Take my phone away.

A flurry of email (and the joy of that noun is it could mean one or one thousand, I’ll leave you to guess but here’s a hint – start low) requested, nay demanded, to know what fiendish technology was responsible for a grainy facsimile of the Reichstag Dome.

It was none other than my latest dumbphone(tm). This one, from Nokia, appears to have been upholstered in cowhide, equipped with sufficient processing umph to operate a light switch and, boasts a camera with a plethora of creative modes. Of these, I tried just two; the first of which produced these rather average efforts.

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The second, labelled a rather refreshingly simply “night mode” worked in exactly that manner. Ten pictures of a fetching neon lit city skyline all destroyed by some rather brutal post processing. The similarity between exposures was startling – think “black cat in a dark cellar, blinking” and you are getting pretty close to the compositional mood there.

I assumed that, in a market chasing niche, the R&D guys glued the camera, on deadline day, once all the proper functions of a working telephone had been been rigorously tested. An assumption that proved to be the equivalent of “Night Mode” in terms of its ability to stand the white heat of real world usage. Striving for an upside, the phone does offer the same level of consistent crapness trailblazed by the HTC PDA thingy in a package about half the size.

Probably not great as a sexual metaphor but certainly less intrusive in my trousers.

Curses!

Mike “Elbows” Davis, the esteemed and much photographed editor of BikeMagic, has collated the combined assemblage of the lucky few attending Seb Roger’s MTB photography course and written it up here. Some excellent photographs from my fellow snappers but, if pushed, Kate’s seem to take the top prize. More than impressive since she’d never handled a D-SLR before the weekend.

Thankfully my tasteless joke filter cut in just in time there.

But enough of others and back to me. In what I’m supposing Mr Davis feels is an amusing jape, a huge Monks’ crown of my lush thatch (second outing of the filter) has been hilariously removed from this photo.

From www.bikemagic.com

That suggests I don’t so much need a comb-over as a hat, a hairpiece or an admission that suncream is soon going to be an all-head experience. Still with Christmas only a mind numbing eight weeks away (and already labotomised nutjobs are sporting festive hats – for which I have yet to devise a punishment painful enough), it seems my present is already in the bag. Or, to be more anatomically accurate, on the head.

Oh yes. It's me alright

Any sexually ambivalent undertones? Or all proper manly, as befits a rugged outdoorsy sort of fella such as myself? And would this be classed as “appropriate office wear” I wonder? After the incident with the chicken suit, I’d probably better check.

EDIT: A poll of my immediate family brought forth the naked truth stumbling into the light. The choicest comments were: “not quite completely bald yet Dad. But close” and “What we used to call a Monkeys’ Bum Hairstyle“.

So glad I asked.

Little and Large

SX Trail (7 of 6), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

The only similarity between the green monster and this trail zapping behemoth is they are both overbuilt to the point of indestructibility. Something I feel should have been part of my design specification, once it was clear that crash circuits had been hard wired into my frontal lobe.

Reducing the weight of the SX has been a bit of an obsession ever since, moving it one day, I honestly put my back out . £30 saw 2lbs come off the tyres, which at £15/lb was almost on the monetary responsible side of prudence.

Spotters badge though for the latest component upgrade/heft downgrade which is approximating at something closer to £250/lb. Still they did come in a rather fetching shade of black and gruel – 3 times a day – is underrated as a key element of a balanced diet.

Short of a subscription to Weight Watchers, there is little else to be done to slim it down further. And that’s fine because pushing it uphill is all part of my “hair shirt” workout routine forged on the crucible of stupidly that is the singlespeed build.

A second unicog night ride on dry trails (Yes! In November, thumbs up for global warming) confirmed this is a great handling frame mated to a painful gearing system. And yet, I was almost starting to enjoy it, even after one quite trying climb, lying supine on the bars with spots instead of vision, and gasping as a land based trout .

I could just ride the SX round the local trails instead. It wouldn’t be much harder. And almost as silly.

Don’t go looking for any hidden meaning in this post. I’m merely writing placebo until I can find some proper time to goof off.

Frankenstein’s monster

Dialled Bikes Love/Hate, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Pretty similar plot really. Mad bloke with access to tool shed attempts ambitious construction project while under the influence of rampant egomania.

The split in the storyline is where ‘Lightening Frank’ spent much time cackling amongst the test tubes, my friend – amusingly for this post being only a stein short of the monster maker in question – Frank and I tucked into a few beers and wielded complex tools in the manner of impressive professionalism.

Well Frank did anyway whilst I struggled to actually assemble the complex device to install the headset. For those of you with a thuggish nature, this is not a hammer and a bit of wood. So while one side of the barn was adjusting axle lengths and breathing on metal heavy calipers with a file, the other was swearing profusely and demanding to know who had translated the instructions from Chinese to English via Urdu.

Eventually the 2007 Stone Techfest wound down and I wound up sacrificing spindly legs on the altar of 34:17.You know how some bikes ride light – belying their heft through some spiritual nod to the Gods of Gravity? This isn’t like this at all although my component selection – based entirely on what was left of my old jump bike – probably didn’t help much.

With the anti-cyclonic storm season upon us, there is going to be little excuse not to ride it. Although I’m trying damn hard to find one. And, it’s getting a bit crowded in the barn which doesn’t augur well for Carol’s bike 🙂

When I get a proper minute, I’ll update you all on two days that can best be summarised as “Buggering about in Berlin”. Much of which involves a disturbing obsession with Russian Hamsters.

And it’s hello from him..

… and it’s goodnight from me. That’s my Bro on his brand spanking new Carbon-fangled Spesh whatsit with added widgets. I’ve cut through some of the marketing nonsense there.

We managed to fit in a cracking ride from deep on Dartmoor sandwiched between the old Tin Railway and the rather foreboding prison at Princetown. Much needed after the thick end of six hours of our lives were lost in a traffic jam stretching from Swindon to Taunton.

Dry, warm (after a chilly knee knocking start) and properly absorbing in the grin inducing, rocky sections. As usual, my woeful under-preparation supplied a bike with sufficient air in the fork spring for a man half my size, and a wheel bearing long since separated from any lubrication.

No matter, still great to sneak out on unridden trails between body-boarding, beach combing, a pasty appreciation tour and much other good humoured family stuff. I was rubbish at most of these things, more whale than shark in a wet suit but awesome in the pasties – brave, committed and enduringly stoic in the face of many and interesting varieties. “Duck and Plum Sauce Sir?” / “Go on then, be rude not too“.

Sadly that’s as good as it gets this week with the hated aeroplane demanding an early start and some practicing of my German. A whole two days in Berlin doing my utmost not to wag “last time I was over here was in a Lancaster

Assuming an element of string based connectivity, I’m all enthused over a post celebrating the noble art of coming second. I’m sure you can guess what that’s all about.

Do you know what it is yet?

Winter Project (3), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Somewhere in this rambling pantheon of cast off idols is a 4th generation niche which fell so far from grace, Beelzebub himself may well be pedalling it through the gates of hell.

It was dispatched in that flag-nailing manner of “never again” that often secures nothing more than a petard* for one to be hung from. It’s in the bucket of lies which includes “I’ll never drink again“, “I’ll never send an email when I’m spittingly angry” and “That’s all the bikes I need, thanks

The aftermath of the first night ride of the winter suggests that Roger is a little too sensitive to be flung through the grinding paste that makes up the trail surface this time of the year. The PA is too fat in terms of tyres and forks, the SX is an insane enough idea to have me sectioned, and I’m twitchy enough already which rules taking the DMR out.

Winter Project (2)Winter Project (1)

The answer is there for all to see. But with my normal niche chasing madness, I’ve carved out a further fissure. Much of this genre are pretty light because they are missing what I’ve come to think of as “vital components”. Not this chunky monster, hewn from the mountains of heavy, draped with kit that satisfies two from the three “cheap, strong, light” matrix. However, it was essentially free and lucky buggers can’t be choosers.
Winter ProjectWinter Project (4)

An explosion of this parts bin shows me missing only a set of brakes and some transmission gubbins. So there is a very good chance the green monster may make it onto the trails in the next couple of weeks. That’s about as far ahead as I can see – it may become a cherished if abused addition to the burgeoning stable or it could end up in the skip.

Do you know what it is yet?

* What the hell is a petard? Some sort of Nautical term? Pretty safe guess since half the vocabulary of this country is from the sea and the other half from Shakespeare. Or maybe it’s a mammal? I have been hoisted from this twitching gerbil. Then again, maybe not.

Flaws to Manual

Took me a while to write this. I’d lost my muse, but found it once more when light dawned on the inside of the beer fridge. And once I’d started, I couldn’t stop which is the kind of sticky scenario that every boy who has passed through puberty can probably relate to.

So snuggle deeper into your comfortable office chair*, feast on a biscuit if that is your want and come hither to learn the dark secrets in the art of light.**

Firstly myths, debunking for the use of. Santa Claus was invented by Coca Cola, the tooth fairy is your mum and automatic is for the people.*** If you don’t believe me, Google for the first two and/or get some therapy, but hold fast to the last one because we’ll be giving it an extensive prodding with the sword of truth later on. But first this.

Continue reading Flaws to Manual

Pans People

Kids Riding (9 of 27), originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

I’ve taken many – too many – pictures of the kids riding, most of which are collecting electronic dust in the murky archives of my hard drive. But inspired by last weeks photo course, I left the bike at home and, instead, chased them round the local roads with the big camera.

Kids Riding (1 of 27)Kids Riding (8 of 27)

Just about everything Seb teaches works well enough to encourage you to practice. Slow shutter speeds, odd angles, pre-focussing and tight tracking digitally downloaded quite a few shots I was pleased with.

Kids Riding (27 of 27)Kids Riding (4 of 27)

Still the kids’ll gimp for ever when they are in shot and it’s significantly easier to improve the hit rate of good v rubbish when the subject is moving at about 1/4 of the pace of a fast rider.

Still, I’m happy to take that as a starting point 🙂

Play Misty for me*

Misty Commute, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

From the 21st of September, night displaces day and dark replaces light. Autumn, with all its’ decay and death, symbolises the changing of the guard between bright colours and inky blackness. Chasing light away, as the wounded animal it has become, is the switch flick of GMT plunging this seaswept Atlantic island into perpetual darkness for three long months.

Something to look forward too then, along with the commercial parody of the long debased religious myth that is Christmas, wind, rain, gloom, doom and – to bottom it all – trails below the water table. And yet before the storms lies a windless lull of a two tone world – impenetrable and moist as daybreak pushes feebly westward, and then blue, crisp and really quite agreeable as weakening sun rays burn away the fog.

This makes commuting a bit of a bugger.

4.1 degrees is not motivating weather. But set off we must, uncomfortable in heavier clothes and half blind from refracting light beams dissipating against a nebulous but impenetrable wall. Today a bike piloted by memory and internal gyroscopes is quicker than meandering cars, and their too powerful headlights groping at the darkness. But it doesn’t feel safe; if they can’t see the road, what chance they notice a one foot wide by six foot tall mobile statistic, whose dimming lights emit nothing more than a ghostly halo.

Riding scared, I ran away onto unlit side roads where looming dog walkers – zombified by the fog – lurched in late surprise as the hiss of damp tyres warned of my approach. The fog tamps down sound as well as light and little of each escaped to stimulate the senses. I was reduced to 3/4 speed, straining eyes and ears for pain giving obstacles and cranking peripheral vision to separate the murky green edges from greasy tarmac.

Soft rain sizzled off clothing, sweat beaded under now a too warm jacket and still cold breath merged instantly with the clamping fog bounding my world. But only once did the journey go bad, when frontier stones – guarding a tended lawn – loomed large like dirty ogres teeth ready to chew up this knight in shining lycra. A fast shimmy, as wet grass plucked away traction from slick tyres, and a desperate course change saw us plot a lucky line back onto the blacktop.

I fear there may have been collateral damage in terms of carefully planted perennials. Certainly as the station emerged fromunder fuzzy streetlights, it became apparent that the bike was considerably more shrubbery accesorised that it had been twenty five minutes previously.

But there was a feeling of worthy which is not earned during the summer. A flapjacks’ worth of extra effort, a coffee double-shot of not taking the easy option, a warming winter pint coming back the other way. Still a thousand times better than taking the car.

* I hope Seb doesn’t see this photo. Technically it’s all over the place. Compositionally it would blow a randy goat. In my defense, the camera was on my phone, the temperature was still bloody chilly and the bloke on the platform thought I was stalking him.

Is that really a trail bike?

Peaks September 2007-52

A query oft posed by disbelieving strangers on viewing the chunky authority that is the SX Trail. Because the porky object in question (that’s the bike not me in case you were in any way confused there) is often propped against a handy dry stone wall, half way up a mountain-lite, the response is generally a slightly wheezy affirmative.

Yet if you’d asked this same deluded, yet loyal owner that very question about three pm on Sunday, the answer would have been a firm no. It was one of those rides where you’ve overestimated your ability and underestimated the hills. The weather was just starting to close in a little and we’re were running out of energy, enthusiasm and – if the weighed down, slow pace continued – light as well.

Peaks September - Dave Pic # 3Peaks September 2007-33

Derbyshire County Council should really install appropriate signage as you enter the hills “Welcome to the Peak District, where the local climb is 1 hour and five minutes“. Starting with hope at Hope, the first climb up the broken road to Mam Tor is about that before a plunge of insane rockiness down the boulder field of Chapel Gate. The lack of corners on a trail such as this is a welcome relief as you hang on for grim death and idly wonder which part of you would explode first, were you to be catapulted onto one of a million spiky rocks. Trying to actually steer the bike around this graveyard of stone would be a skill to far for me.

Peaks September 2007-32Peaks September 2007-22

And then more of the same for the next five hours, thirty three miles and five thousand five hundred feet of uphill slog and downhill lunacy. While woody singletrack is the drug of choice for many mountain bikers, plummeting down and through glacial eroded valleys and zig-zagging over rutted moorland is MTB Crystal Meth for others. I’m equally rubbish at both as demonstrated when my friend Tim came past on a hardtail. At the time, I was pedaling desperately to reach ramming speed but even so…. it’s not about the bike then.

Peaks September - Dave Pic # 2Peaks September - Dave Pic # 1

By late afternoon, we still had around an unlucky thirteen miles to go, much of it up and over sustained vertical geography including a road climb out of Hayfield that would be mildly unpleasant in a car. Turning off onto a dirt trail at last, it seemed we’d swapped dull tarmac for energy sapping wet grass. Hauling the SX around this kind of stuff can be a bit of a chore, but because it’s so ludicrously competent when cashing in gravity credits, I don’t really mind that much.

Peaks September 2007-54Peaks September 2007-51

The last descent back to Hope is the multi-pitched Cavedale. Starting grassy, quickly morphing to rifled ruts spinning you pinging over drops, before throwing up a rocky slip road to the lineless challenge that has me beaten every time. I nearly didn’t get there either with tired muscles failing to reign in whoopy over-exuberance and a drift to within an inch of a dry stone wall at ‘fuck me that’s going to hurt‘ speed came close to ending the ride early. And possibly quite badly.

Riding days like this strike a discordant harmony when compared to much of the rest of your life. Work, Family, Stuff is generally a compromise, give a little, take a little and – sometimes – bend over and receive one for the team. It’s all subtle posturing and decisions by consensus, but when you’re miles from bloody anywhere, that approach is going to get you nowhere fast and certainly not home.

Stripped of social niceties, you just have to get on with it. The good bits are better and the bad bits a little worse. Expanding your mental horizons while pushing hard on the cusp of the adrenaline/fear barrier is not place for crowd pleasing choices. But that’s a pretty good place to be and when I finally give up Mountain Biking, I don’t think anything will ever take its’ place.