Leading from the front.

I thought a good way to spend a weekend would be to go and ride with a complete bunch of strangers. Clearly giving little thought to how this could affect my wallet, what little self respect remains and possibly a vital internal organ. Here I am:

Flickr Pic of ride

Bristling beard to the fore, hungover limbs and alcohol sweating countenance somewhat further behind. And all those following riders consulting their internal Debrett’s to clarify the appropriate phraseology to elucidate “get the fuck out of the way you great ladyboy mincing queen“. This is tricky because we only knew each other through the grooming of Internet forums.

My friend Dave has written the definitive work on forum cliques and there’s nothing to add other than to paraphrase the hoary “there’s nowt stranger than people“. On the Internet you have the luxury of time to think before you speak and edit if you change your mind. Real life is a little more shop front and all the better for it; in the transition from virtual to physical, these faceless posters became amusing and, mostly, drunken companions. They were all properly odd though but since some of them live almost in Lancashire, that’s understandable.

I learned a few other things as well. If you ride with 30+ people with mountain bikes in various states of mechanical distress, the statistical probability points to much faffing and fixing. This happened exactly as predicted except with the slight anomaly that it all happened to me. 34 riders sailed though the ride with nary a mechanical whisper of complaint, while my bike exploded in a catastrophic chain reaction of expensive components.

Well sort of – the chain did anyway and rather than share out the breakages, instead it took it on itself to serially snap under the power of my awesome thighs. Okay that’s not quite true either, firstly the chain bent itself in an interesting manner around the chainrings and, subsequently weakened, snapped during the most inopportune moments.

This left me with a chain so short, I was almost reduced to the horror of singlespeeding and a added injury via a bruised testicle impaled on a cruelly sharp stem. My new non virtual friends wheeled tools with a quiet confidence while I slunk away for a much needed bollock rub.

Proof, if further proof were needed, that Mountain Bikers are true athletes was ably demonstrated during a much needed food stop. Half of the mud encrusted riders salivated over to the pie shop where the poor old dear running it was almost overrun in the stampede for life saving pasties. The remainder haughtily dismissed our pie fetish as unworthy of their personal training goals and instead decamped to the chip shop.

I also learnt not to mix Stella with – well – anything really. Certainly not White Russians served in full size coffee cups and clearly containing dangerous fluids banned under the Geneva Convention. My education was further enhanced by an alternate view of the humble sleeping bag. This became the “staying awake” bag as the bunkhouse dormitories trilled to the whinny of accomplished snorers and rumbled alarmingly, as partially digested energy bars made a noisy exit via the low notes of the bowel trombone.

So all in all, it was fantastic fun although I sincerely hope the next one is in summer. My year round t-shirt attire and hard Northern attitude to weather has been distilled to almost nothing by living in the South for too many years.

Mud in your eye.

The other day, some cheeky bugger accused me of being a card carrying Daily Flail reader. So shocked at this defamatory slur and so sure of my own hand wringing liberal credentials, I got all mung-bean on his arse. But, obviously only in an inclusive, consultative ‘we’re all in it together donchaknow’ kind of way‘. Honestly if I sat on the fence any harder, I’d get splinters but this one off affront to my wishy washy tenancies soon became a two off when someone lent me a book by Jeremy Clarkson because they honestly believed a little of my style matched his.

What? Middle aged bloke ranting at easy targets to an appreciative audience, chucking in just enough contention to preserve some kind of hipness rating. Can’t see it myself, although clearly he’s made a decent living out of being a pretend-radical arse and has verb conjugating off to a fine art. Not that I’d ever prostitute myself on the altar of commercialism because a. it’d go against everything I believe in and b. I’d be there along time echoing “hello” into an empty void.

Still it’s better than being lumped in with the “who should we hate this week” mob of the Mail and maybe one day somebody’ll say “you know that Shakespeare, there’s an odd bloke with a blog who’s a little like him….“. I’m prepared for a long wait.

Anyway the backside of these perceived slights fired off a righteous article on Daily Mail readers with a focus on their little englander mentally and the paucity of the sports pages. So here it is then – except I brought the wrong writing book home and no-one deserves either the Spanish Inquisition or a lengthy discourse on the inner workings of the firm. So instead, I’ll talk about mud – of which here in the Chilterns we have about a thousand words to describe it. Eskimo’s* would recognise our characterisations of sloppy, thick, wheel arresting, wet, oggy, face splattering and cowshit with further subdivisions of elasticity, flingable range and smell.

And in another thriller like twist, that’s not the mud we’re looking for here. This is what my expensive bike looked like earlier.

That’ll be Wales in the Autumn then; the grass is that green for a reason, it rains a great deal to the point where it’s hard to distinguish between reservoirs and flooded fields. I’m not big on cleaning bikes mainly because of the intense dullness of any job requiring the outside use of a toothbrush but also because my one pristine bike is channeling ScarFace. It looks as if the bloke off the Texas Chainsaw Massacre has briefly moonlighted with an anglegrinder and gone to work on America’s finest.

Never mind, it’s over eighteen months old which makes it the elderly bull elephant in the bikey herd. I could keep it for ever, learn to ride it properly and practice non passive-aggressive maintenance techniques, or I could punt it onto the electronic graveyard and see what new clothes the Emperor is currently modeling.

If two anti ego strokes weren’t enough, a further blight to the crop of self esteem came when posts of non bike denomination were demanded in some kind of multi faith love in. You’ve got to appreciate the limited resources I’m working with here – my last dalliance with attempting to become erudite led to me gluing my fingers together. But the snoop cocking Mail article will follow assuming I didn’t write it up as a set of meeting minutes. In which case I’ll be revisiting the commercialism thing 😉

If you like your mud up close and personal, welcome to the word of the macro

* Yes, I do know that Eskimo’s actually have only a few words for snow. I believe most of their vocabulary is made up of phrases to cover “fuck, it’s dark”, “fuck, it’s cold” and “fuck sorry, I thought you were the husky”.

5 go mad in wales

That’s Frank, Jay, Jason, Nigel, Alex and Timmy the spare liver. We’ll be frolicking around in mid wales with lashings of ginger beer later. In between there may be some riding over glacial remains of high valleys, thousand year old peat bogs and recently crashed mountain bikers. It will look a little like this:

Dry Wales. Not tomorrow

Only not really because the forecast talks of other types of precipitational lashings which may raise the water table slightly over the height of the trails. Never mind, expensive waterproofs and medical insurance should cover most of the bases.

And we musn’t go down the “hidden mechanical, faked injury, tea and cake all day” riding denial, as the Antipodean in our midst has already spotted entire flocks of sheep dressed as,er, lambs and is worryingly excited over the prospect of meeting them.

If at the foot of a descent, there is no sign of him, I expect the following conversation to ensue: “Has Jason Crashed? Nah, he’s pulled”

Assuming there is some improvement in the weather and Jason’s not been arrested, we’ll be off here on Sunday:

Oooh.....

There may be some skills on show if any proper riders turn up, otherwise Photoshop offers the valid alternative.

Before we leave this evening, I need to fix my bike. It barely works now but history suggests, it’ll work even less once I’ve crafted deep wounds with edged power tools. Probably best to leave it alone.

They’re at it like rabbits.

Well jumping bunnies anyway. Bunny Hops? Make sense? No? Never mind, only took me ten minutes to think it up.

I appear to have unwittingly signed up to a skills timeshare. Some poor sod has been saddled – or possibly unsaddled – with two weeks of crashing and excuses while first trackstands and now bunny-hops have been enjoying an autumnal holiday round my place. I’m concerned that soon he’s going to want those skills back.

However, in the meantime, I could best be described as insufferably smug. For veterans (and I thank you for your continued support in this ‘care in the electronic community’ project) of this blog, you’ll be well familiar with the ground state of self parody. I like to get in there first so to speak, but also the crushing embarrassment of ever pretending I was any good at, well, anything rightly kills boasting at source. And yet this time a feeling of smugness remains; it’ll all end in tears of course, and probably injury, ridicule and humiliation at the feet of complete strangers. Well, that’s something to look forward to.

In the meant time – bunny-hops, a skill almost anyone with a bike and a single digit age has long perfected. Extremely useful for clearing obstacles such as curbs, logs and vertically challenged pedestrians. It’s only taken me a year to perfect, not one, but three special adaptations of the traditional style. On approaching the obstacle, either:

1: The front wheel remains stubbornly glued to pavement despite spirited grunting, whilst momentum speeds it effortlessly to hit the obstacle square on. The rider instantly dismounts frontwards to hit square concrete some painful distance away.

OR:

2: The front clears the obstacle leaving, this time, the rear to spend quality time at ground level. Inevitably this wheel clips the obstacle in a pacy, vertebrae crushing manner. See adaptation 1: for likely ending.

OR as happens most often:

3: The front rises, like an arthritic elephants trunk, to an epic six inches. A desperate forward lunge unweights the rear sufficiently for it to scrape over the obstacle. The bike then drops vertically hitting the ground to the sound of screaming components and ankles. Around 50% of this adaptation finish with the rider lying on the pavement demanding hospitalisation for broken limbs.

This has become somewhat vexing so advice was sought from the anti-grav crowd; “Get it up and keep it up” was offered and, while we’re good friends, this felt a little personal. But keep it up I must, so my bunny-hop Viagra was a pedal scooping arc joined by a committed spring backwards raising the front a frighteningly high distance from terra firma.

Once the wheel is scrabbling for the moon, a somewhat lewd rotation of wrists and a retraction of lower limbs unsticks the rear. If you like a righteous life, it will lift and you will fly.

New super light weight helmetRacing CarsThe curse of photoshop strikes againBrad. Too much better than me

Okay it’s not the 12 inch high obstacle I was aiming to clear; in fact it’s barely 9 inches and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to feel disappointed with that but, compared to playing urban concrete head tennis, it’s progress of a sort.

It as Arthur C. Clarke’s third law states “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic“. It feels magic, well until the morning brings a spasming back, blistered hands and aching shoulders. Practically identical symptoms to a night of of extreme and possibly illegal animal husbandry while some of the grunting is common.

So I think the irritated looking pedestrians got off quite lightly, considering. On that note tho, I am now officially a two trick pony.

The art of not falling over.

An art – you would have thought – as distanced from me as are crayoned scrawls to Monet. Recent history shows me on medication more often than on the bike, and frequent trips to the doctors, the hospital and the shrubbery do little to detract from this picture.

However, if at first you don’t succeed, merely redefine your success criteria. In this case rather than falling off at speed, I’ve seamlessly transplanted my skills to falling off more slowly. Remember my street riding experience being frustrated by an inability to enter the world of string and wires? A world where gravity is optional and graceful slow speed exits from high places end with the merest waft of a landing rear tyre. Not my world, I’m barely even a jealous orbiting moon.

Oh I can slam dunk a few bunnyhops before the inevitable pinchflat. I’ve been known to ride slowly off walls although heard is probably a better adjective. It’s like an aerobatic stall turn without the turn as my nose, navigating a heading due south, plunges groundwards to land at expensive dentistry. Saved only so many times by big forks and the power of chance – it was time to shape up or, more likely, give up.

Good advice is something I find easy to ignore but in this case, the simple instruction to start small and work up made perfect sense. Although I’ve generally been a start small and work down kind of guy until now. The base of many gravitationally illegal moves is centred around balance, but since my inner ear only talks to my other balance centres through lawyers, I’ve favoured gyroscopic effect over stationary magic.

And yet the simplest balancing skill is the track stand; where your bike remains almost motionless at zero miles per hour. You’ve probably seen stationary bike couriers supping coffee and rolling fags while their bike sits under them like a favourite armchair. If you noticed a bloke rolling randomly forward and backward, grabbing first brakes then a legful of crank before falling into the gutter, then that was me. Thanks for your sardonic applause.

A very brave man, Trackstanding Falling over here. Very bad indeed.

First lesson, no brakes. Roll to a stop using a slope to still momentum and then engage 23rd century anti-grav. If that isn’t available, shove front wheel one way and hips (they mean arse, come on be honest here, it’s a big counterbalancing body part and should be used appropriately) the other. Rock gently forward and back on the pedals and marvel at staying level rather than crashing to ground level.

Obviously it took me a while. Well about 30 years since riding first entered my life but concentrating so hard on a monster 45 second trackstand, I didn’t notice a dog walking couple in awe of my skills. Until he uttered from about two feet away “I wonder how he does that“. I was by this time chewing berries in the verge as my trials status came to an unplanned and abrupt end. They wandered away looking over their shoulder, proud to have been present at the inaugural “fakie track stand to holly bush, extreme swearing to finish

Flushed with success, a flowing coasting manual followed which promptly dumped me on my counterbalancing body part. That’s the problem with gravity, it waits for a moment of boastful overconfidence and hurls you onto your arse.

Life mirroring art? Life mirroring gravity more like.

What’s left?

It’s a direction in which I cannot really turn.

Not sure if you’ve noticed but it’s pretty dark out there. Most of the time now it seems and the clocks have yet to as retarded as BST-1 actually is. Autumn is here, and with it final garden maintenance shackled to the ‘mower than will not die’ stubbornly ripping up the lawn in a non collection style. What remained was about a ton of wet grass and nowhere to put it, offering up the joyless prospect of a long hard afternoon with a spikey rake.

Sod that, moss is the new lawn, I’m went riding instead. And since the Autumn Chilterns are twinned with a easterly valley centred around Passchendaele, the local trails are sliding around below a layer of bike eating mud. Thankfully these conditions don’t tend to extend beyond spring, or early summer at worst.

So a exciting trip to Bedfordshire with planned; now there’s a phrase you’re not likely to hear very often is it? “Oooh Flitwick, Can we go? I really can’t wait, can we go now, please, pllleeaaasse�”. Only an inspired piece of urban planning involving a large uncontrolled explosion could improve the place. But in this flat land of dull, lies the cheery little hillock of Chicksands, a riding spot where woodwork rules the woods, air is the new ground and ambulances are on standby.

Last time out, a very large bike allied with a very small amount of bravery launched me over the log-drop. Since then, a small accident I may have mentioned, did rather more long term damage to my head than my knee. Cornering has been a problem exacerbated when the trail leans left, I tend to lean straight on instead, ploughing headlong into a waiting tree on the grounds it’ll probably be less painful. However many times I tell myself “tree bad, corner good“, the message just isn’t getting home.

The only corners at Chicksands are generally bermed allowing even Mr. Timid here to corner by essentially riding into them. So all that time and effort headbutting trees has not been entirely wasted.

Tim and Brad on the dual slalomEarly flight leaves for FlitwicjJeans are the new shorts.

Continue reading What’s left?

Feeling Peaky.

I hope you’ve noted the seamless evolution of the medical title theme, started last Friday. It’s not all beer and skittles in here you know – rather a more complex game of blogging chess where moves have to planned three posts ahead. It’s hardly classy to juxtapose grouting lyrics with a forthcoming anal probe reference. You would be rightly irked by such lazy linkage and on that tangential note, here are some words that should never be seen together.

Marketing Budget, Holiday Slideshow and, my personal Armageddon, Alcohol Shortage. Feel free to add you own while I suffix Weather Forecast to this list of unholy couplets. The finest computers which advertising revenue can buy, predicted firstly dry but cold conditions, then localised flooding before settling on dreary and prolonged showers. These meteorological charlatans have clearly shunned their electronic doomsayers in favour of a glance out of the window following an intense study of the tea leaves.

We had a fantastic ride in what are considered the lesser lights of the Peak District. A cheeky route plotted by Andy “TrackLogs” Shelley – a man who has spent three years hunched over a computer developing mapping and GPS software. It was with a little surprise and not some alarm, we noted his total lack of navigational aids other than Google maps. This Guerrilla niche double bluff marketing is clearly more subtle than I thought.

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Continue reading Feeling Peaky.

Proper ‘ills

Not medical complaints more vertical geography. A weekend in the Peak District awaits although God’s country, as ever, has rather more weather than us down here in the soft south. It’s also rather well regarded for it’s rockiness and since my rolliness has lately been on the painful side, I’ve installed “Lithuanian Lesbian” as my riding style.

It’s unlikely anyone’ll notice much difference but in case they do, the offer of joining our host in a somewhat pervy long travel hardtail covern has been pooh-poohed in the strongest possible terms. It’s about time the Turner had an outing, you never know I might find someone who can ride it properly. Statistically, it’s unlikely to be me.

Before I go, my friend Jay (the story hunter of all things sexually deviant) has insisted I be his virtual mouthpiece and post this. He’s bigger than me so it seemed prudent to give him the opportunity to share this with my reader. I hope that doesn’t include my mum.

Before you open it, I should warn you of the non lunchable contents within. It’s an expose of Bejing’s Penis Emporium with references to “knob of the day” and “Todger health cures” I’m paraphrasing but I’m sure you get the drift.

Honestly, I’ve no idea where he finds this stuff. And more worrying the frequency in which he finds it. Maybe I’ll register I-want-my-knob-back and let him get on with it.

Another new bike Sir? Surely not?

No, not for me which considering I already have *ahem* quite a few, this seemed an appropriate time to redress the balance. My wife’s old bike was, in no particular order, too big, too heavy, too old and too rusty. It also employed an innovative braking system technically described as “pointing the behemoth uphill” or, in extreme cases “abandon speeding bike and head for the soft shrubbery“. As she’s not exactly enthusiastic about riding anyway – although this could be because her husband is essentially a mobile scar tissue lab – this seemed the ideal time to add safety and a little style to her cycling environment.

Sideways Tim offered up one of these:

Hardrock Sport Disc Womens

at a very reasonable price since it was all Woman specific with ickle fork springs and lowered standover. My eyes were drawn to a proper set of brakes, although I did warn Carol than her traditional technique of using both hands to wrench the lever barwards was going to require a rethink. Unless she’d kept quiet a pechant for describing a perfect parabola over the bars before being lightly nudged by the riderless bike.

The courier had been obviously playing frisbee with the box which slightly diluted the myth than new bikes are fantastic whoever they are for, but 20 minutes later she’d properly christened it by riding it gently into a wall. I’m proud to say that she’s learnt from the master there; Al ‘target fixation‘ Leigh preaches the word of accident to the entire family. It’s a great little bike and I think we’re going to have loads of fun wobbling around the countryside as a family zoned mobile chicane. So it is mildly ironic to consider I’ve spent way more on a single set of forks than we did on this entire bike. Best to keep that quiet I think.

Having first bought cycle specific clothing in 1994 and never felt the need to purchase anything since, she’s now keen to prod the tender underbelly of modern riding clobber. I’m assuming this opens up all sorts of opportunities for me to add to my modest collection of frames and clothing, but I’ve yet to find the right time to check.

I’m so impressed with this splendid little Spesh that it’s been granted permanent residency in the barn. It’s that good 🙂