You have to laugh….

Malverns @ -7
That's me. Looks cold eh? There's a reason for that.

… mostly at yourself. Often at your friends. And increasingly at the Met Office PR team who appear to have their credence radar permanently set to “pratfall“.

First we had the BBQ summer which triggered floods not seen since Noah was a lad. Then we had the promise of a mild winter at which point the entire country was transformed into a set for Narnia.  And now this- “2010 is the warmest year since either a) records began or b) 1997 depending on how hard we’ve hit the cosmic fail button

A logical counterpoint would suggest the poor old tea leave diviners have been chronically misrepresented. Firstly the sizzling summer was a 60% probability which is about as statistically significant as a shampoo poll. Then the Arctic conditions of this year were the result of a freakish crashing of hitherto unseen variables, camping out well past any computer model could predict.

And yes this is the warmest year on record. If you look at medians and not specific events. Right now though, I seem to be riding into , through and shiveringly out of such events which is rather fab during, but motivationally crippling before and toe poppingly painful afterward.

Sunday, 7am. -7.4. Five minutes loading the bike and I’m already late. This is mainly due to an unscheduled pet activity; namely defrosting the dog. 7:30 warmed by coffee and central heating, I struck out onto icy roads with the temperature gauge beeping -8 and suggesting the Siberian engine setting.*

No matter. At least the mud shall be temporarily banished under an ice crust. and no other silly bugger is going to be icy toe side of a warm duvet. More right than wrong, but the hills were alive with the sound of nutters’ knee knocking by the time we’d been over half way out and back.

Every trail was rock hard and tho – where foot traffic was negligible – pretty damn grippy. All the time being crunchy under wheel and framed by a child-painted blue horizon. Wales was full of snow and foreboding, but due east was just lightly dusted and crackling. In the middle, we rode on ridge and woody singletrack that felt like summer from the axles down. Above that both Jezz and I were swathed in layers of expensive fabrics and heroic grins.

And rather than our normal “got to get back, got to get back, got promises to keep” approach to Sunday morning rides, we took it easy, took some pictures, stood astride fantastic bicycles feeling pretty damn good to be taking in some altogether more fantastic views.  Lots of climbing, quite a few kilometres, all felt pretty fast which bodes well for when cold and dark becomes difficult and boring.

Normally late January when motivation is in thrall to sofa suck. Which makes the daft nonces who wait until the new year to start winter riding all the more unfathomable.  The Malverns are a tough gig at the best of times, which January absolutely isn’t. Early this year the hills were full of huff and puff, until New Years’ resolutions wilted in the face of not being arsed.

Not us. We’ll be getting up at stupid o’ clock. Stumbling about in the dark cursing at the stupidity of it all. Getting wet, cold and unpleasantly windswept. Chipping off frozen mud because the hosepipe’s been frozen for six weeks. Looking at the confused faces of our dear ones who have all sorts of good reasons why we shouldn’t, and then doing it anyway. And it’ll be good – sometimes great, sometimes averagely ok but always epic – once tyres hit the dirt.

I’ve said it before, but it needs repeating- Mountain biking is like the Hotel California. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.

* I have a photo of that in case you think fibbing for the sake of strutting a heroic stance may be at play here. I can’t show it to you though right now for which explanations may follow. It really depends on whether the embarrassment falls below a level acceptable for public ridicule.

Strangers

Post FoD Night Ride

My previous FoD night ride started in daylight and ended in darkness. This time around pitch black was wrapped round my shivering preparations, before even a wheel was turned. It may still be a month until the Winter solstice, yet it feels as if we’re there already.

Other differences presented themselves out of the darkness. Firstly, a nearly double digit turnout of riders I’d not seen for two months. The lumens’ arms race showed no site of abating, although it has branched off in interesting technological directions. Of all those branches, I am hopeful that the “Mickey and Minnie Ears” evolution is subject to brutal natural selection.

Following that helmet light setup put me in mind of a Disney rave with the mice off their faces on acid. This was an unwelcome distraction to a man already much distracted by a trail surface offering the traction properties of polished glass.

Post FoD Night Ride Post FoD Night Ride

In one of those ‘it’ll be funny afterwards’ ironies, my toes were frozen as were my fingers and probably my ears. Although that was nothing more than a guess since feeling had left the helmet some time ago. The trails however were not frozen. They offered a number of alternatives; 1) deep mud but rideable 2) slidey mud sort of rideable 3) large puddles hiding patching of mud rideable if you were lucky and 4) Chiltern-esque stretches of absolutely no point in even trying to ride.

We did of course. And much falling off and general finger pointing followed.  Even the Singlespeeder was cut a bit of slack until the full moon rose hauntingly above the treetops, and it became clear that Adam’s Facebook profile reads “Likes: Singlespeeds, exploding knees, beards and werewolves“. Can’t turn you back on ’em for one second – it’ll be off with your derailers or something even more ghastly.

Post FoD Night Ride Post FoD Night Ride

There was plenty of time for piss taking, excuses and the new sport of precision mincing because this ride group isn’t exactly motivated by speed. Oh sure, it rambles along at a decent pace but stops are not mere halts for breath catching, more an opportunity to select the next victim. Compare this to Malvern rides which are all a bit “wham bam thank you mam” and non the worse for it, but there’s fun to be had with nine people and no mercy.

Everyone fell off. Some more than others. Some – smug mode – not at all until the penultimate descent on a fast, flowy trail barely hovering above the water table: “oooh nice drift, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve….. not got it”. It was almost peaceful as I slid down the trail on my arse, the bike long gone behind a distant tree.

A new ending started tonight. Final grind up a fireroad to access a cracking bombhole hidden deep in the woods. Again many of the group were in the vanguard of “All Mountain Free-Mincing” while a few of us just rode down the bloody thing. From below, the circling lights of the lesbian horde put me in mind of a very camp UFO experience “ooohhh I’m not sure about that, noo you go first

Honestly, just get on with it man. They did. Eventually. Proper cold at rides’ end. Six desperately defrosted cars and hurriedly packed their gear. Three had a more leisurely experience via the pub.

Post FoD Night Ride

I love the FoD in the dry when it’s fast and whippy and you can rocket through the trees for ever without riding the same trail. I’m quite surprised to find much of that love extends to the muddy season as well. C’mon winter, I’m ready for you.

Woody

Winter Colours

Odd looking thing isn’t it? Back in the days before the tiny chip inside the camera sensor became sentient, such an effect would have required a depth of knowledge around focus and field. Whereas now one just twiddles the idiot dial to “1cm macro” and hits the “go” button.

What’s stranger still  is that a few of the default settings are actual quite useful. The “Pan Focus” essentially selects a depth of field from the front to the back of the image making everything in between quite sharp.

Although sometimes it has to use such a punchy ISO to get there, and the resulting noise is a bit irritating. Still I have two children, so irritating noises are pretty much the background day to day hum 😉

Winter Colours Winter Colours

This cold spell (or in Daily Mail Speak “We told you all those hand wringing hippies were talking shit about global warming“), will see the final few leaves – clinging onto frozen branches – soon to join the mouldering winter carpet.  So I thought I’d best all snappy with the new camera before naked trees and dead stuff dominates the landscape.

Winter Colours Winter Colours

I’m pretty impressed with the results (if not the composition, there’s only so much the Camera can do to be fair) in decent light. Focussing seems pretty quick, two macro settings are really spoiling me, the jury is out on black-dog mode and low light images tend to the grain, but generally bob on. Battery life appears to be an issue compared to the S80, but this may be either unrealistic expectations, or something more warranty related.

Winter Colours Winter Colours

Talking of woody, that’s where I’m off tonight. Minus anything with a biting north wind make the Malverns Hills a tad bleak for  night riding, so it’s off to the Forest where frozen mud and much merriment awaits.

I wasn’t sure which clothes to wear, so decided to go with “everything I own“. The only downside of such a fashion choice is I dare not strip off in those dark woods – It would be a cross between American Werewolf in London and Deliverance!

This could go two ways…

Bird 60 unflown

This way or something less cosmically destructive.

Let’s weigh up the evidence. I’ve broken almost everything toy glider shaped since embarking on another stupid hobby some eighteen months ago. The latest “bring a bag, we’ve had an nasty incident” episode saw my first proper moulded glider be re-kitted to nothing more than vaguely recognisable broken bits.

There was also a case of the “unbreakable” flying wing being AL-transformed into an entirely unflying explosion of foam. I’ve spiralled in my GRP birthday present of last year – more than once – and it flies now only because of the pity based repair lavished on it by a friend of mine.

There are many fliers who turn up – slopeside – with fantastic models looking entirely unflown and perfect. Whereas my motley collection all have the appearance and general airworthiness of models downstream of a nasty fight with a lawnmower.

Rather than fix the broken Luna, instead I threw some money in another direction snapping up a bargain from a man who was keen to educate me in every nuance of setup, flight performance and various unfathomable – yet seemingly important -  pointers around how to land the bloody thing without loud noises and softer tears.

I’ve chosen to ignore all that. Instead I’ve slapped some weight in the nose, waggled transmitter stickage to approximate movements of flying surfaces, and congratulated myself with a beer. Tomorrow, I’ll chuck it off a high Welsh mountain ignoring a bird-walking cloudbase, freezing thumbs and absolutely no idea what’ll happen once expensiveness is committed to aviation.

I fully expect the experience to have the same time span as an ice cream introduced to a blast furnace.

Muddy Musings.

Fat Tyred Cove

Yeah, it’s another pic of a static bike – nothing more than a visual prod to de-randomise some recent thinking.

1) Mud Tyres are for those who lack ambition. Really, thin sludge-cutting rubber may provide the illusion of grip and traction, but where’s the fun in that? The Cove is booted up with 2.35in wide tyres,  the front being basically a downhill tread and compound, while the rear is barely less of a monster. No point in having wide bars/short stem/ace fork/brill frame emasculated by condition specific tyres. Get out there and slide about, the ground’s pretty soft when it goes wrong.

2) That bike is a lot cleaner than it was at 10am last night. Two hours riding* in the grottiest Malvern conditions I’ve ridden for a while turned the word brown under the black of night. When we weren’t sliding around in a vaguely comedic fashion, we were groping about in hill clamped top fog. Jez is either better at remembering where the trail may be than I, or he’s upgraded his night vision to HD/X-Ray.  I stumbled about, blinded by reflected light, occasionally intersecting with remembered obstacles, before falling off over them.

3) It was still, surprisingly, fun. I know this is somewhat expected behaviour to appear stunned that travelling at 10km/h, mostly sideways and grinding over endless peaks can deliver so much pleasure. Especially with a knee that appears to be going backwards. Certainly painful in the opposite direction. And back in the Chilterns, the winter mud was an endless horror story – a place where even singlespeeds made sense. But here, there’s still enough yang offsetting grimbly yang to bring a smile to your face. A face chowing down on gritty granite and half covered by suspicious smelling mud, but a smile nevertheless.

4) Hardtails are hard work. A few times my ankles took the brunt of trail debris normally softened by rear squish. The Cove feels really properly odd after two solid months on the ST4. Possible MTFU required.

5) Exactly how dependant on the re-hydrating power of beer are you,  that you will insert a soggy foot into the door of a trying-to-close-shop and demand alcohol satisfaction? I wasn’t sure if they served me out of fear that the swampmonster cometh, or just plain pity.

* and about 10 minutes lying on the ground awash in a sea of sludge.

Equations.

Take: “It’s been pissing down with rain for three days“. Add “it still is“. Multiply by “It is not going to stop

Subtract “Motivation“. Divide by “eyelid dropping tiredness”

Solve “Hardly Ridden Hardtail“+“2.35 DH tyres“+”Rubbish Brakes” = “Perfect bike for slippy and shitty conditions”

Apparently this all equals “Yes! A Night Ride. BRING IT ON, I CAN HARDLY WAIT, OH HOW LUCKY AM I

Yes I know there may be an article in Singletrack that talks up the joy of muddy rides when you can’t see and you can’t steer, and you can stop but only by hitting a tree. And yes, I accept I wrote it. And if it makes you happy I’ll further concede that exactly one post ago my extollation on the joys of four season riding was unbounded.

That was when I was inside and dry. Anyway, this time it’s a public service as my riding bud reckons he’ll be forced to strike out on his road bike if I don’t go. That’s the lowest form of blackmail. He’d better have got the tea on and primed the hose pipe*

I’m sure it’s going to be lovely.

Afterwards.

* for post ride bike cleaning. In case you were in any doubt.

Cyclonomics

Etymologically speaking*, we in a select group here; static friction became stiction,  a spork is the bastard utensil child of a Spoon and Fork, and if you see a Geep, it’s half sheep/half goat and entirely confused. People with little better to do than show off can be pant-wearingly boring on the subject of portmanteau – my strong advice is if you ever encounter such a beard, make tracks for the tree line.

Cyclonomics is my stab at a meeting point between those who have a non negotiating standpoint of “You Could Buy A Car For That” and the rationally sane who see speculation in all things bicycle as a sound investment.  Take Woger for example, a single weekly commute time banded by the lunacy of GMT sees me on the smug side of fiscal responsibility.

And that’s before we factor in one less car/services to the bacon sandwich industry/public transport time banked for chilling out, and a little winter fitness. This is Cyclonomics at work; hard cash saved and soft power spent on being something other than one of a thousand wheeled cages.

This happy thought accompanied me on a freezing journey to the station where the mercury never troubled the zero point. A thought that was somewhat diluted as the cost of my snugness accumulated in a minds eye. First up, the playful dawn half light – promising horizon busting azure later – was pierced by a £150 bar mounted illumination justified for winter riding. Moving on to cold weather gear, we find thermal boots and socks, fluffy bib tights, a super warm and clever technical top under an even more expensive softshell.

Even my now somewhat troubled head is encased in a helmet bought only for road riding. What this adds up to is Cyclonomics might not be quite the slam dunk I first thought.  Apply the “cold light of day” weighting and really how many two legged beings really need six bikes? Or a shedfull of kit/clothes/spares that are mostly discards begot from magpie kleptomania.

But spending on bikes is not bounded by disposable income. It is an agony of want versus guilt. Nice things make you ride, but they don’t make a ride. There’s almost no situation where a £50 handlebar is 50% superior to another that looks the same but costs half. Most of us started with two thirds of bugger all, and somehow we ended up here. Twisted justification is a neat way of lying, but I’m not sure anyone is actually being fooled.

And yet somewhere we have started to confuse cost with value. Strip it down and Cyclonomics is nothing more than an excuses buffer. Against apathy making the easy choices; against smacking the snooze button, against fading motivation when rain slashes spitefully at the window. A mental buttress to hang happy thoughts from. Knowing absolutely it might be shit now, but in five minutes it will be epic. Shivering off a late night train and feeling pity, not envy, for those heading into heated cars.

Riding bikes is a privilege. Any bike, any time, with friendships cemented by shared memories or with nothing but the howling wind and your own laughter at the stupidity of it all. A two fingered salute at not being quite like you. An intenseness of experience I cannot get from anything else.

You cannot put a price on that.

* Two words, one tautology. That’s a skill that cannot be learned.

Black is the new black.

Brechfa MTB – Black Run Mov 2010 from Alex Leigh on Vimeo.

Fantastic day at Brechfa yesterday. 40ks, 1550m of climbing.

A loop of the Red and then the Black taking in disappearing trails, mud, massive berms, tabletop jumps for the talented, rock steps for the brave, even a bit of “Welsh Shore”. And some very, very fast and tasty singletrack.

I’ve no idea why – between the three of us – there wasn’t an accident that required hospitalisation. It wasn’t for a lack of trying, as there is something about this trail that brings out the Devil May Care/Body Might Go to A&E in any lucky Mountain Biking individual.

That’s my first attempt at video with the new camera. It’s not great but better than the static shots. Sorry it flips the horizon half way down, best thing to do is to lie your head flat on the desk. That’s worked well for me.

I could go on – yes I know as usual – about how brilliant riding bikes with your friends is. I could talk about the soul destroying fireroad climbing that put the never into ending. It wouldn’t be a surprise for me to wax lyrical on the joy of line astern descending, absolutely flat out but wanting to go faster. It might even be of interest to discuss just how fantastic the egg and bacon doorstep butty was half way round.

But instead I’ll summarise.

Mountain Biking makes me happy 🙂

PS. That might look a bit lame but the drop’s bigger than it looks and those steps had a nasty little, er, step in them. Anyway it was damn good fun, even when a Downhill Boy separated from us by a 7 inch travel bike, balls of steel, talent and about twenty years basically cleared the lot of them 😉

Dog

Dog Walking

I appreciate that this is apparently self-evident from the picture.  But it’s not just a noun, it’s a proper noun as “Dog” the Dog remains unnamed until a new owner takes him on.

I wanted to be that new owner.  Dog is a min-murf really, extremely placid, friendly and eater of anything. Indeed closer examination of the picture reveals a fat belly caused by snout-down thievery of his mum’s food bowl earlier that morning.

My argument for two dogs is simple; it’s like kids – two aren’t really more difficult that one, they can amuse one and other,  they’ll look after you when you’re old and occasionally do something useful like unloading the dishwasher*

Carol’s position is somewhat contrary to this.  She tells me if we add another dog to the household, then-  one second later – a wife shall be subtracted from same household. I’m trying to think of this as her starter for a negotiating position.

But it seems as if Dog will remain un-named and unclaimed for a while longer.  Unless I can smuggle him under cover of darkness, and pretend we’ve just bought a big kitten. “Barking? Yes, they all do that, quite the new thing!”

* I didn’t say it was a good argument

Time please Gentlemen.

Glancing at my watch was a grim reminder that,  only seven hours later, the alarm’s strident call would trigger the much-hated 5am start for London.

Faced with such an early morning horror, standard practice is early to bed in the hope of a reasonably satisfying – if curtailed – sleep.  Or you can take the approach that what happens tomorrow is far less important than what’s happening now.

Which sort of explains why, at 10pm,  I’m watching my breath curl into a frozen night sky and failing to hide a big grin as we grind up the last climb of another epic ride.

Conditions were “slippy-grippy” which I love.  Anyone can be fast in the summer assuming a slavish following of bravery to the power of stupid.  But now the trails are caught between seasons; dry and wet, muddy and firm, traction and slides.

It was the kind of night where both my riding pals mistook slip for grip and were well rewarded with an out-of-bike experience.  I didn’t crash this time, but it is unclear how this could be a reality where at least three times my on-bike experience was essentially as a crash-test-dummy.

After climbing for thirty minutes, the first descent claimed the first victim. Wet grass has all the adhesive properties of glass, and down he went in a cascading slide. No real damage done,  no real sympathy from us either.

We traversed further into the hills, sheltering under the muscular shoulders of the peaks. Properly freezing up top with tussocks frosting up ,and a biting wind testing the first season’s outings of winter boots and jackets.

A short, brutish switchbacked climb opened up the rocky descent to the Wyche. One of my favourites and, heading out first, I made a reasonable stab of briskness including nailing the rock step that requires either a careful roll or a committed jump. Anything in between and you’ll be welcomed with a granite facial.

Keeping low on mellow tracks occasionally enlivened by foliage covered mud, we headed back with lights picking out the leafless trees made stark by November’s howling gales.  Two climbs to home, the first is on a boring firetrack as we decide to press onwards rather than bag another ridge.

A decision that brings us quickly to a lovely wooded singletrack which claims the second victim on a treacherous bend. Then off the side and onto the fall line, couple of epic drifts on a leaf carpet under which the trail switches grip and no grip in second long bursts.

Proper mountain biking this, picking a line, reacting, riding it out, trusting your instincts, letting it roll and feeling your way through experience, bravado, luck, bloody great forks that kind of thing.

So now we’re back where we started. Four minutes to then, four hundred ish feet to climb and my bed feels a long way away.  So does the summit as tired legs demand lower gears, but we’re already out of easy ratios.

The warmth from the climb is stripped away by increasingly frigid winds as we bugger about on the summit, lowering saddles and flicking suspension damping to “fun”.

I’ve fallen thirty yards behind after overambitious corner entry speed delivered some face-time with innocent shrubbery. In chase mode, I’m still ragged hitting a drop too fast, but rather than slow then carrying the speed into a perfect kicker which sets up the next corner entry.

Well it would if you don’t fly off it and almost miss the corner entirely. Off the trail again – that’s twice in thirty seconds – and all sorts of scary things are happening. Front wheel scrabbling for any grip, me half pitched over the bars,  rear wheel in the air, hard to see how it can end well.

But it does, somehow rider stays tyre side up and I’ve made a few yards. Result. Make the rest up thinking the bike in front is gliding over the trail, whereas I am mashing it up in a hang-on-and-hope style.

Nose to tail we drop into the woods, feeling for grip on off camber roots and putting velocity and momentum in the driving seat. This serves us well, with the trail end coming far too quickly punctuated by big smiles and the pinging of cooling brakes under a cold night sky.

It takes me 45 minutes to drive home,  sort the bike and kit, de-trailer the car, deal with Murf’s perception of dog abandonment,  quick shower and late supper of toast and a small beer. It takes the same again and a bit more for the adrenalin to be flushed from higher level functions demanding sleep.

This morning I was standing on a rain soaked platform waiting for a late train, barely able to keep my eyes open.  It could be much worse though, just think how shit that would feel if I hadn’t been riding.