Welsh Rarebit

That’ll be what’s euphemistically known as my “thin bit” then. Summer arrived in Wales and with it my perennial battle of my pasty white skin versus the power of the sun. And since I accelerate from zero to angry lobster in about 30 seconds in direct sunlight, it’s a battle I’m sure to lose. None of this is helped by the fading sun cover once afforded by a full head of hair. Still I can always reconcile the rapidly receding hairline against the almost proven fact that a bald pate is a solar panel for a sex machine.

Aside from raw patches of sunburn breaking out on exposed limbs, this was the best riding weekend for bloody ages. Dry fast trails and long cold beers interspersed with drivelled bollocks being talked and the odd disaster befalling the wrecking crew.

We managed exactly no miles out of the car park Saturday before Dave fixed Brad’s brakes through the dark mechanical art of pissing the hydraulic fluid out of the calliper. No matter, this gave us time to “carbo load” on Bacon sarnies and strong coffee. Oops, yes fell off the coffee wagon this weekend although “set fire to it in glee” is probably a more accurate simile.

And again. Tes that's dustBrad - Whytes HairpinBrad and Brian - 9 foot river crossing

Continue reading Welsh Rarebit

Save the Wales

Well save a nice dry and dusty bit for me just outside the post apocalyptic horror that is Port Talbot. For the first time in living memory, a weekend’s riding has been organised and hails of trout are not predicted.

This means something else is sure to go wrong. I’ve filled the car up with appropriate juices and fluids (steady…) and left the bike completely unmolested lest my mechanical incompetence reduces it to swarf when – say – I adjust the chain and packed the suncream.

And best of all, there’s a funky uplift service that for a few beer tokens whisks you up to the top of the hill so even pedalling becomes someone elses problem.

It’s all going to go horribly wrong. I just know it 😉

Wet ‘n’ Windy

And that only begins to describe the weapons grade munitions being deployed by four mountain bikers enthusiastically endorising a diet of full English Breakfasts and hourly carbo-snots. Thank God for the great outdoors and the skill of misdirection. These photo’s are mildly interesting because:

a) They are taken on my crappy PDA/Camera/Phone/Sonic Screwdriver thingy.
b) They are in no way representative of the riding/canoe-ing we did this weekend.

CwmCarn #1Cwmcarn#2

They are in fact, a wistful snapshot of trail conditons two days before. After days confined in a hermetically sealed hotel, fresh air became a priority. CwmCarn was 20 miles away and enough pre-BST light remained for a quick lap. Shortly after these pictures were taken, I was ploughing a rapid furrow into uncharted off trail foliage thinking that one day I’m probably laugh at this misfortune. That day was not today.

Having passed a bunch of riders dithering on the final downhill to the car park, my velocity soon turned to shrubbery as a carelessly extended seat post punted me over the bars. The precursor to this has been a brief sojourn of “phin air” rapidly followed by a somewhat longer and more painful appointment with the flora and fauna of South Wales.

While I tried to pass off this misfortune as the daily lot of the wanabee freerider, it’s uncertain if I pulled it off. My gut reaction is not; a hypothesis backed up by whimpering (me) and aggressive pointing (those riders previously behind me). Still after some heroic bleeding I retired injured at the hotel bar and received almost no sympathy and many beers.

The following day, the lovely owner of the B&B was extolling the infamous South Wales superb winter weather emphasising blue skies and a noticeable absence of rain. It hardly seemed fair to point out the sheets of what looked like rain to me were hammering the windows at 40MPH. Undaunted by this biblical hail of trout, we planned epic routes emboldened by beer and a holistic view to weather forecasting – “clearing up shower this one, you can see that by the way the hillside has just suffered a major landslide”

When we made it out onto the trails, the riding was surprisingly enjoyable considering the constant rain and wind. At least it was warm rain. However getting lost on an exposed section is something I’ll probably have to consider therapy to get over. The second ride was apparently far slippier, colder and on the “why why why did I leave a warm cafe for this” side of unpleasant. I wouldn’t know as Jason and I had a note from our mums (him: assault and battery from a pine tree after an airborne trail excursion. Me: Seized cables, sore knee, Alcohol dependency) so abandoned rivers of trails for hot showers.

The guys came back from the ride looking like the survivors from the movie “Deliverance”. We embarked on mass for comfort food and – in my case – comfort lager. What followed was a slight concern for Jason as he’d never met my riding buddies before and soon became embroiled in stories of their slightly checkered history. It could be summed up by “Trained Killer” meets “Amateur Psycho”. I think his eyes would have less resembled dinner plates were it not for the small fact they represented his lift home.

I’ve not heard from him but I’m sure he’ll be fine 🙂

BST is welcome. Trails on top of the water table does not seem an unreasonable request.

Now that has got to hurt

Another occasional series showcasing the result of ego over talent. Sometimes this gap can be bridged by a very expensive bike or a nod from Lady Luck but thankfully not in this case. The stunned fella in the pictures is James Dymond – nice bloke, good rider and relatively uninjured from his flawed pathfinding instincts.

In the model of all good accident sequences, I can present a “before” and “after” photographic evidence.

This is clearly not the trail.

The trail clearly goes hard right. Except for James where it went straight on. He managed almost a complete roation before landing flat on his back in the stream. Bust his helmet and knocked him about a bit as can be seen here.

See? Told you.

A pretty big stack and he’s the first to admit he’s lucky to get away with a dislocated finger and some heavy bruising. Stiil on the upside the bike was fine. I couldn’t help noticing that earlier we have further evidence of buggering about.
This is not a sled.

But as always when you stack, it’s never on the soft stuff.

Cheers to James for letting me publicise his “Big Huck that was never right and went badly wrong”.

Quantastically muddy

As the snow drifted across the outside lane of the M5, and the police escort for the snowplough made noisy if slow progress, I couldn’t help but wonder if this would set the tone for riding after a six hour round trip.

It did but that was fine. The Quantocks were lightly dusted with snow and heavily laden with slick mud. Tyres gripped in as much as they were going forwards a little more often than sideways. Smiths Coombe was rather involving on a hardtail sporting IRC “suicides – a fine tyre in all conditions except these. My journey downhill was enlivened by several unplanned sideways shunts into the shrubbery charted by a voluble disagreement between me and said tyres: “Left, Left you b@stard, if I’d wanted to go straight on into that spikey bush, I’m sure I’d have mentioned it”. Eventually I stumbled upon a survival strategy somewhere between ships captain and motorcross ride.

Approach the turn, shout out “all ahead RIGHT RUDDER”, whip out the inside leg and let it slide. Aside from the numerous occasions where the front wheel threatened to tuck under, this was a definite improvement on the prevous approach of desperately hanging on in a style known as “rigid with fear”. My life flashed in front of my eyes so many times, I started fast forwarding to the interesting bits.

It looked a bit like this:

But it wasn’t miserable. Okay the weather was; streaming rain, hilltop cloud and gale force winds combined to test the most waterproof of riders and gear. Soon my socks had switched roles and were now providing a watersport park for lemmings and the tinglings from my finger ends promised frostbite in the near future. Yet it was strangely brill, sliding about in the mud is fun to do and even funnier to watch someone else do it. Especially when the inevietable face plant emerges as “Swamp Monster with added mud pack”.

And at the end Tea and Cake take on almost mystical healing properties. You’ve earned that brownie and by God you’re going to enjoy it. And the one after that, you’ve possibly earned that as well.

The plan was to go out again for a second loop. But the rain slashing at the windows discouraged leaving the sanctuary of the cafe and anyway the size of the portions had reduced us to – at best – walking pace. Riding went from possible to unlikely to “Another cake Alex? Go on you’ve only had three and remember we’ve covered an epic 12 miles already”. When the going gets tough, the tough get confectionary.

As we began the long journey home, Sod’s law came into play and the incessant rain was replaced by weak late winter sunshine. But we didn’t care; We came, We Swore, We ate huge slices of cake. Sometimes low expectations make the best of days.

A few more pics here but in deference to my soaking camera, I abandoned photography quite early. Not before however capturing Andy’s high technology approach to wet weather foot management. I give you the ‘bagshoe’ ™.

I mean, really 😉

Caption competition

Worryingly – for any readers of the blog who have sustained an interest way beyond the mean boredom threshold – there are 10 new entries ready to wibble. It’s getting easier to write stuff but I have this sneaking suspicion that’s because I’m getting lazier in terms of grammer, humour, vaguely contextual metaphors and the use of smilies to replace said, it, me and bollocks.

So in an attempt to buy time to convert drivelling badly informed rant to grammatically correct and appropriately punctuated drivelling rant, here’s a couple of pictures from Spain. Where it snowed. Alot.

Andy “Staying Alive” Hooper

Martyn “The Spade” Buckley

Nigel “Extreme Shaving” Parker

Captions appreciated as humiliation of others is this weeks customer care.

More here. Not terribly interesting but there’s only so much snow, steps and cold, irritated riders you can take pics of.

The rains in Spain fall mainly on the plain.

They had better bloody not. Ok for the meteorologically challenged I’ve included the entire Sierra Nevada range in that last comment. I have this perfect picture in my head of sun kissed singletrack, warm rides and cold beer. Three out of the four weather sites insist on something different and damper. The other one is hedging it’s bets. I’m going with that one for now.

Still compared to spending another day in this (hopefully) final slap of winter, even warm rain seems almost too good to miss.

I have to pack my bike. This is likely to be a unmitigated disaster spiced up by tape which sticks to everything (cats, children, dinner) except the frame, serious bleeding due to aggressive wielding of the Stanley knife and a “Michelin Man” sized bike that exceeds the volume of the bag by 20% or so. Then I’ll go and fetch the hammer, and then they’ll be an argument and before I know it, I’m taking my hardtail because I’ve beaten the 5-Spot to within an inch of its’ life.

Remember that Fawlty Towers sketch when John Cleese is birching the car: “It’s not like I haven’t warned you is it, you are getting what’s coming to you, etc”. That’s a metaphor ably describing my life at the moment.

We going with these people http://www.ciclomontana.com/ and riding trails like this:

http://www.ciclomontana.com/img/content/welcome_1a.jpg

Cupping my electronic ear, I’m picking up some angst racing down the information super highway. Can’t quite make it out, something like “plucky flooking bar steward”.

Four days riding, beer scheduled to start at breakfast and much fun to be had with like minded friends 🙂

Street Riding

“I’m just off to ride my bike in town”. A phrase so lacking in machismo it hints as ladies clothing in your wardrobe. And yet it’s a precursor to a splinter riding activity that has much to recommend it.

What’s good; It’s close, it’s easy to start and hard to finish, it embeds useful skills for trail riding and it hints at urban rebellion. What’s bad; you feel old and sometimes a little stupid. It’s the clothes you see, cooler friends than me (that’s everybody) pull off the jeans and hoodie “Urban Grungy” look while I’m reduced to sporting a pair of Fox Huck Pants superbly disguised as those polyester trousers you wore at school, clashing horribly with a jey riding jacket. I tried a hoodie once but when even my own kids were almost crippled with laughter, I reassigned it to the cat basket. Accessories include knee and elbow pads, helmets and the smallest bike in your shed.

Continue reading Street Riding

Bikes and Beer. A winning combination.

Sometimes stuff all comes together to create the perfect weekend. Not often and rarely does it involve paintbrushes or aged relatives, but this weekend we had a good stuff implosion centred on the Quantock Hills. Firstly proper winter weather – crunchy underwheel, windchills up to minus six and endless muti-toned blue sky. Then add commuting fitness, a great bunch of friends, huge plates of dead animal and, of course, beer. Or in some cases Cider. You know the stuff they make in Somerset – tastes like some unholy union of marmalade and rocket fuel.

When riding in summer, there is an expectation of dry trails, sunny days and cold beer. But I’d forgotten the unconfined joy of finding the same deep in midwinter. In 2006, I’ve already had two great rides (although this has to be offset by one pantless morning) so I’m starting to believe this could be a fantastic year.

You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve decided to let a picture or two paint a thousands words rather than drivel on about how great mountain biking is.

Nigel descending to the tea room

Andy having a collective moment

Gets a bit windy on top!

http://alexleigh.fotopic.net/c843876.html for more.

Cycling Myth#3: Ice riding is a winter sport

Riding mountain bikes in winter presents certain challenges. Many of these are around removing ones warm body from the bed to do battle with mud, rain and other general unpleasentness. Another is trying to earn enough money to fund entire drivetrains to replace those lost to the grinding paste of winter.

Once actually on the bike, riding ice is generally a precurser to landing on your arse but even with this historical precedent, some riders insist that through a combination of slick bike control, balls of steel and a smattering of good luck, they can glide serenely over any challenge.

This weekend in the Quantocks, one such foolhardy soul goes by the name of Nigel. Here his attempts are mapped out through the magic of photography.

The challengeThe challenge

A 30 foot long ice sheet glistening evilly under an azure sky. We all detoured around with the respect such an obstacle demands. But the gravitational pull of the focal lens was too much for one of our party.

The challenger

Nigel “Elephant Rider Extrordinaire” slips onto the ice sheet. As you can see, his front wheel has seen the danger ahead and made a command decision to turn sharply towards safety. As you can also clearly see, turning the bars makes absolutely no difference to his direction of travel.

The FaceThe face

Yes check out that face; the face that lauched a thousand shits. Nigel is regretting his decision to dispel myth#3 while simultaneously coming to terms with an icy face plant heading his way.
The Result

Nigel demonstrates the ancient art of eskimo fishing by plunging his gloves below the ice. Excellent technique especially as he’s also had to content with throwing himself off the bike.

The Aftermath

“Just chuck it away Andy” Nigel pleads. He’s not happy with that bike at all. It may be lacking useful bike like functionality such as being able to climb hills but it’s superbly equipped as am ice pick!