Today is a good day to fly*

Solvenia Bike Park
Bike? Check. Armour? Check. Ability? Bugger.

We’d recommend you take the body armour, it’s included” worried the bike shop man as I pretended to test suspension settings on a downhill monster so far removed from my riding world it may as well have been delivered by aliens.

Trail lid, t-shirt, wimpy knee pads, delusional view of competence, second language: ‘I’ll be fine with these I think“. Some fevered Slovene muttering suggested otherwise so I took the hint and armoured up with body suit, elbow pads and a stinky full face. I refused hard-shell knee pads though on the grounds I’d transported these ones 1500 miles and they only reeked of me.

Proper DH bikes pedal badly especially configured with a short rear cassette. So I pushed to the lift and hefted it onto a hook clearly welded by the lowest cost bidder. Watching it swing behind me displaced dark thoughts of imminently being shit and poo-ing the bed on steep trails cut through the forest passing under my feet.

Slow chairlifts are not happy bedfellows for the imaginative ensuring fifteen minutes later had me wrestling the beomoth from the hook like a man only recently acquainted with any kind of motor control. The lift fella looked a bit contemptuous as the next car smacked me up the arse. A fine start to what could be a long day.

A day really that should be spent with my lovely family who I dragged to Slovenia promising mountain views, no hiking, no boring museums and no mountain biking. Two out of three ain’t bad, but when you’re an ancient fucker like me and the balcony view showcases trails baked into a mountain side simply accessed by a summer chairlift, selfishness will out.

I rather wish it hadn’t as I careered down a scree slope entirely bereft of anything back in the UK we call ‘grip‘.  Or indeed ‘ability‘.  Strange bike, bit worried, encased in unfamiliar plastic – as a start it was inauspicious. Being stupid I felt things would improve if I ignored the easy trail and plunged instead into a rooty horror soaked from the previous weeks endless downpours.

I can ride wet roots. I live in a place where it pisses down almost endlessly. I have transferable skills here. Oh. Fuck. No. I. Don’t. Tree anchors the size of my arms pitched on a slope best thought of mostly vertical. I tripod’d down bouncing off arboreal trail markers and travelling sideways any time I felt touching the brakes might be a fine idea*

Couple of minor offs. A bit of walking. Surfing the last chute on my arse while vaguely connected to a mountain bike. Checked the trail markers. That’s a red. Blimey. I diverted to the blue which pitched me into 20 linked berms superbly built but barely maintained. Stray off the line and it was all cracked earth filled with marbles and upside down mountain bikers.

Finally a set of well constructed table tops over which I was universally shit.  A little bit of this was the unfamiliar bike and the effort/speed needed to make it work but most of it was me – despite the armour – tensing up and slowing down.

Groundhog day. Top of the lift but this time go left to a barely distinguishable trail marker promising another ‘hard‘ trail through the woods. What was I thinking? It was essentially a walkers path with all the easy bits circumvented by desperate plunges into the valley.  Steep enough to suggest walking it would result in a broken ankle with a side order of no phone signal. No one else riding it – surprisingly – so I minced down often using the bike as a fence. Near the bottom an lengthy off camber root section looked too hard for feet so I just closed my eyes and went for it. Went well until I crashed.

Right give myself a talking too. Three more uplifts things improving, drops being dropped, jumps being jumped, big stuff being ignored. Making use of the insane grip of a DH bike.  Picking some harder lines off the brakes. Popped back into the shop to reduce fork preload clearly set for a man who had eaten only pies and pasties for the last ten years ‘if you’re struggling with the roots, you must go faster‘ said the clearly skilled mechanic. Sounded counter intuitive. Went for lunch with the family instead.

Five more runs. Mostly together with occasional terror as learned lines were nothing of the sort. Rode a few more scary things but waiting above the final tabletops was a ladder drop higher than my shoulder. Rolled into a few times. Rolled back everytime. Knew I could ride it, really didn’t want to. Looked for excuses, found none.

Last run. Mind frazzled, arms floppy, calves aching. Chatting with a lovely Slovene on the chairlift. Explained my angst. Easy he said, follow me. I tried but he was gone in 10 seconds leaving me with the hope he’d have forgotten who the hell I was on finally turning up. No such luck.

He’s a coach. Cool. Of the Slovenian DH team. Not so cool. Conversation went ‘you have the bike‘ POINT AT DH RIG ‘you have the protection‘ POINT AT HEAD TO TOE BODY ARMOUR ‘what is your problem?‘ me: POINT TO ME ‘this?‘. He laughed and dragged my elderly arse through a section that’d had me off earlier. Somehow I stuck with him with any brain activity entirely focussed on the biggest drop I’d ever attempted. One that’d recently skewered the spleen of a MTB journo.

We flew over the ‘qualifier‘ and fuck me it was brilliant. ‘See he said, even old guys like you can ride this stuff’. Thanks. ‘Come on, follow, follow‘ came next with a big arm movement and a velocity suggesting rocket propulsion. Arriving sweaty and scared before the drop I was ready with my excuses, but he** was having no truck with that.

Follow, Follow’ beckoning me on at a speed entirely inappropriate for a man a week short of his 48th birthday. Hitting the ramp all I could think of was ‘How important is a spleen? Will I miss it?’ Then a moment of gorgeous silence punctuated by a spinning freehub, then some ground rush, then 8 inches of suspension compensating for my shit technique, then endorphin rush and high fives.

Follow Follow, let’s do it again‘ my mentor grinned at me. But I declined. He looked disappointed and in retrospect so am I. But nothing could better how I felt right then, plus the fact I was fucked physically and mentally. Pushing back up for photos required determination for which I had no courage left. Every last drop had been eeked out on that drop. I was spent.

I’m not a great mountain biker. Especially when faced with bike park obstacles. But it is in the mountains is where I feel most at home. And at peace. I felt the fear and did it anyway. Then sat watching proper riders boost off those tabletops while I drank beer in the sunshine.

Is that enough? Oh fuck yes. More than enough. Nothing else feels like this. When I’m properly old and broken I’ll remember days like this. But right now I feel like I’m the luckiest bloke on the planet.

* Feel free to translate to Klingon if that’s your thing.

** thankfully I was running UK brakes after refusing a bike configured the other way round. Glad I stuck out for that one otherwise I’d be writing this from hospital while drinking through a straw.

*** told me his name. Forgot it instantly. I do owe him a beer or two tho.

Baldylocks and the three bears

Bikes are like this. Honestly, they are. Read on.

You know the story. Father bear’s bed was too hard, mother bear too soft and baby bear just right.  It’s a bloody terrible fable for two reasons; 1- there’s no qualitative metrics for exactly what you mean by ‘soft‘* and 2-at some point in your near future some smartarse will rally this in their non sequitur rebuttal of your N+1 position.

Second one first ever heard this ‘why do you need so many bikes,  that’s like saying you need five different cars?‘**. Because dick-spot, for us flirting with the line between a hobby and a mental illness, these are not simple transport, they are gateway drugs to a utopian portal your dusty, rusty Halfords special cannot access.

Sounds snobby? Rather a reversal of the societal norm where only impoverished individuals transport themselves by bicycle because car ownership is beyond their means. Cycling is losing, piloting two tons of marketing’s pinnacle is more than just a win. You even get to squash the losers.

Until about 1980 anyway. Then bikes became cool again. And profitable. And worth evolving. Into lots of different niches for which a different tool was very much required. Even if that tool was the man getting his wallet out. The crushing irony was twenty years later, the very same people performed a ‘did that just really fucking happen?‘ U-Turn spawning the ‘quiver killer‘***

You have to admire the chutzpah and while you’re at it marvel at the built in obsolescence demanding the ‘QK‘ must be changed every year. Hey it might look exactly the same, but now it’s a BETTER colour.

What the hell has this got to do with bears I hear you ask. Glad you did, it’s pretty simple really. Since April this year, I’ve been  almost exclusively riding my on-trend, appropriately slack and low ‘gnarpoon‘**** and it’s been as fantastic as one would expect, after chucking a shit-load of cash at something hoping it’d make up for your many inadequacies.

Then, in what can only be described as a moment of temporary insanity, I invested in the world’s most expensive cardboard box cunningly disguised as a poo coloured hardtail.  Rode that a couple of times and that was brilliant as well. So – to test all bears – earlier this week, the previous object of my metallic affection – the eager Pyga – was hauled off the wall and thrown at the trails.

You may be unsurprised to hear that was bloody great as well. Harvesting the raw data from my digital ego repository, it would seem the difference between these very different approaches to two wheels hung from a few tubes wasn’t quite as much as I expected.  One trail, three times: 1:28, 1:31, 1:32.

I think we can probably identify the common denominator here. Sure the Aeris was brilliant in the Peaks last weekend in a way the Trek hardtail wouldn’t have been. And the Pyga yomped through the forest dispatching big distances under bigger wheels. Yet shifting turns in fast singletrack demonstrates how the simple kinematics of a sorted hardtail easily makes it the quickest.

The numbers tell you everything and nothing at all. Creeping into the shedofdreams, I’m nowhere near as confident as the golden one to pick the right bear. 90% of the time the differences are perceptible to me but imperceptible in terms of making progress.

I’d almost convinced myself the super slack Aeris wasn’t much good in the super-tight and switchback-y local woods above Ross. Until we skived off today and – at my request – massively backed off the pace so I could remember what entering a corner not hard on the brakes might feel like.

Then the bike felt fantastic. The big bear was doing just fine thanks very much. The little bear might have been faster, the middle bear generally has been but you cannot correlate speed with fun. I rode a gap jump much avoided because it wasn’t approached mostly out of control, cleared a table top with technique not desperate pedalling, dropped slowly into two steep gulleys safely because chasing those faster people wasn’t top of my agenda.

When you ride as much as I do, boredom is always a shadow threat. Even when the trails are dry, the sun is warm and you’re riding with your friends. Just this justifies having a shed-full of different bikes. They’re all brilliant. Riding mountain bikes is always brilliant. Having mates to share it with is – of course – endlessly brilliant.

You, however, will be resolutely average. It’s not about the bike and it’s absolutely about the bike. It certainly isn’t about the numbers. But if it was somehow my slow-is-the-new-slow was somehow two seconds quicker than every previous effort.

I didn’t care. Goldilocks had it wrong. Nothing is ever perfect. But – if you stop obsessing about what perfect might be – it can be very, very good indeed.

* I appreciate this may be a specific position, but when you’ve attempted to mediate between learned academics – on the point of punching each other -  debating the precise semantic definition of ‘course‘, this stuff feels quite important.

** This is the straw man argument. I don’t have the space to explain my hatred of it here but once you recognise it, the ONLY proportional response is – for the sake of all those around you – to instantly kill the perpetrator with fire.

*** I assume a significant quantity of coke and hookers were involved: ‘hear me out Jeremy, we’ll tell ’em and sell ’em the idea that all their bikes are shit now and they can have this new one shiny thing. Make it red. They’ll go for it. They’re idiots’ Snort……

**** Once this post is complete. I’ll take myself outside to be shot for the use of that word. It’d be a kindness.


Moustache is the new beard

The Mou-Stache

Years ago when I had a proper job, a very earnest young engineer rushed into my office to explain how light – the very light coming through my window – could be multiplexed, sliced, diced and repurposed for transporting ones and zeros at unfathomable speeds. Speed of light – obvious to him maybe, I was pretty much winging it from ‘hellomynameiskeithandhthisisveryimportant‘.

Mountain biking appears to be going to same way. We’re splitting niches at an atomic level, so no sooner have my most recent two purchases been deemed heritage then even the marketingly trumpeted perfect wheel size is denuded by something even more magnificent apparently. Suddenly Wave Division Multiplexing doesn’t seem quite so insane*

I’m thinking of this endless carving of phantom niches as the physical manifestation of ‘Peak Beard‘. I appreciate people have things to sell but you’re really starting to piss the rest of us off. Oh the new standard means a new frame does it? And new forks to go with it? Will my 2 week old wheels fit? No, thought not.

I grumbled my way into the shedofdreams the other day looking for reassurance that my pantheon of mountain bikes still represented something worthwhile. And in the manner of any man who has a sock drawer, I took to harvesting the oily contents of my extensive spares holding to create space for the detritus washed up in various short term receptacles.

Failing to solve the equation of loads-of-crap – available space > 0,  instead I was struck by the righteous vision that rather than toss decent parts into a dark corner, I could instead hang them off something a little more aesthetically pleasing. A quick inventory ratified my thinking; transmission, wheels, bars, stems and brakes framed a single missing component.

That’s what the Internet is for. The first thing distracting me was the colour. RootBeer Trek call it, but for a child of the seventies, it’s clearly a homage to the motoring icon that was the Vauxhall Chevette. The second thing was the price which – while being more than a small multiplier of a cardboard box – was intriguingly cheap.

Emails ricoshayed this way covering condition, use, issues and inside leg measurement of the current rider. While slightly odd to request personal dimensions from someone you’ve never met, this – for a man whose leg growth was first lost and then found in his arms – is vital. Large frames invite an interference fit between soft love spuds and hard aluminium. It’s a mistake you make only once.

A brief meeting at a windswept motorway services saw yet another bike anointed in the shedofdreams. Bit of spit and polish and the turd brown sparkled just a little. No getting away from the lack of rear suspension tho. My hard stance on no more hardtails has been triggered by an increasingly soft back.

Riding is still pretty much okay. The next morning however is not. Standing up, my lower back gets up about half a second later and my knees sometime in the afternoon.  There are volumes of TLDR shit written about how riding hardtails makes you a better rider; connects you to the trail; keeps it real, etc, etc.

Yeah whatever, get a shave beardie. Still before I could ride and hate it, first it had to be built. All the easy stuff I hammered together before handing it over to Matt breezily explaining the cranks didn’t really fit and there were big holes in the frames where I assumed some cables may need to be inserted.

I provided beer and an extra pair of eyes as stuff pinged to the four corners of Matt’s amusingly chaotic garage. Soon we had a bike that mostly worked and a rider who still wasn’t quite sure why he’d bought it.

Maybe I’m sticking it to the marketing man. The latest version of the Stache (that’s what it’s called. No I’ve no idea either) is dripping with new standards and irrelevance. Mine from all the way back to 2011 is none of those things. It’s two triangles, some funky hydroforming and a load of second hand parts.

It’s far better to look at than a box of spares. It’s conveniently the colour of winter. It may get ridden more than the other 29er hung on the wall, and ignored since the Aeris turned up. If not it’ll bolster my real mountain bike credentials. It’s like Alfa’s for petrolheads, every proper rider must own a hardtail.

Even if he or she doesn’t ride it. Looks better than a battered box though doesn’t it?

* it is a real thing. Incredibly important in our digital world. Cornerstone of an exploding digital age. It also allows those on the near end of the autistic spectrum to play with lasers. I’ll leave you to decide if this is a good trade-off.

There’s something in the Aeris

Bird in the air!

In this case it’s my friend Cez whose picture up there writes the thousand words best summarised by ‘it’s not about the bike‘. I promise you fewer to frame six weeks of new bike ownership riding over six hundred kilometres with a vertical profile of fifteen thousand metres.

The latin root of Aeris is simply ‘Air‘ - a place this bike is significantly more comfortable than the old fella riding it. Not in Cez’s case obviously where he’s thrown it over that gap jump with the kind of wild abandon 100% missing from my bravery repertoire.

However even working within this more limited riding envelope, ever wider apertures have opened up of what a great bike/average rider hybrid can achieve. The Aeris isn’t one of those Rottweiler bikes giving it the ‘grrr, go on bite it, grrr, faster, chase it, eat it’  which insist on 100% commitment 100% of the time. You know the sort, it’s all absolutely new and splendidly brilliant right up to the point when it isn’t leaving the trail splattered with previously usable body parts.

It’s more like the quiet member of the band – say the rhythm guitarist – largely ignore-able but oozing competence and ensuring the player looks pretty damn awesome. Until you start to push it a little bit when it gets a bit hairy’n’lairy, stomping on the fuzz pedal and bashing out some Hendrix riffs.

No devil on your shoulder this, more a good mate gently suggesting ‘you’re fine with that, c’mon we’ll do it together, trust me, it’ll be great. And it has been, clearing my biggest and scariest ever gap jump (but not that one above), punched out quite a few Strava PBs on trails I’ve ridden 100s of times and conquered a couple of obstacles made impossible by previous excuses.

It’s not a game changer tho. The PBs are seconds at best, the scary stuff is still bloody terrifying, the gap jump had me all wobbly legged before and after. But this is quite a bike Ben and the boys at Bird have built; long front centre, slack head angle, low bottom bracket, aggressive stance. Stable and composed at speed, lithe and carve-y in the tight stuff.  Climbs well, descends better. Small margins maybe, but margins all the same.

As a trail bike, it’s hard to find fault. The rear shock is a thing of magic delivering climbing grip and descending confidence. The forks aren’t far behind masking my ham fisted-ness and inappropriate braking. Rims forged from carbon are ridiculously wide and stiff bulging out tyres at 20 PSI. Brakes are personal wall and everything else just works brilliantly.

In those six weeks, I’ve dragged it up the Malvern hills, pushed it round a thousand corners in the Forest, chucked it down Cadair Idris, barrelled it through the Quantock hills and giggled my way around four trail centres. And for most of those rides, I’ve pretty much forgotten about it while enjoying the scenery flash by a little quicker than previously.

For balance it’s not perfect. The slingshot cornering is delivered in part by a very low bottom bracket cranking pedal strikes on anything vaguely lumpy. The finish on those carbon rims is pretty ropey. And, er, that’s it. Any other problems just call up Ben or Dave for a quick chat and find yourselves 30 minutes later sort of understanding how suspension works.

North Wales MTB - April 2015 {HPR}

Half way down these steps on Cadair Idris, it became apparent I’d bought a bike that both suited and encouraged me. I’m still stuck with those mental hangups and physical frailties which ensure this bikes’ capabilities are a million miles from my own limits.

That’s not really the point tho. Do I take a moment before every ride to savour how bloody good the next few hours are going to be? Do I stay the worry over certain obstacles which normally have me reaching deep into the excuses bag? Do I just want to ride, ride and ride just a bit more? Damn right I do and that’s not the result of a quantitative evaluation of angles and other supposedly important metrics. It’s riding as fast as you dare while passing silent thanks to those who understand better than you what constitutes an amazing mountain bike.

In these six weeks since the two big bird boxes arrived on the doorstep, the Pyga has languished dustily in the shedofdreams. My plan was to compare it to the new incumbent a month after tarnishing the new bike glasses. It hasn’t happened and I cannot see when it will. That doesn’t make the Pyga a bad bike at all, it just makes the Aeris a really bloody good one.

Roll on Sunday.

Turning a corner

Most of Cwmcarn.. the bits they weren't logging

Have you ever had the the feeling you’re a minnow pretending to be a shark? No? Really? I get it all the time, sometimes professionally which is easily mitigated by a strategy of winging it- an approach serving me well during the last twenty years. And as often riding mountain bikes, where that doesn’t work at all.

There’s a strange juxtaposition of a digital record proving you are faster than 75% of people you’ve never met, while being 10% slower than those who you know. Placing yourself as tail-end charlie does get a little wearing as those with more skills and less imagination flick perfect turns, while you fall ever further behind attempting to reenact apparently simple techniques to forestall a squishy tree hybrid.

Sometimes I wonder if I think too much. Heading into an apex – and every apex feels like the one which ripped my knee open triggering an extensive hospital stay – mentally there is all sorts going on, setting an edge, point hips at the exit, pushing the bars, leaning the bike not me and all that skills-course mental memory.

The physical manifestation is somewhat different. It’s not representative of whats going on in my head, leaving me sufficient time to disconnect the frontal lobe and go with the screaming hind brain to ‘slow the fuck down’. Which I do. And blow the corner. That’s quite annoying. Possibly tending to the understatement here as it’ll keep me awake beyond the midnight hour, because mental castigation fails to trigger the appropriate physical moves.

Big rocky stuff with pain etched on every pointy granite formation? Fine, let me at it. Reasonable sized jumps with no obvious landing other than ‘something over there’? Okay with that thanks very much. Flat corner of 30 degrees or more with an apex perpendicular to a tree? Pass me some logs and I’ll portage my way round. It’ll be quicker.

It doesn’t stop me loving riding mountain bikes, but it is a bit bloody irritating. Watching other riders, apparently unconcerned by the prospect of a tyre offering slightly less grip than they expected, or the trail failing to deliver an apex where they were expecting it makes me wonder if I’m just a bit nesh.

Well I am. But I know what bravery feels like. It’s being shit scared and doing it anyway. Done loads of that and surfed long on the dopamine rewards. There’s just something about long corners that messes with my head and no amount of skills courses, giving myself a good talking too or following those lacking the fear can really fix.

I shall go and practice. And that’ll be fine. On my own with no peer pressure there will be a complicit pretence I’ve cracked it, only for muscle memory and latent fear to rear their ugly heads in a parody of Medusa. Snakes on the trail and all that.

This isn’t about being as quick as someone else. I’ve lost that urge at the same time as most of my body fat. I can beat more than a few uphill but that’s not a metric  I’m measuring myself against. I can get fitter still, but can I get braver? Not sure.

Cwmcarn a fwq weekends ago was great. Except for the bits when I watched Matt and Cez dive through the bends in a way I cannot. That bothers me far more than it should. I’ve ridden a million corners and crashed on only a few. Unfortunately those incidents have left me physically and mentally scared.

Only one of those has healed. I’m stupidly lucky to be able to ride Mountain Bikes whenever I want on fantastic trails with people who are my greatest friends. And yet, there’s something missing. Something not quite right. Two choices; go ride with those for whom getting down uninjured is as good as it gets, or stop obsessing about something that broke me over seven years ago.

Looking through the corner is one thing. Chasing the crash images out of my mind is something else entirely.

Right On Commander!

RIght On Commander!

That phrase and this picture are only going to appeal to readers of a certain age. That age is mostly forgotten – sandwiched between basement sized, punched card munching transactional monoliths, and the birth of the Internet which swept in a digital generation to whom an App is a nicely rendered icon of usefulness accessed with a cursory swipe.

Kids today eh? Back in what was laughingly referred to as the ‘information age‘, the pioneers of micro-computing had broken out of crusty data processing rooms – largely filled with massive multi-million pound suites of humming electronics knocking out the power of todays $200 smartphone. We’d swapped lab coats for mullets, terrible jumpers and trainee moustaches. Nothing worked. Everything was custom built. Soldering irons were mandatory. The vanguard of personal computing in the late ’70s and early ’80s was not a place for the faint hearted.

Or the fashionable. Or the slick and smooth. Or anyone who might at some point consider members of the opposite sex more interesting than motherboards*. No staying abreast of emerging technology was of course more important that, well, breasts. There’s a whole other post on ‘what pubescent boys did for porn before the Internet‘, but for another day I think.

Ah we may have missed many things, but what a time to be a geek. Nose pressed to Tandy’s windows** excitingly pointing out the cutting edge of mobile computing. In a historic marketing event, Osborne honestly described their suitcase sized solution to small data a luggable rather than a portable.  And every month a new funny shaped keyboard appeared, running some operating system knocked up in a bedroom just like ours.

No big vendor owned the market. There wasn’t really a market to own. All sorts of weird stuff made it into production, and of course none of them would talk to each other. Turf wars were rife, were you a ‘BBC Man‘ or one of those ‘Plastic Spectrum kids’? Which led to some of the most pathetic fights ever ‘Ooooh that ruler REALLY HURT‘.

Anyway I digress. Up there in that tiny little screen, almost hidden behind a massive keyboard, was the seminal micro computing game. It represents many things; an amazing technical breakthrough creating endless worlds in bugger all memory; real graphics of the vector variety drawing you into that tiny VDU,  and about a year of my life.

Elite was a truly amazing bit of software. Not that we called it that back in the day. It was a game you spent about 20 minutes loading off a disc drive with as much storage as a single contemporary message thread,  and in no time at all you were deeply immersed in deep space trading your way across an infinite galaxy.

None of this linear gameplay which pretty much defined 99% of what passed as passing time with rubbish computers. Smuggling, bounty hunting, smart trading – all of these roles were yours to choose. And with it being an entirely internet free decade, the concept of on-line gaming was more having a few mates round  taking turns on the keyboard.

It looks rubbish tho doesn’t it? Well it is 30 years old, and we should all reflect how much better we presented ourselves back then. Having encountered this National Computer Museum working exhibit at a dull trade show, I was desperately keen to reacquaint myself with my lost youth.

I didn’t tho. We all know what happens when you meet your heroes. After a year of frustration attempting to earn my ‘elite‘ rating, the early thrills of mere survival were long behind me, and my ship had more upgrades than the bikes now hanging in the shedofdreams. Eventually I drifted off to other pleasures which has never really included playing games of any vintage.

Apparently gaming now is an older persons pastime. Mid 30s is the sweet spot, or – as I think of it – still pretty much in short trousers. And while I’m happy to piss countless hours away on Internet forums. the prospect of a virtual shoot ’em up doesn’t hold much interest. Even the brand new – and apparently epic – version of Elite isn’t something I want to be involved in.

Heady days my early teenage years. Messing about with acoustic couplers and teletype terminals.  Put me on a path I’ve never managed quite to fall off. It’s all a bit easy and yet somehow hellishly complicated now – ensuring my approach of treating all technology as essentially elven magic serving me well.

Still wish I’d had a go tho. I’d have happily spent a few desperate hours to earn that low resolution message flashing on a rubbish screen praising my piracy prowess. “Right on Commander” indeed.

It was no Angry Birds. For which I’m rather sentimentally grateful 😉

* and it was all men. Well boys really. But no woman. Strange really considering that cohort of young gentlemen fiddling with their ram packs.

** not a euphemism. More an electronics emporium,

DIY – making idiots feel stupid since about 1995.

Remember those makeover programs?  Rammed the TV schedules before Britain discovered baking. Lawrence pretentious-git-twat stencilling Tigers arses on lime green walls then declaring it ‘modern and zesty with an undercurrent of primal longing’ or some such shit? I do, and not much has changed in 20 years other than a ever lengthening list of in house projects which have gone horribly wrong.

Previously on the hedgehog, my inability to engage with how other believe Sundays should be wasted has been put down to guileful rubbish-ness and a somewhat more basic laziness. More recently, it’s become apparent my missing DIY gene is not a displacement tactic – no it’s just that I’m really shit at it.

Picture a Venn diagram with circles representing cack handed, clumsy, impatient and clueless, and find me marooned at the intersect point. Spitting out screws, while absent-mindedly emulsioning the dog.

Yet even knowing the result of even a smidgen of home improvement action will result in either calling out the fire brigade or the bomb squad, I’m always ready* to have another go.

We’re not talking artisan furniture creation here; beard stroking craftsmanship whittling this and shaping that before a wardrobe – imbued  with such rustic authenticity it comes supplied with the original tree – emerges triumphant from a  flurry of shavings.

What we have instead is something a little simpler; one plank of pre-drilled wood to be attached to one flat wall. Supplied complete with screws, raw plugs and, because I was intricately involved, an idiot.

This woody ordering of chaotic coats required three drilled holes to receive what I believe is known as the ‘mounting equipment’**. Instantly I dispatched myself to the shedofdreams(tm) to dust off terrifying power tools, each accessorised with whirly-death-metal eviscerators straight out of the Mad Max props department.

Encouraged by having the tools for the job, I even broke out the spirit level to reinforce my tool handling proficiency. The first hole was a triumph, almost round and ready to receive a stiff rawplug to its diameter. A fine start barely diminished by it occupying a location some 50 millimetres from the optimal position.

Easy mistake to make. Drilled three more in quick succession, which from a distance (say space) had horizontal alignment written all over them. Believing the worst was over, I was stuffing rawplugs like a man desperate to discover if the giblets had been left in a dead chicken. The difference being what went in refused to come back out.

Professionalism now out of the window and accelerating fast from the scene of the crime, the prospect of understanding why this might be never got close to usurping some light hammer action attempting to rectify the problem. Leaving  me with three rawplugs which still didn’t fit, but were now nicely splayed across some freshly cracked plaster.

Not being one to give up when the odds are against me, I scuttled back to the shed in search of a big sodding knife to hack them flat. This was – to my mind – the perfect solution until, some days later, the whole edifice crashed from the wall creating a localised coat tsunami.

Luckily, and before I accidentally hacked my own head off, Carol came to the rescue removing them using some kind of arcane magic. Smoking newts the lot. No way there was a simple solution that didn’t involve – for want of an example – manly warnings of ‘fire in the hole’

Determined to reassert my DIY authority, I cleverly repurposed the drill as a custom ‘hole enlarger’ which, while triggering a ‘Beavis and Butthead’ snigger, didn’t really solve the problem.

Well it did in that the plugs-of-bastard now fitted into the enlarged aperture for a given value of ‘fitting’. Fitted in, fell straight out.  Like throwing sticks down the Mersey Tunnel (I might at some point get bored of crude sexual references but we’re 500+ words in, and it’s not looking likely)

Still pleased with my work, we offered up this ‘simple to fit coat-rack’ which went well to the point where the last screw failed to engage with that tossing raw plug, and instead inserted itself insidiously into the rather wider hole I’d made to get the bloody thing to fit in the first place.

With a heartfelt ‘OH FUCK THIS’, I sulked off back to the shed and instead attempted to fix only mildly broken things on my bicycles. I think we can all guess how well that went.

The only conclusion that can be drawn from all this is some people are born with a generic ability to bevel, while the rest of us are left to frustrating muddle through in impotent useless-ness.

The solution is staring us in the trades directory; get a man in whose easy competence and balletic power tool operation leaves me both in awe and irritated.

I console myself with the thought that I’m quite good at doing the stuff that makes me money, even if nobody can actually identify what that might be***. I can even write stuff that desperate content seekers will pay real cash for. But put a screwdriver in my hand, and it’s just going to be disasters wrapped up in chaos until someone loses an eye.

So I’m giving up. Accepting I am just shit at this kind of stuff, and admitting it’s not going to get any better. Buying more tools or taking more time is merely throwing good cash and time at bad technique and stupidity. Even paintbrushes are probably an implement well beyond my meagre ability.

So I’m off the mow the lawn instead. Assuming I don’t set myself on fire starting the lawnmower. 50/50 chance I reckon.

* Assuming it’s raining, there nothing on the Internet, and I’ve failed to escape the  questioning glare of the house’s only proper adult.

** had to check the instructions quite carefully at this point. Expected them to be rated 18. Some disappointment followed especially when reviewing the diagrams.

*** I’m not being enigmatic, I  don’t know what it is either.

Yogic Trying..

Tonight I’m back on the mat for the first time in a while. A long while in fact – while harvesting the original post for my single previous experience of what I’ve come to think of as low impact yoghurt, the date was back in 2007. I’m sure it was really about two Fridays ago, or maybe the week before that.

How can it be 2007? Anyway I expect I’ll be even more useless and quite a lot more sweaty. Attempting to stand up after the Monday spin class sometimes feels like I’m overachieving, so I expect to find myself slumped in the corner of the Gym with various joints popping and clicking after about five minutes.

Which is about all you need to read that article from 2007.

Anyone for Yoda?


In preparation for a date with a destiny, that I would happily have run over broken glass to break, my early evening reading was the refreshingly kaftan “Mung Bean Times incorporating ‘What Lentil’. Yes, dear readers, I’m going to admit on an open blog – or Chronicle of Angst as I’m increasingly thinking of it as – that a relatively healthy and not totally mental bloke went to Yoga. 

The vision that’s impossible to shake is made up of a room full of Cassandras’ and Skys’ clothed in tie-die shirts and leg warmers, chanting runic base lines and inserting purple painted toes into jewellery infested ears. Add a dash of dreary music easily categorised into “relaxing tunes to slash your wrists by” and some way out hippy imploring us to locate our inner child, and the whole foot laceration begins to look like the less painful option. 

Obviously there were no blokes except me and a few of the women were certainly of the original bra burning generation. But not all of them – one of which was my wife as I cravenly refused to go on my own. In case someone gave me a jostick and insisted on adorning my person with occult jewellery. And as for the instructor – well let me tell about Darcie, who is supple enough to throw a leg carelessly into the next room while elegantly rotating on a single finger. And – apparently I didn’t really notice as Carol was yoga-matted right next to me – she was pretty damn hot too. Fellas, consider this – extremely athletic, the perfect figure and probably susceptible to the odd recreational pharmaceutical. Quite a combination I should think, if I were thinking about it. Which I’m not but the rest of you, go fill your boots. Or something. 

Anyway it was bloody hard – stop sniggering at the back – and while ladies who lunch stretched languid muscles with irritating ease, I was all trembling veins and slouchy posture. Twenty years of cycling has reduced my hamstrings to a length better suited to a 10 year old child. Whereas my flexibility would be better matched to an 80 year old man with arthritis. Or possibly rigour mortis.

Blokes generally like lifting big weights or sweating in a manly manner while sucking in their gut and thrusting everything pelvic in the opposite direction. But this isn’t like that at all, it’s all the pain you can handle by pitting opposing muscles in an uber bitch fight and there really aren’t any winners. Except – and it’s not without some grudging am I writing this – an hour later, all sorts of previously unseen rotational vistas had opened up. 

Thankfully for all my stereotyping, mung bean made a late entry into proceeding when we all had a much needed lie down with the lights off. Someone even brought a blanket. I was doing my best to relax but… (edited for reasons of not wishing to die horribly by cheese grater) instead found myself thinking that this wasn’t quite as silly as originally envisaged.

As the great man/dwarf/Jedi may once have said “Practise the art of Yoga or touch your toes you will not”. I had a far better line for the old loppy eared one but the thought of the cheese grater made me reconsider.

Real life choices

Most of Cwmcarn.. the bits they weren't logging

There’s an apocryphal tale telling the story of buttoned up IBM suits arriving for an interview with Gary Kindell, who’d single handedly written a PC operating system. He then decided the most appropriate response was to slack off for the day rather than entertaining a squillion dollar contract with the man.

Here was single individual presented with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to harness his shonky wagon to a corporate monolith, ready to ship twenty million personal computers. Instead he flew his aeroplane, leaving the suits to throw their lot in with Bill Gates. The rest is recent history. I always though the bloke was an idiot, but now I’m not not so sure.

Kindell’s action stand as a metaphor for slacking off when the real world demands commitment. I’ve always enjoyed deadlines  – mainly the sound of them whooshing above my head, while I’m buried in something far more important. This feels as close to anarchy as a bloke who slavishly followed corporate hours in a monkey suit could ever go.

Today we rode mountain bikes. That’s pretty much the default state for a Sunday. Tomorrow I’ll go ride some more, which really isn’t how you should spend a Monday.  The joy of being paid by outputs not inputs means you get to pick the times to work and those to slack. It’s easy in winter when sideways rain slashes at the window, somewhat harder when the trails are dry and there’s a freshly lubed bike giving you the full Labrador.

I should be better at this. I’ve been at it for twenty + years,, and still there are too many moments  regressing into a Risky Businesssomedays you just have to say what the fuck’.  And here’s why; it’s not simple displacement activity or cognitive dissidence – no what we’re mining here is the tired ‘no man ever went to his grave wishing he’d spent more time in the office’

Obviously not. As he’d be spending it with his family. Or his Church. In my case the latter lacks rote, hymns and timid stupidity, but is full of trees, trails and epiphanies. I know what desperate repetition feels like, and I know better what tortured tires sound like so there’s nothing that’s going to make me spend a Sunday under the pretence that somehow Christian values are a conduit to a better place. I’ll risk the here and now, thanks for asking.

And not family either. Well not entirely. There’s a line of excuses mirrored by pretending that riding bikes makes me a better person. Send out grumpy, get back normal, caring human being. Yes, and indeed not really. Sometimes I’d rather than play with my bikes than play with my kids. Does that make me a rubbish parent? Probably. Am I alone? Probably not.

Two weeks ago I received multiple texts from good people who had the misfortune to work for me. They told me one of our team had died suddenly  while sitting in a meeting. 150 miles from his wife and two kids. Working his arse off to provide for that family. Four minutes between a massive heart attack and the world going black.

He was two years older than me. and I’m pretty venerable. He was the perfect contractor, skilled, hard-working and interesting. Taught me a lot. Put more into his community than I could ever be arsed to. Told me a great joke how his clan would rather put a Mercedes on the drive than food in the kids mouths. Funny, clever and extremely competent. Taken way before his time.

Today was great. Riding with my friends and trying to keep up with them. Feeling fit and warm in the occasional sunshine. Looking into distant valleys and not wanting to be anywhere else. Taking the piss and getting it back in spades. Pushing it a bit and caching in on dopamine. Having a beer and wondering why the real world isn’t like this.

This isn’t about riding mountain bikes. It’s about working out what is important. It’s thinking about a bloke tuning blue being desperately attended to by the designated first aider. It’s wondering if this is as good as it gets, and trying bloody hard to find out.

Life is about choices. You can vacillate but that’s still making a choice. The older you get the more important it is. Pretty sure that work deadline is going to slide.

Crash, Bang, Trollop

MC "dropping the grellow"
Martin doing it right

I don’t find writing difficult. I accept you may find reading it a bit of a mission, but that’s far less interesting to Mr Self Absorbed here.  Who suffers – literally – seconds of angst to create pithy titles summarising a thousand words of half baked ideas shotgunned by occasional punctuation.

That ^^ one is great – cram in a literary reference to man who, until his death in 1882, was knocking out Victorian bestsellers in a canon of work snappily entitled “Chronicles of Barsetshire,”*. And I can pretend Trollop translates, in the Al-Babel-Fish universe, to ‘Amusing Idiot’. A quick google suggests a rather more established definition is that of a ‘ A woman regarded as slovenly or unkempt’. I honestly thought it meant idiot. Which probably makes me one.

150 words in then, and it’s all going splendidly. Anyway this is merely a semantic sleight of hand displacing the simple truth that I got a bit cocky**,  before fate handed down an appropriate punishment of a bit of ground rush and quite a lot of pain.

Stupid really. That’s me in case you were searching for context. After three days of lobbing ourselves down steep Welsh hillsides and one actual mountain, I returned to my local trails lasting approximately 500 yards before genuflecting at the shrine of Mr. Mong.

Confidence is a fragile thing. Bolstered by those days of dodging bullets on trails full of vertigous gradients and gravity travelling scree slopes, the combination of a great new bike and a not so great aged rider felt as if they should up their game a bit.

Hence crashing so early. Second attempt at an up and over rock obstacle, opened up a barely discernible trail perpendicular to the normal fireroad. Off camber and full of roots, this would be impossible in anything but the dry and dusty conditions we rode through today – and it finished simply with a drop back to the main track.

Simple, except my peripheral vision identified a large mount of dog-poo right on the exit, so triggering an instinct to make rubbish decisions. Grabbing a handful of front brake, which on this bike is essentially a personal wall , is not the most considered of responses when cantered over on a steep slope full of drifting dust and bugger all grip.

Inevitably fault follows form, and I’ve excited stage front shielding my internal organs through the sacrifice of an unpadded elbow. It hurt a bit which I may have mentioned it to Martin, who whipped out his camera to capture a repeat effort failing to result in a  spectacular rider/bike/trail splattering. At least one of us felt this was the right result.

My normal response to having some sort of accident is to make it every type of excuse to why nothing vaguely difficult is rideable. Not today tho, the conditions were so perfect, that bike is so damn good and even the wobbly neurotic on top came together in a ride that had much throwing oneself off stuff, while laughing at Martin’s inability to capture anything other than the odd blurred wheel.

We moved on to a descent unique in being equally terrifying in winter and summer. During the season of dark and slop, the steepness and roots inevitably lead to abandoning the impossible task of a tight switchback in favour of a headlong plunge into a handy bush. In Spring, it’s pretty much the same except the speeds are higher and the bush has been upgraded to a tree.

Being understandably cautious of the front brake, switching to the rear merely locked that retarded wheel in an instant, and an instant later it was sashaying  through all sorts of dance moves I came to think of a ‘The Tango‘, ‘The Jive‘ and ‘The Accident‘. I stuck a foot out, and leant hard enough on that for the rear to break away completely, leaving me both surprised and somehow facing in the right direction. At which point I left both stoppers well alone so nearly t-boning an unsuspecting car on the trail/road intersection.  Failed to crash, but it wasn’t through lack of trying.

I don’t crash much nowadays. Because I’m getting a bit older and whole lot more careful. Less brave if you will. But rides like this remind why I should carry on pushing it a little bit. It’s not progression, it’s regression. It’s being eleven years old with your mates in the woods when you should be doing something rather more institutional. It’s knowing – for this day at least – you are not the same as those valley full of people observed from these high places.

My elbow is sore. I expect a whole lot more will join in tomorrow to remind me bouncing is a young mans game. But I shall ignore it through the power of delusional and nurafen, instead getting back on the bike and riding a whole lot more before the weather breaks.

Chronicles of Herefordshire isn’t likely to be much of a bestseller, but then old Tony T wasn’t much of a mountain biker 😉

* I’m not entirely ignorant. It’s Trollope of course. God I should know having suffered the pain of having his great works explained to me by a man masquerading as a teacher, while committing corporate manslaughter on one of the 19th century great novelists.

** not with the Trollop tho, Just so we’re absolutely clear.