in the first place, so any decline is barely noticeable.

** at the end of which the co-pilot was going to have to do some fast talking to explain that landing. Both of them.

*** these are her two favourite activities.

To insanity and beyond

Enlongened Chubby!

That’s paraphrasing Buzz Lightyear;  now that was a toy who constantly over-stated his own importance. So deluded believing he could fly. Yeah, we’ve all been there Buzz. There’s an ironic tautology in his original mission statement with infinity being unreachable so making beyond achievable. This is how I think of my quest to divine the perfect bicycle.

In a world of chaos, standards should bring order. Which would be fine were there not so many competing ones to choose from. Not satisfied with creating three wheel sizes all within a finger length of each other, those cheeky innovators – who cunningly fuse product and marketing in onomatopoeic triumph – make serious claims that the one true way lies* in increasing both length and girth**

Enter boost, the proto-standard for wider hubs, stiffer wheels and fatter tyres. Not fat bike width because that’s both silly and already selling to a willing audience. Mostly vigorously bearded within an ever decreasing circle of like-minded fundamentalists . So ‘Plus’ are differently great squashing into a niche between too fat and not quite fat enough. I should know I bought one but really wanted two. For even within this brave new world, no one is quite sure yet who might be king – is it 29+ built into special frames with bold new graphics?  Or it’s littler brother, 27.5+ surfing on the zeitgeist of last years brand new thing which is cram-able into existing frames with just a fork upgrade.

I ignored such obvious increments feeling because my big Chubby was already so good. The only thing I didn’t  much like  was the fork, festooned with more knobs than a BMW event and equally slippery in the corners. So in a budget conscious upgrade I researched and purchased a replacement with a little more travel ignoring my peers who live by the rule that moooarr is always better.  An extra inch would be fine*, perfect in fact. Except the product researched was not the same as the one purchased – a technical oversight only appreciated once we’d cut the steerer and attempted to refit the 29+ wheel. In that order. Fork would only fit 27.5+. Bugger.

The sensible option – having drowned the mirth of my mates in beer – would have been to sell at a small loss and start again, or stick ‘em on the shelf as realistically they’d be handily located close to the conveyer belt of my bike ownership.  What I did instead tells you a lot about my insanity trajectory.  Fuelled initially by a slightly less piss-taking pal who offered me his 650b+ wheels to try in the frame. Great I said, except the front one won’t fit as it’s last weeks standard. No problem I’ll just build a new one as – again – proximity to the shed suggests it’d end up being useful for something. In this case as the front half of my shortened dandy-horse with bits flipped and wheelbase shortened. Most bike makers have no idea which standard might finally stick so are designing frames to take basically anything in a throwing shit at a wall kind of way.

Even this simple change wasn’t simple at all with 10-to-11 speed conversions being wrangled around SRAM and Shimano refusing to accept the existence of each other. Eventually we hit the trails at which point my first thought was ‘I wish I’d bought the longer fork now the wheels are smaller’. Said nothing tho as not wishing to be an accessory to manslaughter when anyone within hearing distance died from laughter. A few more rides convinced me this could very much be the boost I was looking for. Upsides included far snappier turn in – tales of ringing bells and shouting full right rudder from riders on 29+ are over-stated – but there’s a difference in the tight stuff where this felt closer to an extremely well damped hardtail and less like a full on fat bike.

Acceleration was a little quicker, tyre choice is better especially if you have access to Haydn’s rubber emporium where he seems to have bought every plus tyre known to man and possibly a few illegal remoulds. Downsides were there’s a bit of cush – especially on the rear – you lose and a little of the monster truck roll over is compromised, but mainly that my tyre-hoarding friend not unreasonably wanted his wheel back.

Again if Mr Sensible were in the driving seat, we’d be back on the road to financial probity and refitting the parts owned and paid for. Never going to happen because Impetuous the drunk took the wheel, crashed into the bike shop and pointed at shiny new round things demanding the owner ‘take my money’, Which he did delivering back a perfect wheel naked as the day it was made. A second trip to Haydn’s warehouse of all things rubbery and we were ready to go, travel great distances and conquer huge obstacles powered by rightness and the satisfaction of having followed our dreams – a place where logic, rationale and imminent bankruptcy rarely get a look in.

Except we weren’t. Because the disks from the old wheels were one standard and the new ones something else entirely, And the chain too worn to run on a new cassette which also necessitated further transmission purchases to guarantee smooth running. Smooth that is, if a little harsh – you see I couldn’t shake the feeling that a 140mm fork would be so much better than the clearly inferior 120mm admirably holding up the front end.

Parts were ordered, parts failed to turn up, suppliers were shouted at, parts still failed to turn up, the world turned and I kept riding the chubby in drying conditions. And it was close to brilliant on the local trails, bang it into a corner, MBR high elbow optional – but you know for the look of the thing –  eyes on the apex, fingers off the brakes and experience the magic of 3 inch tyres biting into tortured dirt. If you push just a little bit harder, it’ll fling you out the other side with little pilot input other than a big grin. Sure all bikes do this, but chubby’s do it a bit better if – like me – you’re not really very good at the whole entry-apex-exit thing.  So yeah, fab but that fork….

Finally the part, which I’d now recategorised as a mythical beast that was much heard about but never seen, arrived and a single day later we were riding atop a longer fork and IT WAS FINISHED. Irritatingly finished 24 hours before a family holiday entirely incompatible with tree splattering injuries. Best take it easy then especially as the suspension-man gave me strict instruction to run the fork a little harder than my normal ‘yeah that’s abut right’ level of sag.  Mincing about it still seemed to be going quite fast, with the now perfect fork using nowhere near full travel even when challenged with some of my rubbish landings.

If anything tho, it whipped round the corners with even more precision. Not a word to be used lightly when I’m behind the bars. It gave me a bit more confidence which was rewarded with a bit more speed which then led to less braking and even more speed. Speed being a relative term but the devil that is Strava said nice things once we’d dusted ourselves off in the pub.

So have the four figure upgrades delivered value then? I guess that depends on your definition of value. Qualitatively, absolutely not – the cost of the minor increase in performance cannot be justified even within the skewed universe I inhabit. Qualitatively tho – that’s harder, it’s been a fun experience and I absolutely love the chubby. The Aeris is a better all round bike of course, but I think the plus bike is just a bit more fun. As if it makes cornering – which makes up a fairly substantial part of of the riding metier – a little closer to perfection,  you cannot put a price on that.

Two things to finish on – firstly after that first ride a good 20mm of suspension travel remained unused. Yep exactly the place I came in thinking that was all the bike lacked. Secondly my favourite bike manufacturer has unveiled some thigh-rubbing chubby full suss bikes two of which I’ll be demo-ing next month. I can’t see that ending well.

C’mon Buzz we’ve infinity to discover.

*either semantic definition works here.

**and there’s not many who would argue with that. Not those with x and y chromosomes anyway.

*** I’m not doing this on purpose. I’ve already taken out two references to ‘flange’

Go Long

Biggest MTB ride for a while

Ride day – standing in the shedofdreams(tm) staring disconsolately at the rain. Bike ready, rider ready, door open to a world of opportunity, sky full of wet. Storm trooper clouds ranked in darkening shades of grey. Wind bending summer vegetation horizontal and accelerating spiteful precipitation.

It’s not climate change, it’s weather. Can’t help feeling it might be both with the Jet Stream lying heavy at a blocking latitude so separating our little storm tossed island from a baking continent. Meteorological BREXIT right there.

I believe a heartfelt ‘fuck it’ might be in order here. Get on the bike and pedal into the warm rain. It’s more tropical rainforest than temperate atlantic. Sweat is  everywhere except up top where it takes a further two miles to reconcile cool head with lack of helmet. Sign, switch direction, grab hat, turn about, check watch, second fuck it of the day, crank like a man being chased by a bear to hit the start deadline.

This, I reflect, breathlessly is exactly the reason riding starts with driving – solving difficult pre-coffee problems of spikey bikes and knackered trailers equating to a 10 minute journey into Ross. Ignoring internal combustion it’s only 5 minutes longer to get there under my ever increasing steam. Rarely do so tho due to the prevailing geography of a sodding massive hill inconveniently positioned between pub and gasping collapse in the shed come 6pm. Not today. I refer you to previous fuck it comments.

Arrive at rendezvous. Nonchalantly mention I’ve heroically ridden 10km to get here. Receive little vainglorious feedback. Make the point it a bit more strongly. Still not getting much back. Sulk as we head out on relentless damp trails that were last dry in April. As a dirty protest I’ve refused to clothe myself in sufficient winter gear to waterproof a small elephant, but ground conditions suggest I may have chosen poorly.  Never mind on we go.

Two hours to Bacon. There’s not too much excitement in between. A steep up’n’down in the local woods, then broken roads and steep tarmac ascents with flat puddles reflecting riders silhouetted by steepled cloud. It’s good to be back out on the bike tho after a week of travelling, London, meetings, early mornings and late finishes. All that falls away as we climb two valleys before finally dropping into some singletrack wet after rain but joyous nevertheless. I bottle a jump, fall into a hole hidden by Dr Livingstone vegetation but nevertheless arrive at Burnt-Pig-Central only mildly bruised and muddied.

We pick up Tim – a new member of the cohort yet to be inducted to the order of the Claret.  Only a matter of time as we head off into the Forest which last week was pretty much winter except with warmer water. It’s a little better this time around but still hard-pack is a distant memory. As is my fitness which appears to have already left for its summer holidays leaving me to gasp uphills with legs only interested in a mutinous walking of the plank.

Finally some downhill. Pretty good as well, breathed on by the trail pixies, it’s flowy, bermed and occasionally enlivened by scary gap jumps. We all make our way down except for Tim whose brave effort at a slippy roll in ends in multiple  bleedings from three different extremities. Welcome to the club fella – you might want to think about some knee pads.

We ride on – Tim’s far tougher than me and doesn’t complain about his various leakages – first re-learning winter skills on an exposed trail and then pine needle harvesting on a long singletrack best remembered for wild hip movements and shape throwing threading wide bars through narrow trees.  I bang my shoulder twice and flip a bar plug out, after confusing cockiness with precision, but we’re through and relaxing with an ice cream in the rain.

Inevitably talk turns to what’s next and my entreaties for a quick route home are countered by the DDM (see here: http://pickled-hedgehog.com/?p=3361) fundamentalism which suggests no one is close to death yet. So it’s another big climb followed by perfect dirt seemingly unmarked by the rain. So much fun, it was almost like summer out there.

Not for long. Road grind took us to the other side of the forest mired deep in slop and energy sucking terrain. Get that done, head to the pub on thankfully drier trails. Quick check of the watch shows the little hand on 4 and I’m still 25km from home. Doesn’t stop the clamour for a beer, but stays the next one as we train it back to Ross with the first tailwind of our day on our backs.

Another pub. Another pint but then I’m up and gone leaving the fellas to the late afternoon sunshine and their G&Ts. Passed what is normally the last climb at a far reduced pace knowing the next big hill wasn’t being conquered in the car.

That last 10km was a bit of an effort. Desperate to freewheel to ease cramping limbs and – frankly – an arse which really didn’t want to spend another second on the saddle. Finally home hoved into view.  There were no banners or finishing lines, merely a shed to dump the bike and a long suffering partner offering me food, then more food and when that was done, whatever was left in the fridge.

The following morning I was walking like a cowboy recently introduced to a difficult horse. Sometimes though you have to test yourself a little bit. Extend the horizon, don’t take the easy option, see how far you can push your ageing body.

Go long or go home. Or in my case, both.

Sensible is for other people

Antur Stiniog MTB

“I’m only going to take photographs. Three runs max. I won’t be doing the black’. Weasily words framing a picture full of three dimensional possibilities, outlier’d by a difficult visit to a Welsh hospital.

I love Antur.  Love is not a verb often thrown around by a professional Yorkshireman. Especially considering the opposite is hate, and that’s an emotion cast large by the fan-like vista opening as you climb into the industrialised slate valley home to tracks inspiring those poignant extremes of non sequential thoughts a million miles away from ambivalence.

I love this place/I hate this place. I want to ride/I want to hide. It’ll be fantastic/I’ll be useless.  People I know well, who’ve shared their insecurities with me, appear entirely unconcerned while they encase themselves in body armour and full face helmets. I’m clumsy with taped fingers and adrenaline spiked muscle palsy. Is it me? Probably.

Normally I’m quick to fabricate an excuse for my piss poor performance. Today tho I’m ahead of that game with a broken finger encased in a fat splint. A visual metaphor for rocking the MinceCore vibe, a reason to be last, a chance to stop after barely getting started. And the first run almost triggers that release clause,

Two fingers to grip the bar- one of which is pumping the brake lever. Everything feels forced, nothing feels natural. Views of riders I can normally hang onto breach the horizon wide angle, the bike feels shit and I feel about the same. Taped fingers hang useless under the bar, and even tho it’s barely midday I’m keen to join them there.

Three runs. Not getting any better. Stop for lunch and have a whinge. Matt wonders if removing my head from my arse and just be grateful for riding at any pace might not be a bad idea. He’s got a point but I’m not keen to accept it. Instead I angrily hack away first at my gloves then my taped fingers to release the working one from the broken digit.

Things are immediately better. So much so after a few runs we head for the Black which nearly did for my mate Rex last year.  I didn’t ride that section which in no way stifled the joy of the next kilometre blasting over rock gardens and having it small to medium over the jumps and drops. Oh God, this is why we do this, this is the love of the mountain, this is the antidote to the tired existentialism of living on the margins.

Three times my mate Ian and I did that trail. We left the others to do their own thing. Faster I’m sure, having more fun? I not sure about that at all. The uplift bus heaved us up for one last time once we’d greedily shoved dusty bikes onto the trailer.

A single nod triggered the three pedal rotations to breach the entry. Then it’s freewheel, look, really LOOK, unweight, weight, brake to avoid smashing the double with a front wheel, deep breath loud in the full face as you drop into a rocky horror. The bike is way too good and you’re out and accelerating.

Sure you’re not clearing the massive tabletops or taking on the biggest drops but your beating heart is smashing the message against your chest that you are really alive. We weren’t fast but we were smooth and sliding into the car park we shared a self-conscious fist pump* and a massive grin. That stayed with us all the way home.

Here’s the thing. Mountain Biking is living in the moment. There is no time for nuance or procrastination. There is no middle ground. Selfishness is a winning attribute. All you can think about is you, the bike and the trail. That’s it. Life isn’t like that. Well there rest of it anyway. This is the balance, the counterweight, the release of a shitty day, the reason to conform.

If you don’t have this, how the hell do you carry on? Seriously, without adrenaline spiked muscles gently rocking the bike, without the dry mouth, without the minds-eye projection of a splattered you, without the visceral joy of getting it right, without the entirely non english giggling with your fiends, without being not quite like you, how the fuck do you put a suit on to chow down some corporate shit?

This is not a zero-sum-game. There are consequences of treating being average as someone else’s problem. Injury, elitism, financial disaster, selfishness…. the list goes on but so do we. Because five seconds of dropping into something scary with  an awesome bike underneath you and your greatest friends beside you is worth all of this.

I’m writing this with an aching finger that clearly would heal better were it not being subjected to serial battering by glacial history. A sensible person would do nothing, play the long game, refuse to regress to childish instant rewards – essentially be an adult.

I’m 48 and quite a lot. But I’m not ready for that

*to be fair I can’t shake hands right now so cut me some slack.

CHUBFINGER

Wonky finger

Since being born again into the church of mountain biking some fifteen years ago, hospitalisation has only been required on three occasions. Two broken ribs, one floating piece of shoulder bone and a should-there-be-a-bone-poking-out-here? knee. Not a bad return at all when considered against non biking trips to A&E including being run over twice – first time shattering my pelvis, second bruising me all over and breaking my nose. Which I then broke again two years later attempting to ram raid a supermarket. With my face*

50,000 or more kilometres and only three major accidents. That’s because I’m not very brave. For the others, well clumsiness is an appropriate catch-all for my endless pratfalls.  Which makes sitting here nursing a broken finger so bloody annoying. I crossed the streams of mountain biking and denuded spacial awareness with the inevitable result. Even so at least a hundred times I’ve swung into the back of Matt’s van using the usefully supplied handle that is both inside and safe. Neither of which can be attributed to the ‘A’ pillar, over which my fingers were inappropriately clamped, as Matt hard-slammed the substantial drivers door.

Not his fault, I put those fingers in harms way. Third one on the right hand was now stamped in a perfect facsimile of a T5 chassis. That smarted a bit but an impromptu sitting of the MTFU fracture clinic assured me it was merely bruised. A while later at the hotel, they demurred a bit and suggested any finger that shape would be well served in Kendal A&E. But here’s the problem; we were one day into a long Lake District weekend and any hospital intervention was likely to curtail the next two days riding. And anyway the bar was open.

Even with the healing power of beer**, the next morning brought no improvement unless ‘being a bit more black’ counts. For a second I considered not riding with it. Lakes, mountains, epic views, carries and climbs, massive rocks and scary steeps. All of these were waiting, as was a day looking out of the window wondering what I was missing. I decided not to miss it and anyway the third finger is kind of optional. Index for braking, digit two for grip, little finger for balance, third finger like bloke#3 in the bobsleigh. Basically ballast.

That’s what I told myself anyway and even tho it was pointing in an entirely different direction to it’s perpendicular brethren, the might of modern disc brakes and six inches of suspension made it nothing more than uncomfortable. That particular bike looks its cue from the rider and broke something rather important in one of those dampers. So the next day it was more of the same only this time on a rigid fat bike. Still all good, except the finger colour was now all a bit Hotblack Desiato. ***

Arrived home and was rightly sent to A&E which quickly showed a clean break at the top knuckle, with the bonus of a slice of bone sticking out. Local medical professionals took one look at that before rapidly dispatching me and the finger-bobs homage to Hereford Fracture clinic. Where I was breezily examined, x-rayed, splinted, briefly pontificated and then sent me home in a very non NHS 90 mins start to finish. The finger quack did want to operate originally which involved 3 wires, a general anaesthetic and 12 weeks of no useful finger mobility. Which included a ban on riding bikes and driving. So we had a worried-man to distracted-man discussion until I talked him out of it, although his main priority was  to remove me from his consulting room. To be fair, it was lunchtime and he looked a hungry sort.

Upshot is finger will always be wonky, should get the grip strength back, physio will be painful but in the interim CAN RIDE MY BIKE. The prospect of 12 MTB free weeks as summer wafts over the seasonal horizon left me desperately unhappy. Had it come to pass Carol would have been forced to call in the bomb squad to effect a controlled explosion of the Grumpy. In 4 weeks – the advice says 6 but I’ll beat that – I’m back to see Mr ‘are you still here, I thought we were done’ for another x-ray hopefully showing just the one bone in that finger, knitted if knobbly. And that finger all pointing in mostly the same direction without a comedy droop.

CHUBFINGER

Until then I am CHUBFINGER. The splint is massive, doubling the size of the digit and encasing it in a rigid plastic prison. Consequences include activating random car instrumentation with chubfinger toggling any switchgear radiused within a foot of the steering wheel. Typing is a pain in the arse finger even with my two digit hunt and peck style. Basically I’ll need a keyboard with a metre square return key if I’m not to delete every second word. Riding has yet to be attempted, but I’m in the process of creating a franken-glove and a route for an easy ride to test it out.

While I gained permission to get back on the bike, the rider was swiftly added not to fall off it. I’ve modified that to don’t fall off right. Since my serious injuries were left knee, left shoulder and left side of the rib cage, I think I’m in good shape. Although from a finger perspective, that’ll be a slightly wonky shape.

Im 10% into the 30 splint wearing days before the next examination. And already it’s pissing me off massively. The option though was three months of staring out of the window  getting fat and angry which may or may not have resulted in a slightly less wonky finger at the end of it. Or infection, or nerve damage. But to be honest it was ‘ride now or ride in 12 weeks’ that made the decision for me. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my 48 years it’s that instant gratification represents pretty much my default state.

One other thing I’ve learned in the last week is do not place fragile body parts in areas of potential percussion. Rather wish I’d learned it maybe 1 day before.

*don’t ask. Please don’t ask. Alcohol was predictably involved.

** and port. And whisky. Cut me some slack here, I nearly lost the arm 😉

*** HHGTTG. The books. Not the crap film. If you haven’t read them and you’re reading this, you need to have a SERIOUS look at your priorities

 

Pyga in the middle

FoD AL - April 2015

First an apology. Or at least half of one. My promise to exit hedgehog stage left, so relocating the production of peak loquaciousness to Cranked comes with a rider. That’s a proper publication and this post is – at best – a random stream of consciousness. Seb deserves better – and for that the next missive is already chambered in the breech of recent Pyrenean experiences.

Until that, this. The Pyga has gone as part of a coping strategy bound up in two fatish bikes replacing two thinner ones. The Moustache exited the ShedOfDreams deep in midwinter and is delivering sterling service to a good mate. The Pyga had a rather more difficult parting, mostly because I didn’t really want to sell and it wasn’t quite the right bike for the bloke who insisted it was.

31 months I’ve had that bike. For me that’s basically an eternity. 4520 kilometres we’ve been together although tellingly only 45 of those have passed under wheel since the Bird flew into the shed last April.  And that’s the problem, when I wanted a full-suss the Aeris was just better everywhere except maybe climbing and I’m way past caring about that. For thrashing about the Chubby is just a bit more fun, while for full on winter stupidity we have the cycling equivalent of the village idiot ready to go. Fat and Dumb.

Logically then no point keeping it. Hate having bikes hanging off the wall never  ridden. And when I did all the old magic had gone. Which is odd considering all those local death marches, the weekends away, the foreign trips all the time honing the parts into a final configuration of light, strong and eye waveringly expensive.

Never really felt under-biked even with an entirely un-enduro 110mm of rear travel, and only an inch more up front. An observer from the flouro community would judge it a smidge big, way too steep and a little bit high. Which entirely fails to factor in the limiting variable hanging on too hard to the contact points.

Even so, when a mate of a mate wanted to try a new bike – the story behind that is in the next Cranked Mag – I offered him mine on the understanding it was to prove a 29er suited the taller gentleman, not for sale. He’s one of those at 6ft3 most of it leg whereas I’m on the line at 5ft11 with legs of stump.

He rode it and declared a passion for ownership but I wasn’t so sure. The seatpost teetered close to the minimum insertion mark, the reach looked cramped and even with a sellers squint it had the look of a bike one size too small. Being a honest sort of bloke I told him this, made him try H’s mutant sized Niner and offered multiple get out clauses if he changed his mind.

He didn’t. I still worried so threw in a longer stem and performed an act of oily alchemy* to add 2 inches to a dropper post. I still wasn’t sure and neither was the Pyga which clearly didn’t want to go.

Surprising really after I’d serviced it the night before alternating spanners and beers. The cool light of a spring day illuminated a non working front mech and a rear shock burgled of most of its air during the night. A tad embarrassing but nothing that some well placed blows wouldn’t put right for the duration of our ride together.

You see I wanted him to give it another go. Still time to walk away from the ride. No chance of that with conditions improving from ‘bloody horrible‘ to ‘mildly tacky‘ so everything seemed easier, more stuff was ridden, whoops were whooped, giggles were giggled.

Who am I – I thought – to deny a man whoops and giggles? He’s getting the bike at mates rates which translates to the frame essentially being thrown in for free. A frame which less than three years ago set me back £1,700. But now it owes me nothing at all. That’s a tenner per week for good times and great times. Cost and value right there.

Ride ended and the bike’s in his car. And in that perfect circle of endless revolutions, the man now owning the Pyga offered his previous steed to another mate who was about half his size. An offer which was gratefully accepted. That’s surely not going to end well.

Maybe I’m over-thinking this. Too late,  there’s a gap on the wall and a bit of sadness in my soul.  The Pyga was more than just a bike, it was permeable alloy saturated with a visual bank of brilliant memories. And while the Aeris is better,  it’s marginal gains at best. So I’ll console myself with the clear fact it’s being enjoyed by someone else rather than languishing unloved in the shed.

Not sure I want to see it again tho. A bit like your ex turning up at your wedding.

*well Matt did. I stood in his garage wondering if anything needed hitting with a hammer.

Nothing to see here..

As all my mountain bike posts will be on the Cranked Mag Blog from now on. First one is here

At some point I’ll do a proper re-direct so anyone who comes here ends up there in the time travelling way of the Internet.

It probably spells the end of this blog. Ideas for something new are vaguely taking some kind of nebulous shape. And the Hedgehog is nearly ten years old. Probably about the right time for a mercy killing 😉

 

Living in the moment

Malvern Hills - from the saddle

Well thats a thing eh? I do love the mashings of axioms and idioms fermenting some form of idiot proclaiming that unless you, YES IT’S YOU I’M LOOKING AT, are fully immersed in the moment, this moment, RIGHT NOW, then you’re wasting your life, missing the point, merely fucking about at an atomic level waiting for the sword of entropy to slash away for a mercy killing.

Being an mountain biker  I actually have quite a lot of time for the concept of focussing on the here and now. Failing to make a decision when facing difficult technical obstacles statistically has difficult outcomes of blood, crushed bones and nil by mouth. Riding lumpy terrain at any kind of speed flicks your world to the monochrome – race or cruise left or right, brake or commit, jump or roll.

Yeah I get that. Made lots of shitty decisions, Got the scars to prove it but transposing this to real life has some problems. Let’s start with the vocational cadaver that is HR. Human Resources or – as it is known to everyone who is not a ‘HR professional’ Human Remains.  No longer is it acceptable to deal with serial incompetences with ‘Your village is missing an idiot. I suggest you get back there. You’d be doing both of us a favour

As a long time hand-ringing liberal I’m hugely encouraged by the steps made to encourage and mandate equality. No one wants to go back to those dark times so perfectly presented in ashes-to-ashes, but with all the brilliant stuff that comes with creating a level playing field, we seem to have lost the ability to gently explain that some behaviour is only be acceptable if you are about 8.

I blame email. Amongst other things. A medium for passive aggressiveness that allows arseholes to respond to a 30 minute carefully contrived missive on how fucking stupid their idea is with ‘Noted‘. The only response is to reach for the bottle or throw them off the balcony in the morning. And that’s just not allowed anymore. Even for lawyers.

This tip-toeing about of the chattering classes would be just about fine were it not for the unreconstructed fuckwits at senior management levels who still institute and follow a bullying culture on the grounds that the lesser people just don’t understand how important they are. Middle aged white men generally who are definitely living in the moment, making decisions based on ego and gut reaction. Wow hiring and firing having consulted amniotic bacteria. Good luck with that.

This is why I can never have an employment contract again. It’s going to end badly for everyone. I’m not for following groupthink rules developed by those who never spent any time wondering where interesting ideas might come from. This is not me being some kind of Wolfe-Smith Maverick sticking it to the man, more an understanding that with nearly 50 years under the rotation of the stars that frankly there’s a bit more to life.

It’s unfair to ask people to live in the moment. We’d be punching each other before the first coffee was poured.  Each day we walk through the corporate door, we’re wrestling with political correctness, stupid rules, well meaning edicts and shiny fuckwits with sharp suits and nothing else.

I’m in no way advocating a return to the class-ridden gender politics of our parents, nor the idea that respect is something you earn rather than something that defines us as inherently human.  Not for a moment do I believe that where you came from is somehow more important from what you can do. And the idea that some corporate position allows you to make value judgements on those who you feel are inferior is as abhorrent now as it was when I was placard-wielding undergrad.

But there’s a huge amount of angst in the world. Some of it – and I accept it’s by no means all of it – are those striving for an unattainable happiness. If you are going to have any time at all for living in the moment it should be to relish every second of the journey. Good times and bad. Successes and failures. Living the dream and waking in the nightmare.

This is one of the many reasons I love riding mountain bikes. It’s pretty much an exercise in not thinking.  Every decision is mandatory, transient and accountable. Every idea is seeded from the epic 3D environment we’re within. The highs are higher and the lows are lower.

It’s a fair trade. But reality bites hard.

Stupid, Inappropriate and Fat.

Malverns Skive Ride :)

Mythology is a school of pseudo-science rarely attended by the Hedgehog. For good reason; most of it is the laughable premise of astrology mashed up with conspiracy theorists last seen flatulently dancing naked in crop circles.

Occasionally though there’s a nugget resonating far below the astral plane populated by those not convinced alien abduction features large in their life plans*. Here’s one ‘People begin to resemble their pets

Or bikes possibly. Although in my case this suggests a schizophrenia diagnosis where four rides pushed open the door of the ShedOfDreams(tm)to bring forth many different bicycles.

Sunday was a classic winter slog. I dragged the Aeris from the shed on the grounds it was already dirty. It’s a broken seat post and wandering gears from a working bicycle, but blindsided entropy for long enough to slither about in conditions requiring core strength, bike handling skills and bravery furnace-forged in front tyre fundamentalism with traction hiding under sideways motion.

None out of three isn’t bad***

Fun tho. Not enough effort go spend the rest of the day in the pub. So facing a dark week of no booze, my response was to chuck the FatBike and deluded rider at the Malverns to see what might happen. What happened was much steep’n’deep freshly cut loam grabbing those four inch tyres right up to the point where Mr. Stupid on top undercooked a steep corner, caressed a tree and had a bit of a wild eyed moment while gravity took over.

I grabbed that tree while the bike flipped end over end in an ever accelerating arc. Was mildly worried about the damage, was extremely happy I was no longer attached. Missing crampons, it took a while to retrieve the remains but happily the damage was limited to a kinked reverb cable and doubled over mudguard. Smacking both with a handy rock got us going again.

An hour later though my experimentation of essentially rigid bikes in a geological mess of step-y bedrock suggested there might be better tools for the job. That’s of course ignoring the argument the real problem sits atop the very thing we’re blaming for being a bit inappropriate.

Best thing here is to ignore that difficult supposition and instead switch bikes. Having so many, it took me a second or so to drag the ‘Chubby‘ from the rack for a night ride in the hills above Ross. As a man publicly declared that night riding is a chore foisted on me by a tilting planet, slogging darkly through conditions one mud-micron removed from the trenches of Flanders requires quite an effort of will.

Two weeks ago it was shit. Everyone else seem to be enjoying it. I was miles behind hating being useless and hating smashing against trees. Now tho it’s mostly dried out so it’s fast and fun. Sure another week of dry weather will surface perfect early season loam, but late Feb this is bloody brilliant. Climb on fire roads missing puddles, descend on trails sucking tyres into drying dirt, believe in the speed that’ll send hardtails over gap jumps and then relive it all drinking beer on pub chairs not ruined by gritty shorts. Don’t be shy Spring, I think I can see you.

Once more into the fray demanded the brain. Legs rebelled ‘really, REALLY, three rides and one bastard spin session, we were there you know’. Brain offered ‘How about a run instead’ Legs: “Oh do bugger off, no really we’re done with this week

Ignoring the NCO limbs, I trailer-strapped the chubster and headed out to a Flipperati reunion. Five years ago we rode every Thursday regardless of the weather, but shifting priorities saw this last occur 18 months ago.

It was fab. Not entirely dry. Not entirely comfortable. Two of us were rocking dropper posts, 1×10, slack geo’s, short stems and knee pads. The third of the flipperati dug out his ten year old Santa Cruz Heckler sporting 3×9, steep head angles and roadie tights.

Early on he was fast uphill but rubbish the other way. That’s track cycling for you. But as the night marched on, the distance between us foreshortened and it was mostly like the old days. Not quite but close enough, but after the last descent there wasn’t time for a breath to gap the joy of close quarter racing on trails we used to take for granted.

At the end of the week, all that riding unlocked the ‘beer and pizza‘ achievement. I sat in the pub cradling a pint in the good company of a whole bunch of friends missed through the thimble of a Dry January. We talked about how the trails were pretty damn good right now, but God how bloody great is it going to be come British Summer Time.

Most of the way out of the dark now. Let’s hope someone nudged Spring to let it know it’s time to light up the trails.

*these aren’t all nutjobs. Phillip K Dick – the man who wrote the classic Blade Runner** – spent most of his waking life convinced he was being targeted by alien races.

** Do androids dream of electronic sheep was the book which inspired the iconic movie.   I reckon Phil had a bit of Yorkshireman in him.

*** As Meatloaf would have sung has Jim Steinman retained a single iota of honesty.

Running out of time

There are many things I dislike. Most of them involve activities steeped in principle and hard work. Stuff from which there is no place to hide, no sniping from the sidelines, no swerving through clever words.

Occasionally this intersects with two wheels leaving me wrestling a difficult juxtaposition between good fun and proper effort.  Not running tho – that’s a hateful activity carried out by those missing a bicycle in their life. Any personal dabbling with the Devil’s Treadmill generally leaves me bored, injured and entirely bereft of this mythical ‘Runners High‘ pitched by those with product to sell.

I only have two issues with running; 1- it’s impossible to buy your way into any level of adequacy and 2-it’s entirely unsuited for a man of my physical decrepitude. Mountain bikers crash and hurt themselves, occasionally they crock a knee or strain a muscle in pursuit of laudable goals. Runners are basically injuries waiting for somewhere to happen. Having read a few forums, I’m staggered we don’t pass hundreds of weekend joggers lying supine on the roadside raising a last working limb in a vain attempt to attract attention.

No point in responding. Just encourages them. On revival there’ll be some loquacious diatribe on how a lack of mid-sole support stuttered a stride pattern previously perfected by video analysis. Sure I said you can’t buy yourself into faking joggery, but this in no ways stops those bankrupting themselves trying.

In my day – and I accept this was quite a long time ago – you’d add a pair of trainers to your football kit before vaguely accelerating round the playing field under the hateful whistle of the PE teacher.  Up front would be three blokes in vests clearly channeling Chariots Of Fire, while the mid pack churned mud in grumpy apathy leaving those ‘challenged’ pupils out back acting as lap markers.

Guess which group had a gasping Al in? I’m uniquely misconfigured for running. Short legs – once memorably described as ‘He’s a six foot man from the waist up and a dwarf from the hips down‘ – shorter hamstrings and a respiratory system permanently restricted by chronic Asthma.

And that’s before we switch mental gears to my aforementioned inability to get with the worthy programme. Sure hard graft pays off the long term, but cheating works right now. With any payoff buttressed by a month of abject misery slogging through the horror of a Northern winter, my excuses book bulged with many reasons why this wasn’t for me.

It hasn’t changed much since. A few desultory jogs when there was nothing on the TV. Occasional terrifying flashbacks when latter day football coaches insisted on laps of another muddy field, and a few 100 yard sprints to out-run some angry stove-faced individual keen to smash my face in.*

Until this morning.  Nursing my first proper hangover of 2016 while focussing almost 100% of my bodily functions to digesting a massive bacon sandwich, some random brain fart gave wind to the idea that a quick jog might be a good idea. On reflection it was a terribly bad idea, hard to know how I could have chosen less wisely? Maybe spent that 30 minutes nail gunning my thighs**

Being an equipment faddy, you may be surprised that I kitted myself out in an outfit starkly reminiscent of those hated Wednesday afternoons some thirty years past – T-Shirt, pair of ragged shorts, pristine Gym Trainers (bought on a whim during a delusional period where I considered going to one) and my trusty BitFat.

A little subsequent research suggests things have moved on a bit. I was consumed by a fit of giggles on scanning a running forum where two fat people argued endlessly over which £200 shoes were the ultimate running accessories. Then considered the bicycling equivalent of the same in the ShedOfDreams(tm) before nodding to my virtual kindred spirits.

So I stared slowly and worked down from there. My plan was to run for thirty minutes in an effort to cover five kilometres. On the plus side, this doesn’t even really qualify as running, it’s more of a brisk jog to fetch the papers. On the negative plane, the roads were under water and my running gait closely matches that of a hungry chicken in sight of a tasty leftover.

I tried extending my stride beyond a desperate hobble once it became apparent I’d barely reach the end of the drive at the current rate of progress. This resulted in my legs hurting a lot without noticeably increasing velocity. So I switched to shifting those feet a little faster which just left me very knackered, very quickly.

It quickly became apparent that my ‘limp home mode’ pace was as good as it was going to get. For the first twenty minutes, the scenery passed by extremely slowly while I managed boredom and soaking feet. The last ten minutes had all of that pushed somewhat into the background by stiffening muscles and twinging knees.

On seeing the house, rather than go with my first thought which was to lie in the road and genuflect my thanks for survival agains the odds, I sprinted to get the bloody thing over with. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, in my entire skeletal setup liked that very much at all.

So much so I slumped in the shed, while Strava mocked my 10 minute mile pace, perspiring greatly and wondering if this harsh clicking of bones could ever be a good thing. Took me a while to get in the shower on the not unreasonable grounds the bathroom is located above a difficult set of stairs.

I’m running out of time. This is a young mans activity. Any marginal gains to my fitness will be negated by important body parts seizing up or breaking down.  I’ve given it a go and shall now consider it closure against some troubling childhood memories.

Except I sort of enjoyed it. For a while anyway. There’s a simplicity to merely strapping on a pair of shoes and going outside that’s mildly appealing. And now I’ve immersed myself in the world of the modern runner, there is clearly much in the shiny / nebulous realm to be acquired.

First things first tho, before I consider running again, I’d best make sure I can walk in the morning. 50/50 chance at best.

*you may be surprised to hear it really is only a few. Most of the time I could talk myself out of trouble. The rest of the time I sort of talked myself into it 😉

**similar result. Saved myself some nails.