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.

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.

Firsts

Thursday’s ride was had more firsts than a swotty set of University finalists holding incriminating pictures of their examiner pleasuring frisky llamas*  Most of them were good, taking this long to find time to write something less so.  When I get a spare moment, I’ll be off to the shed with this scribbled drawing and an illicit feed from the substation, so getting started on the time machine.

First of firsts was a ride that started and finished without lights. That’s not to say it was actually still daylight as we peered through technical dark around 9pm. One of the lesser known side effects of testosterone is “Carrot Vision” enabling those of the dangly genitalia to dismiss artificial  trail illumination as “something that a girl might need” until the first victim fails to distinguish between dark space and dark tree.

It’s worth stating here that Carrot Vision works only at top speed, and the gift of organic night vision shall be dispelled with the briefest grab of the “scared-now” bar mounted levers. Second first was a dab-less climb of “THE BASTARD“. A hill that is thought by some to be the stiffest lung buster in all the Malverns. I don’t know about that, but for me it’s the first time I’ve managed the fifteen minute nose-stem gurn without finding an excuse to lie on the trailside until I can remember my name.

I shall be returning to the subject of the Bastard in a post all of it’s own. Fully deserved and guaranteed to get a sympathetic nod from any rider whose looked at the distance between their current location and an apparently unscalable peak and cried “Oh Fuck, you are joking aren’t you?

First amongst equals was a brakeless descent of the old** defensive ditch which has both vertiginous drops and a flat out gully. It’s always a tad moist, ready to wash away your front wheel and leave you wondering what to do with quite a lot of speed mostly being scrubbed off by your face.

But flat out is so much fun, we had to go and try it again, passing the local unsmiling cycling club who seemed to have forgotten how bloody lucky we are to have this kind of riding on our doorstep. Apparently they don’t “do” this descent because it loses too much height. What? Isn’t that why you climb in the first place?

Anyway we left these aliens, and I was staggered that I was able to do so, since I’ve done not to much riding in the last month what with every decreasing slices of spare time, and the dodgy knee to boot. I’m giving up healthy eating – instead just going for the rubbish vacuum packed “Big Breakfast” sandwich which sustained me the whole way round.

Last of the firsts was the realisation that it’s barely a month to the longest day. How can this be? The police should stop investigating whether the Daily Torygraph can categorise all MP’s as “self important twats fiddling their expenses“*** and go after the big crimes. I’ll be onto the local station first thing tomorrow asking them to find out EXACTLY who has stolen the first half of 2009.

CLIC next weekend. I’m not scared. Much.

* Worked for me 🙂

** Proper old. Iron age. Men wearing furry dresses, women sporting latest “Bone Hair” quiff and decent chance of being killed in all manner of interesting ways on a daily basis.

*** I’m summarising here, but that seems pretty much the conclusion you have to come to.

Deep Cove

Sounds a bit rude, but it’s all part of the marketing myth put out there by the designers of my favourite MTB – “Born on the North Shore and designed to cope with the toughest environments, the knarliest trails, the most aggressive riders”. Then the hyperbole escalates further, with the brand associating you and “shredding”, “roosting” and “railing”.

It’s nonsense of course, and that’s a shame because beneath all that bollocks is hidden a fantastic hardtail that will has limits, to which I shall never get near. But that’s not a problem because, operating inside my own bravery envelope, this has been the best bike I have ridden by far*

I’ve owned this pre-loved example for over a year now. I branded it on the first ride, with the chain biting a deep gouge from the chainstay. Such damage make it’s essentially unsaleable, but again this would be missing the point. I don’t want to sell it, chop it in for something a bit shinier or clothe the new emperor for the hundredth time.

And while this may send shock waves through a cycle industry traditionally boosted by a sell-me-the-next-best-thing obsessed Al, it’s not quite the epiphany I’m painting here. Because, aside from the rear mech, seat post clamp and possibly one or two other forgotten components, there is nothing on this bike that hasn’t been upgraded or replaced in the last twelve months.

It’s on a third set of wheels, a second set of forks, brakes, bars, saddle and chainset, the headset has been swapped out as has the chain, cassette and all the cables. And the front mech is on about its’ third incarnation ,after an expensive incident involving some frustrated hammering. In my defence, some of this was crash damage, although the prosecution may argue that this pertains to one brake lever.

I’ve ridden it a lot and in a lot of places; from the sun baked Pyrenees to mud splattered forestry trails. I’ve pushed it up some big hills and ridden as fast as I dared going back the other way. I must even publically admit to giggling when engaging in “Jedi Speeder” tree dodging at silly speeds, so each time I ride it, it just offers up a fantastic platform for having a bloody good laugh.

Which is what Mountain Biking should be about really. The rest of it is just vanity, corporations wanting to make a fast buck, and testosterone scatter-shot pretending to be competitiveness. The more I ride, the better I seem to get, although I know much of this is fitness not any late blooming of skill or bravery. The less I read of magazines and internet forums, the happier I am with what I have.

It’s a slightly worrying mindset. At this rate, I’ll be slap bang in the marketing target zone for ownership of a beard and a Marin.

* And there have been a few

Christmas Presents – Part 1

80s inspired retro tinselling!
80s inspired retro tinselling!

With the Spreadsheet of Doom having been re-assigned to house rebuilding duties, it’s hard to know how much – or little we should at least consider that – I’ve spent on bikes lately. Not much is the suprising answer, although that must be placed into the context of the almost criminal approach to shiny-part-syndrome of which I’ve been guilty for far too many years.

Sure the Kona was new (to me) but many of the parts were recycled or some cast off from a kindred spirit (buy, procure excitement, open box, engage disappointment gland, sell for half price) and aside from consumables, it’s all been mostly quiet on the quite Western front.

Until today. Obviously the tinselling of the Cove is not really its’ real Christmas present. That’s akin to stuffing an orange into the stocking* on Christmas Eve and pretending that Santa has taken the rest of the year off. Only when the kids are googling for “adoption by nice parents” do you pony up with the pointless tat they’ve been listing for months.

Amusingly Random cannot quite see the dichotomy between the myth of Santa** dropping down the chimney and weeing on the mince pies, and the fact that certain boxes have been stashed way before the fat man cometh. Verbal on the other hand has a knowing smile and chastises her sister for being so gullible.

I deal with such conflict by a) telling them they are both wrong and b) if they don’t stop RIGHT THIS MINUTE, NO ONE IN THE HOUSE IS GETTING ANY PRESENTS. NADA. NOT ONE. OR ANY FOOD.

So far this has done the trick. Anyway the bike, well it’s sort of had some new forks and wheels ordered . And only because a) bolt through forks are much safer (and shinier) and b) the marketing blurb talks of increased sexiness and decreased girth.

Obviously I am no need of such things. But, you know, it’s always nice to have them in reserve.

* Now I know what you’re thinking. Or at least some of you. And I’d like you to stop as I’m about to introduce my children into this sentence 😉

** No he is not real. Don’t blame me if you didn’t know that. It’s all a marketing scam by Coca Cola anyway.

Well that didn’t go quite as planned…

If a kind soul were to place me in a comfortable chair and administer a double measure of warming medicine, my response to the concerned question “What’s wrong?” would read something like

Most things. Not quite everything, but many grumpy intersects on a linear scale of increasing wrongness. Sometimes to understand why things are so rubbish right now, you must backtrack to the first point of “when stuff goes bad“.

The first trace of the element fuckup had clearly been hoovered up by the endo-Murph who then promptly exploded in the manner of his first day with us. Of course everything is bigger now, his stomach, his range and the volume of multi-coloured yawn to be founnd pebble dashed across most of the house.

This 5am wake up call provided me ample time to notice a gap where once a wheel stiffening spoke had once proudly stood. I had both a spare and the frankly unhinged tool to effect a repair, but the mechanical knowledge was lacking, and – even when faced down with cold, hard cash – the local bike shop was breathtakingly uninterested until about a week on Thursday.

Thankfully my far sighted policy of acquiring random bicycles harvested up a spare, and I was ready to drive myself all the way to Wales where some nice person would continue to do so for the rest of the day. So ready in fact, the bike was in the car, the full set of body and head protection was packed, and I’d gone all a bit OCD counting pedals and shoes.

A last check of emails showed the uplift service was anything but ready. In fact a state of cancellation had overcome it on the grounds it was too dangerous. HANG ON, I’ve been telling everyone how dangerous it is and – viz a viz -why I am so damn brave to go and ride it again. This held no truck with those driving vans on icy forest roads, and I was left with a chilly 8am dilemma.

One I hedged by using every 21st communication method to establish contact with Mike (my fellow downhiller for a day), all of which failed, and I was fresh out of pidgins. In the spirit of ‘fuck it, I’ve booked the day off, may as well go riding“, I carefully chucked the big boys collateral onto the floor to make way for xc stuff that was significantly more gay*

While all this was going on Mike was replying using the exact same talk-to-AL technologies I’d been bothering him with. Which would have worked extremely well had my dumbphone taken to doing what I’d paid it form rather than display a state of passiveness that convinced me it was actually working. Understandably Mike gave up, and I was left to a couple of solo laps of the Cwmcarn XC course.

Which was frozen solid, deserted, occasionally sleety, slightly more frequently cheekily icy on corner apex’s, and probably just what old snug-trousers(tm) needed. But not what I wanted, and even the magic of Titanium was beaten by the unforgiving ground. Although not as beaten up as the pilot who – after 20 miles of this – was suffering from cramp of everything including teeth.

So I didn’t get to go and pretend to be brave. I had to ride uphill and do so uite often. Many other small things were shittiest enough in frequency to to become big things. But on the upside I still got to ride my bike and didn’t have to go to work. Although time enough was left for me to service a set of working brakes that – after 3 hours – were ALMOST as good as when I’d started.

But there’s still a week of 2008 before Children’s holidays cull the riding season so if this sodding ice age would bugger off for 24 hours, I’ll be having it small on a mountain near me. You see while a lack of talent and a delusional complex may hold me back on the hill, bloody mindedness will damn well get me there.

* I’d like to point out the hedgehog is an equal opportunities annoyer. Sexual preference, colour, creed, religion or advanced animal husbandry techniques are all equal here. But I draw the line at trekkies, anyone using air quotes or ownership of folding bicycles. I mean all the hits are welcome, but a man must have some standards.