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

I can take a joke, but…

Summer riding
For anyone living in a country with defined seasons, this picture defines ‘summer’ in the UK. I narrowly avoided frostbite

Maybe it’s an age thing, but I have begun treating previously inviolate norms with deep suspicion. Summer being one, my rain radar application another.

While non-brexited Europe enjoys broiling temperatures under blue saturated sunny skies, the remainers are left with grey clag, rumbling thunder, westerly storms, October temperatures, rain swept landscapes and a plunging exchange rate*

The meteorological is split between the Jet Stream dragging cold air and moisture from Britain’s future trading zones**,  while those happily located east and south lament the lack of moisture in their current environs.

Pop over here, we’ve loads to spare. Most of it lying above a saturated water table giving us an early glimpse of winter. I’m really not mentally ready for that -especially after a relentlessly brilliant Spring and early Summer. We had a wobble in June but this only reminded us how fantastic the trails were both before and after.

July tho. Have a word with yourself. Drenching us in thirty degree temperatures under cloudless skies for exactly a week before deciding we’d had far too much of a good thing and fast forwarding a conveyer of low pressure systems delivering four seasons in a single day. Or a single hour.

Stoics that’s us. Not the classical definition*** but accepting warm rain and only a 50/50 chance of benightment are things worth stepping outside for.  Thankfully a needy app was stealing phone real estate to desperately inform me the sun was merely having a little rest before bathing the worthy in late-day golden rays from 8PM.

Which made the rain steepling off metal roofs a tad less irritating, as I wrestled my Californian super-bike off the trailer. Invalidated the warranty right there. A little later, the Ross chapter of the too-stupid-to-stay-inside riding community huddled under Matt’s T5 tailgate debating options. Straight to the pub someone who looked a bit like me said, but no we dragged waterproofs from winter storage and headed out. Stoical indeed.

It’s probably best to draw a veil over the next two hours. Already I see my old friends and barely a word is said before a solemn agreement that ‘we shall never speak of these things again’ slams the discussion shut, and we part to call our individual therapists.

Obviously I was suffering the most having ventured out on the chubby tyres of assisted suicide. 14 PSI and a barely discernible tread pattern do not span the seasons with any kind of efficacy. Superb in the dry, lethal in the wet. Not in the ‘oh that’s a bit lively, best back off a tad‘ you get with proper tyres when faced with a trail of slick mud.

No, what we’re talking – possibly screaming – about here is a vague feeling the bars may be connected to a pair of somethings occasionally in contact with the terrain, before a total communications shutdown leaving the pilot to marvel at the quantum mechanics of travelling sideways and forward at exactly the same same time.

That doesn’t last long. Tyres snap sideways with barely a nod to previous traction and there is pretty much nothing you can do other than hope the tree you’re about to headbutt has rain softened bark. If by some miraculous event you’re still upright and not wearing a branch as a hat, the grip returns for a time period perfectly measured to convince that you’ve got it back. Before it breaks away again.

This is quite tiring after a while. Say 5 minutes. Still the sun’s coming out in no time at all according to the app that knows. What it doesn’t know is that we’re travelling damply with ‘weather event‘ James who transcends any kind of trusted forecasting, instead dragging the biggest clouds in his wake.

We never saw the sun. We did glimpse our future come about October. And I’m trying to blot out the difficult images of my riding companions attempting to locate sufficient dry kit to cross the pub boundary. I’ll save you from how well that went other than to say we’ll probably never be allowed in that particular establishment again.

Unless they need some really shit strippers.

Went out today. Was a bit better but still a million rain storms from dry, fast and dusty. Looked at forecast.  I think stoicism might be over-rated.

*we don’t do politics on the hedgehog. It becomes indistinguishable from a Tourettes therapy session. However may I just be allowed a brief ‘You’ve really not fucking through this through have you?  Thank you.

**fish and Carlsberg. Hard to see how this could go wrong. Okay I’m definitely stopping now.

***”the endurance of pain or hardship without the display of feelings and without complaint” – for me none out of three isn’t a terrible score.

 

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.

Chasing Cars

Chasing cars

An activity far removed from those halcyon days of London commuting, where one re-enacted medieval gladiatorial combat in that time honoured battle of over medicated motorists and under armoured cyclists. It reminds me tho of one puce faced, slabby stomach’d, inappropriately entitled fuckwit attempting to rub me from existence by simple application of his shiny porsche to my grimy mountain bike.

I never took time to understand if he’d been denied the dead cyclist he’d asked for Christmas and taken matters into his own hands, or was merely distracted by the reflection of his own ego. Far too busy ripping the keys from the ignition before a one way deposit into the sewers of the Bayswater road*

Back in the room and in that middle aged acceleration of the planet where three years appear to be directly correlated to a single heartbeat, desperate marketing emails insist the blameless car ‘proactively sustaining a customised transport solution” ‘** is coming to the end of its useful life.

Or its useful life with me. Being constrained by a financial instrument insisting I punt it back to Skoda early next February. With the advances in manufacturing, the just in time supply chain, the computer controlled assembly lines and the global stock control systems, the salient point appears to be I’d best order something in the next few weeks unless being a poster boy for The Proclaimers approach to sustainable transport forms a major part of my 2018 goals.

Been there. Hated that. Buying bikes is fun. Buying cars is not. My requirements – while simple – are not well aligned to the narrow scripts pedalled by sales people who conflate cost and value. Actually that’s nonsense, they confuse what someone wants with unit targets desperately signed up to at their interview.

Which makes my insistence on inserting a muddy mountain bike into their showroom polished demonstrators a little awkward. Not helped by my dismissive attitude to ‘advanced ride dynamics‘ and ‘performance analytics’ refusing to accept these are nothing more than A to B tools. If I wanted a lifestyle statement, I’ll buy another mountain bike.

I care not for performance or handling. Couldn’t give a flying fuck for marginal gains wrapped up in this years’ colourways. Disinterest overstates my apathy for design intent.  All these thing matter for two wheels. Four? Stop talking, hand over the keys.

My purchasing strategy has only two tenets. 1: simple requirements: how do I fit a 180cm mountain bike into that riot of plastics without wearing the front tyre as a novelty hat in the drivers seat. 2: Can it be bought without a clutch pedal and does the brains of our family operation calculate it’s not going to bankrupt us.

Yeah. But. I really wanted a Jaguar F-Pace. Just because I’ve always wanted a Jag. Fails 2: by about a million miles and frankly there’s a question of dignity hovering in the background. So attempted to bypass the social difficulties of interaction with idiots by test driving the bigger version of what I have now.

Expected just to order one of those. Arrived back at the dealer struck somewhere between bored and catatonic. Three years of that particular experience would result in a fair parody of Jack Nicholson in One flew over the cuckoos nest. Social awkwardness it is then. The spreadsheet at the top of this post represents an intersection of a best guess of stuff that might work, and a synthesis of many dull people who apparently enjoy testing cars for paid employment.

We live in a world where our choices tend to the infinite. No one has much truck with regression to the mean. Major purchases are our time to be special. For bikes yep, for cars oh please just fuck off.  Still I’m not quite so secure on this moral high ground once I found you there’s a big estate with a zero snob badge hiding what appears to be a nuclear bomb under the bonnet.

That may be the smart buy. I’ve no idea at all. I pretend not to care a jot for the thing I spend far too much time sat inside. Then I look at what that simple functionality costs and wobble a little. But I’m already all-in on the mountain bike equivalent of a red Ferrari. Best to step back from that kind of dangerous nonsense.

So I shall be stoic. And sensible. And given the right environmental conditions measured and calculating. Still a good chance of going postal though if the clip-on tie brigade feel the urge to tout their goods as something other than ‘ a bit better than trains’

If they do, a chubby bicycle tyre may be used to move the discussion on.

Wish me luck, I’m going in.

*explaining this to my colleagues at our rather straight laced London consultancy provoked two distinct responses; one group backed gently away making soothing noises while the other called security.

**these are not my words. But someone at Skoda wrote them, nodded sagely and declared ‘these are good’.  The Scorpion Pit cannot come too soon.

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.

Sunday Service – go ride a mountain

Black Mountains MTB - June 2017

These bikes Matt, they’re bloody amazing aren’t they?” represented my opening gambit on finishing a classic rocky Black Mountains descent. First ridden with almost no composure and much trepidation during a Dorothy-esque ‘We’re not in the Chilterns anymore‘ moment some ten years earlier.

Moving here rapidly widened my riding horizons and provided motivation for a lazy person to manage physical decline a little more aggressively. At 40, this stuff scared the crap out of me; steepish, loose, committing, switching between deep ruts barely clinging to a wind swept hillside, and stabby rocks buried deep into the water tables fall line.

At nearly 50, they’re nothing more than interesting technical exercises to be ticked off by thousands of practice hours, brilliant bikes and fast friends. Even after climbing through a rainstorm borne on a bastard headwind ramming droplets into every un-waterproofed* crevice.

Summer in the mountains then. Backside of a 30 minute climb drops you into a steep traverse cut deeply by eons of proper weather. Swirling wind attempts to throw you off the hill in the manner of an irritated horse. Whatever – ridden this kind of shit for a decade, been beaten senseless on multiple winter death marches, found  courage in the strangest places.  Roll the planet forward six months though and my insouciance would be replaced by tripod-ing uselessness and an all mountain dunking- but close to the longest day, just my laughter is carried away by that summer wind.

So when Haydn arrived sans a good part of his transmission, I was reminded of a couple of things; one don’t be a cleverdick – this isn’t a big mountain but it’ll still bite you in the arse if you install ego in the driving seat, and two just don’t be a dick period – you’re an insignificant pixel on a massive geological canvas. You’ve brought nothing and you’ll leave nothing. Get over yourself.

The rock strike cannoning through H’s rear wheel had blown away most of the mech and a couple of cassette cogs. Matt unleashed her mobile workshop on the problem while I lay in the first sunlight of the day and wondered why nothing makes me happier than being in the mountains. I failed to come to any useful conclusions other than high places were first claimed for the spiritual not the religious, the knowing that it’s a privilege to see the forests and the fields lying on top of nature’s wrinkly tablecloth, and that little bit of not being quite like everyone else my age.

My reverie was broken by the sounds of tools being re-holstered and we’re back to skating over loose rock, gliding under trees and – basically – finding fun bits go geography to punt the bikes off.  It’s already been a hell of a day; going trail feral from the start so climbing for an hour with bikes on backs to crest a 450m ridge promising much fun back on the pedals. It didn’t disappoint.

Then laughing at Matt as he missed a steep exit only for him to repass me when I missed the next one. Eating jelly babies to the sound of pinging disc rotors. Arming the tyres with sheep shit ammunition ready to fire at the innocent bloke line astern come the next downhill.

There’s another 300m of almost vertical between us and home. Another push and carry which merely opened up the prospect of a further twenty minutes peering through the cloud base on mostly remembered tracks. My GPS read 35km and 1400m of climbing. Bit only 1050m of descending. Time to get home and hosed.

First ruts, then loose rocks, then a stream bed so everything south of the rear tyre is now pissing wet. But a little less covered in sheep shit.  Dropping past the reservoir under stubborn slate grey skies, dampening our shadows all day, in no way diminished it’s ability to drag your eyes from the trail.

We’re nearly done but tired limbs must be ready for a single minute of action before resting in the van. Close the sheep gate, quick pedal ratchet, pick a line under an encroaching tree canvas and trust these awesome bikes to surf plate sized rocks long since wrenched from the bedrock.

Pick the bones out of that. It’s not scary nor technically that challenging. What is is is bloody fast, nearly 50kph of trail, forest and sky being hurled at the grinning idiot being the bars. Reminds me a little of reading the memoirs of the last ‘stick and rudder’ aviators flying by the seat of their pants.

It must feel something like this, not fighting the trail nor bending it your will, more modulating it through the pedals and the grips, micro drifting the bike into line, building a personal runway from random rocks and playing at being good enough to avoid a prang.

Roll up to the van with the conceit you’ve finally got this mountain biking thing pretty much sorted. At which point, a million midges feasted upon our moist persons. That’s nature having the last laugh, right there

*too warm to ride in a jacket so that’s everywhere then. At least it was warm rain.

It’s all downhill from here

The hardtail is back!

Facebook has many flaws; those keenly sticking it to the man point to its voracious appetite for personal data, harvested entirely with a shareholder’s view of maximising value. They rightly lament the depth of our digital footprint auctioned to the highest bidder.

Yep get that. Absolutely ready to go full digital hermit with tin foil hat once I’ve weaned myself off likes and vicarious living in a world separated from the tedious analogue. However, going cold turkey on social media means standing firm against the siren call of the carefully managed history presented on your timeline.

Exhibit A: images of a solstice ride some three years past shared with slightly less craggy versions of those now assembled on the hottest night of the year. But hey thanks heartless mining engine reminding me of the planetary rotations that have aged me since.

Shift into the real world and there’s just the two of us divining oxygen from superheated air whilst reacquainting ourselves with hardtails last ridden in the stygian twilight of endless winter days. Now the trails are baked rock hard from a week of 30 degree temperatures evaporating a month of low pressure rubbish.

After 1200kms’ on the Mojo3, a kilometre on the Stache feels strange and not in a good way. It’s like swapping a grand tourer for a hill racer. An Aston Martin for a Healy Sprite. Immediately visceral and not short of physical cues diagnosing me with an affliction best described of ‘laziness by super bike’

No matter, trails to be ridden before beer can be drunk. 30 degrees of rising mercury* stays any ambitions of rushing up hill, but soon we’re heading onto crushed sandstone burned red by a blazing sun and the direct drive of the a single sprung end makes chasing the summit a little more enjoyable.

But nowhere near as enjoyable as a rush through the first descent. Chubby tyres stick to summer hardened dirt like shit to a blanket, but hip swinging hooliganism will kick the back end out while the front tracks on unperturbed. Up front for thinking, out back for dancing.

First couple of jumps tho I’d renamed as ‘Get me to the Chiropractor’ as atrophied muscle memory fails to prioritise the knees as something involved in organic damping. Moving on, the gradient of our local hills tends to the flat closer to the river giving ample opportunity to test those chubby plus tyres with the full body English pushing beyond where any branch of peer assessed physics would suggest grip could possibly be found.

Bonkers. An inch of rain and any such shenanigans would drift the rider out to places where arboreal trauma and sub-soil analysis best describe the experience recently defined as ‘watch this, I’m riding it out‘. No chance of that tho with Mediterranean temperatures merely releasing dust clouds whenever any kind of braking disturbed the dirt.

I’d ridden a couple of the smaller gap jumps with the commitment of a man mostly invested in the ridiculous enterprise of an aged twat pitting himself against the the local geography. Nothing further of note is worth recording here other than a well sorted hardtail with 3.0 inch tyres and a 140mm fork is hardly pushing any kind of envelope. Barely licking it in fact.

Scarier tho were the speeds generated by gyroscopic effects which felt potentially tidal. I emerged at the end of one trail carrying sufficient potential energy to brand myself with a blameless tree. Front and rear tyres are shimmying in opposite directions. It’s a right-here-right-now equation to be solved.

Wait a single second to bleed off a little more speed accepting the consequence of a far tighter turn to avoid concussion by tree. Or let it all hang out and trust the grip of those big tyres to carve you out of trouble. Synapses and Dendrites react way faster than an overloaded optical cortex, and you’re through and clear without any understanding of quite how.

Stuff of life right there.

We make the most of the dust, the heat, the elongated day of the solstice. We think nothing of what is to come; the dark, the wet, the grim. Even elder statesman such as David and I can still live a little in the moment. Others may dance naked in response to the planets’ axial tilt; we’re more of the pragmatic ride the shit out of the trails before hitting the bar.

One thing between us and that. The biggest gap jump on our local trails. It’s not that big but it’s quite clever, perfectly sculptured for a landing aligned to the trajectory of a recently jumped mountain bike. Never done it on the hardtail before but if not now then when? Mild death grip on the bars, boost the bike off the lip, dip the flight for landing and relax as we hit it perfectly.

Then deal with the workload of getting it stopped before the next jump last seen when Cez bust his shoulder after inappropriate exuberance. I’m nowhere near that fast so swapped medical difficulties for shit-eating grin.

In the pub a little later, David and I agreed these are fun bikes to ride. And pretty bloody stupid. Fun and stupid then.

I can relate to that.

*in the UK. I know. It’s like we’ve been twinned with all of Australia.