You can’t handle the forecast

Elan Valley Epic - April 2010

This photo brings back so many memories. Most of them accompanied by an involuntary shiver and a quick count of frost-nipped toes. An early spring day starting full of sunshine and enthusiasm but ending with grim relief and barely dodged hypothermia.

Seven years ago. Enough time passed for me to sign up to something both similar and a little more ambitious. This time tho I’ve handed over the guiding to a professional outfit promising all-weather routes, flawless logistics and fantastic riding finishing each day with hot and cold running beer.

It was a dark day in winter when my mate Adam pinged over the details of the Trans-Cambrian 3 day yomp starting in mid Wales and pretty much heading due north.  Brilliant I thought; dog end of summer, a bit of autumn crisp under Indian-summer skies. I’ll be fit and raring to go for a mini epic before the tilting planet darkens our days and drowns our trails.

Reality is a bugger. I’m as uninjured as a 50 year old man with a dubious diet, significant beer habit and an old fashioned approach to any kind of preventative body maintenance can be. The itinerary speaks of three hard days with the middle one standing out in terms of distance and climbing.  No issue with that; done a few of those, and my pre-ride preparation of two weeks of 12 hour days, the occasional libation and the remains of a Toblerone bar on my keyboard suggest I’m peaking at exactly the right time.

The weather tho. Looking for a positive, its not quite as unremittingly shit as previously forecasted- so bad the organiser was compelled to email out a stark warning that stout waterproofs, a stiff upper lip and at least county class breast stroke would likely be required on at least one day. And probably the next one assuming you hadn’t drowned/lost the will to live/called in the spousal support vehicle while publicly rubbing a ‘difficult‘ hamstring.

Now we’re just going to get wet. Leaving me a dilemma of bike choices; the new one shod with proper tyres hung between tubes which could hold a soupçon of mud without shutting down forward movement. Or the ‘old’* one with none of those things but sporting a rather natty new XTR mech.

The right choice would have been the SolarisMax of course, tried and tested on 29er running gear and designed for Peak District conditions that have much in common with what we’re about to ride into**

Sadly I’d robbed that for parts so after some olympic class ditheration, I finally threw the Mojo3 in the car on the grounds the bearings could do with a change so I might as well destroy them completely. Also Adam thought it was a good idea, so already I have someone to blame.

And I might need too. As this is an organised trip, we’re joined with seven other riders. Never met the one of them My bingo card reads: nerds, straverists, friendless nut jobs with questionable personal hygiene, a man who has never fixed a puncture, someone who’s demanding if we’re there, yet and a bloke with a map board.

That’s something to look forward too. It might take my mind off the weather assuming the possible lightening strikes stay away. Maybe that’s the subliminal reason I went with the 2.8 wide tyres.

Anything is going to be a relief tho after these last three weeks of work attempting to shove 40 days effort into 15 elapsed, writing neatly 20,000 words, proof reading about double that all the time attempting – metaphorically speaking – to wrestle an octopus into a string bag.

Bikes, big landscapes, nothing to do but ride, no email, no meetings, no more FUCKING PROOF READING, everything organised- sounds bloody brilliant. The last time that happened we were in Spain choking down dust on some of the best trails I’ve ever ridden.

Adam did crack a couple of ribs and I broke my hand, but otherwise it was fantastic. And mostly dry. Whatever, beats the hell out of sitting in front of this time stealer for one more second. And on that note, beer and packing. Probably in that order.

*six months old. In the shedofdreams(tm) that’s pretty much a cultural relic.

**Rain, Grit, Mud, Sheep, Strange beer.

Testing times

Smuggler first ride

In the last seventeen years plausible deniability cannot shield the uncomfortable truth that at least 30 bikes have been, briefly stayed and are now long gone.  Once within a single day*

Sheds full of bikes distinguishable only by colour – during a strange period of acquiring 80mm travel hardtails – suggested collection rather than utility.  Supplanted by a rambling pantheon from fully rigid to full on freeride interspersed with bikes of transient notoriety. Resembled more a bike commune than the preserve of one slightly batty owner.

However, regardless of type, size and measured level of stupidity, all fresh bikes must follow the new bike protocol. A rite of passage punting the new and shiny into the realm of codified and accepted.  It has three distinct phases; faff, purchase anxiety and inconclusive conclusions.

Let’s take each of those in turn; firstly there’s a persistent legend postulating I once built my own bikes. It’s lampooned at regular intervals by those witnessing my mechanical savagery when facing down difficult mechanical problems**. Before drawing a discreet veil over the period before Matt took pity on me, I will acknowledge the many first rides where long delays to rebuild headsets or insert disc pads were not an uncommon occurrence.

Not now. The Smuggler has been built from the ground up. Friday morning we had nothing but a frame and a pair of box fresh rims. In the following 36 hours, Matt methodologically worked his way through chapters of serial problems with the air of a man to whom mechanical perfection is an open book. Fair to say even if I ever located such a book, I’d probably accidentally set fire to it before putting it out with a fire axe.

Even with such an auspicious birth, faffing was still the order of a day as we sheltered under the van’s tailgate from the persistent rain. Suspension to be tweaked, tyres to be squished, inflated, deflated and then left pretty much as they were. Once on the trails, the potential for drowning and the tight build had us stopping only a couple of times, once to stuff a bit more air in the shock*** followed by a pointless placebo bar shift which didn’t stop me declaring it as ‘way better

Purchase Anxiety is something else entirely. The thought that maybe all that cash has done nothing but prop up some marketeers sales targets.  Especially if there are other bikes in the shed which are at best similar and at worst duplicates. Not the case here, the Smuggler is at least six degrees and a widening arc different to the FlareMax.

I’m not a good enough rider to explain why. New bike glasses magnify a plusher and grippier rear end, a slightly tauter overall ride, a noticeably quicker turn in, a need to push a little harder for the bike to work properly –  but it’s all subjective nonsense. Maybe nothing more than the slick shifting and irritant free riding any new bike will deliver.

For the first 2/3rds of the ride I could have been on a Halfords special such was my inability to deal with the changed conditions. Yesterday was hard, fast and dusty – lingering motes in the sunshine, limitless traction and wide smiles. Today was polished roots, shivering and that horrible slip/grip arse twitchery associated with hard rain on soft trails.

Matt dealt with it far better than me. I consoled myself that this wasn’t a bike thing, more – as usual – an Al thing. Couldn’t commit to the corners, couldn’t pull my focus from the glistening roots barely ahead of the front wheel, couldn’t find any flow at all.

Running out of time, I gave myself a strict talking too above the last descent. Gritted mud in my teeth, took a bead on Matt’s back wheel and put Newton in the driving seat.  There’s grip to be found here if you’re not pissing it away micro-braking. Roots rapidly disappear under fast rolling big wheels, raise that chin, bend those elbows, find the balance – its further forward than your hindbrain thinks. So put that head in the danger area and feel the bike carve, grip and accelerate.

It’s still bloody greasy tho- so it’s with some relief I pop off the final drop and explain to a patient Matt what a bloody brilliant bike this is. Took two seconds off my PB which considering it’s a trail ridden nearly a 100 times and conditions were hardly perfect is at least quantifiable.  But not enough to know if it’s the bike or me.

Inconclusive conclusions. Enough meat on the bone to confidently declare the bike is a keeper. And different enough from the others to raise the hope I can justify them all. After that? I’ve had too many bikes to postulate anything other than I had a bloody great time when most of my friends called it a duvet day.

Oh and I want to ride it loads more. Maybe tomorrow, definitely Tuesday and probably for three days yomping over mountains on the Trans-Cambrian next weekend.

At the end of all this the TL;DR summary is bikes are good, new bikes are very good and this one is very good indeed.

*it was a singlespeed tho, so mitigating circumstances prevailed.

**Standard approach is to eye the offending part balefully, before much percussion from a range of ever larger hammers then declaring the managed component as suffering from ‘an electrical problem‘.

***your weight minus 15 psi the manual said. I probably need to accept I’m not 11 stone anymore.

Normal service has been resumed…

Transition Smuggler - built not ridden

.. so there is no need to adjust your preconceptions.  Soon to follow will be the tired lament of why new is better and how this latest wheeled trinket slots into a carefully curated fleet of what appears – to the less discerning observer  – a quiver of very similar bicycles. We’ve been here before.

But first that garage. It’s not mine obviously. Far too much actual engineering going on when compared to the vanity project physicalising as the ShedOfDreams*. Matt’s rationale for the stacked detritus toppling dangerously on any flat service tells of a carefully indexed system where every tool is perfectly positioned for easy access. Based on how long we both spent hunting for the 3/8ths gripley and time-bending-quantum-laster tonight, I’m starting to suspect he might be fibbing.

Whatever, time to focus. I’ve been living that noun for a few months now. Discarding once cherished bikes,  now distanced from daily driver to wall ornament by all the new and shiny passing through the revolving door of my rental fleet.  Over 4000km on the Aeris didn’t save it from being not as good to ride as the Mojo3.

Then admitting Jessie’s new bike was at best something to be shared between us saw off the Stache, And the unpleasant return of the road bike left me in such an aesthetic funk, I couldn’t wait to move it on.

Three bikes sold. Beyond focus and into fiscal probity. At this rate the Mojo3 would almost be paid for. Clearly the wisdom and gravitas of entering my sixth decade** was ushering in an epoch of financial responsibility and bicycle austerity. I was down to my last four for Christ’s sake.

Logic suggested this was more than enough for a man with only two legs.  Even when considered against a four-season strategy of riding bikes with proper tyres and sealed pivots come the return of the grim. Let the Mojo3 be brilliant in its operating envelope of Californian conditions, substituting Yorkshire grit when you personal autobiography reads ‘my life in the slop’

Ibis, Cotic Full Suss, Cotic Hardtail. Sorted. Pick a standard from the plethora of the latest offering so wheels – and more importantly tyres – can be switched between the three and settle in for a shit but smug winter. To that end I reinvested some of that sale cash in posh wheels and matching forks in the certain belief that – finally – what I held was what I wanted.

Logic will only take you so far. Longing takes you a little further. I’ve REALLY wanted a Smuggler – that’s what ^^ that is – since the launch back in 2015. For no other reason than they look a bloody good laugh. But so close to the FlareMax in travel and angles, it makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to sneak it into the shed under cover of darkness.

Let’s address that first. I did discuss it with Carol who took the news with a look of resigned resignation I’ve learned to recognise as tacit approval. My wanton slash and burn of the current fleet probably knocked her a bit off balance, and I half expected to receive a therapy voucher for my birthday.

Justification though still bites hard. On the credit side, it was cheap in the way high end mountain bike frames are only cheap to those who consider anything less than four figures being pretty much not worthy of interest. That’s just the frame of course but a slight lowering of standards snagged gears, brakes and ancillaries for something less than absolutely eye watering.

Spares and careful husbandry of existing parts supplied the rest and we’re away to Matt’s garage where many new bikes are forged. This after Carol and I had a marital disagreement over the best way to apply the hateful frame protection the night before. An argument that ended – somewhat predictably – in doing it her way because it didn’t involve smacking that pristine frame with a big hammer.

It wasn’t a difficult birth. Matt passed me a beer and asked me to stand well back from where the responsible adults were working. Stuff around internal cable routing, tricky chain lines and the potential for a major hydraulic explosion passed me by as I wondered why the hell I’d bought another bike.

No useful conclusions were reached. Instead I wrangled another beer before a dusky test ride suggested the Smuggler may be virtually only a few inches different to the FlareMax, but in the real world it’s bloody miles away.

Tomorrow will probably tell me quite how far. It may not be much and all of that might be in my head. It never stops being fun finding out tho.

*it’s basically a bar with a bunch of interesting stuff on the wall to talk about while quaffing a beer or five.

**however many times I write this, it still feels like a mealy mouthed metaphor for ‘HOW FUCKING OLD?”

Old dog, new tricks

Let me share with you a brief list of highlights which have marked the transition from fairly old to mostly irrelevant:

1) 50th Birthday. 8am. Significant hangover
2) A days down-hilling with ten of my riding buddies at Bike Park Wales
3) Most of them and a few more standing the whole family dinner on Friday night
4) A fab present from those above venn-ing my love of photography, nurd-tech and data
5) Cocktails the size of small buildings and G&Ts apparently configured to stun a medium size donkey
6) See 1)

Not learned much then.  Other than action cameras have broken free from their traditional grainy footage directed by an epileptic under a strobe light. Now the lenses are pin sharp, the stabilisation electronics somewhere between unfathomable and witchcraft, the form factor a triumph of miniaturisation and the software breathtaking in its scope.

Even the bloody user interface isn’t beyond a man whose ‘stab and swear‘ technique tends to devalue expensive electronic items through acts of repeated blunt force trauma.

So with the celebrations and after effects of those celebrations most confined to that ever increasing library of stuff I’m just calling ‘the past‘, the time had come to embrace the future.  And here it was in a box marked ‘Garmin Virb Ultra 30 4K 30FPS‘. Even as a man always ready to embrace a punchy acronym, this does feel as if someone is trying a little too hard.

Never mind that, let’s get amongst it with random cables, pointless mounts and minimal instructions hitting the recycling bin at terminal velocity, before the tiny object of my latest affection presented a single toggle switch, a button to switch it on and another one to fire up the comms array.

Apparently there are videos one is recommended to watch so as to better understand the marvel in your palm*, forums full of amateur enthusiasts** and reams of indexed electronic paper desperate to explain that 4K 30PS is not compatible with light-boost or image stabilisation.

Ignored all those. Obviously. I’m older yeah but not yet totally fucking incapable. In all the time taken for a medicinal bacon sandwich to kick in, I was already chasing Amber round the lawn shouting ‘bark you bugger, you’re on dog-cam‘. The results looks great in the tiny viewfinder and that’s before we explored what Garmin grandly terms the ‘application ecosystem‘.

What we’re talking here is the phone app which streams both a live and a saved feed from the camera, a chunk of editing software for the Mac and electronic tentacles stretching out to other Garmin products of which I appear to have many. Within seconds, my watch has established control of the start/stop recording functions, my heart rate monitor was stuffing data into something called the G-Martix and my entirely prissy iPhone was viewing footage of a wet nose attempting to eat my birthday present.

Marvellous. What a time to be alive. Seconds to find stuff, minutes to drain the battery pretty much flat. All those sensors suck power from a tiny cell already straining to support an on-board GPS and all sorts of photography sorcery.

That’s the USP tho. Not only to do you get to record for all time your mates riding away from you, there’s the added benefit of tracking just how slowly you were travelling. And it doesn’t stop there, oh no. You can also laugh at how few G you are pulling in the corners, how little height you’re boosting over jumps and investigating something called ‘hang time’ which for me appears to be measured through an entirely new field of quantum mechanics.

So much fun tho. Mounted on the bars it captures a wide field of view at ridiculous frames per second, all while managing the dappled light of a late summers morning. The GPS isn’t quite so good, lagging a bit or just giving up entirely, but blimey it looks bloody fantastic on final edit.

An edit I’ve slash/cut in a homage to Michael Bay as not everyone wants to watch what appears to be the same trails being ridden by the same blokes for 10 minutes, especially accompanied by a sound track from ‘Dodgy Northerner‘ playing ‘Howling rotors‘ on repeat.

Media Poverty dictates the awesome clarity of the raw footage is unlikely to survive upload to social media. Nor my predictable choices of music so at least you’ll be spared some 80’s dad-rock while wondering if the blur presented as a mountain biking video is a rider, a tree or a finger over the lens.

If you can endure that, you might see the bone dry trails, the dust kicking off Alex’s wheel, the grip enjoyed by cambered riders, the banter of good mates skiving off on a Sunday morning and – as previously mentioned – the sound of a man comfort braking most of the time.

No hang time tho. I’ve saved you from that.

Had a brilliant extended birthday weekend. Perfectly spent with my family and my friends and – now – my latest adventure recording device. Best make sure I get a few more of those in then.

*we’re still talking action cameras. In case you were suffering even a slither of doubt.

** I’ve been here with model aircraft. And backed away quietly while I hoped no one was watching. There are some very odd people on there. I won’t be venturing back.

Age is just a number

Last ride of my 40s. And I did in on the Hardtail. Obviously.

That’s fine. Except 50 is quite a big number when plotting it on a scale of born to dead. My half century suggests half way was some time ago leading to the inevitable conclusion I am accelerating towards the mortal end game.  I hardly need a single birthday present with such good news already bagged.

It’s not old age that scares me. Especially as it comes with a firm mandate for increased grumpiness and reduced tolerance. I’ve mostly reconciled my mortality fear now by simply displacing it with something between a minor anxiety and a crushing panic* that sometime, maybe soon I won’t be able to ride my mountain bike.

That’s quite neat because it covers age, fear, risk aversion, injury and debilitating illness. A negative bucket list if you will. On the upside our little family isn’t so little anymore, and between Carol and I** we appear to have imbued them with sufficient common sense to ensure the house doesn’t burn down as we increasingly abandon them within it.

There’s a couple of other useful things that come with age. You really stop giving a shit about the small stuff.  You find yourself entirely uninterested in vocational progression of any sort. The much vaunted wisdom may not have come your way but at least you are secure in the knowledge that absolutely everyone is winging it, not just you. And now the kids have mostly grown up so you’re free to have that second childhood you promised yourself***

50 is the new 40 apparently. Sounds like marketing bullshit. I expect my next two bits of post will be for ‘an old bloke cough and drop checkup’ and a copy of the SAGA magazine. I received my first Happy 50th Birthday from the lovely people I work with today. Only on carefully opening it did I finally admit it hadn’t been left on the wrong desk.

That was cognitive dissidence going nova. I really could not get my head round the fact that day had arrived. A snatched flashback transported me back to my 10 year old self marvelling that when the century turned over I’d be 33 years old. I’ve clearly been worrying about this for quite some time so – in keeping with my normal approach to difficult – I headed for the door exchanging street clothes for bike gear and hit the trails.

So – inevitably – we’re back to bikes. About a hundred years ago, a bike mag published an article where I rambled on about age, entropy and wondering where the end starts. It doesn’t start here. It probably started long before I wrote it. It doesn’t matter either, while there are mountain bikes, fantastic trails, loyal mates and the promise of beer later, it’ll be just like it always was.

Only not quite. Death by a thousand cuts. At some point there will be an e-bike. It won’t be the next bike I buy, but it may be the last one.  But riding tonight, hanging onto the tailcoat of summer, nothing feels different. It’s like slipping on a favourite coat – faff, climb, worry a bit, hand the driving seat over to muscle memory, make the same old mistakes, cope with well worn strategies, balance the bike, feel the trail, carve the corners, pump the jumps, love the rush, wonder what happens when this isn’t what happens on a Tuesday night.

if I have learned anything it’s about a span of control. Which is both narrower than you think and more important than you understand. Gather your tribe around you, don’t be a dick, try to live in the moment and every day, every minute, every second strive extremely hard not to give a fuck about transactional detritus.

Tomorrow I will be 50. There’s not a great deal I can do about that. Age is a number for sure. But that’s all it is – it’s not a definition, a boundary or an excuse. Unless that excuse is a slide into semi retirement to do more of what makes me happy.

That’ll do. Enough of this pretentious bollocks. Bring me some cake.

*depending on many things. The latter tends to be at night when sleep won’t come and thoughts won’t stop

** Carol. And an occasionally helpful idiot.

*** assuming you’d grown out of your first

Plane stupid

Plane Stupid
I might if that’s okay

The Captain has abandoned his approached to Birmingham airport…. there is no need to be alarmed“.  Academic debate might usefully plot that sentence on a line between ‘not terribly congruent‘ and ‘Non Sequitor‘.  Time was pressing though so I went with ‘I’ll be the judge of that and my ‘x’ intersects somewhere close to hysterical panic

Travelling to Scotland always presents a dilemma. Slow and easy on the train or fast and irritated on the plane. Virgin do a half decent service up the west coast but it’s not unusual to arrive home with appreciable stubble*, so I switch depending on mood, travelling companions and the vagaries of someone elses booking system.

Flying generally though has become a problem. Being a data-geeky kind of guy, professionally I understand the odds on falling out of the sky to a fiery death are both extremely low, and reset on each flight boarded. Personally I’ve been handed control of real aeroplanes and chucked numerous model ones from windy cliffs. Subconsciously though, I can’t quite understand how the buggers stay in the air**

It never used to be this way. Aeroplanes shuttled me to all sorts of interesting places with a glass of fine Gin in one hand and a throwaway novel in the other. Sunrises and sunsets from 30,000 feet can be rather splendid especially if the viewer is a little pissed. Landing 5000 miles from where you started with only a mild hangover and a vague sense that breakfast is now dinner felt like a fine tradeoff.

Not now. The tipping point can be isolated to a single flight during the first Gulf War where, the US company paying my wages, laid down a travel decree insisting only neutral carriers could be booked. Reasoning was the worry of missile strike on belligerent flag carriers, regardless of the military advice that the ‘enemy‘ couldn’t hit the country next door without fifteen attempts while defining sand as a ‘hard target’.

Which is how I found myself flying over the French Alps, in a prop-equipped puddle jumper, through an electrical storm with the soothing tones of the Captain explaining the explosive noises we could hear was merely ice cracking off the wings.  We rough and tumbled over those forbodding jagged peaks for far too long before eventually landing heavily at Lugano – in a direct homage to the strafing runs dominating the 24 hour news.

My colleague refused to get back on the plane the following day. He took a train back to the UK and form then on could be found taking a keen interest in international railway timetables. I just hit the bar and shoved destiny into the driving seat. Didn’t bother me much then, bothers me much more now.

There was a minute between the wheels slamming back into their housings, a full power climb to a safe altitude, an entirely British response to the crisis – grip book a little harder, press candy crush keys a little harder, strive for the wikipedia citation of stoic*** – and the pilot explaining in calm terms what had happened.

Time is strange. The way we divide it cannot be simply be categorised by a fixed notation of hours, minutes and seconds.  60 of those should not be enough for me to record every noise our little twin prop was making, the flashing of a red light in the ceiling and a brief but thorough review of what the hell was going on.

Three possible options; Birmingham had been abandoned due to terror threat, the plane ahead of us suffering catastrophic failure so splattering itself and its passengers on the runway, or something equally broken on ours.

That minute spanned a duration in no way sliced by normal time. Finally the throttles eased off with a laconic telling of a bird strike triggering some emergency protocol for the poor buggers a minute ahead of us. All of which made be feel both mighty relieved and a bit of a coward.

My emerging view of terra firma is the more firma, the less terror. Which had me wondering why, as I hurtled down the motorway, this felt so much safer than being 300 feet above. The statistics suggest I’m kidding myself. There’s something about being in control, which when strapped into a thin seat sticking the ‘V’s to gravity isn’t something I feel for a single second.

Whatever. Next time, I’m taking the train. And packing a razor.

*or – after being abandoned to stare in awe at the majesty of Sandwell and Dudley – a full on bushy beard. That was a long day.

**amusingly or not, there doesn’t appear to be a weight of scientific opinion backing a peer reviewed option either. Something to do with pressure, the Venturi effect, lift profiles, witchcraft and sorcery.

*** although when catching the eye of the bloke opposite, he raised a single laconic eyebrow. Clearly he’s lost it I thought.

Leffe brained

Sunday Service - Penyard MTB

Remember your mum telling you that you were special? Well she’s right in at least one way. We all are – no two people have quite the same left brain / right brain bias. Those of us on the right tend to the creative, those to the left on the analytical. That’s testing the limit of my neuroscience knowledge, so I have an inkling it might be a bit more complicated that that.*

What I do know for sure is that a few of us temporarily become ‘Leffe Brained‘ which is basically just a few hours separated from being happily drunk. A night on Belguims’ finest export** tends to be viewed as a poor meal choice through the prism of the following morning.

Other than the standard hangover tropes of a throbbing head, an inability to locate everyday objects including kettle, car keys and underpants and a medicinal need for a greasy bacon sandwich, the mountain biker suffers a further unwanted consequence.

Strong ale still swishing in the bloodstream appears to intoxicate the nervous system. Electrical pulses from reddened eyeballs fail to trigger desperately required muscle movement from shaking limbs. I can only assume they’re sideswiped by a fellow neuron in the need of a quick pint, slouch off to the liver for a bit of a session only returning to their primary duty some time later -excusing themselves with the traditional ‘badger ate signal box at New Malden‘. Again I’m not a recognised academic in this area, but by god I’ve put in years of unfunded research.

And what I’ve found is either extremely amusing or bloody dangerous depending if your observing or experiencing.  The former for me today as Haydn navigated a trail we’ve ridden a hundred times with the skill and grace of a three legged stoat recuperating from a serious head wound.

First up, I’m leading so his distress is exposed through the medium of modern whimpering. Noises percolated through the forest canopy of a man recently introduced to a difficult stallion. Not exactly crashing but an unhappy passenger on a steed barely under his control. He looked a little troubled on arrival at the fire road and declared himself ‘dangerous at any speed‘.

This was clearly going to be a lot more fun – for me at least – if the experience was upgraded from sound to vision. Sure enough, the next trail H nailed a couple of early jumps before the 9:45 Retina to Right arm was cancelled without any warning leaving him to choose which tree he’d like to hug.

Dodged them somehow but pulled aside with a shake of the head. Obviously I was very sympathetic. Laughing is sympathetic. If it’s done right. I did feel for him tho as only the day before I’d risked it all on the ‘Grimbergen Gambit’*** before a fast dash around Cwmcarn.

Ridden just about every bike I’ve owned here. Know it well and it’s a bunch of fun when dry.  It’s that and a little bit dusty mirroring my tired eyes. An attempt to beat the hangover into submission on the 30 minute climb failed unless wanting to throw up and having to lie down in any way counts.

First descent is properly bar twitchy tight at the top before opening out into fast straights accelerating the unready into sharp corners and stumped apexes. I was ready from the eyeballs out. Not much happening downstream of that. The only way I could have damaged any more woodwork was to have ridden the trail with a chainsaw strapped to the bars.

That almost imperceptible delay is the difference between a perfect line and a desperate sawing to get the bugger back into line; the gap between a good braking point and a pointless one, the length of the bikes getting ahead in front of you, the nagging doubt that this one day will be permanent.

Not yesterday tho. Bike, ego, competitive gland, occasional dose of mild lunacy got me through and it was a more sober companion who rode off the trail. Not that I’d had a trouble free ride with my life passing in front of my eyes so often, I started fast forwarding the boring bits.

Strava said this bike is faster than all of those long lost in my riding pantheon. Even with Mr still-a-bit-pissed-will-there-be-bacon-soon allegedly in command. Which tells you everything you need to know about how bloody amazing the Mojo3 is.

Fast forward a day and Haydn kickstarted his synapses by bolting down an energy bar and adopting a determined expression. This was less fun for me, but on balance that’s fine as my good mate didn’t end up in A&E asking for a tree to be removed from his forehead.

Summer has been beer, laughing and mountain bikes for as long as I can remember. If the occasional hangover is the price of entry, it’s one well worth paying.

Maybe just not quite so often.

*Or in non fake news terms: a bit of a  myth. But it was a good hook and since telling great big whoppers is the new truth, I’m just practising for the upcoming apocalypse 😉

** I’ve done the research. It really is. And that includes due consideration of mythical detectives.

*** 2nd best export. After that it’s postcards of boys having a wee and some rubbish cheese.

 

Parenting – the MTB edition.

Jessie's new bike day

It was exactly two years ago when I last rode MTB with Jess. There are good reasons for this; firstly her rapid limb lengthening rendered her lovely XS Turner redundant. Unless she was considering a career riding BMX.

Not that such an option remained viable once I’d sold it. Needed the space in the shed. You snooze you lose.  Besides that between the ages of 14 and 16, there’s lots going on in the life of your average mid-teen. In Jess’s case there was an entirely un-fatherly work ethic, a burgeoning love of dance, a cabal of smart friends and binge watching of whatever was trending on Netflix that week.

I missed riding with her, but being a selfish bugger riding was still happening a few times a week. Even when it’s not about me, it’s about recognising living vicariously through your kids is not close to proper parenting.  Instead I was playing the long game waiting for a righteous Venn intersect of summer, a proper sized bicycle and an inventory of spares.

The latter came first. Due to the satisfying – if pointless – upgrading of the Mojo and a quick switcheroo of the Stache back to the configuration it first arrived in, a bench full of parts was missing only a frame and a set of bars* to ignite a Mary Shelley Dr Frankenstein moment.

Sorted via a 2nd hand frame originally sourced from the good guys at Cotic, a night at Matt’s where he created the mini monster truck while I fetched tools and handed him the occasional beer. The highlight of the build is, of course, that mudguard which I believe we can all agree is a triumph. Modesty forbids identifying the creative engineer honing his zip tie skills.

Tested on the Wednesday night ride. Quite the whippy go-kart even if a little small for me. That’s fine, it’s really not for me. However many times my riding buddies insisted it was. This,  after I’d coached them extensively on the exact language to use if Carol frowned her way through a body count in the shedofdreams(tm).

Jess was understandably nervous at re-engaging with all things mountain biking. Even with truth shaded by parental pride, she was bloody brilliant. Sure the hills tested her limited stamina triggering those lying over the bars ‘pass the water if pure oxygen isn’t available‘ desperate hand movements.

She’s never been the best climber. Never really ridden enough. Bloody minded though especially after her only push was rapidly upgraded to energetic spinning when some lads appeared from a side trail. Girl-power right there.

We’ve ridden the Verderers trail in the FoD many times and while the end of it is fab, the rest of it can be a bit meh especially if you’re no fan of gravel. So we headed out into the forest proper, swooping through the valleys below the bigger hills, making good progress over steppy roots and encroaching vegetation.

Jessie on her new Cotic Solaris Max
That’s a real video if you click on it. Jessie dealing with some rooty madness

Obviously while this is all about Jess, it’s still a little bit about me. Hence messing about in a bombhole which has been a constant trail companion for the last 10 years. Jess switched into the editor role to capture my enthusiastic if a bit rubbish attempts to get some air under the wheels of the Flare Max. Cotic and Chubby lock out today.

Flare Max in the Forest
More video if you’re a bit bored

Nifty navigation bypassed some unloved climbs and presented us at the top of the final two descents. Gloves back on, seat post dropped, appropriate advice offered and ignored and we’re away. A berm marking the site of a previous crash ridden nicely without incident, and we’re into the final kilometre unlocking ice cream rewards.

Jess looks tense and stiff. She’s a bit scared. I know that feeling well but can only encourage from behind. It’s a rough trail tho and she gets thrown off line and off the trail. A desperate leg out connects with nothing but air which means gravity gets involved. No damage done other than an elevated heart rate for both of us.

Strangely this loosens Jess up. She’s riding really well now, pedals level, looking through the corners, tenseness exchanged for smoothness and a bit of speed. Enough speed for me to sit on a splintered mental fence between pride and concern.

I go with pride and shout the next two berms are no problem, even knowing both have caused the kind of fall pride is known to precede. She’s all good though if a little innovative with line choice and we’re home and hosed. Ice cream isn’t a fish finger sandwich, so we trade lunch choices and high fives.

Jess asks me if I like riding with her. Surely it’s a bit boring going so slowly? For such an intelligent young woman**, this is a pretty stupid question. I explain I can go chase endorphins behind fast friends 50 weeks a year. Riding with your offspring is something far more special. I loved every minute of it, more so because Jess seemed too as well***

She wants to go again once the soreness fades. That’d be marvellous. Maybe I need to work on her brother and mum as well.

I’ve lost so many family days to riding, and it’s always felt the right – if inexcusably selfish –  call.  Today reminded me there’s not so many summers left to ride with those in my genetic tribe. Not because it’s some kind of tick-box parenting, but because it’s absolutely bloody fantastic.

Jess’s new bike’s is pretty cool too 🙂

*Swerved the enduro wide bar zeitgeist for something a little more suitable. I was only off by about 100mm. Young women do not have 760mm shoulders 😉

**She gets it from her mother. Obviously.

***Except for some of the climbing. She gets that from me.

Talk to the hand

That's what my hand looked like after I crashed
Go on holiday they said. You’ll get some colour they said.

The people I ride with fit most of the standard archetypes; the mechanically inclined one, the quiet introspective one, the over-thinker, the young pretender, the party animal and, of course, the team idiot*

Fab friends to a man, but lacking in just a couple of areas. One being medical diagnosis of damaged organs** especially if the patient has a history of whinging, a low pain threshold and hypochondria.  Last year a finger bone snapped by the slamming van door was dismissed as a bit of swelling, and this time round the same limb going all sorts of funny colours matched a confident identification of ‘mildly bruised palm

To be fair,  one member of the medical committee was already dealing with a separated AC should joint with far less histrionics than yours truly visually explaining the pain through the accepted medium of the chicken dance*** Another member was absent due to cracking a couple of ribs half an hour earlier, so mitigating circumstances abounded.

Even so, it bloody hurt. One crash all week. Third day, but more irritatingly with three days to go. Ironically – and to show that fate has no truck with braggadocio and bombast – only 24 hours before I’d had my best day on the bike for a very long time. Even my friends noticed ennobling a singularity of thought that maybe I could ride a bike after all. I blame the altitude. And the wine.

Fast forward to 11am. First of six trails all uplift accessed. Couldn’t have been more excited. Couldn’t haven’t ridden any worse. Some bastard skill stealer had crept into the room the previous eve and nicked my hard won capability from a drunken mind. I mean it’s not much capability, but I’ve worked hard for that so to have it snatched away so cruelly seems more than a little unfair.

Second uplift. A little better, a wide ribbon of rock refreshingly attached to immovable geology. Not too many corners. Pretty much point awesome bike somewhere near the fast fellas and enjoy the view. Third trail, back to being shit. Had a look for somewhere to have a big crash, but survived due to insane amounts of grip and very good brakes.

Then Adam flung himself heroically, if somewhat hastily, at a plethora of rocks which broke both his fall and a couple of ribs. Fair to say his stoicism was entirely at odds to my post crash trauma, but hey he’s a young man with some organic body armour.

Next up was ‘Janet Street Porter‘ – nominatively deterministic for a rocks raised at right angles in the manner of gravestones. Every one of which had my name on it. I would say vertical but that’d ignore the canting of the horizon as is normal with any trail hanging onto a steep gradient.

Arrived at the first hairpin barely in control and in not state to roll the modulate/grab dice needed to maintain any kind of progress. Foot down, some swearing and then away on a fading incline loosening death grips and reducing the background load of managing fear.

We’ll be back up there on the next run‘ Matt the guide declared. Four looked happy, one looked broken, one was just looking at the ground. Still easier when you know what’s coming eh?

Not the hardest trail we rode by a distance. No exposure. Steep but nowhere near peak ‘fuck me, ride down that?‘ territory. Rocky sure, but we’ve been at that for three days. Switchbacks, yeah but by the end of the week we’ll have ridden hundreds of those. Sometimes on a single trail.

Still nervous tho. Best to follow someone who knows what they’re doing. In a little faster from the village above and it’s gets noisy fast with rock abrasions to expensive components, clattering suspension, tyres fighting for traction and the occasional whimper.

A little more in control this time tho. Slightly less flustered as the crux move came into view. Arse so far off the back it’s almost in another country. Squeezing those four pots like a man testing a dodgy tomato, big head turn, bike articulated between a hard turned front and a straight rear. One gap between the rock teeth, got to loose the brakes now, got to go for it.

Ciclo Montana MTB - April 2017

10 seconds before crashing

Oh that feels good. Even better there’s a lensman above doing his stuff. This is going to look epic. Next switchback is so much easier and I’m chasing a line nicked from Haydn’s way better effort last time round. Mind is clear, bike feels great, I feel good, hit the exit and let it all hang out.

Except I never got to the exit. Not sure I even made the entry.  No idea what happened really other than an unscheduled appointment with some unforgiving terrain. Lay there for a bit wondering which bit hurt most. Quite a few limbs demanding priority.

After hauling myself back to my feet, I decided it was my hand that might have suffered rather more heavily. Even a 600mg ‘Donkey Stunner’ Ibuprofen generic only took the edge off it. As did more of the same, wrist supports and a medically inadvisable alcohol bombardment over the next three days.

I expected it’d be fine when I stop riding. It wasn’t tho and a trip to Ross A&E – where the radiographer remembered me from last time – showed a hairline crack in the metacarpal. It didn’t show the soft tissue damage which, over two weeks later, is still bloody painful. I’m not making a big thing of it tho.

Didn’t stop me riding. Probably should have. But it’s bluebell time. I’d have to be in traction to stop me going out right now. I mean that’d just be stupid.

 

*I feel regular readers will be in no doubt of the identity of the latter.

**except the liver. And to be fair, we’ve all put the hours of research into that one.

***don’t make me explain this. Just don’t.

It’s a kind of magic

Oh this. Again

Bit of 80s Queen there. Not a surprising choice from a man whose musical choice is pretty much bookended by a dusty collection of CDs purchased back when they were something other than obsolete media and the safe side of the Radio 2 playlist.

I did consider the lesser known ‘let me Entertain you‘ from the much maligned Jazz album but felt that might be setting the bar a bit high or the 1983 hit ‘It’s a hard life‘ but again descriptively that’s a tough sell.

The kind of magic we’re talking about here is the transmogrification of a weeks riding kit into that small black bag without extensive use of explosives or experimental physics. Magic potion requested – just add a Carol who will perform  some arcane acts of prestidigitation to fashion a small black hole sucking in what I’m thinking of as ‘a worry of bike clothing

Expect I’ll be leaving most of it in Spain tho when it’s just me, all that stuff, the patience of a special needs nat, and a bag significantly more undersized than the boat Police Chief Martin Brody wondered might be a little on the small size for hunting that particular shark.

As in a break from tradition and in celebration of Haydn’s rather momentous birthday*, we’ve abandoned our normal transport strategy – based on a big van, loads of room, no weight limits, a ton of junk food and 14 hours to stare out of the window as a good part of France slides by – for an oversized Coke can with an ego problem.

Flying brings its own challenges. Firstly most airlines baggage policies are thinly veiled threats for passengers carrying much more than a thimble of shower gel and half a mars bar. Bicycles are about as welcome as an uncaged angry lion or a wobble of already-shit faced dickheads on a stag weekend**

No matter a bit of keyboard based persistence landed us six tickets to Malaga with a vague promise of the bikes arriving both in the same country and reasonably intact. From there two more hours will deposit us at our destination in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. For me, it’s my fifth trip to the Andalusia region, and the other four have all been fantastic in rather different ways.

Firstly back in about 2004, a gaggle of us left a miserable UK February under skies full of sleet and roads entombed in ice. To arrive 450 miles due south to conditions just a bit worse. It was still a marvellous – if somewhat damp – experience with Marco from Ciclo Montana finding us places to ride when the weather suggested ‘bar, bar and more bar

So I was delighted to find Marco still running something similar all these years later. My riding buddies were laughing when I told them that story of snow in sunny Spain until reviewing the forecast for next week. Thankfully it’s improved from ‘robustly challenging’ to ‘pretty damn good except for the end of the week and we’ll ignore that for now’

Anyway committed now so whatever the ground conditions, I’ll be in the mountains riding bikes on new trails with old friends. Careful use of the word old there, but everyone seems to be fit and riding surprisingly well.  We’ve even included a couple of blokes under 40 to prove while the younger generation might be a bit faster on a bike, they lack the wisdom and experience of the career drinker.

Except Cez. He monged himself about a month back attempting escape velocity over a jump which led to an incident with a tree, a separated shoulder and a trip to A&E. He’s been for one ride since and has declared himself ‘All Good‘, I have no such excuses having ridden bloody loads already this year – mostly on the plastic chubby – without properly falling off or injuring myself in some other ‘nearly a half century, can put my back out emptying the dishwasher‘ kind of way.

So 4:30am on Saturday we’ll load the van for the short trip to the Airport. From there it’ll be a different experience to our standard riding trips. I expect the bullshit, talking bollocks, inappropriate drunkenness, dawn to dusk piss taking and a whole lot of awesome riding shall remain a constant tho. And if not, just the drunkenness.

I guess when I stop getting excited by this stuff, I’ll be pretty much dead but still moving about 😉

*I shall reach a similar number – all things being equal – in August this year. I’m so far in the closet about it, Narnia couldn’t find me.

** easy to spot in the airport. One will be wearing a dress, a few will be throwing up in Weatherspoons, while the rest will be fighting each other/random innocents. It puts me in mind of most Friday nights in Ross.