Two’s a crowd

Like a bike. Only not really.

I’m living in a world of nots. Not being able to ride a bike outside. Not spending enough nights at home. Not matching a lack of exercise with a lack of beer. Not living outside the bubble of normality.

There are consequences. Some physical – even after swerving hotel fried everything, sugary snacks to extend working days, and meals for one where food and alcohol are mostly interchangeable – depositing me in an unhappy place some 2kg north of a first 2018 weigh in.

Mentally tho, that’s even a bit tougher. For many years hotel rooms represented what I did in the week, zeroed in on where the work was, a proxy for a home life barely missed. Now while the stuff people pay for is far more interesting, the logistics kind of piss me off.

Which made breaching this county boundary at 4 o’clock a righteous thing. After some desultory attempts to suppress a burgeoning inbox, the pub black-holed me into Ross where the blokes I used to ride with were assembled at a bar over which I was keen to transact significant business.

We talked bikes of course. In the cannon of the agrarian year, February exploits the mantra that it is ‘the hope that kills you‘ when longer days are drowned in rain leaving mountain biking to sink into the mud where the kindred spirits lie. Normally this is good cause for a proper whinge, but right now I’d bolt the FrankenAnkle to a pedal and make like a dirty paddle steamer.

But that’s not the point here. While we made plans for monster road trips targeting far flung destinations, one of the crew spoke of his – well there’s no other way to codify this – fetish for bicycles made for two. An inclusive engineering solution to share his love of cycling with his spouse. That’s a someone for whom her shiny mountain bike in the shed was more about him than her.

Steady on. Wooah, back off a second here. This is a dangerous idea espousing sharing might be a good thing. Swapping the disinterest of partners subjected to an unstructured ramble of ‘you should have seen that, you should have been there‘ with actually seeing that and being there. That’s the language of treachery.

Riding is our time. It’s the glue which holds us together. Sure we’d be friends I’m sure still talking shit but feeding beer bellies not dreams. We’re so un-clubby it’s painful- at best maybe a loose association of intersecting ideals. A meritocracy of those fighting the good fight against the dying of the light. A coven of not giving up. But we’ll be there on any Sunday. In every season. Against every excuse not to be.

I’m not sure there’s room for compromise. To dilute the solution of the selfish. To exchange a walk on part in a war for a bit part in a cage*. To actively choose road over dirt, to trade miles for mates, to slide into something that might be more of our age.

There’s a irony that in a world of winter monochrome, this is far less black and white than a cursory analysis would suggest. Our world is not a simple choice between blokes doing the mountain bike thing, and those who’d like to bring the not chronically obsessed into the fold.

There’s room for both of course. Before I mangled my ankle, we passed what I’d always labelled the tandem of misery on our way home, from a ride mostly remembered for shaking off a ton of mud before being allowed back into the car.

It’d been shitting it down. The land around was clamped in grey and dead in every direction. The whole world felt like it was going onto suicide watch because winter was going to last for ever. Yet these two – apparently sane – individuals were grinning and loving it in a way we really hadn’t been.

Pub they said. Sure we replied. In which stories were told to the power of two. Riding squared if you will. Good times for sure but not for me. A week later I’m riding a static bike in a sweaty shed to displace the anxiety that this might be the fun stopping injury. Suddenly I wasn’t quite so sure if something different wasn’t still something.

It’s all riding bikes. It’s physicalising a belief than outside is better than inside. It’s extending the community of those who feel the same way. It’s finding a way to square circles by turning them with those who otherwise would be left wondering what they might be missing.

So tonight, it was great to see my mates. It threw dirt into the hole of not riding. It made me remember why bikes and trails are not the full story. Also gave me pause wondering if I’d done enough to share the things which I assumed no one else in the family understood.

We did it once and it was fantastic. I’m just too damn selfish to go there again. For a while anyway.

*Pink Floyd of course.

 

 

Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the evening rain.

Depth Gauge Labrador

There’s a certain cadence spinning the truth at this time of year. The pretence that being outside is something to be cherished. The belief that schlepping through endless mud shall somehow defibrillate the flatline of Spring.  The conceit that riding through the endless shit of winter somehow elevates you over those stuck to the sofa through apathy to the power of Pringles.

That’s my world from 2002 through 2017. Every year upped the bar of commitment as proper cold winters gave way to an indeterminable period of grey dankness shrouded in rain.  Avoiding the damp squelch of soft limb on rain battered tree was nothing more than a happy non-accident.

Then after a couple of hours of something that feels like therapy shared with like minded souls, tedium demands another thirty minutes of harvesting the bike from its mud mould. And that’s before being washing machine denied prior to an apparently infinite manual rinse cycle of clothes made three times heavier by their carriage of forestry operations.

Well I’m missing it. It’s been a month since I last rode* a mountain bike and it’s at least another of the same before mental requirement meets physical reality.  There’s a certain irony that this excuse to wimp out is the best I’ve ever had,  when all I want to do is go out and get properly filthy.

I’m not eulogising  it; clearly it’s going to be bloody horrible out there, with a negligible amount of fun wrapped around a few hours of misery. After which there will be the pub. Before which there will be a shared experience, a recognition of group stupidity, a laugh at what other people might be doing with their Sunday.

This is what I’m doing. I’m sat in front of this screen facing off to my other life. The one which pays the bills but isn’t exactly inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, having absorbed an internet thread on the horrors of shift working when you’re middle aged, it’s clear I’m still living it easy here. So there’s stuff to do and I will do it while rain batters the window, knowing the only outlet is an hour on a static bike in the shed-of-misery.

That and giving my ankle the Paddington stare while wondering at high volume ‘when are you going to get better you bastard, it’s not like you’ve suffered any abuse. Well not until I ruined you, but it’s time to move on‘. It’s not moved on much still requiring Nurafen balms and the ministrations of my long suffering physio who tells me a) it’ll get better in a few more weeks and b) you’re not 18 and in Kansas anymore.

So this is what I’m left with. Sweating in a cold shed and walking the dogs. The stupid young one** acting as a depth indicator in a lake that was once fields. That time being yesterday before the rain decided 24 hours was an entirely appropriate duration to flood the local geography.

At some point I’ll be able to ride a mountain bike again. Whatever the prevailing weather and trail conditions, at least one of my extensive shed based collection shall intersect with the grim outside my door. Until then I’m left with the buggeration of the observer, the chagrin of the not included, the desperation of the hanger on.

Here’s the thing-  when you wonder if it’s worth going out in the grim. If you’ll get anything other than a winters crack, back and rucksack of moist mud, if the ball-ache of dealing with the aftermath of winter is worth it, remember this:

You have a choice, Trust me, that’s a good thing. I’m beyond envious.

*more carried across the Brecon Beacons. I’d pay lots of cash right now to do that again.

**the old one is just as stupid. He just doesn’t like getting his feet wet.

 

 

 

Going nowhere slowly

Going nowhere slowly

Way back in 2004 I contracted a fatal lung disease*. Other than some rather scary chest x-rays and a valiant attempt to break the world record for phlegm output, the major side effect was six weeks of shed based misery.

Outside messed up my insides. The intersection of cold air and asthma scarred lungs triggered chest heaving coughs, chronic shortness of breath and the aforementioned phlegm deposits. I retired hurt to the garden where my unused cross bike** was shackled to the modern day torture marketed as a mechanical turbo trainer.

Which swapped noise for forward motion while you sweated the majority of your body weight attempting to match the efforts of a grainy ‘sufferfest‘ video. Not some kind of porn movie, except unless your tastes tended to specialist publications offering lycra, pain and men trying very hard not to be messily sick.

Those videos – and yes they were bought for real money on those new fangled compact discs – had production values slightly below the shittiest ever aerobics video. After a month you knew every exercise so, if breath allowed, responding  to the trainer enquiring if you were feeling the burn with a cheery ‘go fuck yourself‘.

I felt the burn alright. Felt the urge to set the whole bloody shed on fire. At least it’d all be over without the impossibly enthusiastic host patronising me one last time with ‘step it up, rememberno pain means no gain’.

Roll forward nearly fifteen years and here we are again. The FrankenAnkle is at least six weeks away from interacting with a proper bicycle. With my lackadaisical attitude to healthy eating, the emergency services will be winching my 300lb corpulent carcass out of the house, unless some form of exercise can be crowbarred into a 45 day cheese’n’port marathon.

The world has moved on. Virtual cycling worlds are peopled by second-lifedropouts sporting the latest in smart trainers. Bluetooth, wireless and – I’m guessing – dark sorcery connect the three together through the simple expedient of splashing cash on self assembly*** plastics containing electro magnets and a subscription to what I’ve come to think of as ‘Ego by Roadie’

After an initial – and frankly confusing – toe dip into the world of watts, cadence and internet testosterone, I joined a group ride through the medium of social media and abandonment of common dignity. The start line was awash with pixelated road riders differentiated by frames, wheels, haircuts, socks and glasses. It was a bit creepy to be honest especially once the 1984-esque instructions were splashed across my screen.

None of which I understood mainly because they talked about pace, beacons, packs and drafting – all concepts in which I cherish my ignorance. And a little bit due to the distraction of coercing the varied communication signals into a tiny receiver. So the start caught me by surprise, as two hundred electronic souls barged me from the rear responding to the bark of ‘2.4 W/KG for the warm up

Right whatever. Sounds painful. It was as well attempting to breach that gap to the back of the pack. My pleasure at not being quite last was cut short by a total confusion of what to do next. My drafting skills were precisely zero. Since that day I’ve upgraded them to bloody useless.

Key issue is the communication lag between what you see on the screen and what’s happening in the real world. The feedback is clever; hills make you work harder, drafting easier, pedal harder to move through the pack, coast and go backwards. Works brilliantly if you can synchronise the five second gap between the two.

Took me a while – oh let’s be generous and call it an hour – to fully comprehend that. In those sixty minutes, my desperation not to be dropped would see me burst out in front of the group, only to be spat right out the back as I panicked and forgot to pedal. Once when I saw the road ahead populated by only a single rider, my attempts to chase him down were dashed.

The harder I tried, the faster he went. Eventually it dawned on me that some desperate prodding of the keyboard had changed the camera angle and I was, in fact, chasing myself. Things didn’t really improve from there.

I really, REALLY, want to be properly snooty about those who take actual pleasure from this shed based purgatory. It’s mental – attempting to beat people you’ve never met. Like Strava with moving pictures. It’s a long run from fun and a decent bike ride from compelling.

Except in the five days since cautiously poking my nose into this virtual world, I’ve ‘ridden‘ 125km, gone stats-geek native and -it pains me greatly to say this-actually passed an hour in a group ride without feeling the urge to smash the whole thing up with a hammer.

Once the ankle is cleared for proper riding though, the setup will atrophy as befits a pale imitation of the real thing. In the meantime tho, come tomorrow, Bob5499 is toast.

If you’ve go this far, you might enjoy a more coherent article on injury, indoor trainers and the injustices of both in the nextCranked Magazinedue out early Feb.

*on reflection, it wasn’t quite as serious as my initial diagnosis. Goes to prove the medical professionals, friends and family were rather more accurate with their identification of ‘hypochondria

**Bought two more since. Same result. Which makes me either stubborn or stupid. It’s stupid isn’t it?

***self assembly yes. Intuitive no. Without Carol I’m pretty sure the only exercise I’d have managed would have been gleefully taking a fire axe to the thing.

 

Things you might have missed..

Trans-Cambrian MTB Sept 2017

And an excuse to post one of my favourite pictures. Trans Cambrian – Sept 2017. As wet as a man can get without drowning.

Without further ado, these are the most read posts in 2017. Who knows why. Probably spambots.

2017- Curated

And this is the updated bike page which receives far more edits than any individual post 😉

Emperor. Missing clothes.

Running out of time

That's a foot in case you were wondering

There are a collection of noises you wish remained silent. Clustered around aural stimuli triggering involuntary gasps, cries of pain and classic anglo Saxon verbiage rhythmically assembled around the extensive use of the word ‘fuck‘.

Instant awakening to a night creak on the stair, dread comprehension of a car/immovable scenery interface and the sound of ligaments tearing themselves from their biomechanical norms.

What a noise that is. Somewhere between the creaking of a Man-of-War tortured under full sail and the snap of a door slamming. Other senses tumble in; the sharp flash of pain, the smell of the earth rising towards your stumbling frame, the view of the world going sideways.

It’s gone sideways alright. In more ways than one. And while this extends barely past a second of misjudgement, the story starts some ten days before. A happier time when an uninjured Al ran 15 kilometres at a pace that’d easily meet the goal of a sub two hour half marathon. After which the whole ridiculous enterprise, of a fifty year old man pretending there were still athletic achievements worth striving for, could be firmly shut down and never spoken of again.

Riding bikes – people who fail the risk/reward test say – must be dangerous. Well yes and no. Yes because the chance of physics and geography coming together in a bone crushing manner tends to the probable, but no as that’s mitigated by the experience of twenty years gaining adequate skill to avoid doing so.

Running though is essentially Russian roulette with no empty chambers. Metabolising diesel fumes in the traffic offers a similar level of serious injury as lying in front of it may provide. There’s a one to one correlation between my last two runs and the number of limbs seriously compromised.

Firstly that 15km had consequences; the visible one being a pathetic limp when my left knee took umbrage at ground pounding, so striking out in a slightly different direction to the rest of the leg. I’m not a medical man but I’ll do my best to describe it. Scrape-y – each step sanding a little off the wonky bit of my patella.

A weeks recuperation based entirely on a Christmas cheese and wine diet failed to ease the abrasion, so my long suffering physio was called in to deal with this latest incident of hypochondria. The summary of that diagnosis was ‘being old but not wise enough to stretch properly‘ and a caveated green light to go and try again.

Rather than risk a further ninety minutes of asphalt percussion, I collected my proper running mate Ian and his ridiculously rapid tiny mutt in an eight legged assault of the lower slopes of Penyard woods. Woods that have been the subject of brutal logging leaving a barren landscape of ankle deep mud and fallen trees.

The latter represented my nemesis. The former merely pissed me off for the 40 minutes or so of us making slow progress* on flooded trails abruptly terminated by felled trees and trench like double track. We headed away from the arboreal carnage choosing instead some choice singletrack laced with happy two wheeled memories.

Not anymore. Now when I think of this trail it contracts my inside as synapses zap dendrites taking me right back there and THAT noise. The one following a stumble over a fallen log, a desperate attempt to stabilise a falling body, a moment of disentoriationas my head torch illuminated first the ground and then the stars, followed inevitably with my entire weight rolling my right ankle to ninety degrees.

I wasn’t going to run this off. But I had to try as the option was to give up, limp to the road and wait for Ian to fetch me back. He’d have been fine with it, I really wasn’t and the bloody dog was giving me the eye. So we jogged gently home, I grabbed a bag of ice and a box of Ibuprofen and some internet self diagnosis.

Really not required. When your frankenankle(tm) is the size of a grapefruit and you can barely get a sock over it, it’s probably reasonably to assume bad things have happened. Not quite sure what. The full horror will be revealed when my on-speedial-physio can do a proper evaluation once the swelling subsides.

Until then the best case scenario suggests 2-4 weeks. The worse case one… well let’s not go there as that suggests riding bikes in Spring might be happening to other people.

What it definitely means is no half marathon for me next week. I’m genuinely pissed off because a) I was on course to be on the course for less than 2 hours and b) I’ll have to carry on bloody risking injury to run the same race sometime in April.

I could just give up. It’s not like I don’t have form here. Not going to happen. For a few moments in the last two months I’ve genuinely enjoyed making progress by foot. And I’ll be buggered if all the horrible bits interspersing those flashes of a runners high won’t count for something.

Whatever. That’s for later. Right now I’m reflecting on what a stupid bloody idea it was to give up drinking this month.

*that’s pretty much my running pace. Ian could easily lap me at least once but is far too good a mate to even suggest it. His bloody dog looks keen tho.

 

Tradition

Edd's Birthday ride - Gap in the snow

Tradition is an odd concept when you think about it. It decomposes into repeating the same things yet somehow expecting a different outcome. Which is a rather better definition for insanity.

Examples abound; this is the year we pack unstable family relationships into a tight box, ignite the blue touch paper with alcohol and by some miracle nothing shall explode*. Further there is no possibility I shall emerge from these ten days more than 1 kg heavier despite eating my own body weight in cheese washed down with tasty toxins. Finally the fragile purity of my resolutions shall not shatter under the weight of dark, frozen January misery.

That’s pretty much covered off the joy of Christmas so let’s move onto some real food for the soul** The therapy/drinking group cleverly disguised as a loose association of mountain bike riders mark the holidays with a ride up and over a Welsh mountain. While the route and the date never change, who actually turns up is a little more random based on availability, prevailing weather conditions, level of apathy and – in the case of one particular chap – the ability to function whilst under the spell of a crippling hangover.

We’ve been here before. Tradition dictates we shall go there again. It’s like bloody groundhog day with less amusing marsupial and more stumbling idiot. Learning at least a little from last years debacle, my bag was fully packed and triple checked a whole day before. Ensuring my performance – while still wholly pitiful – would not be degraded due to a lack of the proper equipment.

Aside from my body. Which has the misfortune to host my brain. An organ that cannot look at a six bottle wine rack without considering it some kind of personal challenge. Although first it needs to warm up with a couple of beers, and some kind of donkey stunning cocktail, before a one man bacchanalian assault on all things liquid grape.

Not quite one man. Matt and Lauren kept me company, but only I was able to entertain everyone in the room with a repeated stumble over an obviously placed obstacle when making room for more poison became a biological necessity.

As the world swam out of focus, some malicious bastard added gin to it. In quantities that would have transitioned that donkey from stunned to dead. Through years of rigorous practical study, I avoided any such fate instead retiring to bed at around 7pm, once I’d established which flight of stairs might be the real one.

The next morning we went riding. It was epic. A proper death march. Which considering I couldn’t operate a tooth brush at 7am is something I’m somewhat surprised I physically survived. Mentally though I’m a little tougher than I pretend so neshing out was never a remote possibility, although being violently ill in the van was my constant companion as we ascended into increasingly snowy landscapes.

Days like these aren’t about the riding. They are about the memories. The healing process kick-started by my three compatriots incessantly ripping the piss. Then staring at the glass-still reservoir under white-dusted hills on the first climb. Noting the increasing snow depth as we climbed higher. Playing the game of riding on partially solid ice without crashing through.

And then onward through metre high snow drifts where bikes were going to be nothing more than an annoying accessory. Until they weren’t which is pretty much when the crashing started. A 15 minute moorland yomp was transformed into a nearly an hour and a half of pathfinding, falling over in the snow, permanent laughing and wondering when it might be going dark.

The conditions didn’t improve much. They changed from deep snow to sloppy chop to hard ice. Our response was the same- ride what you can, walk the rest. Concluding in arse-sliding down the descent from the gap desperately hanging onto difficultly shaped bicycles. Even when remounting became an option, it was still mildly hairy. Especially if you were still mostly drunk.

By the time we hit the road – still with nearly 10km to go – the frozen four were suffering from ice-block feet and finger numbness. Which made the last 30 minutes chain ganging the canal path fairly unpleasant. Mainly as the path was more water than anything else so firing barely liquid moisture at sodden shoes.

What else do I remember? The aforementioned slide down a steep trail being made just a little more exciting when Haydn and – more worryingly – Hadyn’s spiky bike just failing to remove one of my vital organs. I called an impromptu meeting of the death march committee to declare it a solid 8, with a consideration for a further half point if anyone actually contacted frostbite.

No one did. I know this for sure as the four of us joined another twenty for food later. An event where drink was also served – even to a man who had made the rash statement. some twelve hours earlier, that he had given it up for life.

Anyway that’ll do. Until next year, happy arbitrarily-selected temporal recalibration point***

*arguably that’s a safer bet than the whole virgin birth/sky fairy thing but we’ve been there before and I’ve nothing else to say on the matter. Other than REALLY?

**did I eat that? Probably. I ate almost everything else.

***stolen off facecloth. It’s got to be good for something.

Beat Yesterday

Done not dusted

That’s Garmin’s slogan extorting you to being a better person. Backsliding is not acceptable. Each day is an opportunity to best yourself against a virtual you who failed to meet the standard yesterday.

This it not unusual when considering how global brands are desperate to to sell you stuff. Nike could not be clearer in their messaging ; you can‘just do it’.Adidas advance ‘impossible is nothing’which suggests their marketing department have abandoned semantic norms and are instead merely splicing post it notes in their mood room.

Here’s the problem.  Those of us managing decline are not in a position to beat yesterday. I can’t even remember what happened yesterday.  Sure I’ve not entirely given up, abandoned trousers without elastication nor embraced that middle aged trope of patting a sloping stomach before declaring it ‘all paid for’

Even so, being faster than a younger version of myself is a bit of an ask. The research is equally narratively compelling and pretty bloody depressing.  From 50 you’re adding three kilo’s of flab per annum unless you’re rocking the spinach diet. Injuries take so much longer to heal, and based on a statistical sample of one I’m inclined to agree.

Let the minds eye rove over this broken frame. Barely articulating right ankle busted on some European Alp. Feet sporting badly healed broken big toes crushed by hidden stumps,  right shoulder crunched by a poor decision followed by  a big impact, right hand ring finger articulating half the born movement after smashing it into a rock, left wrist permanently sore from missing an apex and finding a rock gully in Spain.

Thats the highlights reel. It glosses over what’s going in my head.  In 15 years I’ve often trembled at the top of scary shit and ignored the terror for the dopamine hit. Sometimes that worked out, other times not so much.   But being there is amazing, being someone you are not,  riding the trail rhythm and wondering if this is enough.

It really is. This is not about beating yesterday. This is about fusing friends, fitness, trail and outcomes ignoring the metrics of what success might feel like. I’ve been writing this shit for 15 years but  I still cannot find the words to articulate how riding bikes takes you out of wondering if you are doing the right things. If you are good enough. If you’ve made the right choices. If your little life on the planet means something.

It means something. It means this. It’s the friends with whom I’ve shared many experiences of winging it, who I’ve shivered with under darkening skies in navigational confusion, who I’ve toasted with beer on the summer solstice and who I’ve trusted to deliver me safely from a winters day silhouetted on difficult geography.

This is not about being better today. It had nothing to do with Strava segments. It doesn’t give a flying fuck about progression. It is nothing more than sliding about in winter mud while attempting to remain upright, to send the best rider out first, to laugh when that rider falls into the shrubbery, to hang onto a fish-tailing rear and wonder again if this might be enough.

It really is. We sat in the pub getting shitfaced and the conversation was mostly what we do next. My craggy faced friends and I are not about how to beat yesterday, we’re more wondering what happens next. And when you’re as old as we are that’s a petty amazing thing. How fucking terrifying might that be when it stops?

So I’m not going to compare 2016 to the dying arc of 2017. I’m not buying into metrics which may suggest one is somehow better than the other.  I’m so far done with that. My life is complicated enough without worrying if how I piss away my spare hours makes any kind of sense.

I’ve no interest in beating yesterday. I just want the opportunity to have a crack at tomorrow.

On that note Merry Xmas if the whole sky fairy thing is working for you 🙂

Nobody’s perfect

Penyard MTB - December

Perfection is a problem. Digital content assaults us from all sides. It flicks every channel to remind us how rubbish we ordinary people are. And yet we cannot escape the images propagated by our minds eye suggesting that, while we might not be perfect, awesome is respectable second place.

Reality blunts that vision. It’s the main reason I hide behind the camera to make by betters appear, well, better. Location, angles and composition intersect to enhance that flawed reality into something superior. Whenever I find myself on the wrong side of the lens, the gap between perception and electronic imprint is somewhere between a bit disappointing and deeply embarrassing.

Somehow the image in my head transposes to a bloke recently introduced to the sport of mountain biking and – further – he appears to be method acting a homage to ‘crouching badger, hidden terror‘. Over the years, I’ve reconciled myself to being the bridesmaid rather than the bride. Or – to stray into rarely considered accuracy – the drunk lying amongst the gravestones desperate for someone to notice him.

I do get noticed. For all the wrong reasons. December has been a total bastard in terms of other peoples deadlines. Normally I’m with the late, great Douglas Adams who enjoyed the sound of such things whizzing past his head as he takes cover under a desk. Not so this time around with a fading 2017 colliding with stuffthat really must be done.

So I did it. Long days. Much grumpiness. Finally freed from wresting 5000 words into some kind of coherent whole, I hit send, the bottle and trails of slick mud I’d last ridden under dry November skies. I was so desperate to ride the incessant rain keeping me awake last night in no way stayed my enthusiasm.

Early signs weren’t great. Soil long distanced from dry. Forestry works scything across favourite trails. Legs reconfigured for running finding pedalling hard effort. Clouds clamped hard onto a damp landscape promising more moisture later. Still if you don’t go you don’t know.

Here’s what I didn’t know. Trails on the glass side of slippy are proper tests of the four season mountain biker. Committing a great tyre to the turn is a perfect metaphor for ‘up front for dancing, back there for partying’. Drifting on slick leaves doesn’t feel much less fun than railing hard summer dirt.

Glad to be out basically. Missed riding my bike. I wasn’t alone as four riders – line astern – giggled their way through the last few turns of a trail we’d just excited. I didn’t recognise them but that’s fine as they identified me through a DNA back-scatter of pattern recognition.

Hey Al‘ they called. ‘I’d recognise that pedalling style anywhere‘. Polite enough not to add further description but in my head I’m hearing ‘Shaved pedal mashing gibbon barely able to maintain forward momentum‘. And let’s remember these are my friends. Slings and arrow of outrageousfortune and all that.

We bantered. I accused then of abandoning their glacial sponge of the Malvern hills to ruin our mud, and they countered with a view that those hills were full of trails straight cut to A&E, and further infested with the rambling class who are oh-so-supportive of mountain bikers.

Whatever. I’d pay good money to be tagged by my riding peers for superb downhill posture, a cornering masterclass or a jumping guru. Unlikely since every time a picture paints a thousand words, those words would suggest a man who is somewhat beyond mildly perturbed, possibly due to the distraction of interacting with a bicycle in what appears to be a first time meeting or a fight.

I blame my gibbon like proportions. Others less kind would suggest a demonstrable lack of technique, a stance favouring the back wheel or an expression suggesting one may have just followed through. I’ve seen the photos and it’s hard to argue with almost any of that.

Even so. Being identified by your wonky pedalling style feels akin to placing third in a knobbly knees contest, or winning the right to be considered the best thing to come out of Lancashire. Faint praise to be damned with.

With dignity being a thing that happens to other people, I was able to internalise the ignominy and crack on building a belief system around the awesomeness of my front tyre. Which worked brilliantly right up to the point of dropping into a mud gully, making aspirational assumptions around the grip of polished roots and ending up lying upside down under my bike.

That is what I consider my ‘best side’. I’m easily identifiable when lying supine wondering aloud if some kind of mud-bunny has wrested traction from my front wheel. It’s not a new experience, so I was happy to milk it before slithering darkly down the remainder of the trail.

Which was nothing less than fabulous. It’s a whole lot slower than summer but no less engaging. Sure I’ll be sick of it come March, but right now having not ridden much in the last month reminds me why I need to ride a whole lot more in the next two.

You’ll find me pedalling wonkily with a big grin on my face.

Hello future. I’ve not really been expecting you.

As a nation, we’re increasingly shunted onto the global railroad towards autonomous cars. I find myself pretty much unconcerned about that as an end goal, but my personal crossings are flashing orange at the interim states considering a marketed future and the chaos of right now.

Much of this is a recognition that I am not a good driver. See what I did there? Admitting a deficit in a capability which is normally grouped with ‘beinggreat in bed’ and basically ‘operating as a proper bloke’. Shielding that truth is for younger fellas; I’m far too aggressive, make poor decisions under pressure, have fists of ham when it comes to understanding handling and balance, and really can’t park for shit.

Technology may rescue me. Handing over a suitcase of cash for the ‘Bavarian Bomber’triggered a couple of things; firstly, being blindsided by the salesman who’d secured his commission, then receiving all sorts of media based introductions to our new car.

One of which was a 25-minute video on operating a mechanical contrivance of which I’ve driven derivatives around a million miles in the last 30 years. The first 90 seconds helped the educationally troubled unlock the vehicle, while the remainder attempted to resolve a juxtaposition of mechanical savagery versus a number of computer systems which thought they may now better.

Most of which were controlled by what I’m calling the ‘Wheel of Fortune’.  A bonus of such definitional amusement was how it upset the product guy in the passenger seat, who’d been on all the training courses while missing out on how fucking annoying the old bloke might be. Ignoring his exhortation that it’s important to follow a terribly German process, I was more your dialling, flipping and random selection of options seemingly mostly marked ’self destruct’

Things happen when such digital anarchy prevails. Probably not the things you want to happen or things without unforeseen consequences but certainly things. It is kind of intuitive though, so I fully expect to learn it fully on the exact day the car is due to go back.

There’s much more, but that’s missing due to my inability to click on options for which BMW charge you an arm and leg, before demanding a deposit of the rest of your body at a very reasonable rate of interest. What’s left is an app attempting to insinuate itself in your life worryingly similar to HAL logically explaining ’I can’t do that Dave’*

An app for a car? Oh yes. Confirming things that your mark one eyeball does for free. Are the windows closed? Did I lock the car? Have I had my tea? Oh fuck off. Shall I warm the car up for you before you have to leave? Shall I send your life story via the onboard SIM so I can market the shit out of your for evermore?

We’re deep into decadence being served up by technology while worrying if our privacy is being violated for the privilege.  As a data guy, this worried me a bit until I realised that ship had long sailed with Facebook, twitter and the Apple ecosystem.

So instead let’s focus on the shiny; a satnav that is almost sentient, a needy interface which grabs your phone before striving to do way more pipe the audio through hidden speakers. There’s even a CD Player allowing me to burn all my rubbish 80 rock onto the internal hard drive. Hidden further behind many clicks are further pointless apps built entirely because BMW took an insane decision to write their own code for news, places of interest etc. You’re never going to view those while you’re driving, and once you’re stopped then a useful smaller device connected to the whole web resting happily in the centre console. So Meh.

What else? A start button. Really? Is this some kind of pointless fucking F1 trickle down? In the Skoda there’s a handy receptacle to usefully hang keys from the steering column. Now I’m wasting time and space attempting to find a repository for the loaf sized key that’d ruin the line of even the cheapest suit. This doesn’t feel like any kind of upgrade.

There’s a final technology solution which you can’t even see. It’s a network of sensors and cameras monitoring the space around the car to perform threat analysis. Meaning if a pedestrian randomly stumbles into the road, the car will brake at about half a G before you’ve even had time to utter a ‘where the fuck did you come from?

I’ve summarised this technology for you. It takes far to long to get to this point, and that point is when you’ll need to abandon the motherlode of the dealer. Which involves pressing this, tapping that, ignoring the other so aligning multiple computers allowing you to start the car.

And when it does, it’s quite the thing. Our current Yeti is probably the best car I’ve ever owned but this one has 55% more horsepower and 60% more torque in exchange for a small weight increase. Diesel is demonised now but this is a brilliantly muscular engine paired to a seamless 8 speed auto box. I did drive the nutter version accessorised with a hyperspace button and a donor card. Decided it wasn’t for me.

It’s also two foot and change longer than the Yeti. And re: previous comment on parking I’m bloody glad it has amazing sensors visually and audibly warning you that yes indeed you cant park there. The really posh ones have auto parking which would have been a) great and b) financially aligned with buying a space shuttle which the computing power allegedly matches**

There is one thing I really don’t like. A driving mode which essentially critiques your ability to anticipate events beyond the edge of the bonnet. It chides you for braking late or accelerating early. Icons flash and carefully modulated tones direct you towards being a safer, more economical driver. While I’ve fine with friends and Carol – especially Carol as that poor woman has endured 25 years of my lack of special awareness while riding shotgun- telling me I’m not a great driver, I draw the line at a 4 wheeled iPhone with the smugness package installed.

So I’ll put a bit of tape over that switch. That’s my kind of fix to a technology solution for which I’m struggling to find a problem. I’m feeling increasingly analogue in a digital world. Maybe I’ll get some kind of tin foil hat.

BMW branded of course 🙂

*if I have to explain this, you’re wasting your time here. Stanley Kubrick is your man and he’s both a) dead and b) far more worthy of your eyeballs.

** and the price. I’m massively disappointed it won’t launch itself into orbit

Done and clustered*

Does it come with a matching suit and optional coffin?

It’s close to that time of year when we reflect on the past twelve months, critically examine the decisions we’ve made and paths we’ve chosen. We may wearily raise our heads from whatever desk currently represents our vocational speciality, and wonder aloud if ‘ I want to be doing this same shit next year?

Well opportunity may indeed be knocking. If you’ve considered a sideways move into the amusingly unregulated sector of double glazing, but feel their salespeople are just a little too constrained by ethical concerns, you may be ready for a shot at the big time.

Get yourself a branded suit, an edgy haircut, a book full of ‘oh fuck me are we still in the 70s’ sales techniques, and start lying so hard you’ll forget the discombobulated individual melting under the furnace like glow of your self belief is something other than a scratch on the commission bedpost.

It may be clear from my opening remarks that I’ve not much enjoyed the car buying experience. That’s not entirely accurate – I’ve really fucking hated it, from start to bloody finish with only a couple of mild highlights preventing me going full-arson on every twat populated glass shrine to shafting the customer in all of Herefordshire.

Let’s consider that for a minute. In at attempt to wrest some kind of control back from a small child charmingly suit-clad in some kind of bring your precocious cock-infant to work day, I developed a half decent statistical model to unpick a number of manufacturers discount structures. Regardless of the name emblazoned above the door, they correlate around floor price and entropy.

Essentially this is a direct sales model with limited latitude for each franchised dealer to shift volume. And that is all they care about. Oh sure you’ll get the full tedium of something termed long term relationship neither of you believe, and some additional bollocks trumpeting the qualitative cosiness of a local buyer, but it’s all just shit added to the heap marked ‘there’s one born every minute’

This one was born some 50 years ago. And in a perfect storm of year end targets, a plunge in diesel values and a stroppy, stubborn northerner my customer classification was apparently ‘price sensitive and rational’. Clearly they were referring to Carol , who I dragged into every showroom and, unleashed once Mr Special Relationship started talking real cash.

I don’t blame the dealer. I really don’t. In a world of sharks, there’s no room for a nice friendly seal. Lawyers pretty much are the wikipedia citation for that. I blame myself for feeling guilty when saying ‘no I’m sorry but paying list price for something of which there are many and yours is no different makes me a little uncomfortable. Could you reduce it by a whole pound?

Light dawned deep in the night when my wide awake mind stopped circling around the problem and started devising a better strategy. Morning saw me furiously tapping this keyboard demanding best and final offers from anyone with an internet presence. Such was the level of horse trading, I sort of lost track of it and at one point the informational tornado overloading my inbox suggested I had indeed bought a horse.

The result of which was being one minute from buying a car from a man I’ve never met 200 miles away at a discount which negated these things being an issue. In between ending that call and checking figures, the local dealer lit up my phone with some kind of phony butt-hurt that I’d somehow let him down.

Oh-fucking-contraire. I don’t bloody thing so. You’ve attempted to sell me everything in your showroom up to and including the coffee machine through manipulation, blatant lies and – it has to be said – breathtaking chutzpah. I even began to admire his tenacity in the face of Carol’s stonewalling and my pained expression.

He offered me a final car – from the rambling pantheon of whenthe fuck did this one just turn up then? – with options I didn’t want and wheels that were clearly stupid. At least it wasn’t white. I’d already rejected about 900 of those. It was however cheap, for a given value of cheap, having been pre-registered to hit some spurious target a couple of months previously.

I cracked and schlepped over the Hereford one more time. Drove it. Sat down exhausted opposite the grand inquisitor as he talked numbers. Brilliantly he and the sales manager then had a pretty much stand up argument on what those numbers might be. I exchanged a non-plussed glance with Carol before sitting back to enjoy the show.

Result of which we ended up in a place where they continued to lie about how much money they were losing, and we screwed them into the ground over every detail. I’m not entirely lacking lucidity tho – at no point in the transaction did I think we’re coming out anywhere close to on top.

Still 25% off a new car isn’t a bad place to end up. Even when knowing waiting a little longer would have increased the discount. That however would have brought my continuing sanity into play. So when, on collecting the car, his parting shot was ‘well at least we had fun’ I couldn’t agree.

Maybe you fella. Not me. Not a bit of it. The car tho? It’s really very nice. In all sorts of ways. I might be back to that. Right now tho, I’m just bloody delighted not to voluntarily enter another car showroom for three years.

And I’m still not sure about those wheels.

*fucked. Obviously. Might as well warm you up to this post being quite sweary.