Commitment

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A noun short on consensual definition but long on consequence. Theres a axiom hiding in idioms tired from old campaigns: ‘Just go for it’, ‘Speed is your friend’, ‘it’s way easier than it looks‘ and, of course, the desperate standby ‘hold my beer and watch this‘.

It rarely ends well. Not because these phrases lack a shining nugget or truth, more the lack of actual commitment demonstrated by those being egged on, by those true friends who will ferry them to a local hospital, when fine words crash into reality. And the ground. Or a tree. Or a tree and then the ground.

Other individuals – and not for a second would I group myself in their canon –   consider any challenge as merely requiring an excess of commitment to conquer. Not tending to introspection, these naysayers of self doubt will redouble whatever qualities might be required while wondering what all the fuss is about.

Well how long have you got? Shall we start with some examples? Last weekend my good mate and occasional mountain biker mate Jason was warily examining a wet chute of dirt barely clinging to some local lumpy geology. ‘Just Commit to it Jas , it’ll be fine‘ I shouted from below. Seconds later the crashing of man, recently astride a bicycle, flattening the local shrubbery suggested this sage advice had gone unheeded.

Apparently not. The issue was in fact my lack of narrative clarity. He’d fully committed to the steep drop, but in his deep focus of all things slimy had then been unpleasantly surprised by a ninety degree corner. Hence ripping up the vegetation in the manner of a one man wide rotavator and blaming me for failing to mention the scope of commitment required.

We’ve all been there. Rode that drop, smacked into a stump we weren’t expecting. Caught a fishtailing rear tyre on a winters corner only to have the front hoist the ‘no grip here mister‘ white flag half a second later.  Let the brakes off in a silent homage to all those magazine skills guides only to find that speed is not your friend when its arbitrating between bravery and skill.

Of course you go out with all the best intentions. Today I shall remain zen-like, living very much in the moment and choosing smoothness over speed, technique over terror, commitment over vacillation. I’ll be looking so far through that corner, aliens from another dimension may well be looking back. I shall pay them no heed because nothing shall alter this perfect state of man and machine strumming a rhythmic baseline of trail perfection.

Works quite well in the car that I’ve found. Almost faultlessly in a bar. Sage nods at YouTube mastery of the art of commitment. Much postulation amongst friends who see it for what it really is. Merely displacement tactics when facing something that even after fifteen years of riding is still giving you the willies.

Another good mate has just returned from a skills course* and his first mash up of old trails and new skills was similar to mine. Except he was properly quick to start with. You try – really try – to take well drilled practised skills from a safe environment and overlay them on a 3-D puzzle shot through with all sorts of variables; grip, elevation, obstacles and the Pavlovian need to chase your mates.

He was still fast of course. And crashed looking extremely skilled. Lacked no commitment whatsoever. Having seen an image of him clearing a seven foot gap jump the week before, this stuff clearly works. If the mind is uncluttered and the body is prepared to fire synapses on command- all the time hoping those variables line up in favourable fashion.

So commitment only takes you so far. This far in fact. Today Martin celebrating a birthday which makes him even older than me** was a great excuse to ride in the Malverns, where the pixies of trail go hard with their maxim of ‘steeper and deeper‘ on sharp sided hills.

We’d ridden some pretty fun stuff; scary but dry. Yet all this was merely marking time before dropping into a steep trail full of almost endless joy except for a new four foot (that’s about 1.2m for our younger readers but 4 foot sounds a whole  load better) jump placed close to the end.

Well I was shitting it to be absolutely frank. By failing to unlock my suspension, a crack in the excuse book opened but wise to my ways Cez and Martin were waiting for me at what I’d started to think of as ‘Death’s Door‘.  I felt this was exactly the right time to point out I’d never jumped off anything so high. Martin kindly explained he hadn’t either until earlier in the week and here he was still alive.

Not happy with that sample size, but before I could pull the emergency hamstring, we’re away on a trail of organic marbles, straightening up over the little qualifier, gradient increasing, trying to stay with Cez but desperate to hit the brakes.

Suddenly the trail was blocked by an angry wood giant seemingly configured for moon orbit. Cez disappeared skyward, Martin’s already gone and I’m pretty committed in speed if not in mind.

Hit the lip with some semblance of technique, then a long silence punctuated only by spinning hubs, then a thumping landing mostly on both wheels, and finally a proper fly off the following smaller sky-ramp. Oh that one felt good.

Stopped. Sowing machine leg. Flappy handed babbling. Senses overloaded, body flushed with adrenaline. Trying to make sense but brain is just backed up with ‘fuck fuck fuck did we just do that fuck fuck fuck’

I don’t think that’s commitment. I think it’s peer pressure. And denying the prospect of self loathing. And raging against the dying of the light. And just a smidge of an attitude to life long lost to age and conformity.

Same again next week then?

*With Tony Doyle who is universally known as ‘Jedi‘ for his teaching skills. Which means now of course Rex – based on his occupation – is now known as ‘Darth Welder‘ to whom we greet with ‘May the gas be with you‘.

**which cheered me up no end until I remembered how much quicker he still is. And apparently getting quicker. There’s hope for me yet!

 

Sometimes you have to leave..

Bluebell Day - Matt's camera

.. to understand exactly what it is you’ve left.* Riding in Spain was close to the perfect mountain biking holiday. Amazing location, brilliant trails, superb logistics, lovely hosts and great mates. All experienced through a prism of sunshine and dust. Except for the last day when it absolutely trouted it down, but hey that reminded me of home.

There is some resetting of norms out there. Back home we don’t average a daily 2,5000 metres of descending, nor suffer fatigued quads and pumped arms on trails bashing down rock conveyers for double digit minutes. Nor extended exposure with consequences from ‘that’d smart a tad’ to ‘we’re going to need an ambulance. And possibly a spatula

Wouldn’t it be brilliant to ride like that every day we asked and answered as a falling sun backlit the mountains, and we toasted the coming of the night with many glasses. 300 days of sunshine, a pace of life that has daily siestas baked in,  and a startling lack of the avarice and bullshit which pile up on our personal highways on this tiny, deluded Island.

Yes, and indeed no. Because even counting all its crap bits – and fuck me that’s a graph that’s gone exponential this last few years – there’s something secret, comforting and life affirming waiting for those of us attuned to the changing of the seasons. We almost missed this awesome show with our heads turned by muscular geography and bursting nature. Almost but not quite.

Dry and warm weather flowered bag-hibernated bikes into fully fledged trail-ready perennials. Short sleeves and shades were harvested from dusty luggage, and less than a week from the big mountains we were saddled and ready for one of my favourite events of the whole year: Bluebell day.

Sure the bluebells are not transitory in a single rotation of the planet but only a couple of weeks bookend first flush to sad wilt. We’d missed the first one but knew exactly where to get our fix of the forest at her most beautiful. First tho 10km of road, 9 of which had me obsessing over my manky hand.

Soon forgot about that as forgetting about the need to earn your turns proved to be ideal displacement activity. No uplift to haul us from the river to the not-very-high summit, but our destination was pulling at us like a benevolent black hole. First tho, a tramp down a favourite trail that was basically dust lightly attached to a concrete surface that may once have been dirt.

Not the rocks so closely associated with the Sierra Nevada national park but still lumpy enough for my silent bike to be accompanied by ‘ow’ ‘OW’ ‘OW FUCK’ from the rider positioned at the back wishing he’d taken Matt’s offer of hacking the offending limb off and grafting some kind of SPD attachment to the bar.**

More displacement required. That’ll be the Buckstone then. A great trail in any month but come Bluebell day, the most spectacular spread of colours bisected by a snake of hero dirt. Riding it shouldn’t be this hard except the optics in your peripheral vision drag eyeballs away from fairly important stuff involving where the trail is and the trees aren’t.

Bluebell Day- MTB FoD

So you stop. Take pictures. Take some more. Digital memories never trump analogue ones. It’s a million times better being amongst it rather than watching it through a viewfinder. Still that kind of pretentious nonsense lasts exactly as long as one of the crew gleefully finding something to chuck themselves off.

Bluebell Day- MTB FoD

That went on for a while. Until the axiom of ‘let Al choose the trails, he’s injured‘ died in the fire of my previously supportive colleagues chanting ‘bunker, bunker, BUNKER‘. That’s democracy for you so bunker it was. Steep, rocky, occasionally terrifying. After a week in Spain and being tinder dry, it wasn’t anything but a top to bottom bloody good laugh. With just the odd sob from the man wondering if the physio might be on to something***

Bluebell Day- MTB FoD

Then the pub. Sitting outside in the sunshine reflecting this is exactly what keeps us going in the seasons of grim. That and knowing bluebell day is coming. It never disappoints. And neither does coming home.

Adventures in other countries are never anything other than amazing. What’s rather special is finding the riding on your doorstep is pretty damn fantastic too. Maybe we’ll get another bluebell day tomorrow.

*I bastardised that quote from the novel Night Train to Lisbon. ‘We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there‘ – Pascal Mercier. If you’ve time to read this, you should read that. Or at least watch the film 😉

** that’s what passes as sympathy in our little riding group.

*** don’t ride for a month she said. Okay I said. I managed three days.

Talk to the hand

That's what my hand looked like after I crashed
Go on holiday they said. You’ll get some colour they said.

The people I ride with fit most of the standard archetypes; the mechanically inclined one, the quiet introspective one, the over-thinker, the young pretender, the party animal and, of course, the team idiot*

Fab friends to a man, but lacking in just a couple of areas. One being medical diagnosis of damaged organs** especially if the patient has a history of whinging, a low pain threshold and hypochondria.  Last year a finger bone snapped by the slamming van door was dismissed as a bit of swelling, and this time round the same limb going all sorts of funny colours matched a confident identification of ‘mildly bruised palm

To be fair,  one member of the medical committee was already dealing with a separated AC should joint with far less histrionics than yours truly visually explaining the pain through the accepted medium of the chicken dance*** Another member was absent due to cracking a couple of ribs half an hour earlier, so mitigating circumstances abounded.

Even so, it bloody hurt. One crash all week. Third day, but more irritatingly with three days to go. Ironically – and to show that fate has no truck with braggadocio and bombast – only 24 hours before I’d had my best day on the bike for a very long time. Even my friends noticed ennobling a singularity of thought that maybe I could ride a bike after all. I blame the altitude. And the wine.

Fast forward to 11am. First of six trails all uplift accessed. Couldn’t have been more excited. Couldn’t haven’t ridden any worse. Some bastard skill stealer had crept into the room the previous eve and nicked my hard won capability from a drunken mind. I mean it’s not much capability, but I’ve worked hard for that so to have it snatched away so cruelly seems more than a little unfair.

Second uplift. A little better, a wide ribbon of rock refreshingly attached to immovable geology. Not too many corners. Pretty much point awesome bike somewhere near the fast fellas and enjoy the view. Third trail, back to being shit. Had a look for somewhere to have a big crash, but survived due to insane amounts of grip and very good brakes.

Then Adam flung himself heroically, if somewhat hastily, at a plethora of rocks which broke both his fall and a couple of ribs. Fair to say his stoicism was entirely at odds to my post crash trauma, but hey he’s a young man with some organic body armour.

Next up was ‘Janet Street Porter‘ – nominatively deterministic for a rocks raised at right angles in the manner of gravestones. Every one of which had my name on it. I would say vertical but that’d ignore the canting of the horizon as is normal with any trail hanging onto a steep gradient.

Arrived at the first hairpin barely in control and in not state to roll the modulate/grab dice needed to maintain any kind of progress. Foot down, some swearing and then away on a fading incline loosening death grips and reducing the background load of managing fear.

We’ll be back up there on the next run‘ Matt the guide declared. Four looked happy, one looked broken, one was just looking at the ground. Still easier when you know what’s coming eh?

Not the hardest trail we rode by a distance. No exposure. Steep but nowhere near peak ‘fuck me, ride down that?‘ territory. Rocky sure, but we’ve been at that for three days. Switchbacks, yeah but by the end of the week we’ll have ridden hundreds of those. Sometimes on a single trail.

Still nervous tho. Best to follow someone who knows what they’re doing. In a little faster from the village above and it’s gets noisy fast with rock abrasions to expensive components, clattering suspension, tyres fighting for traction and the occasional whimper.

A little more in control this time tho. Slightly less flustered as the crux move came into view. Arse so far off the back it’s almost in another country. Squeezing those four pots like a man testing a dodgy tomato, big head turn, bike articulated between a hard turned front and a straight rear. One gap between the rock teeth, got to loose the brakes now, got to go for it.

Ciclo Montana MTB - April 2017

10 seconds before crashing

Oh that feels good. Even better there’s a lensman above doing his stuff. This is going to look epic. Next switchback is so much easier and I’m chasing a line nicked from Haydn’s way better effort last time round. Mind is clear, bike feels great, I feel good, hit the exit and let it all hang out.

Except I never got to the exit. Not sure I even made the entry.  No idea what happened really other than an unscheduled appointment with some unforgiving terrain. Lay there for a bit wondering which bit hurt most. Quite a few limbs demanding priority.

After hauling myself back to my feet, I decided it was my hand that might have suffered rather more heavily. Even a 600mg ‘Donkey Stunner’ Ibuprofen generic only took the edge off it. As did more of the same, wrist supports and a medically inadvisable alcohol bombardment over the next three days.

I expected it’d be fine when I stop riding. It wasn’t tho and a trip to Ross A&E – where the radiographer remembered me from last time – showed a hairline crack in the metacarpal. It didn’t show the soft tissue damage which, over two weeks later, is still bloody painful. I’m not making a big thing of it tho.

Didn’t stop me riding. Probably should have. But it’s bluebell time. I’d have to be in traction to stop me going out right now. I mean that’d just be stupid.

 

*I feel regular readers will be in no doubt of the identity of the latter.

**except the liver. And to be fair, we’ve all put the hours of research into that one.

***don’t make me explain this. Just don’t.

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.