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.

Anyone tells you..

… how much better Mountain Bikes were when the world was a simpler place needs to watch this video.

It’s not just the crashes – which are ace, some proper corkers there and gloriously acknowledged by a hyena crowd – it’s the way nothing works and everything breaks. Nothing brakes really either as you can just make out four finger death grips on the levers reducing velocity not a jot.

We’re so damn lucky to have people like that to make sure MTB companies made stuff like we ride now.

Shockproof, waterproof, but…

Murphy

… not idiot proof. I’m not talking about the dog here, although he does fulfil that criteria quite nicely.

That’s one of the first shots with my new Pentax W80 which apparently shrugs off “bad things that’ll happen to it during any period of Al ownership“. A perfect trail camera then – especially considering being dropped into a rocky stream is an every ride experience, especially when wrestling the camera from a neoprene case with thick gloves.

Although considering my Canon S80 survived four years of this kind of abuse, maybe that’s  a gimmick I don’t need. Not at the £250 list price certainly, but then this example didn’t even cost half of that. It’s not optically perfect either, with clever reviewers talking of it being “inappropriately noisy when pushed”. Again a position I can relate to.

Actually what it is is a chip-load of very clever software moulded round a lens. The Airbus of cameras’ if you will;  twenty different presets but none of them so old school as aperture or shutter priority. I’ve not yet read the 232 page manual which accompanied (and out-sized) the happy little unit, but I’ll be surprised – and a little disappointed – if I cannot select the “indoor, non fluorescent, slightly pink ceiling, small child beating her sister” setting.

Already we’ve discovered face recognition, some kind of magical post processing anti shake, a rather natty video mode and – my current favourite – pet mode including dog colour selection.  Honestly, how bored were the designers at that point?

It’s not entirely idiot proof tho, and being that idiot I feel entirely qualified to comment. Firstly if the dog has licked the lens, that’s going to affect the picture quality.  And trying to find the right setting before the child in picture grows up and leaves home is not entirely unchallenging.

But it was cheap, it’s a neat design and I’ll probably carry it out more. The old Canon has taken to eating batteries and coming over all curmudgeonly when being asked to sprout the lens. Spares or repairs on eBay then. At least I’ve a camera to take a picture of it with.

All the time the W80 was essentially wresting control from my uncomplaining hands, I could hear Seb Rogers grumbling into his tea. He’s probably right but there is something rather liberating about letting software rule your world. It could be worse, might have been written my Microsoft.

What really makes my head ache tho is how can something this well finished, fiendishly clever and apparently indestructible cost less than two sets of MTB tyres, which themselves have the lifespan of a well sucked wine-gum?

Somebody’ll know. It’s not me.

Politeness costs nothing.

Roadrat on the train

So it is said, but – as with  many such proclamations – it is nothing more than a anodyne lie. Certainly for the lazy, the graceless, the empathy-voids and the arrogant even the lowest common denominator of human decency seems to be beyond them.

I find in any situation where such an arse is being an arse, the most satisfying solution is some form of petty revenge. Sure it lacks a high minded ‘turning the other cheek‘ response and scores not at all in persuasive education, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

That picture represents London Midland’s concession to bicycles, baby buggies and wheel chairs. Not all at the same time obviously with it being such a spiteful little space. Somehow during high summer, we crack the code to sequence up to six bikes in there which – as an added bonus – prevents the fat ticket inspector getting through, and traps any poor soul whose dived into the loo while carriage re-alignment was under way.

And it’s done generally in good humour and a “to me, to you” kind of way with layers unpeeled based on exit station. Sure there are occasional flash points when a rusty pedal gouges out a man sized chunk of prized carbon chainstay, but generally it just works because everyone is polite and helpful.

Come winter, it’s just me. Except occasionally some random spod cruises up with some worthless nasty which is carelessly thrown into the space from the next carriage.  Tonight a man with a supercilious expression supported by a tweed jacket really broke all the unwritten rules.

Firstly he showed no interest in my destination, second he shoved his bike roughly against mine failing – or not caring – to notice his horrid bar end was repeatedly beating my expensive Exposure Light. Thirdly he showed no contrition when this was pointed out, instead continuing to mine his bike into some kind of stable position. Fourth he knobbed off into some unspecified carriage leaving me to shift his bike some two stops down the line.

I did shift it. But not before I’d sabotaged it. Both tyres, down to about 5 psi, the guilty air sizzling loudly in the now almost empty carriage. I would have nicked his pump as well, if he’d had one. The only other occupant was staring, pointing and giggling as I reduced his future mobility to pushing.

“What if he notices?” she asked looking slightly concerned “Oh tell him I did it, and that I travel on this train at least twice a week if he’d like to discuss it“. I didn’t add that any such discussion would start and end with “Well I hope a walk home in the wind and pissing rain taught you a lesson eh? And if it didn’t, no worries it kept me amused for a few hours

On reflection, both tyres may not have been a proportional response. I think it was the tweed jacket that pushed me over the edge.

Blown out.

Finally my experimental* nutrional approach to create a God Like cycling persona is paying off. This morning me and Wog completed the inbound commute a massive 15% quicker than the one only three days previous.

I’m going to be RICH. That kind of performance improvement is only normally available to those nose down in a bag of Bolivian Marching Powder. People will be flocking to my door demanding I furnish them with a Bacon Butty and a bill for a thousand pounds.

As I was contemplating the myriad ways to spend my impending windfall, I couldn’t help noticing that “Wind” and “Fall” seemed to be playing merry havoc with the trees. Bent almost double under the power of an Autumn gale, it would seem my velocity gains may be horribly reversed come home time.

I was going to write some more but then realised I aleady had some time ago

Instead, let me share a quote from our train driver this morning: “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen about the late running of this service. Railtrack appear to have been surprised by Autumn, and we are operating at restricted speed so we don’t pass through our next scheduled stop at 40mph”

Apparently the train operating company has a £1m leaf cleaning machine. This was not in evidence, although two blokes in high viz jackets alighted at Worcester carrying a pair of petrol leaf blowers.

If they’re available during the return journey, I’ll nick ’em and strap ’em to the frame to create a poor man’s rocket-bike. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again “What could possibly go wrong?”

* Beer, Wine, Bacon Sandwiches, Pringles, Occasional lettuce.