Mud in your ice.

As trail conditions go, a sprinkling of fresh white stuff covering a crunchy layer of corn snow atop a bed of mid winter mud doesn’t trigger an enthusiastic “Let’s Ride” response to a 7am Alarm call. Except today when two of your five tomorrows include 18 hour London Returns and a whole week of shitty looking weather.

We kept to the South side of the Malverns with the high ridges and peaks being properly deep in snow. This still didn’t make our passage easy as every climb had to be forced through the greasiness and energy sappin g slippiness of trail wide mud. Which you only found as tyres broke through a thin crust of snow on the fourth day of a freeze/unfreeze cycle.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

I’m fairly bored of snow. Only our last descent was on the right side of conditions nirvana with hardpacked snow on firm trails. The rest of a rather weedy sounding 10k loop had to be hard earned with granny ring gurning, and significant pushing. Downhill was pretty exciting to be fair, with fantastic levels of grip being attained right up until the point when there wasn’t any. At all.  I’ll be going straight on then regardless of the spiky vegetation blocking my way.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

Momentum was truly your friend – my old mud riding memories surfaced from years of Chiltern Winter* allowing be to blaze a stinky trail over half frozen stutter bumps and endless draggy slush. It was more fun that is sounds, especially as we had the hills to ourselves and most of our tracks were the first ones.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

A final climb up a quickly renamed “Mist-Summer” found us finally on harder tracks where pedalling brought a proper forwards, rather than sideways, reward. A brief stop at the top ratified our choice to stay away from the high places with wind driven snow making riding difficult and a bit dangerous. Off the top we went, carefully on the narrow, snowy tracks and then faster – sometimes unintentionally – through the steep, muddy tree section.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010 Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

A comedically heroic snow spraying plunge back to Hollybush brought forth icy tears and big grins.

Malvern Ride - Feb 2010

If I’m still loving riding so much in these conditions, what’s it going to be like when it’s dry, dusty, fast and warm? I’ll hardly be able to sleep 🙂

* And Spring. And Autumn. And Summer as well on too many occasions.

That’s Snow Joke

Well it is actually.

There are some people with too much time on their hands. That’s not me at the moment, hence the recourse to smutty internet finds.

But with the big thaw turning lots of static snow to streams of moving water via a middle state best described as bloody horrible, it opens the window to actually go and ride my bloody bike. Which I need to do for many reasons, one of them being a certain snugness of trouser but the motivation is more about trying to catch up after losing two weeks to the ice and snow.

I shall never* complain about the wind and rain again, because being wet, cold and muddy is infinitely better to being inside.

* Okay that’s a lie. I shall moan less.

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.

Need cheering up?

More snow, getting less funny by the minute. Even the kids are getting bored of sledging, although that may be – at least in some part – due to the extensive bruising suffered flying off the “Snow Doubles” I built on the downhill track.  Although the sight of them apparently levitating some two feet from the ground with the sledge a further twelve inches below them certainly made me laugh quite a lot.

Not quite as much as when the dog decided to join the younger members of the pack in the sledge. From the front. While it was hurtling downhill. I think I hurt myself laughing more than the kids did being unceremoniously dumped into deep snow, before being revived by the “slobber of life”

I forgot to take my camera, but the Internet is a wonderful medium for sharing others’ misery. Take a look at this proper mountain biker showing exemplary technique for riding in deep snow

Monday eh? I think the Boomtown Rats were onto something 🙁

Feeling the pressure

I’ve always admired the type of mind that doesn’t really have a lot of time for instructions, recommended settings or any type of measuring equipment. Individuals of this class will merely prod, spanner, poke or eyeball anything from a simple bolt to a quantumly physiced quark* before confidently declaring “That’ll do, lad“.  I am a wannabee member of such a social group, but my application would surely be rejected on the not unreasonable grounds that I’m both mechanically incompetent and habitually lazy.

My view of fixing stuff not quite broken tends to run something like this; start off with all the correct tools, optimal settings and clear instructions, then – after at least ten minutes of increasingly frustrated getting nowhere type of actions – sweep it all to one side before selecting the biggest hammer off the tool wall. Assuming that doesn’t go well, I’ll up the ante by reaching underneath the bench for the fire axe.

So my pre-ride check of the not much ridden DMR went “Bars attached, wheels on, chain not totally brown, it’s good to go“. I further decided not to offer any kind of mechanical sympathy to the bike on the grounds I wanted to use it in a few minutes.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Want being a good verb, need being a better one. After a week of “Shed Fever“** where leaving the boundaries of our property was limited to some food foraging and an icy blast depositing the kids at school, I desperately needed some two wheeled action. There’s only so many times you can re-arrange the tool wall or sit in front of 500 unsorted photographs thinking “No, I really can’t be arsed, I’ll just stare at the floor instead“. The snow and ice seem entirely undiminished, and while this provided much smugness as my happy truck motored past low profile tyred and single axled snow blowers, it’s not been brilliant for Mountain biking.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Snow is ace for the first 12 hours before becoming cut up and  thin, so  making progress difficult and largely unrewarding.  The Malverns are currently an unhappy combination of deep drifts and overtrodden tracks leaving little for the MTB’r to enjoy. The woods however are a little different, attracting less traffic and sheltering favourite trails under an organic, evergreen roof. Without a 4×4 you’re not getting there either, so I abandoned the ten legs of family and dog to strike out on two wheels through a snowy, tamped down and mostly deserted Winter wilderness.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Which in the trees was a lot of fun. Like riding in mud without the muck, grip comes and goes, bold moves are needed to make the turns and – I find – it’s important to clench everything while murmuring “I‘ll vote Liberal Democrat, Be a nicer person, help old people, just let me please end this corner on the inside of that tree and not in it” to the Gods of the Trail. They seemed entirely indifferent to my pleas, and yet it took quite a few sky-ground-sky rider exits to take matters into my own hands. Those hands incautiously whipping off gloves and getting jiggy with the presta valve reducing pressure from not much to a smidge more than bugger all.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

That’ll do, Lad” I parodied in the manner of One Who Knows and struck forth is quite a few different directions as the rear tyre fought for traction, but at least I was still sat atop it. I briefly toyed with a practical experiment testing thin lake ice by prostrating heavy bike and *ahem* mid weight rider on top of it. But instead settled for a photograph and a double scoot round the lake side trail that was somehow even more brilliant in the snow. Possibly because again I didn’t fall off, but soon I was off the bike again of my own violation as the freeze/thaw cycle made the busier fireroads to much effort for too little reward.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Back on the singletrack, the thin white line between carving success and tree banging failure was perfectly demonstrated by whether your awesome two wheel slide ended in a “Brappp Brapp” stamp on the pedals to bring the flicking beast back into line, or the thump of man on bark. I crossed that white line a number of times but somehow this hardly devalued the experience, and on rendezvousing with my family  the world had become a nicer place and my place within it more tolerant, forgiving and significantly less grumpy.

Short of stuffing yourself full of Class “A” Drugs, I cannot think of a single way in which 90 minutes can transform your perspective of what’s important.  I don’t just love riding bikes on buffed, dry trails, or perfect flits through the warm moonlight, or even fast and loose with my best friends and the promise of beer to follow. I just love bikes, and my whole hand wringing about which ones to keep is absolutely bloody irrelevant.

All of them, of course. And to ride them as often as I can. That’s a simple enough concept that defies any measurement.

* This is not the not the noise a posh duck makes. And don’t get me started on bytes and nibbles.

** Like Cabin but for smaller buildings.

Welcome back winter, we’ve missed you.

The road outside our house has been resolutely un-gritted by Herefordshire Council for the previous two weeks.  So when I saw a snowplough bundling plumes  of head high snow into the verges, it became clear that travelling to London on a Six AM train was something I could contemplate from the warmth of my bed.

Snow Business! Snow Business!

The snow started yesterday afternoon and never really stopped. Last night, there was more than adequate for building a rather emaciated looking snowman with the traditional nose-y carrot and more contemporary Kiwi fruit eyes. This scary looking ice effigy stood guard for only a couple of hours before the sheer volume of snow tumbled it horizontal and entombed the remains under a fresh covering of the white stuff.

Snow Business! Snow Business!

Obviously the kids are out there right now building version 2 which has major structural improvements and a new carrot since some enterprising ground mammal made off with a free breakfast this morning. And while many animals must find all this snow a bit trying, our dog isn’t one of them. Never happier than chasing snowballs, eating ice or exploding in a spray of snowy rooster tails from fresh powder.

Snow Business! Snow Business!

Of which we have much in the local fields although a good portion of it now is in the kids’ hair/jackets/wellies after a snowball fight so violent, I thought we were going to have to call in the UN.

Snow Business! Snow Business!

It is snowing again now, and although the forecast calls for it to stop this evening, that same meteorological doom mongering predicts sub zero temperatures for at least another week. Which – I feel – is likely to transform this winter wonderland into something bloody annoying for anyone, say, wanting to go and ride their bike. Or, and significantly less important, getting to their official place of work. Or buying food, but hey we’ve been fattening up the kids all Christmas.

Snow Business! Snow Business!

Tonight, I’m dusting down the old Kona and taking it for an old school ride in the local woods. I expect this to end in a litany of sequential disasters involving trees, dug in tyres, comedy endos and concussion. Other than that, hard to see what can go wrong.

New Years Play.

Blue skies, frozen trails, tea and cake to finish. What’s not to like? Well there is the ongoing digestive conundrum of our dog who – having eaten one of everything at Christmas – started to spray liquid from both ends at high velocity.  Mostly in the house. The vet – after spending some time calculating exactly how large the bill would be – recommended a pasta diet and a course of  Dog imodium.

Such a get well strategy has resulted in Murphy’s normally happy and loyal demeanor being somewhat tested. Nothing looks quite as sad and depressed as a hungry Labrador on starvation rations and unable to poo. If he doesn’t go soon, we’ll be needing to consider a cesarean.

Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (2 of 19) Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (4 of 19)

Sorry, nobody eating was there? Anyway with the dog plugged, I snook out for a quick ride that ended up being not quick at all. A route away from the crowds on some fantastic frozen trails was one reason, my mechanical incompetence another. Why I ever though that two new chainrings and one new chain would mesh perfectly with an old – and if I’m honest somewhat ground down – rear cassette is a mystery to me.

Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (6 of 19) Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (10 of 19)

Less mysterious was the cacophony of ill fitting teeth failing to establish any kind of interference fit, even with my meagre thigh power applied to the pedals. Eventually I ended up with about three working gears carrying the rest around as mere fitness ballast. The fellas took pity on my plight with a slew of their own mechanicals including a case of such magnificent chain-suck, I thought we were going to have to go in through the stay to release it.

Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (12 of 19) Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (16 of 19)

And with the New Year bringing out the Malvern Hoards to overflow car parks and perambulate on every major off road thorough-fair brandishing new cameras and old fat glands, we embarked on a cheeky tour of the lesser known South Side. Some good stuff there as well accessible only by granny-ring grinds and much facial gurning.  For which Tim H of this parish may very well have usurped me as champion gurner.

Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (9 of 19) Malverns 2010 - New Years Day (7 of 19)

We retired after a few hours for the aforementioned tea, cake and medals. I wish I could retire but after spending yet more cash on wide-bar love and boring bits of metal to make the gears work, I reckon I’ll be sharing Murphy’s diet soon.

So 2010 is officially off to a superb start. Just the next 364 days to ratchet up the grump-o-meter.

Dog-Gawn.

As all parents of pre-teen children secretly know, it’s vital to squeeze the few remaining drops of offspring obedience when the rare opportunity presents itself. In this case, Christmas presents were held as collateral blackmail until wellies, warm clothes and outside inserted themselves into the kids’ otherwise gleeful assault on innocent wrapping paper.

Christmas Day Walk (10) Christmas Day Walk (12)

It’s worth recording that my wrapping skills haven’t improved one jot in the last few years. This can be simply proven by noting that all the seasonal offerings were neatly arranged and identified with a colourful tag. Except  my stuff which lay abandoned in a brutalised state after thirty minutes of frenzied boredom eventually gave way to cursing, tearing and the application of gaffer tape.

I think Carol’s got use to it now. Or possibly the word I’m looking for is resigned.  The dog however hasn’t got used to snow and ice at all, and treats the whole experience as geographical catnip. Even with four-paw drive and a low centre of gravity, Murf still only sustains forward motion while the legs are scissoring sideways.

Christmas Day Walk (22) Christmas Day Walk (24)

And even this potentially lethal combination of crossed limbs doesn’t seem to bother him much. Not enough to baulk at the opportunity to crash through a semi-frozen pond to retrieve a iced in stick. I’ve said it before but it’s worth saying again, I don’t think this is because he is particularly stupid*, but because as a breed, retrievers see a stick and just can’t help themselves.

Christmas Day Walk Christmas Day Walk (9)

A little later the house was full of shredded wrapping paper and happy children, although we were a little disappointed at their lack of noticeable admiration for the MONSTER Scalextric we’d built for them as a Christmas surprise. First eBay, then a desperate assembly job between shoving them back to bed for the third time and falling asleep ourselves, brought forth this sprawling masterpiece of loops, jumps and dangerous curves.

More on this later, but it’s fair to say that there was a tinsiest little bit of buying it for ourselves 🙂 I wasn’t expecting any gifts really since I’ve had one new bike already, and another one is on order. But Santa unloaded his sack** in an entirely unexpected manner by bringing forth a shiny helmet***. A roadie one at that which was both keenly priced and styled to transform the wearer into the Mekon from the neck up.

Right must get on, now we’ve had a whole day off it’s time to pick up the paint brush again to ensure incoming relatives are not aghast at our ongoing renovation project. Only one of the two adults in the house cares about this, while the other is wisely keeping his mouth shut 😉

* Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a shining beacon of intellectual light but compared to other dogs, he’s not entirely clueless.

** Not sure the kids believe in Santa now, it may be all the rude jokes I’ve been telling them 🙂

*** I could go on for ages, just say the word.

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.

The Christmas Ride.

All is ready. A handful of mince pies snaffled from the “do not touch before December 25th” box, tyres kicked, brakes prodded and chain given a sacrificial coating of lube. The promise of a short ride interspersed with longer periods of drinking home made Sloe Gin – with the specific gravity of aviation fuel – and munching assorted bakery products is most appealing.

If I can get there. Before it started dumping snow 30 minutes ago, the only way our – resolutely ungritted – rural road is passable is for the brave, the stupid or the incredibly smug 4×4 owners. Sheet ice with snow on top out there, and there have been many things that had gone bump in the night, in the day, and in the ditch. I’m determined not to add to the tally.

Being brought up in a county that, before proper global warming, was essentially undersnow for three months of the year, you could safely assume my driving and riding skills are properly attuned to such conditions. Not true, I’m useless, vacillating between extreme caution and terrifying bravado whoole holding on with the sweaty palms of a man whose seen his immediate future and it’s upside down.

Since I took that photo, the snow continues to fall, the kids continue to scream in delight, and the dog continues to practice his snowball catching skills.

And soon I’ll be ascending the lower slopes of the Malvern Alps on first untreated roads and then unseeable trails.

Still, it’ll be a laugh. Probably.

EDIT: That’ll teach me to big myself up then. The cancellations came flooding in by text message until only two men were left standing. But not riding. Dickus Motorus had turned the 15 minute journey to ride’s start into 45 minutes of terminal stupidity, and even if we conquered that obstacle, both of us had some doubts about surviving a clagged in, snow-over-ice ride in pretty horrid conditions.

I was still up for it amazingly but the right call was made. But I couldn’t help thinking, as I was making fresh tracks with the mutt at 8pm, how bloody awesome it would have been.

Anyway Tim B is still young enough to retain his adventurous gene so we’re off out at lunchtime. Better go pack those mince pies again 🙂