We’re all doomed..

IMG_0928, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

.. in the words of Private Godfrey of Dad’s Army fame. Were we the only family who used to watch that back in the 80’s and play the “he’s dead”, “he’s definitely dead”, “are you sure he is dead?” during the title sequence?

Anyway, after Andy’s lament over soon to be muddy trails, I thought I’d cheer us all up with this picture of a typical Chiltern scene come about October.

A number of options present themselves at this point:

1. Don’t ride in winter and get fat.
2. Ride in winter and pretend you’re enjoying it
3. Do something else instead like extreme DIY or bog snorkelling
4. Move to somewhere sunny and dry.

4 is a fantasy, 3 is unlikely, 2 has proven to be beyond my mental capacity for suffering this last few years so it looks like 1 then.

I shall dust off the bigger trousers in readiness.

Roger The Pink Hedgehog

Voodoo 008, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

It’s built but it’s not finished. A dish of bodging and rushing spiced up by a side order of frustration is not not a palatable way to build a bike. Still having got this far and given it the round the bloke test, the following has come to light:

– The forks are a bit like my hosting server. Occasionally working, most of the time not, no one seems to know why.

– The rear brake needs bleeding. This process walks a well trodden path from me having a little bleed, then a big tantrum then a cuddle with the beer fridge. I cannot be calmed by even the most rational family members for many hours.

– The rear shock is an enigma. I found an instruction manual in German, but my attempts to translate it triggered an urge to invade my neighbours garden.

– There are apparently 27 gears in this configuration. I can select only 4, of which three make a noise not normally associated with longevity of drivetrain.

– It’s fast though, short chainstays mean sharp acceleration and it carves corners in a n”oh, we’re already round” kind. It feels like it should be great off road if someone cleverer than me can fix all the stuff I’ve broken.

And the best part of riding it in the hills is it may get muddy. I seem to be the only one who thinks pink is a good colour for a mountain bike.

EDIT: My friend Jay has come up with the perfect name for the pink poof as per the new title of this post. From now on, it shall be known by the acronym RTPG. Which – you must agree – sounds better than “yegads, whose is that pink horror?”

Fantastic, a new bike…

… only not for me. Verbal has visibly outgrown her 20inch mountain bike that was too big for her when we originally bought it. That’d be all of about 18 months ago. Luckily because we’ve learned that you merely rent stuff for kids between the ages of one and ten, there’s a complex recycling process essentially handing down previously enjoyed bikes from my ever expanding group of cycling friends.

This latest little stormer comes from my friend Steve whose own daughter had abandoned it in the shed, the minute she had entered secondary school. A few notes changed hands along with that most consistent of world weary parenting laments “honestly they never stick to anything for more than about ten minutes“. Driving it home, a thought occurred that we’ve essentially become a Borg like Specialized bicycle family with one for each of the normal family members and one for me from my menage of a thousand.

And because I have sufficient cycling passion for the entire street, it is not a big surprise that the kids have never been that bothered, but even they are not immune in the face of shiny new toys. We headed out to our very local ride spot which is a concrete oval, most of which gives a perfect view of a few hundred dead people. Which considering my accident to ride ratio, seems entirely appropriate.
Kids ride 012Kids ride 037

I though it may be too big. It wasn’t. I thought she might struggle to ride it. She didn’t. And during one catastrophic mix up of who was going which way she managed to ride it up a 5 inch curb. Which was pretty impressive although maybe a little less so when the alternative was throwing herself insouciantly into an existing six wheel pile up.

Random was going pretty well too. She gets apexes and doesn’t believe that at 6, she knows everything there is to know about riding bikes. Other family members under ten don’t share such an enlightened view of the world.
Kids ride 045Kids ride 033

I’m not a big fan of having my picture taken because it shakes my belief that a full thatched athlete is riding his bike like the champ he knows he is. However, Carol was having no truck with that and bounced the flash off the balding pate on far too many occasions.

Kids ride 036Kids ride 034

All my talk of high elbows, weight on the front end, stomp the outside pedal were met with much ridicule and misunderstanding. This is essentially how the world works when it’s three against one and you’re the one.

Kids ride 031Kids ride 037

Still another bike can never be a bad thing. Two things are left to be sorted out, firstly who is next in line for verbals’ now discarded one, and is it my turn for a new one next?

Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner.

Post route finding, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

Inspiration is an interesting concept; sometimes it wanders in disguised as an old friend with a new idea, occasionally it is the product of weeks’ of intense rumination, and about once in a lifetime it is a lighting strike of “Good God, The Flux Capacitor, OF COURSE

I’m currently orbiting a geostationary position in a galaxy full of new ideas; and after a moment of mild epiphany when the trail pixies fired up the adrenalin compressor last weekend, it seemed apposite to try the next thing that came into my head.

Thankfully it wasn’t “go and find a gibbon and see if she puts out” – instead a rather boring go and find some trails and see if they give good vibes, sent me riding from home in the hope of finding something other than field edge rubbish. I’ve tried this before and it’s always been a collision of disappointment and frustration as promising looking mappage is nothing more that hub deep hoof shadow.

So with a low level of expectation and a similar level of light, I struck out with a a map I can’t read and a GPS I don’t really understand. Sat here in the pub a couple of hours later, I reflected on what I’d learned:

1. Footpaths round here are mostly footpaths for a reason.
They’re rubbish field edge slogs on an elevation profile similar to Holland. All the enjoyment one can elicit from receiving a saddle up the Japs eye at one second intervals for approximately ever.

2. Some footpaths aren’t
And they are upgraded to evening bridleways, carefully highlighted and shared only with the other shadowy members of the Creation of Unseen Natural Trails*. We rarely use the four letter acronym as it upsets people.

3. MP3 players rock when you’re riding alone.
Especially when you have a shiny new one that has more memory than you have songs. Okay transferring music to it has sounded the death knell of my elderly PC but as the review goes “when listening to The Throbbing Buttchumpers ‘Sprouts are my muse’ the retroactive bass blends perfectly with a trebly surround bumped acoustically by a deeply pleasing squish fader” it clearly offers something classier than your mate farting Abide With Me.

4. Living somewhere isn’t the same as knowing it.
It’s great to find some bonzer new trails after riding the same ones for over five years especially as some have sufficient cheeky value to promise much fun over the next half decade. There are clearly some very rich people living round here as well with sprawling piles (must be the expense account lunches) marking the end of lost footpaths. I hope they’ve read the Aylesbury expansion plan because they’re about to have 10,000 near neighbours.

5. Riding bikes is just bloody ace.
I was running of light so cut short my exploration at the top of a stingy climb. Reversing direction, it was a delight; some fast switchbacks in the woods then a fantastic trailside up’n’over where a footpath intersected, leading to a flat out brain out rooty gulley finishing in panic stop as cars flashed past on the main road.

It would’ve been about perfect if the player had dished up U2’s Perfect Day or something pumping rock chords from Feeder or Linkin Park. What I actually got was Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes “This is the time of your life”.

Like I said, Nobody Puts Baby In The Corner**

* I stole this joke from Nick Cummins’ about five years ago. I’m assuming he’s forgotten
** I’m not explaining this. If you don’t get the film reference then you’re way cooler than me. If you do /Waves

Dark Peak Epic.

Long post, short geography lesson. The Peak District is essentially split north/south around Tideswell. The South Side (White Peak) is primarily limestone whereas the North (Dark Peak) is a combination of Millstone and Gritstone. All of it has been fiercely eroded by first eons of glacial action and latterly by wind, water and man.

What it lacks in woody singletrack, it makes up for with proper hills, grinding climbs and loose rocky descents naturally created for the best sport in the world. Classic descents such as Lockerbrook, Jacobs ladder, Oaken Clough, Hag Farm and the notrious “Beast” are famous in this little piece of MTB heaven, and I was long overdue a crack at a few of them.

It’s always a proper big ride especially when Andy “Tracklogs” Shelley is planning a summit bagging epic, this in the face of your trembling bottom lip and 35lb freeridey bike powered by jelly legs on flat pedals. First up was a grind up to Cavedale from the Peak Forest side – once there, I managed to stay on the bike for about the first five seconds before picking first myself and then the bike off the floor. My saddle has been fitted with a precision testicle homing device and so it was with some wincing that the steep section was minced mainly by walking.

.CavedaleCavedale

Continue reading Dark Peak Epic.

Like cheating only different

bw 4, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

No it’s not a duplicate post. This is the original image (below) but has been heavily modified in Adobe Photoshop (or CS3 as it is now). There’s all sorts of high minded debate about post processing although, as Bez reasonably points out, it is not that much different to creating a print from a negative.

Seb Rogers, who takes exceptional pictures for a living, made some interesting points here. Personally, I’ve always been an “click the auto-fix icon” kind of bloke with occasional forays into the image embellishment templates when the image is crap or blurred.

But today I learned something. With post processing, you can transform an uninspiring image into something striking through skilled manipulation. The skill here was provided by others who know better but the argument stands; maybe a worrying percentage of being a digital photographer is the ability to make best use of post processing tools.

I really like the result and – especially shooting raw – it creates a safety buffer around exposures, colours, etc when capturing the original image. So the few photos you salvage off a big, fat memory card can be tweaked to the max for not only the best result but also to reflect some personal style.

It sort of feels like cheating but it also kind of feels like art. I need to be so much better at one of those. I’ll leave you to guess which one.

Fast Glass

Now with added contrast, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

I know precisely bugger all about how photography really works. It sits in the 20% of the “how the world works pie chart” under the heading “no idea at all”. Included in this ever widening slice are questions such as “why doesn’t electricity fall out of the socket when you take the plug out” and “Big Brother, what the fuck?”

But proper followers of the dark art actually talk mainly of light. And carrying light through complex multi layered lenses becomes stupidly expensive as the focal length increases.Or, in my case, just turn the ISO up and live with a bit of graining 😉 This picture was captured on the end of about 400mm of Tamron lens.

The Blackbird (actually it’s a female, so it’s brown, go figure) is around fifty feet away on next doors garage roof. To make life doubly difficult, the insanely clever camera has to calculate the correct exposure against a gray sky metered through a grubby double glazed window.

How does it do that? It’s in the 20% somewhere.

Soul Stealer

There are still certain people who believe an image taken by a camera will steal their souls. However, these individuals are not within my immediate surround which is made up of vainglorious riding buddies and children who’ve lived their life in the digital world.

One of the joys of digital photography is the immediacy of the whole experience; shoot, review, giggle or sigh and then again, again like an amped up teletubby. The whole anticipation/delay ratio of film never really stacked up for me, especially when the alternative was delivered into a world of now.

My short lived rental (ownership seems too strong a word) of the Canon 300D was mired only by its’ slow digital processing – especially when compared to my S80 which is lightening quick – small LCD panel and lack of fast FPS burst.

The monster! Flickr Picture

And in an amazing alignment of the karma planets, a chain of events, sales and purchases saw the 300D head northwards to my friend Mark, and a 400D replacement collected over a couple of pints last week from Bez.

As part of the deal, this monster 70-300mm lens (and with a 1.6 multiplier because of the smaller sensor that’s a whopping 110-480mm) was included which provides sufficient magnification to digitally download someones’ soul from about half a mile away. If there is ever a proper summers day and naked bathing become fashionably in sleepy Stone, I could get myself into proper trouble.

First impressions – somewhat mitigated by not wishing to drown expensive electronics in the never ending world of wet – are that image processing is as fast as my S80 and everything else is better. Whether this will deliver a similar uplift in performance to my photography skills is still in the balance.

All the gear and no idea? You betcha and it feels good 🙂