It’s a kind of magic

Oh this. Again

Bit of 80s Queen there. Not a surprising choice from a man whose musical choice is pretty much bookended by a dusty collection of CDs purchased back when they were something other than obsolete media and the safe side of the Radio 2 playlist.

I did consider the lesser known ‘let me Entertain you‘ from the much maligned Jazz album but felt that might be setting the bar a bit high or the 1983 hit ‘It’s a hard life‘ but again descriptively that’s a tough sell.

The kind of magic we’re talking about here is the transmogrification of a weeks riding kit into that small black bag without extensive use of explosives or experimental physics. Magic potion requested – just add a Carol who will perform  some arcane acts of prestidigitation to fashion a small black hole sucking in what I’m thinking of as ‘a worry of bike clothing

Expect I’ll be leaving most of it in Spain tho when it’s just me, all that stuff, the patience of a special needs nat, and a bag significantly more undersized than the boat Police Chief Martin Brody wondered might be a little on the small size for hunting that particular shark.

As in a break from tradition and in celebration of Haydn’s rather momentous birthday*, we’ve abandoned our normal transport strategy – based on a big van, loads of room, no weight limits, a ton of junk food and 14 hours to stare out of the window as a good part of France slides by – for an oversized Coke can with an ego problem.

Flying brings its own challenges. Firstly most airlines baggage policies are thinly veiled threats for passengers carrying much more than a thimble of shower gel and half a mars bar. Bicycles are about as welcome as an uncaged angry lion or a wobble of already-shit faced dickheads on a stag weekend**

No matter a bit of keyboard based persistence landed us six tickets to Malaga with a vague promise of the bikes arriving both in the same country and reasonably intact. From there two more hours will deposit us at our destination in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. For me, it’s my fifth trip to the Andalusia region, and the other four have all been fantastic in rather different ways.

Firstly back in about 2004, a gaggle of us left a miserable UK February under skies full of sleet and roads entombed in ice. To arrive 450 miles due south to conditions just a bit worse. It was still a marvellous – if somewhat damp – experience with Marco from Ciclo Montana finding us places to ride when the weather suggested ‘bar, bar and more bar

So I was delighted to find Marco still running something similar all these years later. My riding buddies were laughing when I told them that story of snow in sunny Spain until reviewing the forecast for next week. Thankfully it’s improved from ‘robustly challenging’ to ‘pretty damn good except for the end of the week and we’ll ignore that for now’

Anyway committed now so whatever the ground conditions, I’ll be in the mountains riding bikes on new trails with old friends. Careful use of the word old there, but everyone seems to be fit and riding surprisingly well.  We’ve even included a couple of blokes under 40 to prove while the younger generation might be a bit faster on a bike, they lack the wisdom and experience of the career drinker.

Except Cez. He monged himself about a month back attempting escape velocity over a jump which led to an incident with a tree, a separated shoulder and a trip to A&E. He’s been for one ride since and has declared himself ‘All Good‘, I have no such excuses having ridden bloody loads already this year – mostly on the plastic chubby – without properly falling off or injuring myself in some other ‘nearly a half century, can put my back out emptying the dishwasher‘ kind of way.

So 4:30am on Saturday we’ll load the van for the short trip to the Airport. From there it’ll be a different experience to our standard riding trips. I expect the bullshit, talking bollocks, inappropriate drunkenness, dawn to dusk piss taking and a whole lot of awesome riding shall remain a constant tho. And if not, just the drunkenness.

I guess when I stop getting excited by this stuff, I’ll be pretty much dead but still moving about 😉

*I shall reach a similar number – all things being equal – in August this year. I’m so far in the closet about it, Narnia couldn’t find me.

** easy to spot in the airport. One will be wearing a dress, a few will be throwing up in Weatherspoons, while the rest will be fighting each other/random innocents. It puts me in mind of most Friday nights in Ross.

 

 

A tale of two years – only not really.

A tale of two chubbies! Penyard MTB

First the similarities; both me obviously, both taken within about 20 yards of each other in Penyard woods. Both on the same day if not date in April. Both taken with my Olympus camera by David my riding buddy.  I even appear to be wearing the same shorts.  Which at least suggests I haven’t got noticeably chubbier.

Not true in the bike department obviously.

Penyard MTB - First proper Bird Aeris rid

It was only when a Social-Media look-at-me photo inserted itself into my timeline did I understand the serendipity of the two images. Delving a little deeper into those 728 days would suggest quite a lot has passed under my wheels between back then and right now.

Just short of 8000km for a start. Getting on for 200,000 metres of climbing. Five trips to foreign climes. And a discombobulating number of bikes rotating through the revolving door in the shedofdreams(tm).

I’ve aged a bit sadly. Maybe a bit faster in some places, definitely slower in others. More crashes, more injuries, less years to go, still fighting decline with effort and product displacement. Older certainly but no more grown up. Nice to see the ‘crouching badger, hidden terror’ riding stance remains a comforting constant in any imagery capturing a man somewhat happier behind the lens.

I think from those photos we can all understand why. None of this is relevant tho, because this picture from todays’ ride is far more important.

A tale of two chubbies! Penyard MTB

This is my good mate Dave chasing his lad Will over a gap jump. The keen eyed amongst you will notice he’s on my Cotic, which I was very happy to lend out. He loved it and gave it quite the ragging – not sure it would be used to that having been ineptly piloted by just me these last few months.

But it’s not about the bike. I really isn’t. Even longer ago, I wrote this when Dave had been involved in a life changing road accident.  It wasn’t about the bike then and it certainly isn’t about it now.

It’s about this; dicking about in the woods with your mates. Chasing your two mountain bike riding sons on perfect trails and caring not a jot they’re riding away from you. Pushing back up and doing it again. Cajoling that younger generation that uphill is fine without turning into your own dad.

I love that. My own kids aren’t really interested in riding bikes now and that’s fine too, but I couldn’t dampen a pang of jealousy when Dave was hanging out in a family train of dust and joy. Nor – because I’m intensely shallow – could I hide a little grin as I still had their measure on the ups. Problem is they’re going to get fitter and I’m certainly not going to get faster.

I’ll take that. I’ll take the bike flowing through the trees in the manor of a Jedi-Speeder trope. I’ll take Dave and I (combined age over a 100) pushing it a little bit on a buff trail hanging on to the grip of the chubbies, and giggling like the kids we are inside when we hit the fireroad. I’ll take the abandonment of a firm directive not to ride like an idiot, when this idiot needs to be intact and in Spain in seven days.

But most of all, I’ll file this ride in a back catalogue labelled ‘this is why‘, This is why we ride through the winter. This is why we beast ourselves on spin bikes in the gym. This is why I’ll haul my weary arse to circuit training knowing I’ll hate every minute of  it. This is why I’ll look at a dead landscape drenched in rain and think ‘Spring is coming, is that the best you’ve got? Fuck it, still riding‘.

Came home. Big grin on my face. Then helped Carol move the fridge/freezer. You cannot hide from your real life for that long, but if that’s your thing I’d suggest mountain biking is a bloody good place to do so.

Blame Rex, He’s basically a weather event..

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

.. Butterflies flap their pretty wings in Guatemala triggering typhoons sweeping inland destroying great tracts of South East Asia. That’s the executive summary for chaos theory. And while the worthy focus on the headlines, those of us sharing our riding tribe with Rex ‘The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah‘*’ James are far more interested in the local derivative.

Less fire and brimstone and – if one is still stretching for biblical allegory – more paired animals, arks and Russel Crowe in an unconvincing beard. What we’re talking about here is Rex picking a weekend to go riding anywhere, and regardless of the prevailing weather conditions a small but angry weather system attempts to drown whatever vehicle he is travelling in or on.

Spring felt pretty entrenched until the 5:45am call of my alarm fought for audible hegemony against the water cannon smashing against the darkened windows. 30 minutes later, the van headlights cut through slashing rain with the four of us sheltered inside wondering at what height water turns to snow.

Snowdonia you see. A land not so much shaped by the people as a people shaped by a land proudly wearing its geology on the outside. Inland seas of the Jurassic age now rising a thousand metres above sea level, their craggy faces carved by the ice and the wind. And the rain. Which sprinted down the flanks of ever steepening hillsides as we pushed through endless low pressure fronts.

Thanks Rex. MWIS forecast called for 8/8ths cloud cover and a degree above freezing on the summit of Snowdon which explained the bulging bags of waterproof kit in the back. What I really wanted was a dingy or maybe a Navy frigate, but had to be satisfied with rainproof everything and a bike shod with those chubby tyres the Internet proclaims would explode** with first contact of a spiky rock.

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

Car park was wet from below but dry above. Even a spot of blue we assumed was  Fates’ satnav desperate to locate Rex and recreate that inland sea about his person. We scooted off before it noticed on a road climb that just had bastard written all over it. 150m of ascent in about 150m of tarmac. It should come with it’s own funicular.

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

That’s the railway we followed on the walkers path out of Llanberis. Push and carry at the bottom, then ride a bit overtaking almost everyone mostly dressed for a day at the beach/a night out in Newcastle. Halfway up in 45 minutes and the rain hadn’t found us yet, but the cloud clamped the summit lost another half a kilometre into the sky. Best get on with it then.

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB wekend

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

Ride some more. Be polite. Be polite but a bit more noisily. Then we’re off and it’s a tough push/carry through the cloud base which blissfully hid the gradient of the last big pitch. That was a calf stretcher but at least it kept us warm. Stepping up to the freezing summit has us mingling with a mass of random perambulation. The view was all the way to the end of your arm, so I cannot imagine what’d it be like on a sunny day. More people? Ugh.

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

We didn’t tarry. Carried back down the steps so not to trigger an international diplomatic incident with the hoards trudging upwards. Got a bit lost, got very cold, got the phone out, located the ranger path and for the first time in two hours revelled to the sound of the freewheel.

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

Climbing 900 metres without a break has its rewards. Mostly losing three quarters of that snaking down the other side of the mountain. What a descent this is, wide open and fast on the ridge but with enough technicality to demand all of your attention. Which doesn’t leave much spare when it plunges towards the lake on a broken stream-bed tossing up massive rocks at all sorts of exciting angles.

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB Weekend - Snowdon and CYB

North Wales MTB wekend

I didn’t ride it all. Some sections piled up behind my eyeballs suggesting any attempt to use a bike to clear them would inevitably end with a vital internal organ pierced by a murderous rock spike. I glanced at Rex and we exchanged a look suggesting both of us didn’t really know what the spleen was for, but it was probably something any right thinking person would want to keep on the inside.

No matter, it was descending 650m of glorious madness. I’ve spent ten years writing about riding and I still cannot explain what that feels like. But for self conscious repressed Englishman to risk a fist pump, it must be something quite extraordinary.

With it being North Wales, what followed was a soggy slog up a vertical grassy slop over a saddle to access Telegraph Valley. ‘Bit Rubbish this‘ says Matt who’d last been here many years ago. Fair to say it’s eroded a bit and was now bloody marvellous – a ribbon of singletrack clinging to the hillside throwing up massive water-bars every few hundred metres.

North Wales MTB weekend

Or tabletops as they became. Chucking oneself into a breathtaking beautiful rugged landscape while training endless compress-fly-land-accelerate with your mates is there or thereabouts the most fun you can have while standing up with your clothes on.

Mountain biking. The clue is in the name. No sane person should deny themselves mountains and bikes and best friends.

It didn’t even rain. Not that we would have cared.

*I’m fairly firm in my opinion that religious texts are basically someone writing down the best story of the day. But this is in the old testament, Genesis, Quran, Hebrew bible, Hadith and the deuterocanonical books which makes me think it must have been a  bloody good story.

** as a group we had many punctures that weekend? Me, not one. I was impossibly smug.

Riding the reality gap

Man with half a head clears small gap on bike designed to do so much more

I don’t know whose bike they serviced Al, but it certainly wasn’t yours‘  grunted a multi-tooled Matt as he attempted to wrest his brand of mechanical perfection on a bike leaking vital bodily fluids onto his dining room floor.

Things had not been going well.  Even before the front brake vomited the compulsory hydraulic medium linking lever to rotor, doubts had serviced over the efficacy of the bike shop from which it had arrived. Two days late scooted on a cloud of – if we’re being charitable – implausible excuses ranging from the aforementioned ‘full service’ to the APC courier being the victim of an alien abduction.

The mech hanger was cantered at an angle best likened to a drunk hanging onto a lamppost for support. Many of the bolts appeared to have been tightened with a straw, including those connecting the front and back of the frame together.  They hadn’t even bothered to throw a bucket of water over it.

No matter after harvesting the Bird for a basketful of parts I’d not unrealistically expected to be operational on a bike ‘having had only 5 test rides‘, we had liftoff.  Into the back of the van at least, and it was barely 8 hours later that I was in there with it as we headed off into the wilds of South Wales; destination Brechfa Forest.

Good trail centre this. Black and Red aggregate to 38kms of tough climbs, natural descents, then lots of berms, few rock steps, fast singletrack and – being Wales – endless wet from above and below. That’s about the soggiest ride I’ve done this year but the sun was shining behind my new bike glasses.

The Mojo is proper carbon light, it has a spectacularly clever suspension linkage which propels it uphill even with Mr Potato head here mashing the pedals, but point it downhill and it’s strangely neutral. This is not a bad thing but it’s different. It’s very flattering if you’re a little tentative and bonkers rip-your-face off if you’re not. Reminds me more of the Stache than the FlareMax.

Bikes have a personality. No they do. This in no ways mandates even the thinnest sliver of an excuse to name them.*  There’s a whole other post there you’ll be glad I’ve yet to write. Suffice it to say by the end of the a five hour river ride I’d concluded I needed to up my game a bit, and those 2.8 thinly treaded tyres were going to give me some trouble.

Trouble I chose to ignore after shuttling to the Wednesday night ride start where powerful lights reflected brightly from water cascading of the local fields. It can’t be that bad I thought. No, it was quite a bit worse. First climb, tyres filled with Ross-Clagg, jammed that toxic mix of clay and grit into the chainstays and rocked momentum to a hard stop. Yep all the clearance back there to work superbly in a US State where it hasn’t rained for 4 years. Herefordshire in winter is not twinned with California.

First descent was like the first climb. Only with more crashing. Had a bit of a sulk then and thought about going home but decided I couldn’t get any muddier and I wanted a beer with my mates. Slogged round. Fell off some more. Drank beer. Made plans.

New tyres, still pretty fat but this time slotting into their apertures with finger-wiggle room to spare. Okay I’ve done nothing but add cost and weight since I bought the bloody thing, but now all shall be well. Off to the Malverns to try it out there.

It was at this point where the pre-ownership rigorous maintenance schedule really began to shine. The non drive side crank was barely prevented from exiting the axle entirely by a plastic sacrificial component which, while cheap, could only be sourced by sending smoke signals to the moon.

I only found this out after spending two rides in the village of ‘Much Creaking’ – a place where my fellow villagers were calling smiting and bloody murder upon my innocent person, due to the endless cracking and grinding emanating from the transmission. Thankfully Matt fixed it with a big hammer, some lock-tight and stern words in the shadow of his angle grinder.

Since then it’s been bloody great. Bike Park Wales was a revelation trying to keep my younger and much more skilled riding buddies in sight. Had lots of those little PR things light up in the Devil that is Strava. Okay only about about 2 seconds a run, but I’m shallow enough to take that.

A mucky forest ride followed by two gloriously dry ones has done nothing to convince me this is nothing short of a super-bike even if I am a long way from a super-rider. And that’s before putting some proper chubbies back on. Which will make it even better. Because that’s what the marketing men say and they’re at least as truthful as the orange nut job running the free world right now.

The crappy bike shop behaviour still pisses me off. But in three months it won’t because the only memory will be that I paid half the sticker price. Which was still quite a lot. But hey, at least one person thinks I’m worth it.

*nominative determinism might come into play here. Although I’d probably steer clear of the Cove G-Spot if such things were taken seriously.

You can’t get there from here

Ibis MoJo 3

Gather round, gather round, there’s a story to tell here. I say story, others may label it a web of deceit spun around some hooky rationale on exactly why yet another bike is soon to enter the ShedOfDreams. A rationale lampooned by Carol – my long suffering wife and the brains of the outfit – who entirely accurately decomposed it to the simple fact it’s been six months since I last had one.

Let’s move on. Instead consider this as the poster boy for intellectual rigour and logical exactitude. Please stop laughing at the back. Firstly we must consider the on-boarding protocol simply expressed as ‘one in, one out‘. An early win with Jessie’s  undersized Turner leaving the shed earlier this week. What’s that? Not one of my bikes? Detention for you; no one – and certainly not me – ever specified which bike was to be ejected to make space on the wall. It’s not like I’ll buy Jess another one, as she’s only a couple of inches shorter than me* so can ride one of the carefully selected wheeled artefacts which make up what even I laughingly refer to as my bike purchasing strategy.

Intellectual Rigour remember? When options are varied and the outcome is unclear, the wise cover all bases. That’s me then with aluminium, steel and now carbon fully represented. Not satisfied with such a shallow reconciliation of the many standards, I now have full access to wheel sizes starting at 27.5 finishing at 29+ passing through 27.5+ and 29 on the way. On just the three bikes. That’s beyond intellectual rigour, it’s edging into borderline genius.

So we’ve established logical and rigour, let’s get down to specifics.  That ^^ is an Ibis Mojo 3 created from the fusion of string and glue. I’ve never had a carbon bike mostly because they cost shit loads, and I’m a klutz who can break almost anything mostly by just looking at it.

What’s changed? Not much other than an ill conceived idea that my 50th birthday should somehow bring forth the perfect bike. Nonsense of course as no such thing exists and even if it did, the chances of my random purchasing strategy intersecting with it are as close to zero as to make no difference. This didn’t stop me compiling a spreadsheet with twenty or so vanity trinkets represented all at eye watering prices.

Last night I had an entirely sober ‘Fuck this‘ moment. There’s no amount of enjoyment that is going to make something that expensive anything other than a disappointment. So much of the joy of riding has nothing to do with riding and even less to do with the bike you happen to be astride at the time. Spending that much money in search of a tepid marketeteers dream is beyond dumb and accelerating towards insanity. And that’s me saying that.

What do I know? Not much other than I love having different bikes to ride. It’s not going to make me a better rider but the bag is empty and the cat has long gone for that aspiration.  What else? However much I pretend to eek out the zeitgeist of  a 160mm Enduro special, really I’m not kidding anyone. I’m as fast – and let’s be clear that’s not fast at all – on the 120mm Cotic and I’m having a shit load more fun. Where those bikes become brilliant, I’m far too bloody terrified to be even peripherally involved.

So the Ibis then. Amusingly niche even for me. 27.5 and 27.5+ but no 29. That’s fine I bought a bike not long ago which is entirely bi-curious with those wheel sizes. Carbon as we’ve established, proper light, a bit more travel than the Cotic but not Enduro slack or amped out on a super long fork. By all accounts it’s an amazing bike but that’s not why I bought it.

I’ve owned many amazing bikes. I’ve watched them being amazing when ridden by others. There is no perfect bike for me because every ride I wake up with a different idea of what perfection might look like. I’ll never get there- but may edge a little closer if I am honest about the parameters.

That’s an ex-demo. It’s last years model. It’s half the price of a new one. If I don’t like it, I’ll move it on with little financial loss nor emotional trauma that it wasn’t the one.

This was never about the perfect bike. I get that now. It’s about the fun finding out all the ones that aren’t.

*with about the same inside leg. This speaks more of my dwarf like stature south of the hips than Jessie’s anatomically correct bearing 😉

 

24 Hour Racing? Again? Hang on, I’m retired…

CLIC24 - 2009 (25 of 26)

There is little more wretched than a famous sportsperson reversing their retirement. Except maybe their rationale for doing so: ‘I miss the arena’ / ‘It feels like unfinished business’ / ‘I’ve kept myself in great shape’ all of which are likely proxies for ‘Bored’ / ‘Unfulfilled’ / ‘Really need the cash

The results are rarely pretty. Age is not a metaphor. You can fight almost anything but entropy.  And if advancing years bring any wisdom at all, surely all can see that selling a grill with your name on it beats being smashed in the face by a younger man with no respect for your former glories.

Assuming you had any former glories. What even a charitable individual, with only the loosest sense of semantic rigour, may call my ‘bike racing career‘ would be quick to point out there was neither much ‘racing‘ or ‘career‘ involved. Or sometimes even a bike that might be present but pointlessly static whilst the pilot downed another beer.

And yet here we find ourselves in a year where I shall make an unremarkable 50-not-out triggering a return the the scenes of previous undistinguished performances. Not Mountain Mayhem though where no amount of expensive therapy could overcome the screaming nightmare of spending 24 hours mostly face down in a muddy swamp.

Nor some short course nonsense where serious lycra clad individuals showcase their ‘ribcage by toast rack’ under tight fitting sponsors jerseys.  No it’s taken the emotional heartstrings of the previously termed CLIC-24 to drag me from my uncompetitive torpor.

We’ve had four goes at this. None which passed without incident. I’ve written extensively on exactly how packed with blood, tears, misery, snow, rain and hypothermia than only a 24 hour race in May can bring. Browsing these narratives from a period between 2009-2012 reminded me of exactly why the cessation of the event brought more joy than sorrow.

I crashed on my first ever lap. That was the sunny year where stiffening muscles were refreshed by endless sunshine. The following three flip-flopped between gales, storms, hail, rain and frozen tractor tracks. My favourite quote from the ‘bastard of 2011‘ was Nige’s ‘I rode so slowly through that icy water splash, I wasn’t sure if I was going to drown or freeze

I’d almost forgotten about that. Which considering 2012 was the last year I participated in anything vaguely organised is hardly surprising. Nowadays I can barely remember what I had for breakfast.  But dusty brain cells were sparked by a random face-cloth feed announcing with great fanfare the new and improved https://mendip24.wordpress.com was back for 2017.

Different organiser.  Same great charity: https://www.teenagecancertrust.org – having two kids in that age group and reading the inspirational / heartbreaking stories on the website, it didn’t take more than a minute to fire up an email to my previous team mates in an effort to get the band back together.

Surprisingly their responses were unrelentingly positive. I say surprisingly as while my selfish riding creed has spanned the intervening years, theirs have diverged somewhat. Nig rode with me the other day for a couple of hours and admitted this was the longest ride he’d managed in about 24 months. Small children will do that to a man. Jason would consider that a proper training schedule as he hasn’t ridden AT ALL for at least three years. I know this to be true as his bike is sat in the ShedOfDreams having being deposited there after an Alps trip where Jas broke both a toe and a rib.

Dave’s been riding his road bike a bit. But in a different country. I assumed he was still there but was disabused by a reply explaining he’d snook back into ol’ blighty under the cover of darkness. They checked their diaries and found no excuses so we dusted off the ‘Hardcore Loafing‘ moniker and pledged to meet in a muddy field in a few months time.

This does not guarantee anything. One year Dave broke his bike spectacularly on the way to the start line in a transparent ruse not to ride the first lap. Jason failed to turn up at all at the following event. Nig has been a mainstay of the team although has been prone to brain-farts including riding three consecutive night laps, the last of which pretty much ended up in a ditch.

And me? Well I’ve been consistently and universally rubbish.  It’s not a lack of fitness, it’s more a lack of moral fibre. When the going get tough, the tough go and hide in the beer tent. Regardless of the aforementioned wisdom of age absolutely nothing has changed.

So May 13, 2017. Looking forward it it. Sat here with a glass at my right hand. Actual proximity of hard work, shit weather and potential tentage may colour that view somewhat. Still at least I have at least two bikes that will be absolutely ideal for the event. No need to spend any money there.

Which is good. As I’m seriously considering hiring a motorhome 😉

Another one gone

Not a celebrity or person of questionable merit. No another orbit of the sun arbitrarily ends today. Just in time for social media to explode with ‘New Year, New You‘ memes, inevitably followed by crushing disappointments and unchangeable reality.

Worse that all of that, I’ll be 50 in 2017. FIFTY. Blimey back in my thirties when I led as close to a hedonistic lifestyle as a salaried man working for a consultancy firm could, I’d sit in a bar surrounded by empty glasses and overflowing ashtrays declaring to all who’d listen/not passed out drunk that ‘better to have a good time now and die early than just end up dribbling, lonely in some death-smelling care home‘.

I need to go back in time and give myself a good talking too. And a slap. Dribbling and decline is where’s it’s at once you’ve reached half a century. I don’t so much feel my age*, but I fear it and the associated loss of muscle and cognitive abilities.

Still I did ride quite a lot this year. About the same as 2015. Feels like I had more fun, but that’s probably nothing more than making things up in the hope the real stuff might stay away a bit longer.

Riding / Running stats from 2016

These are my nine most ‘liked‘ posts on Instagram. All bike related of course, building, static and other people riding. That feels a better summary of the year than the cold statistics above.

alexleigh67

On that note, probably time to draw the veil over Strava. All it’s going to tell me is that I’m slowing down. What kind of idiot would pay £3.99 a month to repeatedly be beaten with an electronic stick? I have mates that do that for free.

2017 tho is already shaping up well. I’m mostly healthy, not particularly chubby (other than in the tyre department), a week long trip to Spain already booked for late April and back to the Rhone Alps in September. Between those two dates, I’ll be having my special birthday.

No idea what I’ll be getting. History suggests it might be something bike related. Talking of which, updated the ‘most read articles‘ and ‘current bike rental‘ pages.

That’ll do for 2016s rambling. Better to spend the rest of the holiday engaging with the family, especially as the kids are now at an age where my relevance is directly tied to them needing to be driven somewhere or if the Internet is broken.

So Happy New Year and all that. It’s a day early but I fully expect to be hungover and full of good, if very short-term, intentions tomorrow.

*other than making a noise every time I get up or down.

Headcase

The Gap/Talybont classic MTB loop

That’s what a helmet is. An independently tested bucket for the brain. The hegemony in the Holy Trinity liturgy of the experienced mountain biker; Helmet, Camelbak and Gloves. Anything else is essentially ballast- so can be borrowed, bought or ignored.

Which is why those of us with fading faculties have a system. Riding readiness is assured by a full equipment audit the evening before. Water and food are calibrated to projected ride length, clothes are selected based on an evaluation of a minimum of three weather forecasts, and key items of personal protection are placed in prominent view.

After a previous incident of inappropriate headwear, I now carefully place my helmet and gloves above the coffee machine. There are no realistic scenarios where I shall not pass the morning jump-starter at least twice before stumbling out of the door. Systems you see, riding out or jumping in the car first, have been honed to the point that my increasing forgetfulness is mitigated by un-breachable pre-ride protocols.

Until yesterday. Which was merely symptomatic of the true cause some 12 hours previously. ‘Big ride tomorrow, not going to drink much‘ I postulated to Carol on our way to good friends for a quick lunch stop.  A fine and worthy concept which – like many of my plans – failed to survive first contact with the enemy. Beer led to wine, wine morphed into gin and some seven hours later, I was dribbling on the sofa wondering how the fuck I’d lost control of most of my limbs.

The morning was difficult. One of those where everything is a mystery. Shaving with a toothbrush, taking a while to understand why your head is warm but your testicles lack coverage, struggling to understand which of the one button on the shower might release the torrent much required to cleanse the alcohol wash.

Attempting to shortcut the process of getting my shit together, I rifled through the clean laundry basket winning sufficient garments to clothe a man heading over the frozen border to Wales. Time saved was then lost as I couldn’t find my shoes. Twice. Having forgotten where I’d moved them too some 20 seconds previously. Then stuff fell off chairs, other stuff refused to fit in the bag, water leaked and Jelly Babies exploded from an unexpectedly open packet.

It was just 20 minutes of serial ‘Fuck it‘ finishing in stuffing everything that looked relevant in the big bag and chucking it in the car. Wandered once more into the Shed to scratch the nagging itch something was missing. My bike. Where the fuck is that? Oh yeah, left it at Matt’s last night.

All good then. Only five miles to drive before slumping into Adams’ van wondering if there was an option of curling up in the back and waiting for it all to be over. But no, the 27th of December IS the Gap ride. Classic Welsh riding, two big climbs, two great descents, lots of big views in between.

Weather is always a factor. I’ve been drilled with sleet, near-drowned in trail rivers, blinded by fog, endangered by thick ice and reduced to almost tears by relentless headwinds. Today tho the calmness of the weather was a perfect juxtaposition to my rising panic that something wasn’t quite right.

Other than me obviously. We were an hour out of Ross when the problem was finally retrieved from deep mental storage. Helmet exactly sixty minutes from my bag in the van.  Bugger. No bike shops between us and starting the ride. Too far out to turn back. And the idea of riding rocky stuff for four hours without any kind of head protection wasn’t appealing. Maybe I could just lie in the back of the van after all.

My revelation coincided with the last decent sized town on the drive out. A solitary outdoor shop appeared to be open. In which there was a single helmet which the proprietor thought was too small. She was right, but in terms of placebo it was a perfect fit. The best £16 helmet in all of South Wales. To be fair, it was the only helmet available in all of South Wales, which had the dual benefit of providing minimal head protection and ensuring all my friends had a bloody good laugh at my expense.

It meant I could ride tho. And it was a stunning day to be in the mountains. Even with a helmet whose efficacy I really didn’t want to test, and a hangover which had mostly faded after the first three hours. At the start I worried a little about testing £16 quids of lowest cost bidder against big pointy rocks, but by the time we descended from the top of the gap, I barely even remembered its inappropriateness.

The Gap/Talybont classic MTB loop

The Gap/Talybont classic MTB loop

I won’t be wearing it again tho. The charity shop shall benefit instead. I might well be an idiot, but I’m not a total head-case. And next year sobriety shall be my companion on this classic ride. Along with a helmet carefully accounted for.

It’s that time of year again….

FOD MTB - December 2016

I’m not referring to the exploitive pagan festival first repackaged for Christianity and latterly for mass consumerism and financial misery*. No this this is something far more important:  The Grim Has Returned both outside and in. The trails have gone from unseasonably dry passing through amusingly damp before arriving at their current status of tractionless filth.  My own gritty trek through this pantheon of grisly misery has led me to question if I’ve ever ridden in proper mud before. A brief but depressing journey from – in my mind anyway – a fast’n’loose hip-sliding champion to a stiff’n’rigid tyre-slding loser wondering who drowned all the fun.

This happens every year. And there are always excuses. 2016 has both a short and long version; short: I’ve not been very well. long: I’ve succumbed to the worst kind of modern plague- visiting upon me many and varied symptoms, the worst being a digestive system suffering a 4 day colonic irrigation through the extensive use of a porcupine.  A diet of dry toast and misery has done nothing to stop the bastard virus in my guts recycle any food whatsoever into foul liquid. With spikes. Too much information? Ha. I’ve spared you the gory details. But before I draw a veil over any further revelations, let me be absolutely clear it’ll  be a while before I can cough with any kind of confidence.

This personal Krakatoa coincided with the delayed seasonal rains and the Forest Christmas ride. It was pretty much touch and go if I was going to make it. Having been ‘going’ quite extensively in the few hours before the night-time rendezvous.  Still stiff upper lit and all that even if things were a bit loose elsewhere. Fastened my shorts for the last time, gave the gurgling small intestine a good talking too and plunged into the darkness. Where I met my riding pals, all of whom showed great concern and sympathy for my evidently serious medical condition. Yeah, like fuck.  Essentially accused of extreme malingering and being a social media special snowflake-  their cackles accompanied us up through the gun range as my legs came to terms with being fuelled by a couple of biscuits and flickery motivation.

Irrespective of being within sight of the morticians slab, these are not my favourite conditions. Dark, Wet and Muddy. Hey let me throw in a cultural reference – this is the Holy Trinity of the unmotivated. We disciples of the grim differ in our steadfastness of faith in these trying times. Only one has Judas-like tendencies hiding dark thoughts  of naffing off before the Last Descent. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t want my riding pals crucified, I just wish the buggers would consider a little charity for the faltering one needing to feel the warm embrace of the pub.

In lighter times, these trails offer me the chance to hang on to the wheels of my betters. Not now tho, three corners and it’s all of them gone and one of me hanging off the back, harvesting limited traction through extensive use of the brakes, and idly wondering whether I’ll end up in a heap under the bike or more excitingly bonded to a tree like a flailing low level branch. The conditions actually aren’t that bad except in the most important place which isn’t the ground out in front of you, it’s more the squishy thing inside your head.  Yep we’re back to thinking not doing, worrying not pushing, braking not flowing.  Still even in limp-home mode, it’s  good to be out even if my pace uphill and downhill is pretty much the Wikipedia citation for ‘Entropy

Eventually under my sustained pleading, we head to the pub via a final slimy trail I descend in the manner of an oversize fridge glued to a roller skate. Nobody really notices other than me, and I don’t care much either as my mind has moved on to the main event. Where we offer cash for beer and throw in a dirty protest  for free. Pints are assembled, bollocks is talked, an entire new measurement of time – The Yodel – is created. There is much pointing and laughing. Tales are told, plans are made, friendship is assured for another year. Handshakes are offered – we don’t hug, we’re not American – before we slip away to our other families, our non riding commitments, what other people consider real life.

A couple of weeks ago, I did something similar with the guys I ride with in the Malverns. No pub but we stopped for Sloe Gin and Mince pies half way round. And parted in the same way. We’ll ride together soon, cursing the long shadow of winter, working hard on sloppy climbs and holding it together on sketchy descents. Getting the shitty season done and counting the days until Spring.

This is my tribe. And this is our church. You can make a dumb comparison to religion, extend it through contrasting iconography and forge spurious links between the two. Many clever people have, but for me that’s missing the point. Humanity basically operates on our subscription to a shared myth. You can choose a belief system which tells stories of omnipresent beings, or consider instead something a little more physical, a whole lot more fun and with many more pub-based interactions.

Choose either. Or both. It doesn’t matter. There’s too much horrible stuff going on right now over which we have scarily little control.  It’s hard to know what’s coming for us first; global financial meltdown, environmental catastrophe or some kind of ‘war to end them all‘ started on Twitter by a man-boy who is neither presidential nor can even spell it. On that happy note, I wish all my readers a Happy Christmas and a prosperous new year 😉

I’ll be riding my bike with my friends. When you consider the option is not to do that, getting a bit muddy and being a bit rubbish doesn’t really seem to matter at all.

*I’ve consistently held this position.  And now being nearly 50, it’s unlikely the joys of Christmas shall ever be visited on me. But hey if you need an excuse to photocopy** your arse whilst wearing a stupid jumper, fill your boots as it were.

**Told you I was old. All you youngsters are surely 3-D printing your unmentionables nowadays.

Shh.. don’t tell anyone….

Mince Pie and Sloe Gin Xmas Ride

… it’s meteorologically winter. Or pre-spring as I’ve long christened it. Our battered planet might still be spinning towards the shortest day but back here in the cheap seats, it’s cold, dark and irrepressibly grim. Wake up: Dark. Venture outside: Bloody Freezing. Go home: Dark again.

All we’re missing is the spiteful rain machine gunned at windows through which you’re glumly considering your riding future. Shall I go out there for a three hour mud enema, or should I put the funds required to replace bearings, washing machines and the will to live towards a winter sun holiday?

That rain has mostly stayed away and the entropy of softening trails has been stayed by wintry winds and frozen temperatures. Wednesday was that classic bluebird day with a low sun backlighting Jack Frost cavorting through an azure horizon,  Come ride time, that sun is long gone and we’re left with the audible warnings of bike carrying cars, signposting temperatures some six degrees below the freezing point.

Hardest thing is getting out of that warm car. Second hardest thing are the mandelbrot trails increasingly iced by still falling temperatures. The Wednesday night cohort is reduced to only three with a shared mission to get this thing done before the warm pub closes its doors.

Frozen trails reduce friction so transferring pedal input to maximum velocity. Hmm, not tonight everything feels sticky and difficult.  The ground might not be sucking your energy but something is and breathy exhales are caught in the light beams. There’s a fantastic natural planetarium above us but we’re focussed on condensing moisture a metre from the bars.

Fingers not yet warm even encased in winter gloves, and the folically challenged amongst us are rocking the ice-cream headache without the pleasure of anything tastier than a tooth-cracking energy bar long divorced from its chewy origins.

We abandon cruel fireroads for the sanctuary of the forest. Even with the leaves mostly gone there’s a organic hug from the trees with temperatures a few degrees closer to manageable. Dry too, not frozen and the leaf carpet hiding root-y landmines and hidden traps where the trails fall away.  The mercury might be falling but the grip is summer high, so we’re pushing the bikes from entry to apex without the heart-spike of a wheel taking a trip not authorised by the man behind the bars.

We’re warming up but the freezing conditions affect the whole package of bike and rider. One of whom has a failing seatpost, my posh lights have amps making a break for warmer climbs, and there’s a chunk of viscosity wherever oil and suspension parts meet.

No matter, we’re into the good stuff now and it’s giggly to the power of bonkers. Forget the cold and remember that December rarely feels like this. A brief review of previous years suggests we’re deep into the first of four grim months where the going is sideways and the best you can do is survive long enough to wonder when the hell this used to be fun.

Descents in the Forest aren’t very long. The hills lack the elevation your tired legs insist otherwise. Yet they offer ninety seconds of adrenaline hard pumped through previously pinched arteries. Almost better at night with eyes wide open shutting down peripheral vision however good the LEDs strobing on the bars. Hard to get distracted when a searchlight cone shows you only what’s here right now and what’s next.

Rustling leaves, irritated owls, heavy breathing and far off cars are the soundtrack of our night. We climb one more time ensuing the easy option home because that’s for shitty days in January.  Still the leaves fall casting shadows in multiple light beams. You’re a mile from any kind of civilisation but it feels special to be out as the forest shuts down for winter. You always feel the seasons when you ride through every one of them.

We prime the darkness displacers one more time. Match the cadence to the gradient of the hill. Let night envelope your senses as your vision narrows to the point of light that triggers muscle movement. Feel the earth under those fast rotating wheels. Hit the last drop at the bravest point and make shapes with your hands when describing how great that felt.

Pub. Again. Always. Bikes not really muddy and neither are you. The former sits in a cold shed until its called upon again, you lie wide eyed in bed wondering when you can go again.

Just let it last a little longer. I’ll not tell anyone if you don’t.