Somedays I hate my Inbox

Queen Charlotte Ride, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

As head slopper-outer of the dark and fetid corners of other peoples’ inbox’s, I feel I am suffering enough. But what – you may well ask – is my reward for this tireless mopping up such a litany of disasters? A thankful pat on the shoulder, perhaps? A kind word to still my weary angst?

Not a bit of it, that picture is what. Time differences with our antipodean cousins ensure that this image is projected up front and personal in my to do list. It was captured and digitally flung across the electronic oceans by my friend Doug. The fact he was just off the ferry on the South Island and heading into 100k of New Zealand’s best singletrack didn’t exactly make me feel better.

On the upside, in ten weeks we’ll be enjoying a similar view with – oh please let it be so – similar summer weather. On the downside, the world outside our door appears to have exploded. My commute is now jauntinally nautical with storm force gusts and horizontal rain.

I no longer corner, I tack. Tomorrow I may have a go at jibbing although I’m not absolutely sure what is involved in that procedure. Sounds vaguely sexual “Yes indeedy, I gave the wife a damn good jibbing last night“.

Right I’m off to baton down the hatches and splice the mainbrace. But in a contemporary twist, I shall be using powertools.

Hope Clings Me Spurnal*

Love Hate. Sums it up really, originally uploaded by Alex Leigh.

You may think – and the weight of evidence would be with you – that this blog is nothing more than a barren wasteland of desperate words, with occasional punctuation helicoptered in. And yet in a circumstances as mitigating as “it was dark, I was drunk, how was I supposed to know it was your sister?”, I offer up the post title as testament to the unheralded research and grinding attention to detail each article undergoes.

What are the chances of a rhyming quadlet** segueing from Alexander Pope*** to a braking system design to erode momentum regardless of lever position? Not bloody likely and that’s pretty much my purchasing attitude to any further products from that fabrication shed nestling in the Derbyshire hillside.

For those of you not afflicted with the incurable disease of mountain biking, Hope Technology produce all manner of interesting components including brakes with a default position of always on. No amount of shimming, swearing, beating with a mallet or – in desperation – prodding with a baked Spurnal (Capital Letters Fully Deserved) will release the needy pads from the spineless discs.

And while squeezing the brake lever does force the Vichy caliper to collaborate with the overrun pistons to bring a final ‘halt‘ to proceedings. This loftily assumes you are still in motion at this point, rather than resting quietly in a bush awaiting the arrival of an oxygen tent. El Verty Monstromo was pitched into the muddy bath of Chiltern trails after a week of rain. From which it emerged a couple of hours later fairly plastered – a state its’ rider was now thinking of as much needed therapy.

The retarded rotation made the climbs a little harder, the descents less freewheel friendly and the occasional flat bit rather overwhelming. The mud didn’t help much. Or the cold. Or my frankly whiny attitude brought on by the mardy realisation that everything brake fixing was not about my person. Still with the gurning, swearing and grunting, there wasn’t much room for it.

It was still great though. Frosty in the first half, wearyingly thawing in the second, my pal Dave and I romped over some favourite trails knowing that twelve hours of drinking lay ahead. A 40th birthday bash which passed from drunken into legend – around 8pm – when the band struck up with “You’ve lost that loving feeling“. Too damn right, plus any feelings of maturity, responsibility and balance.

I don’t remember much but that may not be enough to protect me from the advances in digital photography. I might as well give myself a kick in the Spurnals and wait for the worst.

* Spurnal (Spur-nl). Noun, Verb – eld -ing or led.
1. A little known vegetable found only in Yorkshire. EX: He was found dead hanging by the spurnels.
2. A now defunct Irish sport derived from the petting small furry animal and gailic football.
3. A disc, specifically a steel braking surface for a mountain bike
4. A lie.

** I’m on a ROLL here.

*** This one is true I promise.

The power of three

In terms of three great rides, three crushing disappointments and a third time lucky. And what relation does the image have to this gruesome threesome? Absolutely nothing other than I like it in a vanity publishing kind of manner. Taken by Simon on the Seb Rogers photo course. Even with his skills, my short legs, long arms, big arsed riding position puts one in mind of a balding orang-u-tang surprised by a bicycle.

It’s something I’ve been working on. Anyway enough of that and more of this. An appointment with a night of liver damage hurled me back smack bang, dead centre of the commuting rat race. Despite being twenty minutes late, the delayed train failed to collect its’ missing carriages, so depositing me betwixt a door sized suitcase and a women of similar volume. All of us pressed into the luggage racks because the upstream passengers had blockaded the normal seating areas and wore the determined expressions of those prepared to violently repel borders.

Time passed slowly as weapons grade body odour combined in a toxic mash-up slowly – but painfully – crisping my nasal nerve endings. The bump’n’grind of irritated people armed with sharp executive luggage forced me into displacement activity that referenced a certain ironic tautology. You see, I’ve been thinking, when people get really, really fat traditional measurements of weight lack a certain wow factor. 150 kilograms sounds like it might be a fair heft and yet a naval tweak could substitute a ship measuring Draft. “Yes she’s displacing about four fathoms unladen. Add the weight of lunch and you’ve got some tonnage there“. No one could read that without knowing for sure they were dealing with a proper fat bastard.

Squeezing out onto the platform before I could verbalise my contribution to the field of weights and measures, a small maintenance task stood between a non bikey me and the grimy den of the tunnel rat. This replacement of the frame based lock lost during “The Trafalgar Incident” should have taken two minutes. The reason that some twenty minutes I was left swearing at fifteen quid of broken tat is simply explained. The manufacturer slyly retains the name and description of a product while cheapening the manufacturing process by a factor of about 3. The lock casing had already broken on a first release before a second attempt snapped off the plastic key. The “one size fits all” frame mount combined a cheap plastic shell with a rough machined rotating spindle. I think you can probably guess what happened next.

A slight modification of the useless mounting system saw more and more fixing cable trapped inside the housing. Just at the point it may have gripped the frame tube, the whole thing exploded, showering innocent commuters with plastic shrapnel. By this time, the bike was at the epicentre of a multi-tool wielding lunatic, swearing at the greed of product managers and dispatching the ruined remains of this plastic shit to four corners of the platform. I was lucky not to be shot by the trigger happy police on patrol.

Because no day can pass without an extra special disappointment, a stapled note demanded re-registration of the bike because “the bike racks are overcrowded because of the number of abandoned cycles“. This is the kind of twisted logic which explains “the train is overcrowded this morning because we have too many passengers for the carriages”. As if in some deranged schism of reality , THIS IS OUR FAULT. The racks ARE overcrowded because – and I know this is hard for Chiltern Railways to understand – because there are NOT ENOUGH OF THEM. Really, that’s it. Invest the officious record collecting effort into a few more stands. How can anyone be that impossibly dim?

So after a cattle based travel experience, an unsuccessful wrestle with the cheapest shit ever made by man and, prolonged exposure to an organisation that would much rather passengers bought a ticket but didn’t bother turning up, I was grumpily dispatched to the fetid underworld of the tube.

The experience was – possibly – even worse than the last time being squeezed and randomly assaulted formed part of my travel plans. In fact, so disgusting and dirty was it down there, my return trip was taken by shoe. Four miles, three parks, one hour – nowhere near as good as a bike but several million percent better than the pit of doom.

And although significant beer did form a major part of an increasingly blurry evening, I triumphantly avoided the de-rigour masturbationary train wreck that is the East London strip club. It has not always been thus. It seems, in a week of threes, I’ve learned that commuting without bikes is bad, large corporations care only for profit not customers and, paying a tenner for some bored modelling failure to wave her tits in your face is really not for me.

Stuff then, that I actually already know. Age does not bring wisdom, it merely reinforces your preconceptions.

Home is where the bike is

At what point do we stop going home? This isn’t some kind of existential probe of a mental navel encrusted with half-baked, self important cheesy life metaphors. There will be plenty of time for that sort of thing later. No, the idea of home shifts on foundations that prove remarkably yielding when exposed to distance and age.
Peaks November 2007 (17 of 36)Peaks November 2007 (31 of 36)

No longer is the Peak District home in terms of houses, streets, people or parents. And yet, there is a certain straightening of the shoulders, a thickening of the accent and a hiding of the wallet that’s triggered by entering the mortal Pearly Gates of “Welcome to Derbyshire“. But that has almost nothing to do with being here as a kid or a yearning for halcyon days; it is a contemporary recognition that the adrenal gland is about to get a good shooing.

Heretics may offer false Gods while talking up their own riding spots, but this rocky parcel of middle England represents the epicenter of mountain biking in the UK. And to quiet the wailing of those damned to ride elsewhere, let me explain why. You could persuasively argue that nowhere in the peaks lays out endless woody singletrack, or that it lacks trail variety or the sheer popularity of the national parks dulls the pleasure of riding.

And you know what? You’re absolutely right. But this place is like a traction beam to me – every time I hit the trails, I’m blown away by the elevation, the challenge, the bravery needed to conquer the rocky tracks and the rugged beauty of a three hundred and sixty degree panorama. You are not the king of the dirt here because every descent is an act of survival, every climb has the potential to break you, and the weather changes fast enough to render you cold, wet and frightened.

Peaks November 2007 (34 of 36)Peaks November 2007 (18 of 36)

It’s just about perfect and while riding bikes is great, writing about them can be repetitive. Or dull. Or if you have a certain talent, both. So, on a gray day, clamped in rain cloud and promising nothing but cold, flat light and windy bleakness, let me just tell you about the last descent of our ride.

This is standard Peak District fare – rocky avenues policed by slabby sleepers and rewarding pilot error with hard times on sharp edged gritstone. Even in the softer, southern Derbyshire Dales, you must relax your limbs but not your mind. Complacency or contempt will deliver the kind of pain which familiarity breeds.

And yet We were tweaking the nose of terror by testing our steely metal in hardtail form. Yet failing to match my friend Nigel, I cast around for advice on what I was doing wrong. “You’re just not riding fast enough” was a response that caused me to nod in a “good point, well made” manner.

Peaks November 2007 (29 of 36)Peaks November 2007 (3 of 36)

My badly written lines through sunken, rocky motorways – broken by glacial action – resembled a child following a particularly tricky dot to dot pattern. This awesome display of spacial awareness combines a fixed stare just beyond the front wheel, and a refusal to believe that the bike may be about a million times more capable than the pilot.

Flipping the mental mirror, I ignored the lesser lights of past performance and searched for some inspiration from a million airline movies. “We’re a mile from the car park, it’s raining, we’ve got five inches of suspension travel and we’re wearing sunglasses” seemed close enough as my friend Andy “John Belushi” Hooper sent three hard pedal strokes and a committed expression downhill at the speed of scary.

I dropped in behind and spent the next three minutes plagurising his lines in between remembering to breathe. The trail reeled out a rock strewn ribbon on a perfect elevation; steep enough to encourage floating over braking, but shallow enough to give up the height in lung busting longevity. There is an fat tyred myth that faster is better; lighten the bike through perfectly timed weight shifts, think nothing of boosting over a jagged drop into a cluster of loose rocks and brake only when every other option has gone.

It’s a high risk strategy on a single sprung end but it’s a good one. With speed comes gyroscopic effect and with that comes stability. Then you focus completely on momentum and lines; ignore what’s three metres away – you have a big fork and suspension limbs to deal with that – look up and out at the blur of never ending trail. Feel the bike spring and squirm in the great game of rock, bravery and wizards. Right now, that wizard is Andy and he’s picking insanely good lines at high speed whilst I’m doing nothing more than desperately hanging on to his splattered coat tails.

Internal commentary records the unfolding action: “fuck that’s loose, shift weight NOW, drop coming, shiiiiiiit, bang, foot back on the pedal, fade to the outside, pump that, lift over this, push hard on the bar and feel the carve, get back now, shit that’s the fork bottoming out, look up, look up, walkers on the trail, push left, push right, they’re gone, set up for that lip, bollocks it’s big, too late now, silence, silence, Jesus I’m a passenger here, hold on tight, gate coming up, brake, brake, brake HARDER, clip gate post and it’s done

And laugh. And thank God you’re alive and unbroken. And bask in serial hits on the adrenal gland. And try to distill why a cold day, a muddy facepack, a wet arse and a three hour drive home make this worthwhile. The sum is so much more than the parts, even when another friend tells me this descent broke the arm of one rider and sent another into the river on the same ride.

But so what? If I can’t do this then what is the point of staying fit, breaking bones, being an absent parent and treating too much stuff as Any Other Business? Answer, none.

Riding in the peaks is like coming home. There’s a part of me which never left.

A few more photos here.

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.



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.


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.


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.