Snowbody here

Not so much a bike ride, more a two hour tank slapper. Riding in snow is fun. It’s also bloody hard, and can be simply summed up by “Grip, Grip, WOW Amazing Grip, no grip, Tree”

These photos are from Jim’s iPhone which did its best considering a) it was dark b) it was about -2 and c) it’s not really a proper camera is it?

The FoD riding cluster climbs into double figures come Spring and isn’t much reduced during the months of mud, cold and darkness which precede it. Last night tho, only Steve, Jim and I made the more than a little exciting trip to the FoD.

The key to staying on was speed. Sufficient velocity delivered a wheel straightening gyroscopic effect to your track. Getting up to speed was tricky with bikes being rear wheel drive and we’ve all seen how well cars of that configuration go in the snow.

And if you should even twitch the bars or touch the front brake, the magic was gone and so were you. My 2.35 tyres floated well but you couldn’t really steer. Jim and Steve’s narrower nobblies seemed better suited but maybe they’re just a bit better than me!

We played about a lot. Skids were harder than expected tho with the powder snow offering up oddles of grip. Right up until the point when it didn’t. Ummmph generally followed.

We seemed to spend a lot of time climbing and not much descending. Although that perception was all about the sad fact we were pedalling downhill as well. No matter, a final three sections of singletrack where we were lucky enough to be carving freshies made up for the fireroad slogging.

Anyone who decided to stay at home missed one of my favourite rides of the last few months. And afterwards, the beer tasted better than good 🙂

Muddy Musings.

Fat Tyred Cove

Yeah, it’s another pic of a static bike – nothing more than a visual prod to de-randomise some recent thinking.

1) Mud Tyres are for those who lack ambition. Really, thin sludge-cutting rubber may provide the illusion of grip and traction, but where’s the fun in that? The Cove is booted up with 2.35in wide tyres,  the front being basically a downhill tread and compound, while the rear is barely less of a monster. No point in having wide bars/short stem/ace fork/brill frame emasculated by condition specific tyres. Get out there and slide about, the ground’s pretty soft when it goes wrong.

2) That bike is a lot cleaner than it was at 10am last night. Two hours riding* in the grottiest Malvern conditions I’ve ridden for a while turned the word brown under the black of night. When we weren’t sliding around in a vaguely comedic fashion, we were groping about in hill clamped top fog. Jez is either better at remembering where the trail may be than I, or he’s upgraded his night vision to HD/X-Ray.  I stumbled about, blinded by reflected light, occasionally intersecting with remembered obstacles, before falling off over them.

3) It was still, surprisingly, fun. I know this is somewhat expected behaviour to appear stunned that travelling at 10km/h, mostly sideways and grinding over endless peaks can deliver so much pleasure. Especially with a knee that appears to be going backwards. Certainly painful in the opposite direction. And back in the Chilterns, the winter mud was an endless horror story – a place where even singlespeeds made sense. But here, there’s still enough yang offsetting grimbly yang to bring a smile to your face. A face chowing down on gritty granite and half covered by suspicious smelling mud, but a smile nevertheless.

4) Hardtails are hard work. A few times my ankles took the brunt of trail debris normally softened by rear squish. The Cove feels really properly odd after two solid months on the ST4. Possible MTFU required.

5) Exactly how dependant on the re-hydrating power of beer are you,  that you will insert a soggy foot into the door of a trying-to-close-shop and demand alcohol satisfaction? I wasn’t sure if they served me out of fear that the swampmonster cometh, or just plain pity.

* and about 10 minutes lying on the ground awash in a sea of sludge.

Equations.

Take: “It’s been pissing down with rain for three days“. Add “it still is“. Multiply by “It is not going to stop

Subtract “Motivation“. Divide by “eyelid dropping tiredness”

Solve “Hardly Ridden Hardtail“+“2.35 DH tyres“+”Rubbish Brakes” = “Perfect bike for slippy and shitty conditions”

Apparently this all equals “Yes! A Night Ride. BRING IT ON, I CAN HARDLY WAIT, OH HOW LUCKY AM I

Yes I know there may be an article in Singletrack that talks up the joy of muddy rides when you can’t see and you can’t steer, and you can stop but only by hitting a tree. And yes, I accept I wrote it. And if it makes you happy I’ll further concede that exactly one post ago my extollation on the joys of four season riding was unbounded.

That was when I was inside and dry. Anyway, this time it’s a public service as my riding bud reckons he’ll be forced to strike out on his road bike if I don’t go. That’s the lowest form of blackmail. He’d better have got the tea on and primed the hose pipe*

I’m sure it’s going to be lovely.

Afterwards.

* for post ride bike cleaning. In case you were in any doubt.

Beer or Bike?

Not so much a quandary, more of a life decision. Many times I’ve moodily watched expensive vegetation being drowned or whooshed horizon-wards by tornado winds thinking “I’m good at excuses, this would seem an ideal time to make one”, before bearing down on the sofa waypointing at beer fridge and crisp cupboard. The consequences of  such an easy choice are bigger trousers, unreconstructed feelings of guilt and entirely missing the point.

Before moving here, riding rarely ended without beer. Some started that way as well although inevitably finished in a heap of limbs making giggling noises half way up a tree. Only when the shock of failing to recognise your riding buddies in civvies after two years of sharing trails, do you realise how much things have changed. All the good bits are still there; like minded people, gentle piss taking, hidden competitiveness,  schadenfreude, pain, suffering, lucky escapes, joy, pain and scars. But post ride is a quick go on the hose pipe* and away to general duties.

This week we invited the Forest crowd over to sample some proper hills not bounded by bar spinning trees. This was – for most of them – a first experience of the geological oddity that are the Malvern Hills. Powered by volcanic activity, they rise from a flat alluvial plane with unrelenting steepness to multiple  jaggety peaks. We set off up the North end which is busier, rockier, higher and criss-crossed with plunging trails and bastard climbs.

First up we had hoards of riders to escape giving the poor FoD crew an experience similar to dropping Robinson Crusoe into Central London.  To spare them from having to explain where all those extra fingers came from, we dropped into the shadow of the Worcester Beacon and kept it right side and looming on the approach to the last proper Malvern Peak. North Hill brackets the end of the ridge, and offers many secret delights down into the town itself.

First tho a stiff pull*** skywards before a cheeky cut back on moist grass enlivened with tyre stopping rock. Everyone got down but not without some wide eyed stares. The perception seemed to be that the ride would mostly be on soft grass with a few rocks thrown in. This end of the hills is exactly like that only entirely the other way round. Crash in the forest and you’ll be picking teeth out of ancient oak roots, lunch it here on something steep and they’ll be using those teeth for identification.

We skirted the worst of the grassy climbs before summitting high on the ridge end, stopping only to enjoy the popping sound of cooling singlespeeder knees. Yes, Adam was back on a bike lacking 26 out of 27 important mechanical parts, but the bugger did stunningly well to get up everything. Confirms my hypothesis: Alien.  Good times tho playing to Al’s first rule of riding “50% of what’s good is where you are, the rest is who you’re with

And where we were was topside of a rocky horror switching to mad steep dirt abbreviated by vertical granite sleeping policemen keen to make a tyre arrest. Riding it at dusk on the hardtail was reasonably involving, but my mind was distracted by the general carnage in front of me. Nobody died which seem to spur the boys on to tackle a nasty set of steps incongruously located in the middle of bloody nowhere.

I gave them a miss but liked to think earned a few man points with a brisk clearance of a much loved rock step accompanied by a silent “glad I didn’t fuck that up“. Now we’re in Malvern proper and that’s the low point of the ride. Elevation wise we’re a big hill from home, and it’s a 25 minute climb to get there. No point rushing I offered, I’ve tried that in the past and while the hill doesn’t care, you’ll end up spatchcocked over the bars making the kind of gestures un-bowled goldfish are known for.

There’s a cheaty, easy way round the Beacon to crest the final climb. It seemed a shame to share that what with a few of the boys showing such enthusiasm for the steep and unforgiving front face. Those buggers have had it over me enough time in the deep, dark woods and it’s important to restore karma. Not that I was in any way counting. Oh no.

Much nudging regarding quality of the view from the top. Not surprising since riding in the Forest is brilliant but visually merely slightly different coloured bark. No time to linger though, with a straight mile of lumpy descent unencumbered by corners but fast enough to promise breakfast through a straw should liberties be taken. Martin (proper guide and reason we didn’t spend the entire night going “er, this way not sorry that way, er anyone got a compass, or a rabbit’s foot?“) is a man who does indeed take liberties on this trail, and raced off with the Forest boys in determined pursuit.

I was sweeping at the back, and nearly had to sweep myself up after a rather vigorous if unwise pace was applied to a part of the trail where the ground drops away and tyres scrabble desperately for grip. I slowed down a bit after that which was fine as I wasn’t catching anyone anyway.

A quick loop back over the top of the wyche so we could finish fast and loose on big steppy rocks and then just big steps found us at 8:45pm having climbed 2,300 feet in a lot less than ten miles – the result was a bit of cheek blowing democracy on what we should next.

We went to the pub. Obviously. And it reminded me what a great natural high dopamine mixed with decent beer will give you. So now Al’s rules of riding runs to three, the one up there, an assertion that “riding is always better than not riding” and now “A proper ride only ends when stumbling tiredness is mixed with conversational bollocks and decent beer“. I reckon there’s a book in here somewhere.

So it’s not beer or bike. It’s beer AND bike.

I know what some of you are thinking. And I know how old you are. You should be ashamed of yourself. Really. Next thing you’ll tell me farting is still funny**

** Okay I accept that.

*** There you go again. Not role models for your children really.

Rag it. Ragged.

Last night, on wonderful summer trails, I rode my blisteringly quick titanium hardtail in a harmonic partnership of a singletrack machine and a bag of spanners.  In fact, it wasn’t so much a ride rather an orienteering exercise hunting for the scene of a crash. Finding one early in no way dimmed my enthusiasm to keep on looking.

Released from a vein throbbing vocational space full of other people’s problems masquerading as my own, my focus was more inside that out.  So a certain internalising of “grrrrr” propelled an angry Al on the first downhill at the speed of stupid. Or stupid squared, because my little talent requires constant compensation by awesomely clever bike parts, of which a fully functioning fork ican be thought of as key.

A fork I had locked out for the bastard steep climb immediately before Mr Kamikaze was placed firmly in the drivers seat. The trail feedback suggested all was not well, but any inkling that fully rigid and full speed may not be compatible for a man wishing to retain all his teeth, was sidelined by every upstairs neuron desperately searching for solutions to a high speed off track diversion bringing an extremely difficult looking tree into my immediate future.

Not having any feet on the pedals by this time wasn’t helping my internal or external balance. and really that tree was getting mighty close. Fuck it, foot down, wrench the bars, register pain shooting upwards from the heelbrake(tm) and a further sharp ow from my knee. Miss tree, regain control of bucking bicycle, further register howls of derision and giggling from behind.  A quick call to damage control suggested nothing broken, although many parts significantly shaken and a good armful of blood from a knee/bar interface.

What I actually cut my flesh on was the lockout lever for the fork. Oh the irony.

The remainder of the ride retained a similar level of excitement coupled with raw, naked fear. First a 30mph drop from a grassy hilltop collected a gulley full of super-loose shale about half way down. It nearly collected me as well, and if I’d even looked at the brake lever, the sky would have become ground and the ground sky. Survived that, somehow made the corner, plunged into the dark woods barely registering the important difference between brown dirt and brown tree.

Back on the hardtail is ace. It’s properly direct, steers just on the right side of flighty, rewards every pedal stroke with a surge forward but is still beautifully poised on a long fork and clever materials over the rough stuff. But after riding the ST4 for seven months, you not only realise how damn good a sorted hardtail is, you’re also pretty much in awe how fucking amazing a full suspension bike is as well. Nice to have the choice because you can never have too many toys. Unless you 11 and 9 and you’re asking your dad for some new ones. That’s different. Obviously.

Last descent and it’s proper dark. I’ve yet to manage anything smooth and fast. I’m sat on the rear wheel of someone quick and I’m hanging in there but it’s ragged, constantly locking the rear brake and sliding on trail marbles. There’s a myth that the reason Full-Suss bikes are quick is because they soak up the bumps – there is a bit of that but the real USP is grip and especially when it’s at a premium under braking. I’ve lost the finesse of finding it through modulation of the lever and my progress is fast-slow-fast.

I am hanging in there tho, letting the bike have its’ head and trying to keep up with the blur of scenery when I do. Case a 2 foot drop that I’ve nailed forever on the ST4, curse, get back on it, smash through a bush on a bad line, be brave through three bends to bridge the gap before we’re in the trees where steep, rooty and off-camber come together in a three dimensional problem solved every second by shifting weight, feathering the brakes, picking desperate lines searching for the flow, finding something else – call it fun, reasons to live, drugs for free, outdoor therapy rolled into a line of dirt and a wheel to chase.

We all get it. It’s all “fucking hell” and “did you see…” and “how bloody good…” and there’s another three months of this before we’re back to slop and grime. The night before a good old friend and I navigated randomly in the Forest, me on the ST4, him on his hardtail and we had pretty much the same conversation.  Whatever you may have been told, it’s not about the bike. But it’s damn good fun finding that out.

Right, that’s me done for a week. We’re off on holiday to enjoy the great British Summer. Which has been great until about a month ago, but never mind I find the beaches less crowded when it’s 12 degrees and hailing.  One day we’ll be in a Helicopter which is going to properly test my fear of height/exposure. Expect wibbling come this time next week.

I blame the singlespeeder.

And if we blend in the Government of the day augmented with traffic wardens, estate agents and any person who volunteers to be on a committee, we have created a body onto which all the evils and ills of the world could be blamed.

Ready the Scorpion Pits and Bring Fresh Spiders” I hear you cry, but even in the benevolent dictatorship much loved by the Hedgehog, first there must be a trial where evidence of misdeeds and character assassinations can be aired. I didn’t say it was going to be a fair trial.

The Wednesday FoD ride is become a confusing juxtaposition of slack and speed.  Which I reversed by turning up early, before becoming increasingly lethargic. Whereas the riding widdle* rolled in at ever increasing intervals, with excuses ranging from forgetting what day it was to a total boycott of the Julian date system.

Now I had every reason to invoke faff-time what with the Cove maidening its’ reincarnation, no such latitude should be available to a man who has dispensed with his entire selection of gears. And yet, Adam appeared to be having significant car-park issues with his Inbred** resolved largely with rolls of gaffer tapes, and the occasional targeted trail tool wang.

Obviously I made jolly jest at his japery, and just as obviously he paid me back in spades.   First tho a rude awakening – of the arse mainly – riding a single sprung end. Immediate and direct are good things when the front wheel is sniffing dusty trail, but less appealing when the rear attempts to insert the saddle up ones’ jacksey.

I stopped for a pointless fettle only to find I had been abandoned. I don’t think you need to be told which individual failed to pass on my need for a halt do you? In his defence, his knees may have been exploding, but this gave me little comfort in my increasingly desperate meanderings  searching for riding pals, tell tale tyre tracks or a mobile phone signal.

I found the latter at exactly the time one of the Al-finding splinter groups called me up, established my location, listened to the confused silence after directing me back to the riding cluster, before hovering me up with more cheerfulness than I’d be exhibiting in his position.

There was some joshing around my under-developed sense of direction.  I countered that it was developed just fine thanks, it’s just a bit rubbish. Anyway while I was happy to re-united with the fine fellows who’d spent 15 minutes chasing round the forest searching for me, I couldn’t help thinking the uni-cogged one was entirely responsible.

Split ‘em up and the do ‘em one at a time” I could see him thinking. My imagination ran wild projecting  a vision of a forest full of smashed derailers and severed limbs, as this advance guard of the one-geared Jihad carried out his dreadful night-work.

I was installed mid-pack and given stern warning not to wander off on my own again. A pack that snaked on some old-school trails skirting an enormous lake hidden by vegetation and some kind of invisibility field. Honestly, one minute there was nothing but trees and the next, some great bloody body of water looms in your field of vision. I fully expected to see some Athurian knight fetching a sword out of it.

Following on was a rooty trail needing pedalling to maintain motion.  Puts the hard into hardtail that does, and watching the dual-spring boys riding away makes you appreciate just how damn good modern full-suss bikes are.  Come the next big climb tho, the low weight, high power transfer of the Cove reels it back a bit.

But bikes – mountain bikes especially – are for riding downhill and a perfect example of such a trail now awaited. Two brilliant things happened down here, firstly I was reunited with the simpe joy of sorted hardtails nailing swoopy singletrack, and secondly the Singlespeeder fell off.

Adam looked a bit bemused at the cause of the accident. I was able to help him out by explaining that he had been unable to select the correct gear.  What with him  not having any.  He may have laughed but I reckon when the rest of his alien tribe land, I’m first in line for the anal probe.

Light running out, we made hasty tracks onto “Green Lane” a peach of a trail arcing through head high vegetation. The super fast boys disappeared pretty quickly, as did any sense of where the trail went next as I found myself heading up the rest of the pack.

These fellas are also pretty rapid and I certainly couldn’t deal with ignominy of being passed by an injured man missing vital components, so head up, imbibe virtual bravery pills, let the bike do its’ thing. Which it did stunningly well even with my wide eyed twitchiness at the speed we were now travelling.

Ace. Not quite as ace was Steve’s short cut through a spiky part of the forest where he pretended there was a route. Clearly he’d been egged on by the Singlespeeder, or the mind control was beginning to take over.

It did at least take us to a trail I ACTUALLY HAD DONE BEFORE. Only in the wet and on one of my first visits to this MTB playground. It did seem to pass far quicker this time around, but maybe I am just thinking slower nowadays.

Properly going dark now***, we finished up on a rollercoaster of a track that you probably wouldn’t risk in the day. No better way to round off  a great ride than some dusky trail poaching. Except possibly for beer which was on the agenda, but a 5am start meant I had to wearily decline.

But, I thought, probably time for a quick cold one when I get home. Except the fridge was empty of liquid therapy, and the only alcohol alternative was to make myself a Snowball. Not even I am that dependant.

No beer in our fridge? I know, it’s unheard of. Almost an impossibility. How could it be allowed to happen?

I blame the Singlespeeder 🙂

* What is the collective noun for a group of mountain bikers? I’ve always favoured “Flange” but could be persuaded on “Gusset” or even “Trunion”.

** This is a bicycle brand. Oh to be a fly on the wall during those marketing meetings. The hilarity eh?

*** I was going to use the phrase “Those nights are drawing in” but dare not say it out loud in our house. It tends to trigger a violent  rolling pin reaction from Carol.

Back from the shed…

… Last ride December 23 2009 in the snow and ice. And for Christmas the Cove was stripped bare of parts, with the remains stashed away in the dark reaches of the shed.  Less than a month later, it nearly passed into new ownership until a brief burst of sanity sent it back to the guilty corner.  The  plan* = which stayed its’ eBay execution – was to all ride my other bikes to see if it that one would be missed.

This is such a dumb plan, because as a measure of ownership everything but the ST4 and road bike would be heading out the door. Only when the ST4 became an expensive tester for breaking strain of every component was the Pace dusted off. Until I broke that as well. The DMR is the perfect wheeled perch for riding with the kids, but its’ days of being flung off large jumps – with an abandon if not exactly wild then at least  pretty feral – are long gone.

My mistake was to confuse mileage with usefulness. Sure logic may dictate that something that is not used and has a value should be off-loaded for whatever the market would pay, with a bonus of losing the guilt associated with hanging on to something that’s become a  bit of an embarrassing  shed-queen**.

However let us extend that hypothesis to only my immediate family. Such an approach would see us quickly assume eBay trader status and further require a fleet of skips to remove the roomfulls of crap we have collected through the power of “Project Magpie – two kids, tiny attention span, cheap plastic shit”.

So we’re not exactly starving, and selling bikes just because I am not riding them RIGHT NOW is clearly the ravings of a mad man or an accountant.  And while the ST4 has been consistently brilliant, it’s also a bit fragile.  Even with the decent winter riding we have here, it’s hard to imagine there would be much left other than bits of swarf and a large bill at the end of the next one.  So getting the Cove built back up is a fantastic idea even if it is six months early.

Ahead of the game that’s me. No one has any idea what I’m doing most of the time. Least of all me. A careful study of that image will show a splash of old school Crankage hanging off a positively venerable Square Taper BB,  bars, stem, seatpost, saddle and wheels reclaimed from the spares bin, a new set of forks brought forth by a Warranty triumph, with the remainder of important bits harvested from others’ unwanted cast offs.

I didn’t even finish building it because I have started to think of the bike shop in Ross as an extension of my own workshop only staffed by competent people such as Nick.  I rolled in most of a chassis with a set of bleeding brakes that needed just that, and returned to fetch a fully working bike assembled without any obvious use of the large hammer much loved in my own builds.

Shall I be waiting to ride it until Winter? I shall not, because – even on a brief test ride – there is a certain directness and simplicity that is sure to offer much in the twisty forest tomorrow. And maybe on some other trails as well, where the utter sorted-ness of a full suspension bike could feel a little too much.  But really it’s a crap conditions bike, although I do appreciate that a Titanium bike with decent stuff hanging off it is probably not everyone’s idea of the perfect winter bike.

Get yourself a singlespeed and some rigid forks” they will shrill and I shall calmly reply “Much as I hate fixing stuff, I still want to be having fun when I’m out there. If I wanted the experience so loved by your sort, I’ll just buy myself a hair shirt and rub myself down with a ripe pineapple”. I find this generates enough confusion for me to run off before they can compose a ripost.

You see I look at this lot and don’t think “too many bikes, not enough difference between them, waste of money, etc, etc”. No I remember how much fun I’ve had on each and every one of them***, and – more importantly – how much MORE fun I’m going to have.

Starting tomorrow 🙂

* It’s not really a plan. It’s merely twisted logic on the endless  roller-coaster of bike acquisition

** A job I feel I fulfil rather well myself.

*** Except the road bike. I’m not admitting to anything. That way lies waxing.

Right, that’s wrong.

It’s not often I ask for either help or forgiveness on the hedgehog, but tonight both are definitely  required. Firstly forgiveness, because earlier I was reminded of a throwaway comment during the “Moses Rains” back in November. Endampened, frustrated and cursing the inclemency of never ending wet I may have whispered quietly “GIVE US A PROPER WINTER, ONE WITH SNOW AND ICE AND COLD“. To make things worse there may have been  “AND NOT ONE DAY OF IT EITHER, P R O P E R WINTER I SAID, SNOW ON THE GROUND, SNOWMEN, SLEDGING ALL THAT KIND OF THING” as a shouted verbal addition.

And now something that rarely, if ever has happened before, a public apology. I am so very, very sorry. Because as I write this the thump of avalanching snow falls from the roof and white stuff surrounds us in every direction. There is a proper ladies* six inches out there on top of compacted ice, all of which shall make my trip to London tomorrow something of an epic. I would happily swap 18-20 hours of delay, excuses and boredom for repeated stabs in the eye from a sharp object. And the way our ongoing feud with eON is progressing, that sharp object is likely to be a lawyer.

Okay apology over, I’m over it now and it won’t happen again. Now to your advice – and I do realise asking a random collection of web-washed RSS feeds who’ve run out of things to stare out of the window at is taking the “Wisdom of the Crowd” to an razors’ edge not oft visited by Occam but- on a matter of great import. It’s nothing so tawdry as employment advice, or whether sex with vegetables is always wrong**, no something far more emotive, more heart wrenching and the subject of much hand wringing.

Not long ago, I wasn’t going to buy an ST4 as I had the Cove. Then I wasn’t going to sell the Cove even after I’d raped it for parts for that ST4. And then, an opportunity came up to do just that and I nearly have.  My rationale is that bikes should be ridden, not hoarded in a fit of metal kleptomania, nor abandoned in rafters, gathering dust and being nothing more than a vague mental trigger for the shinier things you now have.  It’s a good rationale but not one I’ve often followed, yet the cross bike went when the road bike came and now the Cove should go because it’s been usurped, replaced, upgraded.

And yet as I cleaned it up, every scratch brought back a joyful memory. The three inch scar on the chain stay etched by a terrible line through steep rocks, the scuffs from endless road trips, the dink where first ride chain suck attempted to eat the frame. And then I remembered all the brilliant days I’ve had on this bike even when my back cried enough but my mind refused to listen, the carelessly thrown bike at the end of a monster descent, sweat glistening on the top tube after a bastard climb on a hot summers day, flashes of frame as trees whipped by.

This isn’t just a frame, it’s a memory bank.  I can’t sell it.

Can I?

* A man, and I mean any man, would stare into the middle distance before declaring “Yep, two foot there love. At least”

** It is, whatever my friend Dave says. And he says it with relish declaring such an act as “a medley”. I wish I were joking.

Justification

That bike has had a difficult birth. The frame turned up a little early, but the build went on more than a little late. Much of my afternoon was laid waste while I was forced into using four wheels to tour the county’s bike shops with my new frame. A frame that lacked certain important features such as a proper thread into which it’s traditional to screw the cranks into.

We’ll be back to that, but first pray a reverent silence for the sad news that the Kona Jake has left the building.  I’d almost convinced myself not to sell it until opportunity knocked and offered handfuls of hard cash to take it away right then. Of the many bikes sold this one did illicit odd feeling of guilt, because not much had changed since I’d originally bought it. To explain, so many of the (many) bikes I’ve owned (rented) were bought (leased) in a crazy juxtaposition of eye candy and perceived want. And every time they were passed on, I sighed the relief of a man determined not to make the same mistake again.

Ahem. But the Jake was different as it had a dual remit of getting me to work and getting me to go forth and find local trails. Fast-ish on the roads and more than capable on woodland singletrack, it was the perfect hybrid of having to go somewhere and then having fun when you got there. But I rode it off road about three times, and went exploring just the once – that being the day it first came home.

But even with a reduced remit, it was a fine commuter – never let me down and sped through awful conditions for over a year with nothing more than a change of tyres. I could almost justify keeping it for those horrid days when riding a nice road bike feels like bicycling sacrilege, but the counter argument states that I’d just take the car instead whatever two wheeled weather bashing bikes I had hanging up.

And yeah, money talks. So it’s gone, to be followed by the old Kona in the Spring. Until then I’ll be putting a good number of miles on the ST4 assuming the chainsuck it exhibited on the bike stand isn’t a portent of things to come, or my shoddy building skills are not outed in some painful face-plant on the inaugural ride to be undertaken tomorrow.  And yet I was entirely guilt free asset stripping the Cove for two very good reasons.

The first is that having ridden the Pace at Afan on consecutive days, it’s absolutely clear that full-suss bikes allow me to ride a whole lot longer and little bit harder. I was pretty surprised at how good I felt after the spine pummelling final descent on the Wall, but less surprised on the leg-weariness of my hardtail riding pal. And yeah, it might be close to cheating and an alternative would be to build up stronger back and leg muscles and stop whinging, but realistically that’s not going to happen.

The second reason is also rather good. The Cove may be nothing but a frame with a few accesorised hangers on,  but it’s neither wall art or for sale. A stealth rebuild awaits converting others’ cast offs into another bike to ride when I’m in the mood for a stiff rear end*. Because one thing I do know for sure, and something that has nothing to do with justifying multiple bikes, is that a Hardtail for MTB’rs are like Alfa Romeo’s for petrolheads. You’re not a proper one unless you actually own one.

Whether it’ll get ridden will depend on if the ST4 is anywhere near as good as I remember.

* And as a man of a certain age, this can happen at any time.

Skids are for…

… adults with real responsibilities, and an understanding of trail erosion who should know better. Right, right tossed out of the “well scanning phrase bucket” to lie contextually embarrassed before you, but I thought we’d try some festive honesty on the hedgehog.  I expect we’ll be back to big whoppers, outrageous slurs and general inaccuracy come the new year.

So snow then, quite an interesting trail medium when under Mountain Bike tyre. The correct approach is – apparently – to hang gently off the back so allowing the front wheel to meander in a generally terrifying way, and then having a big crash. Tim and I tried that earlier in the year, whereas today on eve of Christmas with kids bouncing off the walls and Al feeling pretty similar, our approach was somewhat different.

Malvern Xmas Eve Ride Malvern Xmas Eve Ride

Because when you’re in touch with your inner five year old, the only snow riding technique is to barrel bravely down the straights, weight firmly over the front wheel and whispering “be brave, it’ll be alright, be a bit braver, no not quite that brave on reflection“. Until a corner hoves into view, at which point your left hand squeezes almost as much as you bum, your hips shift in the opposite direction of proposed travel, while the bars are yanked hard in the alternate direction.

Malvern Xmas Eve Ride Malvern Xmas Eve Ride

And if you live a righteous life, the unweighted rear will begin to slide the perfect arc slicing into the corner’s apex, and you will squeal with delight like the small child you clearly are. It is also vitally important to risk a look rearwards to check the height of your snowy rooster tail. You may crash of course, but hey practice makes perfect or close to mediocre in my case. As while Tim was sashaying side to side as if method acting a drunken fish, I was more having it quite small. And working down from there.

Malvern Xmas Eve Ride Malvern Xmas Eve Ride

But disk brakes have such brilliant modulation, and dicking about is infectious which pretty much summed up our two hour ride in hills still full of snow, but mostly free of other grumpy trail users. And driving back sandwiched between the stupid and the timid, I couldn’t help thinking that it was a shit load easier to pilot a chunk of steel supported on four fat tyres with the driver protected by a huge metal sandwich, than ride on 2 inch tyres on trails that offered nothing but hard times if you got it wrong for one second. No ABS, no traction control, nothing between you and a frozen ground promising the gift of much soreness for Christmas.

Malvern Xmas Eve Ride Malvern Xmas Eve Ride

Which is the way it should be, and may go some way to explain why – on the transition from gritted main road to the ice rink that passes as ours – the big old four wheel drift was corrected with a deft flick of opposite lock and a burst of throttle. Frankly I was bloody disappointed with the lack of rooster tails showing in the mirror.

And that may be the reason I explored the envelope of 4WD and a violently applied handbrake in our little patch of Herefordshire. It was bloody ace, mainly because even my own kids thought it was immature. Trust me on this, that is officially a good thing.

Anyway I’m back a better person and ready to deal with a day of waste packaging, sibling fights and sloth. Which seems an ideal time to thank you all for continuing to participate in my on-line therapy, and wish all a Merry Christmas. On that note, I’m off to get drunk.