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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


… I know, I know,  I have no idea how it could have happened either.

So until I get some time here’s a picture of a man pushing a mountain bike.

Which was fairly representative of how I spent the uphill part of my weekend ride back in the Peak District.  More and that and other innuendo, exaggeration and good old fashion fibbing to come when I get a minute. Which, the way things are going, may be around the time to wish you all Merry Christmas.

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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.


Continue reading Dark Peak Epic.