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.

In The Grim.

I may have mentioned before how I quite like riding bikes, but always struggled to distill the why from the how. Take this morning, I haul weary arse from warm bed before the cock* has struck six, peer out into the gloomy, wet and general filthy conditions thinking “Yup, looks perfect conditions for a ride

A sidebar here: At work, I castigate all and sundry for over-designing stuff, building in layers of redundancy and pointless planning for the extremely unlikely. And yet, so terrified  of missing my train, I buffer 20 minutes when I should still be sleeping in case of punctures, mechanical disasters or badger attack. Which in eighteen months of commuting has happened exactly once**, and I still missed my train. Meaning I had to wait almost twenty minutes for the next one. Bonkers.

As you were, anyway there is something righteous about riding this time of the year, as so many treat cycling as a three season activity. Instead of keeping calm and carrying on , they worry away at escalating girth, nibble on ugly looking food and – most of all – miss the hidden joy of two wheels always good.

I see them – more so in London – choosing a commuting alternative which includes compression tubes, grimy pavements, multiple delays and frustrations all to be borne in a suit. Then  these very same people disappear into the Gym at lunchtime oblivious to the superb cycling facilities right next door. I can’t quite work that out.

I don’t miss riding in London though, except for the odd bout of commuter racing. Too bloody dangerous – whereas now I have the roads to myself and some rather fetching moving pictures as the sun struggles over the horizon.  This does not appear to be the happy experience of uber-obsessive cyclist Samuri who seems to be conducting his own daily “DeathWish survey.

And while the weather may be filthy,  I am dry in breathable fabric, layered in warmth and driven on by the shuffle of a thousand tunes. I arrive at the station, smiling and ready to cash in some hard yards at the bank of the Bacon Butty, while my fellow commuters shiver, snivel and stamp. They are adding clothes as I’m stripping off, breathing in big lungfuls and assuming this is the best part of my day.

It’s always a bit less enthralling heading home, tired, lacking the energy of twelve hours before, but still content to be sandwiching my day doing the stuff I love. Even when bits of that stuff are attempting to blow me off my bike, rip traction from my wheels and blow hard rain into my face. Most of the time, I find myself laughing, I’ve no idea why. Probably early onset dementia.

Tomorrow we’re nightriding in conditions that trigger multiple weather warnings depicting diaster and travel chaos. Not for me, no roads where I’m going. Saturday and Sunday I’ll be out again under thunderous skies and lashing rain although that has more to do with the onset of multiple in-laws. And today was a marker for at least one commute a week until the onset of BST.

I’m starting to think November is the new July.

* Lazy sod seems to be having a lie in. I’m going to get him a new watch.
** Those Badgers are nasty bastards. Lie in wait and then “mwwwaaaaah, eat the human

Winning.

I’ve largely given up on winning, although even that phraseology hints of some podium chasing form in some long past phase of my life. Loose vowels I’m afraid*, in that other than a brief dalliance with that cock-munching class who confused winning with counting money, and a much re-lived 13rd place in my first proper MTB race, I’ve always been closer to the back than the middle**

So tonight when under-commuted legs met over-sized hill, grumpy sighs and wheezy rasps charted my glacial progress into a stiff headwind – cheekily flipped 180 degrees since battering me this morning. So distracted by the world being against me, I was very nearly blown into the roadside vegetation by a pristine roadie flying by like a homesick angel.

Let us pause to examine this cycling mismatch before the inevitable excuses begin.  My tarmac conqueror was a vision in white from his Sidi Road shoes through tight Lycra sponsored ensemble topped out by a £200 peakless helmet. His bike – and that word completely fails to describe the engineering miracle reeling in the horizon at frictionless speeds – was somehow even whiter, draped in expensive componentry,  and sporting a set of tyres so thin I honestly thought they’d been pencilled onto the rim.

Now allow the eye of disdain pass over a rather grungy middle aged man bedecked in a flappy set of paint stained shorts, a careworn top of dubious vintage, a £20 helmet much repaired with packing tape and shoes clearly stolen from slumbering tramp. The bike was a perfect match, tired from many campaigns, heavy and made heavier by commuting accoutrements, held back by tyres knobbly and wide. On top of this rather unedifying spectacle was the legendary commuting sack, now divested of the emergency badger, but still the unhappy receptacle for the weighty laptop of doom.

Give up now” I thought. Preserve the few remaining strands of dignity by feigning a mechanical or hacking an arm off with a rusty multi-tool.  I am sufficiently self aware in my old age to understand the frustrating dichotomy of ambition gapped by ability. And I know enough about bikes to realise that Mr. Shaven-Legged-Sculpted-Thighs was going to hand me my arse on a plate if temerity became my watchword.

And yet. And yet the last vestige of an overworked competitive gland fired up some anger and demanded death or glory. Death then probably as I snicked a couple of gears, took in a huge breath and went commuter racing for the first time in 18 months. And you know, I’d forgotten how to do it because a determined effort saw me close the gap to a blissful draughting distance where everything just got a whole load easier.

But it felt like cheating. And that’s odd because I like cheating. Always preferred it to hard work on the grounds it leaves more time for beer. Never really been troubled by feelings of guilt when looking for angles and bending the rules. Tonight though,  it seemed the wrong time to die wondering and somehow losing worthily trumped winning ugly.

No idea if he knew I was there. He certainly did two seconds later as I waved like the Queen I can be while pulling along side. Duck like, all was serene where it could be seen, down below the legs were piston pumping at a rate that’d have Scotty chucking a big one regarding Dylitherium crystals. The next 45 seconds were horrible. Proper going to be sick, going to explode, going to just die right here horrible.

I dared not look round as I was already spent and even the sight of the cycling Jesus right behind me could not have spurred me on. Best I could have managed would have been a hearty pebble dashing of his lovely team gear with a rather fine pie I’d inauspiciously downed a few hours earlier. So tired now, my default position of cheating seemed a good place to skulk back too. What with the alternative being A&E.

Although my turn off was some 300 yards distant, I came off the drops, passed the momentum baton to the freewheel and ripped off a Rimmer-Like Signalling Salute. If he comes back on the inside, that’s okay I reasoned. It’s fine, I’ve still won. In my own head anyway. But he didn’t, he was MILES back, miles I tell you, honestly sweeping away onto a new course, I almost had to stop so I could barrack him remorsely as his humourless form finally swept pass.

Rationally there’s an explanation. He may have had all the gear but I’m not sure he had an idea what to do with it. His level of spring chicken-ness was similar to mine from what I could determine of a face squashed between expensive clothing. I have to accept that maybe he wasn’t very good, and the very act of overtaking yours hedghoggingly had left him without the physical wit to respond.

But you know what? Don’t give a flying fuck about that. Don’t care one jot. No difference to me if he was a thousand years old. I won, he lost. Oldest game in the word and Christ I cannot tell you how good that felt.

Shallow? Like a tea spoon. That’s me 🙂

* I blame loose bowels from last week leaving me vocationally undernourished, but I can see that’s information you’d rather I’d not shared. That’s the hedgehog for you, we’re all shop front and tackle out round here.

** Feel free to insert your own sexual innuendo here. I’ve done it for you far too many times, it’s about someone else showed their smutty credentials.

Commuting rules..

.. not when it’s raining it doesn’t. Nor am I postulating on the stuff that used to keep me exercised both mentally and physically. What I’m talking about here are the hard, inflexible rules hammered into any cyclist whose spent time on the road and in the rain. The kind of thing you get wrong just once, before it’s hard-wired into your cycling psyche.

Except when your daily commute becomes a weekly or bi monthly event. Then you forget and bad stuff happens.

It gets dark. Check your lights. Long day, shorter daylight demands some form of get-me-home illumination. Of the four lights generally festering in my bag, two didn’t work at all, one flashed briefly before a spectacular – if brief – fizzling death while the fourth offered a dim flashing facsimile of something that may prevent a tractor squashing you flat.

Carry spares of everything. Including batteries. It’s worth thinking of them as fitness ballast to cushion the disappointment of these also being flat. The day I removed one of my two spare tubes, guess how many punctures I ended up with? My MP3 player was then added to the ever increasing pile of non working electronic stuff. It felt like I was riding directly under my own personal Electro-Magnetic Pulse.

Ensure you always carry a waterproof. Oh how smug was I with my trusty Gortex pal nestling amongst all the other crap I cannot bring myself to jettison. That smugness lasted exactly the time it took to remember I’d failed to re-proof though laziness and meteorological delusion* The result was a small lake pooling at the elbows and wrists that gradually – but persistently – drained through to create a feeling of clammy damp.

Mudguards look a bit gay, but… they are a marked improvement on – say – flappy wet shorts rythmically slapping your thighs with each pedal stroke. It put me in mind of sharing a small, cold bath with a Bavarian Laderhosen fetishist who’d just done a line of speed. My shoes have the same porous qualities as string creating a small watersports park for Lemmings in my socks.

Don’t go offroad because it’ll be drier under the trees. It isn’t. Rather than a wet arse, I ended up with a sandy, wet arse and crazy pebble dashing from ankle to eyebrow. And a shouty bruise delivered by that tractionless combination of thin tyre and thick mud. I’m writing to the Forestry commission to demand satisfaction on the issue of who put that tree there as well.

Keep your tyres inflated. Because while there is a certain manly pleasure in rotating squashy rubber**, the downside is a tarmac faceplant caused by rapid deflation or geographical differences between tyre and rim.

All obvious stuff you would think. No more than common sense for the serious cyclist. And I too was thinking just that as spiteful rain lashed my unprotected form, my arse became increasingly exfoliated by a localised sandstorm, and my feet exhibited the first symptoms of trenchfoot.

Right at the point when I was considering lobbing the bike under a passing lorry and hitching home,  the descending sun backlit hill hugging clouds and transformed the world into something Turner-Esque and rather splendid.

Deciding I could get no wetter, I headed upwards into the lightening gloom to find myself high above the house, close to twilight with no power in my lights, not much pressure in my tyres, and every inch of skin on the aquatic side of extremely soaked. The plunge home took in grass covered roads, slick, shale corners, blind bends and an immense amount of blinking.

Arrived alive, declared to disbelieving family how much I love bikes. Swapped cold water for warm and wetness outside for wine inside. Slackness on the riding front has happened again this August, and I had begun to worry that my long affair with all things two wheeled was coming to an end.

It seems not.

* It’s never rain that hard. It’s summer for Christ’s sake.

** It’s that mental image of the Bavarian. It’s got me thinking…

Silent running

One of the lesser touted joys of cycling is the minimal aural impact as you speed through the countryside. Aside from creaking knees, wheezy breathing and the occasional spittle-flecked invective*, your passage is registered merely as a soft whum of tyre on smooth tarmac. Off road of course, it’s a bloody riot of noise as chains slap stays, suspension squishes and components grind in a strange harmony only broken by the counterpoint of fleshly limb on unyielding stump.

But road riding should offer restful respite to such noise pollution, and yet this has not been the happy state of affairs visited on the Jake. Firstly it’s not really a road bike, too heavy, too soft, too compromised by tyres, angles and components. I’m fine with that because a switch to dirt and it comes alive in a way that pastes a shit eating grin on your face right up until the point when thin tyres beget zero grip. And when the groaning stops, you start smiling again.

Unless you are listening to a transmission of thrashing metal. The serial offender in this criminal approach to noise abatement was the rear mech which had fallen off the straight and narrow. I’d go as far as to say it was crooked – not only that it’d roped in “Big Charlie The Cacophonous Cassette” into attempted GBH on the rear wheel.

So armed with a big chain, these two made light work of a heavy metal noise even the MP3 player couldn’t quite drown out. Recently I’ve adopted a radical approach to bike maintenance in that I’ve not done any. It’s not just laziness – more a realisation that after spending time and money fitting new parts, the problem would be as bad or worse or maybe different, I was always poorer and some poor bike shop owner had again suffered at the hand of my unending stupidity**

Sadly the reverse isn’t true either, and no amount of giving it a stern look was going to kick start some kind of self healing process. A closer examination showed the seven year old components were really badly worn which was rather disappointing. Talk about built in obsolescence – seven years? I’ve got children older than that.

Cash was relunctantly exchanged for things shiny and a mere three hours later, all sorts of precise – yet quiet – clicking noises sold me a belief I’d actually fixed something. It would have been about ninety minutes had I not gone exploring in the dark recesses of the cunning shared brake/gear lever. My random prodding released a tightly wound spring from deep inside the component, and only an outstanding piece of fielding by the dog handily placed at third slip saved me from buying a new one of those.

I’m thinking of putting him up for the upcoming Ashes series. Anything he can’t catch, he’ll retrieve, always happy, positive and a keen team member, can’t bat for shit but that doesn’t seem to be much of a requirement nowadays. And – an added bonus this you’re not going to get from Ian Bell – he’ll have a good chew of the opposing bowlers legs before making off with his sandwiches.

So a happy silence accompanied me on a sweaty ride to the station through weather best described as “hot, damp flannel”. I could barely contain my smugness as a single click of the shifter would instruct the spankers new mech to serve up the next cog. Which was better than good when compared to last week, where the first two shifts did nothing before a third would slew the chain across multiple sprockets without bothering to clamp any of them.

A result then? Yes and, because it’s me on the spanners, no. Firstly I’d  unknowingly created the sub-niche sport of “hardcore commuting” having failed to reset the brakes and leaving them lightly gripping the wheel. I thought progress was proving mightily difficult,  but was so pre-occupied with my silent transmission I’d failed to investigate.

If I had, I may have noticed the mech was still on the piss. Closer inspection proved this to be simply because I’d bent the mech hanger during on of my many traction-lite moments in the woods. It’s easily fixed at a cost of £4.20. That’s approximately one twentieth of the cost of all those new parts I’d identified as the root cause of the problem.

Maybe I’ll go back to doing nothing.

* generally brought on by a bloke in a BMW/AUDI/Generic Cockmobile attempts absent mindedly attempts to kill. Some of them do it on purpose as well. But only once, and I’m safe until they find the bodies.

** “Did you fit it with the 14mm spanner as I explained” / “Yes, and far from it be from me to tell you your job, it was RUBBISH for hitting it with. I went back to a hammer, and now it’s broken

Waiting for the bus

You can keep your fancy GPS’s, chuck your heart rate monitors in the hedge and worry away at your statistics spreadsheet, because while you are working out where you lost that time, I am waiting for a bus. I know it was only last month my witterings on targets had me chasing virtual training partners all the way to work, and then spending the remainder of the day lying down.

But it became clear I must apply Al’s rule of achievement* to my heavy legged pursuit of stupidity. So now I’m measuring my progress by playing chicken with the “Bromsgrove Omnibus”. The first time I met this bus was nearly the last, as it aurally indicated a desire to pass on a road that I’d always assumed was adequately sized for only single file cows and possibly a MP3 driven bicycle.

He passed with inches to spare and a  “I’ll get you butler” gesture expression which I deigned unworthy of a reply** and gave it scant thought until it became obvious this wasn’t just any bus, this was my PACE BUS. And if I could squeeze in front before a singletrack road some five miles from home, I could keep the miserable bugger behind me for a good couple of minutes. Now that’s sport right there.

So now I’m off the Hereford train at 18:37 clipped in and heading out via the squashy slalom of random pedestrianisation, immediately looking for ways to cheat the God of Time. First up is a cheeky trail through ledbury, much wooded, significantly dog walked and offering lippy roots to straight line difficult line choices.

Then out of the town and chasing nothing but my hedge painted shadow, gagging a bit on dusty clay vectored off busy tractor ploughs, loving the sunshine, feeling way stronger in my knee and lungs that three virtually bike free weeks could possibly allow.

But this is merely a pleasant aperitif before a meaty main course of Omnibus and tarmac that’s coming up in four miles if I can turn these pedals a bit harder. That’s the distilled and beautiful clarity of riding a bike – it’s the simple joy of smooth circles driving you on, the grin of sweeping bends, the whum of hard tyres on baking tarmac, the just-bloody-nobody-gets-why-bikes-are-so-fucking-fantastic that justifies an obsession.

And that bus that’s going to be hitting that junction at 19:01, so I need to be there first. By a quirk of geography, the cross in the road is visible from 45 seconds upstream, meaning if I’m not hitting that crest at seven o’clock or better, the bus ain’t waiting for me. So it’s back to standing up and clicking a gear combination that shoots staccato breath from an open mouth, burns muscles from ankles to hip and strains arms dumping sweat onto the bars.

6:58, big sodding river bridge coming up, can’t slow down, feel the tyre squirm into the tarmac, feel legs slowing down, feel lungs desperately screaming for more air, feel… feel… feel, this is the stuff of life isn’t it? This is why we do this, this is what makes us different to the bloke next door with his paintbrush and his paunch. This  is what makes us a little smug, a little bonkers, a little more obsessed. Because this feeling needs bottling and selling.

I can see the junction, and I can see the bus lumbering up the hill heading for the turn and I can’t see anything else. Now it’s a straight run – slightly downhill – four clicks on the shifter, big gear, out of the saddle, ignore the cacophony of body complaint and charge down the tunnel of vision that displays just a short tarmac ribbon, an onrushing junction and a big red bus.

Briefly considering – and calculating it’s a reward that far outstrips the risk – that traffic may be steaming past the junction, I slow not even a little bit, swerve right as the bus turns left and give it a few final desperate pedal stamps to nip in front.

And then – pretty well spent – have a nice minute or two finding some breath for my lungs and oxygen for my legs while a frustrated man in a dodgy cap impotently guns his engine behind my serene form. There is a perfect symmetry there – people wait for a bus, and now the bus waits for me.

Look I know what you’re thinking. But honestly with my legendary limbo boredom threshold, I need something to keep me amused on the commute. It’s that or getting off the bike and jumping in with all those lovely lambs 🙂

* If at first you don’t succeed, redefine exactly what you mean by the word “Success”

** Mainly because I was having a rather trying time extricating myself from a drainage ditch much inconvinienced by a bicycle.

Buckle up

The old busy working excuse must again be trotted out, as the primary reason why the hedgehog has resisted any signs of springing out of hibernation since last week.

This ongoing ‘having to work for a living‘ issue has also had to fit around Random contracting Chicken Pox (the day after we brought the chickens home – coincidence? I think not), increasingly frantic activity around heating systems, frustration over floor heights, mental gurning trying to sort difficult electrics, and the imminent prospect of great big sodding trenches being dug.

Fear not, electronic therapy shall be rolled out as early as tomorrow with six hours of train time to fill. I’m very excited about the workshop/office/re-homing of the beer fridge which is currently being machined out of solid, er, woody stuff in a big shed in Hereford. And I know you’ll be almost as excited to hear some more about that 😉

In the meantime, let me leave you with this: slipping on the corporate disguise after riding in this morning, was an unusually uplifting experience. As I’ve had to tighten my belt another notch to stop my trousers falling down*.  Okay my knee is pretty well buggered, and commuting at this time of year is fraught with issues around “thermal shrinkage”, but ANOTHER NOTCH and one that has never been used before.

This cheered me up so much, I immediately dispatched an enormous bacon sandwich to celebrate 🙂

* Still frowned upon in our offices. Seems a little old fashioned to me.

Targets

I’m not sure what is more stupid, racing against yourself or being unhappy when you lose.  Commuting in London was also about targets – but only because you were one, and my idea of a result was arriving at work with the same number of limbs as I’d started out with.

Commuting here is different for many reasons. It’s hillier, safer and longer. Finishing via the Ledbury cycleway takes it to a tad under eleven miles, with 570 feet of vertical to get over. On the roadrat, it was a 50 minute pootle through pleasantly deserted roads, dispatched without getting too much of a sweat on.

The Jake is different, it may be from an older generation of race bikes, but a race bike it still is. It seems to falter and lose speed so quickly when you coast – becoming turgid and heavy. But crank it up and it flies, stiff and fast, needing just a nudge to change direction and super composed sweeping through bends.

Throw a GPS into the mix which shows your pace against a previous best time, and beepily nags at you to try harder. And try you do, staying on the drops, refusing to drop a gear and going for the gurn. I used to hate drop bars, but now they make sense – cutting through the wind and providing a stable platform so you can just pedal and go faster.

It’s not enjoyable cycling. There is no time to watch the rising sun slant stunningly through the orchards, you don’t wonder at the joy of being out of the car and into the rural air. At no point does your mind wander to great thoughts or pointless introspection. Because the bastard GPS is beeping out your weakness, and you’re more interested in looking for ten seconds than looking at the view.

Maybe you coasted a bit here last time, did I get off the drops, was it a gear down? No time to remember, just get the hammer down, accept it’s going to hurt, let rasping lungs and burning thighs fight over who gives up first. Chase buses, chafe at traffic, swear at wandering pedestrians – don’t they know I’m on for my BEST TIME?

It’s idiocy. And you can’t win. You can die by a thousand cuts. Weighted down tomorrow by drizzle, tired legs and excuses, I’ll get bested by my virtual self.  And it’ll bother me.

Somewhere in this world of lunacy, I might be getting a little bit fit. More likely it’s a tailwind 😉

You shouldn’t be allowed…

Taken by phone while removing pedal from my ear.

Somewhere in my DNA is a corrupted genetic strand, triggered when some self-important cock ends announces how their view of the world is somehow much more important than yours. This chemical imbalance invariably leads to a spittle-flecked sweary invective, and a fight or fight a bit more response desperate to put the fat* oaf on his lardy arse.

I am thinking of this as my “Yorkshire Gene

The situation manifested itself again on Monday from a starting position of already quite irritated. I had been herded into the furthest nook of a train carriage significantly encumbered by bicycle, and was now sat hard on the floor with a pedal in my ear. Exhibit A – pompous arse – declares “Bicycles aren’t allowed on this train” aiming a pudgy digit in my direction.

I tried – I really did – to be reasonable pointing out that the physical evidence was clearly not in favour of his argument. He attempted to wriggle mentally sideways** suggesting my bike took space that would be better made available for humans. I parried that it was hardly my bloody fault London Midland had gone all Chilten-esque and lost half of their rolling stock.

A side bar here. How the fuck can you lose two entire train carriages?  What kind of conversation preceeds that? “Bob, have you seen 120 feet of metal, kind of square, wheels on the bottom, windows in the side?” / “Nah, Bill had it last, he’s probably left it at home“. I am finding things like this increasingly disturbing as if someone “up there” is stroking a cat and laughing at me.

Anyway fat boy stupid refuses to let it lie and tediously rambles on at a volume pitched to annoy just about everybody. Eventually – and predictably – I snap. “Look fucknugget, I am sat in possibly the most uncomfortable space ever***, it is pissing down with rain outside, my decent waterproof is at home and I have ten miles of wind, cold and dark to look forward to. So how fucking much do you think I care about whether there is sufficient room for your fat arse? And on that point, my bike and I would barely cast a shadow on your huge behind, so if you want more space I suggest you lay off the fucking pies”

That’s not verbatim. I’ve taken out some of the swearing. The silence which followed was quite shocked. I am sure there would have been some uncomfortable wriggling and shuffling of feet had their been any room. Which of course there wasn’t.

I spent the rest of the journey ex-communicated, and moodily staring out into a darkening sky. At each station, I’d wearily wheel the bike off into the gloom – and while waiting for the stream of grumpy humanity to disembark – measure the weight of the rain and the depth of the cold before shivering on back inside.

By the time Ledbury railed into view, I was properly miserable. But the now almost empty train still hadn’t finished with me. A gentlemen of some antiquity accused me of deliberately oiling his trousers with my grubby chainset. No sniggering at the back, there isn’t a hidden meaning in there, however much you want there to be.

Within thirty seconds of his complaint, he must have been feeling that a slightly raffish stain on his pensioner slacks was not at the top of his list of problems. Which now included an angry middle aged man explaining shoutily that he would find the form to claim back his dry cleaning bill UP HIS ARSE. Which shouldn’t be hard to find AS HIS HEAD WAS ALREADY UP THERE.

This isn’t the first time it has happened. Or the second. And probably unlikely to be the last either. One day someone is just going to lamp me, and it will make me think twice. Right now I’d settle for thinking just once.

* Not always, but mostly. There is something about very fat people that makes them either extremely jolly or bloody annoying. Sometimes both.

** Absolutely no room to actually move any limb whatsoever. They tried to add more people at the next station leading to an impromotu entire all-carriage rendition of Scotty and “She’ll na take any more Capt’n”

*** Not quite true. I had forgotten the brutal torture that is Ryan Air’s 5mm inter-seat policy.

Riding buddies

Mountain Biking should not be a solitary sport. Fifty percent or more of the fun is who you are with, and the rest made up of where you are. Most riders subscribe to this opinion, so we all gravitate to people who will put up with your bullshit, and kindly check your bike for damage while you’re bleeding elsewhere.

Sure there are those outside the bell curve who decry group rides as diluting the ethereal experience, others’ chatter mere white noise against the simple beauty of being at one with the landscape. I tend to think of these people as a) a bit up their own bottom and b) having no real friends.

And whilst I say your riding world is peopled with those sharing similar mental DNA, there are always leaders and followers, fast guys up hill, nutters streaming down the other way, talkers and silent types, tech heads and don’t give a shitters. And then there’s always one, just one who has a personal mission to make you hurt yourself.

Take my pal Jezz, a rare – and bloody annoying – combination of decent technical skills,  a strong climber and a firm expression when offering up a short extension likely to take you into a) the next county and b) tomorrow. But under that genial expression lies the heart of a sadistic bastard. And he worked me out quickly enough as an old bloke whose mouth was writing cheques his body couldn’t cash.

So the challenges started. Not that I really knew, as on our inaugral ride, I thought I was going to die, and on the second I was pretty sure I had. But extra bits started to be worked in, lips were expected to be stiffened during a riding into driving snow experience, hills were for going over not around. But like I say I was too busy suffering near death experiences to notice.

And then I was sucked in “Hey Jezz, I reckon this loop is all doable in the middle ring”. I tossed it out for a laugh and the bugger only went out two nights later and proved it was possible. For him anyway, when I tried I was unpleasantly reminded of singlespeeding. I am such a sucker for this stuff, all competitive bravado, no actual way of backing it up.

This morning I had a proper commute to work and electronically informed the young fella that us oldies cracked out a massive 18k of road work in 43 minutes. Adding hastily that I was weighed down by laptops, shoes (the ones the dog hadn’t eaten), knobbly wide tyres and the dark. The bastard – because that is what he is – replied I was merely a big girl and should put some bloody effort in.

Which is why I was hating my texting finger as it gripped the bars climbing the 200+ vertical feet of twatty hill separating me from home. Lowest gear (which on my CX bike is still bloody hard in case you’re interested), dribbling, sweat rolling into my eyes, 1000 yard gurn in place. The valley road was far below, but that would be far too bloody easy wouldn’t it?

Better to die up here in the rarefied air of the terminally stupid. My breath rasped out and a sane Al would have reached for a Asthma blow, but no because that may slow me down. It was the same spark of lunacy which kept me on the drops on a road much given over to mud and running water, and offering up about as much grip as jelly on ice.

Can’t slow down, it’ll cost me 10 seconds“. Fair enough I suppose although a couple of times, it did feel I may be forty years early for the next life. Rolled up to the home gate, fumbled for my watch, clicked the light on. Looked. Looked again. 41minutes29seconds. It must be broken, it had to be faster than that.

It wasn’t.

I was explaining this to Carol while lying on the floor, legs a tremble and refusing to move. On the not unreasonable grounds there was no way I was going to tackle a difficult set of stairs. Just throw a blanket over me now and feed me my phone and some humble pie.

My riding buddies seem to be mainly Mr. Pain and Mr Suffering, but I am starting to feel sort of fit. And very, very old.