Which wise old sage once foretold ‘before you can truly appreciate Spring, you must first suffer heroically through the bleak winter’? That wise old sage was me, and I proclaimed it yesterday while basking under the sun’s rays and burning my thin bits. Not that wise then. But quite old before you feel the need to chip in and remind me of that.
We’ve suffered alright. As have the bikes. Heroically might be a stretch unless shivering by a pub fire, pint in hand whilst bleating about the misery of endless cold and rain counts. Which in Al’s book of winter fables, it bloody well does. So it is most welcome that signs of spring are everywhere – increasing ground cover, decreasing mud, flashes of leafy trees, endless birdsong and the blissful silence of Matt’s new drive train.
Somehow he’s eeked out vaguely cog shaped swarf through the grit’n’shit of winter, before the inevitable collapse of key components forced fitment of bright and shiny new stuff. So no longer are we accompanied by the discordant cacophony of slipping chains, grinding cogs* and associated whines, groans and hisses of disintegrating transmission. There may be many meteorological and horticultural markers to herald the arrival of Spring, but for the Forest Of Dean Mountain Biking Community, it’s when Matt fits a new chainring AND replaces his bald rear tyre.
So three hardy perennials sprouted short sleeve tops and dark sunglasses at a rather un-springlike 9am, where a cold wind was more than a match for a peeping sun. And anticipation of spring conditions were tempered by a night ride some three days back where the trails were winter-wet, from which me and the bike returned much in homage to a dirty protest. I don’t mind that kind of thing in Jan, but it’s getting pretty old come BST and April.
12km on road on off road tyres at 25 PSI** warbles on a bit as a 2.5 inch contact patch attempts to rip up the tarmac. But riding out means an extra pub stop on the way home ,and that’s worth a 20km return trip to the drinking hardcore of our little group. Such were the solar powered high spirits, my navigational numptiness was ignored as I promised some fantastic trails ‘on the other side of the river‘. Where there may be monsters – probably a better chance of meeting those than me finding a track I’d ridden once, a month ago, in the company of many others.
No monsters were harmed in the making of this post; no instead after the tiniest location error – okay I missed the trail completely – we found not one but two perfectly loamy trails – dark earth shouldered by emerging bluebells and twisting perfectly through a green screen of burgeoning fauna that is almost as good to look at as to ride. Almost, but not quite.
Mountain Bikers categorise the dirt under their tyres into sub groups and niches; grip, sloppiness, colour, slippiness, smell, likelihood to punt you into a waiting tree, that kind of thing. And while summer dirt is a light, dusty brown with a crumbly surface marbled by cracks, that’s brilliant only if you like dust motes over grip, but dirt aficionados search for Spring Loam where the ground has a bit more give, a lot more grip, the ability to hold a tyre at almost any angle and – if you are righteous – harvest mini clods to flick at the bloke behind.
It’s perfect dirt. It’s the dirt you see in Mountain bike videos. It was the dirt we rode on Sunday. And we rode an awful lot of it pretty damn briskly. Seven ups, seven downs divided – as ever – for me between ‘before‘ and ‘after‘ the infamous ‘double drop‘ which is a moderately vertical drop onto a concrete fire road. On a bike with oodles of travel, it should be nothing more than a point, relax, close eyes, brake when it flattens out – but having nearly claimed me a while back, I’m bloody glad to get it done. Without having to send anyone back up the trail to locate missing teeth.
After that, pretty much floor-to-sky bliss. Mainly because there’s so much more speed without the associated risk of the front end washing out. Swinging bikes left-right-left between trees on this perfect dirt is as close to the Jedi Speeder chase you can get to without CGI and Cary Fisher. And having dragged out the Purple Minion, the bag of excuses for not riding all the jumps and drops (within reason, there’s some stuff I’d need a crane and a trampoline to even attempt) was pretty much empty. And that’s fine, because they disappeared under wheel before I could even form my normal whimper.
And then Matt fell off on the easiest trail of the day. Which was funny enough to displace the thought of tired legs with ‘Ice Cold in Alex’ type Beer Hallucination. Thankfully we only had to cross a couple of kilometres of family-walker-slalom before attaining the rather splendid locale of the Saracens Head. Beer was drunk, bullshit was legion, fish type trail reconstructions were made, sunglasses were worn, smiles were baked.
Arriving home some 8 hours after sneaking out, my thoughts sadly turned to a day in the office. A day spent wistfully gazing out of the window wondering when I can go outside and play on my bike with my friends. I appreciate this presents a mental age of about 12.
I’m good with that.
* No not that kind of grinding cog. I’ll get round to the Penis Museum very soon. Until then we’re on a Fnar moratorium.
** Except for H who cheekily pumped his up to 50PSI for the ride into the Forest. That’s fine, we let him take the wind as punishment.