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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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!
Those with a modicum of common sense – which frankly excludes the readers of this blog and, of course, it’s author – would have reconciled the omen of “pants on the desk at home, willy unencombered in the office?” with a zero tolerance response to anything difficult or challenging on this particular day.
But no. Of course I didn’t. I had a handful of bike parts, a half baked idea and the remainder of my lunch hour. Sadly not really enough bike to fit them to due to the little known “theory of Rush Hour?. Rush Hour is a kids game where a grid of toy cars block the hero’s (rather modest) sedan from making a quick exit. Only by understanding fourth dimensional phase space and the theories of quantum can one progress to the higher levels. This was pretty similar to the problem my already frazzled brain attempts to solve.
Replace truck, van, car, motorcycle with crud guard, lock, light and bottle cage. There was clearly some Fibonacci sequence by which component karma could be achieved but just as clearly, I’m too stupid to understand what this is.
After much lateral thinking tending towards whether wheels were really necessary on a bicycle, my patience snapped and I chucked away the rear crud guard. This left me with just the rear light, bottle cage and lock on the “grid?” But if we extend the metaphor back to Rush Hour, the only way our hero’s car could have left the board was with a personal missile launcher and an alternative view of the highway code.
A sidebar here: my rationale for installing a portable lock was driven purely by an intensely frustrated five minutes Kryptonite hunting at Marylebone, while the engine of my train revved to depart. My motives were good – lock the bike wherever you can find a space – but were let down by shitty execution. Yet having bought the lock, (in fact this is the second time I tried this, the first time involved a short conversation with my wife in which I advocated purchasing yet another frame because this one couldn’t accommodate a lock. Yes kids, I really tried that) I was determined to fit it even if I had to sell my soul to gain access the fourth dimension mentioned previously.
So after much grunting spannerwork, I’ve removed the need to find my lock. I have however created the need to find a dry arse. Also the lock is so massive that it obscures my rear light so there’s a good chance I’ll be wearing a delivery van before the winter is out but on balance – I’m sure you’ll agree – a worthwhile upgrade.
You do if you’re doing this.
I woke up this morning wondering if this is how it feels to be old. I’ve a mix’n’match of ailments including sore head (too much post ride beer), sore back (too many runs on the dual) and sore shoulder (plank bites man). Short of trawling the second hand market for a FreeRide Zimmer frame, my options would seem to be:
a) Stop whinging
b) Initiate a fitness programme to radically improve core stability.
c) Develop a landing technique that stops treating the bike as a two wheeled spade.
d) Buy a(nohter) new full suspension bike.
a) is clearly not going to happen since I’m a card carrying Yorkshireman – whinging is basically our regional identity.
b) appears to warrant a time commitment that could be better spent drinking beer.
c) is an aspiration, but nothing more than that as, in a year of progression I’ve peaked at the “close eyes, clench buttocks and hope for the best” stage.
Looks like d) then.
There was a Spesh SX trail at Chicky yesterday which was looked the prunes d’un chien and seemed to ride ok as well. Like that’s important.
Still I’d better keep option d) well away from Carol who’d quite legitimately add “GBH with edged cutlery” to my list of injuries if I instigate another bikes not food programme.
Chicksands is neither populated by nursery hens nor is it noticeably beach like in terms of crushed golden micro-rocks. It should be better described as a year round playpark for Mountain Bikes stuffed with jumps, drops, raised planks and other amusing ways to hurt yourself rather badly. I wrote about it here.
We arrived late. Two of my riding pals – who’d arrived on time – took that as their cue to leave. I’m not sure the two were connected but I nearly left with them due to being “insufficiently motivated”? as my appraisals are want to document. My previous visit had been blighted by a serial bottling of a large drop which had my name written all over it. Unfortunately – as smelted in my excuses workshop – it also had pain, suffering and a ruptured spleen written in slightly larger letters. I wasn’t really looking forward to a rematch, so instead chose to tactically ignore its’ existence and try and recapture the essence of fun this place always use to have.
After a practise on some baby obstacles proved that three months Chicksands absence makes not a freeride God, I grasped the nettle of fear and whimpered a little before attempting to ride some learner plankage. It was neither very high nor terribly narrow, but having the balance of a three legged stoat suffering a serious head wound and possessing the low speed bike handling skills bettered by almost any 4 year old who has chucked away their stabilisers, it’s a bloody challenge. Mental rather than physical which mocks muscle memory and laughs in the face of previous successes.
Continue reading When DIY isn’t enough. A day at Chicksands.
On the bit of riding I did acutally manage today, I see the “naughty cyclist” police were out in numbers around Trafalgar Square. 3 of them apprehended a hapless Bromtoneer as he ducked onto the pavement. I mean THREE cops for one poor guy. And while this was going on, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of two buses and a car jumping the red lights right in front of them and nearly cutting a cyclist in half.
What’s that saying? It you can’t catch the criminals, criminalise the ones you can catch? Surely there needs to be a co-ordinated approach so ALL road users abusing the law are punished.
I am not having a good day 🙁
…this morning I bottled it. Oh I have excuses locked, loaded and ready to fire at those hardy commuters, who see brutal rainstorms as a meteorological foe to be fought and bested at every opportunity. But I have a bit of a cold and I’ve just cleaned the bike and it’s been a tough week’s riding on tired legs and the cat’s not been well and…. But once you break through this flimsy web of deceit, the simple truth is I’m nesh and I bottled it. And I feel terribly guilty.
Continue reading There’s no other way to say this..
…. my arse. After a winter maintenance regime of “slinging it in the barn and forgetting about it”, it became clear the time had come to clean the shopper. The rear cassette had morphed into one single big gear packed with two months of gritting salt and road muck. The rest of the bike was in a shocking and neglected state as well. I feel the latter may have been the cause of the former.
Cleaning it was akin to urban archaeology. Layer and layers of road grease interspersed with random vegetation were stripped away before a long forgotten silver toothed thing was triumphantly unearthed.
I had to be pretty generous with the degreaser and I’m not sure the brush will ever work again but I’ll admit to a pang of satisfaction when it was done.
The rest of the bike is still a shed. If I had a pond full of degreaser and an army of brush wielding enthusiasts, it may be possible to restore it to its’ former glory. Failing that I’m chucking a bucket of water and a blanket over it possibly even in that order.
This morning the train was working but the track was broken. Rubbernecking up the train line, as the passenger information system entered an electronic sulk some months ago, there was a complete lack of train shaped objects emerging from the pre-dawn gloom.
Then the flat distorted tones of the PA system informed us that a “major points failure at Amersham has suspended all southbound services indefinitely”. Only train companies and BBC announcers use this type of syntax – is there a school they go to? My fellow commuters remained unmoved on the platform even after a further announcement suggested re-routing via High Wycombe or Rejavik.
Sensing something afoot, I awaited further news which wasn’t long in coming. Alledgedly the “major points failure” was now magically fixed and the next train would be along as soon as the driver had finished his breakfast. We all shuffled forward to the platform edge, in the manner of lemmings facing a bit of cliff action, before old “flat-tones” on the PA cheerfully announced the points were, in fact, still broken and London bound services would resume sometime in the Spring.
Continue reading 2 hours, forty miles, you do the maths.
For Chiltern Railways. In the future they shall be known as the “Unreliable, Overcrowded Baggage Truck” or BUT-O for short. This morning after a total of two hours travel, I have covered a truly epic 15 miles. Of which the first 5 had been on my bike.
The first train never turned up. The second one broke down threatening to leave us destitute in the Buckinghamshire flatlands. The third has mysteriously mislaid about half of it’s carridges reducing us to increasingly irritated sardines.
Still Chiltern Railways did offer their apologies and hoped we hadn’t been inconvenienced in any way. No, two hours to cover 40 miles while being repeatedly wounded by a fellow commuter’s sharp edged laptop bag and tortured by a thousand inane mobile calls is hardly an inconvenience. How could it be? But for the record I don’t bloody well accept your apologies. Make the trains run on time. It’s not hard and I don’t know why you keep having a problem with it.
If the Americans want to force confessions from those still held in Camp XRay, make them commute for a week on Chiltern Railways. They’ll snap like a twig.
And the creaking singlespeed is now attracting worried glances from passers by no doubt expecting mechanical disaster at any moment. Nothing that sounds like that can be expected to remain in the same shape and configuration for long.
I swapped the pedals. Same creak. It’s definately not my knees. H’mm what next?