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 🙂

“Oi! You can’t park there”

“I just did” is, in my experience, a proportional response. This holds a special pleasure when directed at some pompous ass who truly believes every Englishman’s home is his castle. It’s almost charity work to disabuse them of the notion that house deeds rarely extend to the public road.

I had a similar experience today. Chiltern Railways “cyclists charter” treats bike carrying in the same vein as murdering your fellow passengers with a blunt axe. Messy and bad for business – especially at peak times. Therefore I had little option but to haul cold, dark butt out of bed at 6am in the morning so as not to suffer the fate of a possible eviction at Amersham.

Wind back a bit here. Why was I doing this? So I could swap

From This

To This

And I hear you ask again Why the hell was I doing this; replacing one mountain bike with another? Long story which inevitably will be blog-food in due course.

As the 6:35 rolled out of Stoke Mandeville, I’d cunningly wedged the bike into the disabled area. The train was almost deserted and short of suffering some potential early bird wheelchair action, I was perfectly positioned for some quality snoozing.

What I’d failed to recognise was a. this is the slow train which stops at every station, siding and seemingly where people stick out an opportunistic hand and b. there is a critical mass of sad buggers travelling that early. Past Amersham, it’s standing room only and lustful glances are being cast at the foldable seats nailed shut by forceful insertion of a mountain bike.

Continue reading “Oi! You can’t park there”

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

A 1000 miles is a long time in commuting

I kept a diary of my first couple of months commuting, mainly for my wife to read to the kids when the inevitable death by BMW finally happened. Now less scared and more scarred, a veteran of over a thousand miles and sixty instances of playing “the running man” with bicycles, things have changed.

I’m a little fitter, a lot more confident and completely engaged in the battle of good (that’s us riding bikes) and evil (that’s everyone else trying to kill us). I’d only offer the glove of friendship to a fellow non cycling road user if it gave me the opportunity to slap him across the chops. I’m bored of the cold and sick of the dark. If I’d started December 1, not June 1, I wonder if I’d still be doing it. I think probably not.

Still having driven round the M25 this weekend to watch the rugby (more on this later), it’s clear that my right to whinge should be negated by the awfulness of the alternative.

It should be, but it isn’t. I shall whinge on 🙂

Here’s the extract. I culled the rest on the grounds that you’ve suffered enough.

Morning Morningitus

There was a certain “MondayMorningitus” about my commute today. Firstly the electronic ticket machine had rejected its’ “pin required” upgrade like an unwanted spleen, and so mirrored the operational state of the uninformative passenger information system.

The rather touchingly simple platform ticket machine showed solidarity with it’s electronic brethren in a “one out, all out” scenario leaving me the solitary option of dealing with a real person. Sadly this endemic malady had crossed the electronic/carbon barrier and the station master (mistress?) was also off on the sick.

Continue reading Morning Morningitus

Cycling Myth#4 – Riding makes you fit

Okay not fit but thin. I’m currently in denial about what could be euphemistically referred to as “organic body armour“.

The mid torso blubber has made itself known through a slight tightness in the trouser and a noticeably enlarged belt hole. Loosening my belt would alleviate both these problems, but this would be an admission that cycling 70+ miles a week does not nullify the consequences of a confectionery based diet.

Continue reading Cycling Myth#4 – Riding makes you fit

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!

One solution, many problems.

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.