Behold, the “SlackMo”

Presenting the 'SlackMo'

In lieu of starting all the work I airily promised to finish before my holiday, instead I’ve been binging Top Gear re-runs on YouTube. While putting the “pro” into procrastination, I couldn’t help but notice that almost every episode has May telling Clarkson “You dolt, you’ve ruined it“.

This is normally preceded by said dolt bolting on an Spitfire engine onto a Mini or some such thing. I tell you this because of a slight nervousness a similar fate may have befallen the Mighty RipMo. I mean not a Spitfire engine, which by the way would have been AWESOME, more engaging ‘Ludicrously Slack Mode‘.

Casting our mind back a few months, we find the RipMo at the end of an upgrade cycle. Absolutely perfect. Wanted for nothing. First name on the team sheet, etc. Expect it wasn’t the end, it wasn’t even the beginning of the end, it was rather the end of anything within cackling distance of sanity and fiscal responsibility.

There are reasons. There always are. Mostly we’re back to riding in far flung places. Sierra Nevadas in Spain next week* and a Back Country epic with Basque MTB next spring. Such trips provide what I like to call ‘justification‘ for something bike shaped from the shiny cabinet.

Regardless of bikes not being immune from the supply chain crisis, even if I could find something to buy, there was nothing I wanted. I mean sure I bought the Rascal but that hardly counts. In terms of the ‘big fraud’ bike writing cheques I cannot hope to cash, nothing, nada, no idea why.

Maybe it’s because the RipMo is way past good enough in the same way I don’t reach that grade. Or maybe I was sideswiped by an unexpected case of adulthood. I’m really hoping it’s the former. Anyway since I didn’t want to buy an enduro bike, I thought I might as well build one instead.

A sensible start saw the head angle slackened off by just a degree. One is enough regardless of the Internet suggesting all sorts of Frankenstein savagery. Plugged into the slackset up front was a slightly longer fork. Well the same fork that had been Matt’d with a longer airshaft or maybe a spitfire engine. I am, as ever, hazy on details.

These simple changes didn’t change that much. It felt even more capable and maybe a nadge less agile. Neither of which detracted from its general , genial “RipMoNess’. It still felt very connected to the first ride some 4000km and 40 months before.

And now? Well we all know sensible can go a bit batshit.  Pop into the pub for a quick pint only to find yourself ordering a round of flaming Sambuka’s while dancing naked on the bar*. In my case, I was a victim of circumstance after being offered a set of forks with a normal lead time of ‘they’ll put them in the coffin with you”

They are marketed as for the rider who needs the stiffest fork out there for extreme gnarliness, probably involving smashing through rocks the size of houses and a wing named after you at the local hospital. To be honest, I’d feel less of a fraud pretending I could dance naked on that bar.

Having now accelerated on a trajectory heading for crazy town, I went all in with a rear tyre so fat it barely fits between the stays. Leaving me with a high risk of wheel locking disaster if facing a metre of mud or good sized cowpat. Matt’s whirling spanners then arced from front to back putting firmness into brakes and rotation into bearings.

Declaring it done, I whipped it off the stand to calibrate the new parts at the Ross MTB proving ground. That’s two sets of church steps, over the humps of the old crazy golf course, and a cheery hello to the bowls club regulars who regard this kind of behaviour as birch-able.

It feels different now. I think it’s angry. It’s definitely ready for something. Maybe in the way a stallion can’t decide if to clear a ten foot fence or chuck the twatty ballast into the undergrowth. The best way I can describe it is to use a phrase first recorded when tanks were deployed to the Western Front ‘I don’t know what it’ll do to the enemy sir, but it scares the shit out of me‘.

It's in the bag!

I thought the best cause of action was to hastily take it to bits before it started terrorising Matt’s neighbours or eating his cat. Subduing the bike into its individual components was as much fun as it always is. It’s ready to go to another country but I’m not sure if I need some kind of permit now. “Hello Spain, okay to bring my Sabre Toothed Carbon Tiger? It’s hardly eaten anyone. This week.

So have I ruined it? Don’t think so. Guess I’ll find out in a week. I mean only someone with supreme confidence he HADN’T ruined his fantastic bike would risk shipping it 800 miles south for six days riding.

Or an idiot. One of those two. I’ll let you decide. In the meantime, welcome to the rebooted SlackMo. Can’t wait to ride it on rocky trails under sunny skies**. I have a feeling it’s going to be emotional.

Presenting the 'SlackMo'

*I mean we’ve all been there. Well I haven’t, but it’s how I expect places like London operate.

**I have sneaked a look at the forecast. If it rains all week, my friends will – rightfully – hate me for triggering an atmospheric river.

Moob-Tube

They* say blogging is dead. On life support at best. Moving images increasingly invalidate the medium. Reading is yesterdays news. Watching is where it’s at. Participating optional. Pile on ridicule or aspiration management is the new commenting.  What a time to be alive eh?

Not sure this is progress. Research evidences nearly 30% of young women have body shape issues because of Instagram perfidy. While increasingly fragmented societal groups, apparently misrepresented by the ruling class, fall into an echo chamber prioritising profit over any kind of duty of care.

So not good then. Most of us slashed the ties to those parental values that are somewhere between inappropriate and embarrassing. Almost everyone else abandoned worshipping at the Anglican Church for a digital diety promising inclusion without accountability.

The way we ingest information feels pretty arbitrary. We don’t trust the traditional truth-sayers anymore. And to be fair, many of those speeded us into a place where almost everyone can be branded as fake news.

When that almost everyone includes the bloke allegedly running the country and his cretinous band of ultracrepidarians, then the time may have come to hide under the duvet clutching a bottle of your favourite anaesthetic.**

So far, so much middle aged bloke shouting at clouds. If you can’t change it then at least get amongst it. Only not really, for every YouTube influencer*** with a million subscribers, there are those of us washing up on the surf lapping at the edge of the Internet.

I bought a GoPro. Firstly it’s an amazing bit of kit. Back in the early 2000s, any riding video was essentially a bucking horizon and the rapid deployment of a sick bag. Whatever Elven magic is packed into micro-circuitry now focuses wide angle lenses onto broad landscapes with nary a twitch.

Except the best auto-stablilsation in the world depends on at least a partially stable platform. Looking down at my own platform, honesty demands I admit stable is not a term that even charitably describes the withered frame. Sure back in the day it was all zero body fat and a chest-like-a-toast rack.

Those days are behind us. Retreating to the far horizon. Passing into myth. The contemporary version – while still hovering around the 12st mark – has sagged in some areas and ballooned in others. Short of procuring the services of an industrial winch, no straps are going to prevent a certain amount of organic vibration.

The solution – other than being a young person – is apparently to mount the soul sealer to your helmet****. The problem with that approach is any resulting video looks flatter and slower. Frankly reviewing my poorly edited nonsense, that’s about the only thing that could make it even less interesting.

On that note, I get the attention span for any kind of video content can be measured on the ‘how long does it take to eat a wine gum’ scale. Grading on that curve, my 20 minute travelogues through various MTB destinations are clearly not for everyone.

Or almost anyone. Here’s the thing, they are not for anyone. Firstly because jump cuts/endless slow-mo/bro-fuckwits, etc remind me of why the Marvel CU can do one.  Secondly my audience is basically me. It’s easier to prime the electronic sorcery with the three-beep-press than it is to get a proper camera out.

And I get to ride as well. No stopping, finding a good spot, sending riders back up hill when they fail to parse ‘WAIT A MINUTE, I’M NOT READY“, that kind of thing. More so I’ve found my inner riding voice is, in fact, an outer voice. The commentary admittedly is of variable quality but listening to ‘oh for fucks sake, Alex will you stop being a total twat?’ is more satisfying that it sounds.

It also sounds like a collection of the best moments of a ride. Banter, piss taking, crash noises you don’t get from a still. Memories freed from static frames. Digital essence of an analogue feeling. So much captured joy it makes me smile every time I watch them. Even if no one else does.

Really I’m fine with that. As Kirstly MacColl sang “I don’t want to change the world, I’m not looking for a new England“. I’m happy to document a tiny little corner just for me.

Oh and if you got this far: Moob Tube channel: You can’t say you haven’t been warned.

*Collective term for an ill defined cohort unknowingly coerced into supporting a marginal position.

**When I was a kid, this was how Nuclear War felt. All those undemocratic demon states. Now we’re being fucked by the very people the majority of our own state voted for.

***Honestly what the fuck? That’s a job now? Ability to use a GoPro and point it at things. I was told robots were going to take our jobs. I was mostly okay with that.

****I’m not even going to google GoPro and Helmets.

Gravel? Want a ditch with that?

From Ads phone. Me riding into some proper skies.

I don’t think I’m injured” I groaned while extracting myself slowly from an upside down bicycle and a wet ditch, “but thanks for asking” I added. Adam was far too busy pissing himself laughing to show any sympathy for my predicament.

Welcome to the strange world of ‘Gravel Riding’. A further pointless niche in the ever splintering discipline we used to call ‘riding a bike’. And as with any new thing, it’s mostly an old thing repurposed for late stage capitalism. Actually, it’s not even a thing at all, more a spectrum bookended by the Rough Stuff Fellowship* at one end and re-imagined 90s MTBs at the other.

If it’s not a thing, then maybe it’s a lifestyle. A familiar double triangle silhouette repurposed for bike packing epics, social spins on quiet roads, criss-crossing a network of forest roads or simply doing the same thing on a different bike. All things to all riders- the ‘throw shit at the wall and see what sticks‘ marketing approach.

Fairly sure a middle aged bloke lying supine in a brackish ditch wasn’t on anyone’s mood wall, but here is where we find ourselves. Dressed in unflattering lycra while riding past great singletrack. We’re deep in what should a very familiar Forest of Dean, but my mental map is misaligned with what’s happening on the ground.**

Discombobulation stared early. I’ve not packed the Mighty Wind in a vehicle since Ads and I set out on the Lon Las Cymru back in 2019. Since then it’s been mostly titanium wall art interspersed with desultory exploring from home***. That had been fine, which should not be confused with good.

Exploring alone doesn’t feel adventurous, but I guess if we’re going to grudgingly confer some benefits on nichedom, bikes likes these encourage that adrenal trigger of ‘I wonder what’s down there’. See also eBikes. Except.. no don’t get me started. It’ll be ‘old man shouts at clouds‘ before I can stop.

Adam has brought his new-to-him steel Fairlight bouncing on a set of 650B tyres rocking that 90s MTB vibe. Including the tan-walls but only one of us is pulling that off. I’m keeping it closer to what we used to call Cross Bikes with 700cc wheels running pressures best thought of as ‘desperately seeking tubeless‘.

In the spirit of our last great adventure, we are immediately lost. Ads is reacquainting himself with Garmin’s finest software, while I’m confidently fixing our location by randomly pointing at trees. MTB DNA takes over and we abandon the electronic line, instead climbing up a wooded singletrack trail mostly in the right direction. If you’re lost, up is always that direction.

We quickly rendezvous with the route and settle into that third place between the road and the proper trails. White roads, fire roads, logging tracks, sunken doubletrack – tedious links between the good stuff on a MTB. On these bikes tho, they offer a fast path under a colour changing autumnal canopy.

The FoD has become a Mecca for mountain biking. What we forget is how it was before. Timber and mining have a strong heritage here. The legacy of which are countless tracks criss-crossing over a hundred kilometres of mixed woodland. We’re following a few meandering towards the centre where a late breakfast awaits.

It feels like we’ve circumnavigated the cafe and bike shop in some kind of pincer movement. Trails I’ve ridden hundreds of times appear from unexpected directions. Fall line descents are enclosed by fireroad loops. However these are not without a certain excitement and occasional feelings of peril.

Gravel is mostly marbles loosely connected to hardback. Slides are a real thing. Speeds can get pretty high and while I’ve dumped the SPDs, there’s no safety valve dropping the seat post. I don’t really get riding these bikes on anything technical, but on easy trails and fast white roads they are bloody good fun.

We’ve covered the miles at a good rate so ride straight past Pedalabikeaway. I’ve not given up on bacon and coffee tho so some ten minutes later we’re sitting outside in October sunshine toasting our Wednesday skive. A quick map check shows 30km to go which on these bikes doesn’t feel like a chore.

Bacon and Coffee out of shot.
See what I mean about those tan walls? #lush 🙂

There’s a few steep pulls tho. Most of them staying away from the road. Only once are we spat out onto the Gloucester Road where a considerate multi-access user gains 10 feet by doing something stupid, while another swears at us from the safety of his 2 ton cage.

Fuck ’em basically. This is why I hate road riding. Soon enough we’re back to where this started. A poorly defined path with a well defined rut. Adam clears it with that annoying bike handling ease of his, whereas I drop the front wheel perfectly into the groove. The rest is basically physics and a further loss of dignity.

Dusting myself down, we gurn up some tough tracks to crest the summit of last valley. End of the ride was a bit anticlimactic with the route pointing us through unpassable felling. So we abandoned the GPX and engaged PubNav(tm) for a downhill road blast and a well earned pint.

Next time we said, we’ll find a better way down. And maybe see what’s up that other bit, could add that bit on, link to that other bit. That felt like proper adventuring. If these bikes are anything, they are brilliant companions for that.

However, I’ve still not forgiven Ads for buying a ‘Gravel Helmet‘.

*Buy the book off that website. It’s fantastic.

**This is not new. I’m 80% lost, 10% “oh we’re there are we? I wasn’t expecting that” and 10% “I recognise this bit, we’re near the pub

***Getting lost in local woods, on local roads and occasionally in a random field

Purple Rain

Revel Rascal

You: “what the hell is that?” / Me: “Look at the colour, it’s a magnificent purple isn’t it?” / You: “That’s somewhat beside the point. It appears you have bought ANOTHER new bike” / Me: “What do you think about the orange highlights, I’m not so sure“. You: “These are just pathetic distraction tactics, admit it you’re just embarrassed by whatever the fuck you’ve bought

Me: “Squirrel

Squirrel indeed. It’s not subtle is it? Kind of hard to hide. Which wasn’t on the top of my agenda when introducing it to my riding pals. “Prince would ride that” one quipped. “Not now, he’s dead, Al’s just really really old” another responded. Supportive as ever then; I waved my hands while loftily explaining this was more than just ‘a not quite dead yet’ purchase.

Faced with arms folded cynicism, I retreated into the numbers. Not those associated with geometry, more the total bike integers plotted against a timebound X-axis. 53 bikes, 54 years old. That’s not a level of imbalance I can handle, and with little chance to physically regress*, a new bike re-established much needed equilibrium.

Only not really. A happy coincidence at best. If ‘Fuck me, I’m sure I was 37 last week, how has this happened and who can I blame?” can be semantically twisted to mild joy. Serendipity was merely a by-product of a new product. The problem was the Mojo4. Well okay, the problem was me, but let’s pretend it’s a bike issue and move on.

Moving on is what we’re all about on the Hedgehog. Via jagging sideways, flashbacks, fast forwards, and all sorts of hooky rationale powering the revolving door in the ShedOfDreams(tm). More like a turbine recently. It was all going so averagely before one thing led to another and that led to what you see above.

Okay, let’s get this over with. Brief history to set context. My first Ibis was the Mojo3. Proper game-changer even for my middling skills. Logically buying another one from the same brand was a fine idea, and so it proved with the Mighty RipMo. A triggers broom of awesomeness you’ll be wrenching from my cold, dead hands.

Repeating this theme would surely continue the trend of right bike, right time. Which is where things kind of fall down. The Ripley wasn’t the right bike at all, and the right time was definitely when I sold it. Which led us full circle to the all-fresh next-gen Mojo. The 4, I mean it’s a number higher, it has to be better.

Spoiler alert. The adverts on various bike forums would suggest otherwise. If you need 950 words of ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, please check out the next issue of www.cranked.cc. Honestly, you should just buy the mag anyway because it’s full of brilliant content.**

So we’re not going to talk about that either. Instead, let us feast our eyes on the opulence of Deep Purple- a bike worryingly close in numbers too many of those languishing forgotten on the spreadsheet of regret. 140mm at the front, 10mm less out the back. Longish, definitely low, moderately slack. Multi linkage suspension design incompatible with 8 months of UK trail conditions***

Rides the same as those tossed in the virtual skip then? No, not at all. Well not entirely. There’s some voodoo hidden in all those pivots. It’s a bonkers good climber- maybe a little better than the DW link bikes I love so much. That’s a hell of a compliment.

It’s pretty light which helps. Another Araldite and string combo artifaced to within an inch of a topknot. Niche or not, downhill it’s a properly sorted trail bike. Everytime I rode the Mojo, it felt like the first time, on the Rascal (yes I know, with that colour I’m only grateful they didn’t call it the ‘throbber’) within 2 trails it kind of disappeared.

That’s a good thing. It also feels like a mini RipMo which is a good thing squared or possibly cubed. Just get on it, show a modicum of bike handling ability, point it at a favourite trail and wait for those endorphins to break down the door. Sure some of this is new bike glasses, a little more is displaced guilt from throwing good money after bad.

But, as has been pointed out on far too many occasions, father time is increasingly feeling like grandfather time. For some reason my birthday last week felt like a bit of an event. It was definitely an alcoholic event but that’s nothing new. No, it was the post hangover sobriety, and a snatched look in the mirror that triggered the ‘life is now really too short to ride bikes I don’t like‘.

I’m lucky enough to finance such selfish nonsense. But tracking Matt and Steve on a favourite Yat trail, all I could think was… well not much really… just that in the remaining days left to ride mountain bikes, I need every one to feel like this.

That’s a piss poor excuse to discard a bike less than six months after proclaiming it the new, best thing. Or replacing it during a two hour ‘what’s next’ buying frenzy.

Sure I get that, but ‘SQUIRREL

*mental regression continues unabated.

**present company accepted.

***this thing has so many mud shelves, it comes with its own stacker!

 

That ended well…

I can ride that out. Maybe.

Hello and welcome to a special edition of ‘oh fuck, really, again?’. What’s going on up there has a couple of triggers. One half a second before best thought of as ‘what kind of sick bastard left that tree there?’ and another a day prior where I was going large on small achievements.

Let’s start there. Keen to extend our skills day into actual riding, we ignored the mercury rising and headed out to our favourite trails. Perfect summer conditions primed for my best friends and a possibly inappropriate hardtail. Not everyone had got the memo, so just Matt, Rex and I sallied forth on a single sprung end.

These are not XC race bikes tho. They are long forked, fat tyred, slack angled bruisers. Lean into the front end and there’s pretty much no reason to ride a full suss on these trails. As ever, the bike was not the issue.

I kind of was. Leading the first couple of trails I was struggling to put theory into practice. Too much external stimulus,  some of it from behind wondering if I had a major stake in brake pad commodities. Obviously a breezy ‘fuck off’ deals with that but even so, limbs and brain were wondering if they’d ever met.

I hid mid pack until things improved. Which, considering conditions were perfect, is hardly a critique on my riding skills. Even so, flow was occasionally sighted if not consistently maintained. There was a lot of shit being talked, dust was harvested from every turn and laughter echoed through the summer leaves.

Life stuff right there. A small part of me was hanging back, going steady because in four days our postponed King Alfreds Way was fixed with non movable deadlines.  But on trails I know, and in conditions I ride pretty well this was not going to be a problem. Do the right thing, back off 10% and revel in some serious adulting.

About that.  We switched sides of the valley after a fantastic few hours tearing up the Doward. The symbioses of hardtail and rider under sunny skies had me over-rating my ability. You know the old saying “coaching can only take you far, but talent is limitless‘.

Or possibly limiting. We dragged ourselves up a white road climb where melting was a definite possibility.  As ever Matt has an itinerary that suggests we might finish before nightfall if all goes well. It went well early doors with an adequately brisk descent of a trail we’d loop back to access a well loved option.

I have ridden this trail *checks strava* at least 50 times. In the pissing rain, sideways sleet and endless dampness transforming every root into a mortality vector. And while I’ve had moments of ‘woooah woooah WOOOAH‘ I’ve never properly stacked it.

Until today.  Matt sends me out first so – because my ego is still anchored to being about 15 years old – I go full GoPro gimp*.  There is nothing to scare me on this trail. Fast and smooth, leave the brakes alone, lean into that front end, remember what you’ve been taught.

What I hadn’t been taught is ‘don’t crash your bike into a tree‘. Which is no fault of coaching as it’s pretty bloody obvious. We must ride past a thousand on every ride and we’ve all experienced what happens if you clip one. Earlier that day I’d castigated Matt for his 800mm bars explaining he was sure to be splattered by a handy trunk.

What’s that they say about Karma?  It points you at four sinewy interlinked corners where everything has to be perfect to nail fast shifting apexes. I was thinking about exactly how I’d be nailing those with my new technique and confidence. This was going to be GoPro gold.

Never got there. Mistimed a simple turn and smashed the bar into a sturdy sapling. The bike went sideways, I went horizontal. Physics, being a bit of twat, double teamed with gravity to punt me into geology defined by organ splattery bedrock.

Had an extended lie down. “Are you okay” / “Fucked if I know“. Gingerly got back up. Took a while. Tangentially aware left hand had taken a beating. Ignored that and rode the double drop a few minutes later one handed on my hardtail. Felt good about that. Didn’t feel good about much else that evening.

Two days later I tried riding the gravel bike. Two seconds of off-road confirmed four days of riding was a fantasy. I felt shit about it and letting Adam down but there’s being brave and being stupid. So we postponed again. Come September I’m bloody determined to get it done.

Roll forward five days. It’s still not great. I swerved A&E by asking my long suffering physio to have a look ‘Scaphiod probably okay, don’t ride on it, it’s properly swollen’.  Obviously, I rode on it, just tried the HulkHand(tm) in the field to see how it felt… not too bad. Maybe I could ride tomorrow?

No, I really can’t as my wrist and thumb are screaming for attention. I can’t quite hear what they’re shouting, but the gist seems to be ‘don’t be a fucking idiot’.

Well, that’s fair I suppose.  Could have been a collarbone. Really, lots of outcomes way worse than this. But shit I’m grumpy. Missed a four day bike tour because – and let’s just be honest here – I really am an idiot.

Will I ever learn? Probably not. Am I okay with that? Absolutely.

*If you want to see this post in real time, then this YT clip starts about 2 seconds before the crash

Been there, cased that

Me at The Golfie. Happy to be alive. And feeling very alive.

This post should start with an excuse. Or a more arresting image displacing a desperate attempt to manoeuvre the elephant quietly out of the room. Or a pithy missive on this format being a bit grandad. Sure not written much in a couple of months but check out my ‘shredits

Yeah, about that. Bought a GoPro. Spliced together clips of average riding and Olympic class swearing into content for an audience of exactly one. My ‘moob tube’* channel has slightly less engagement than underwater knitting or speed tiling. So anyway lots happened most of it roadkill on what we used to call the Information Superhighway.

I might be back to some of the highlights. Of which there have been many. A week in Scotland when it didn’t rain. Let me confirm, other than a 2 minute shower, we spent 6 day with sunny skies up top and dusty trails below. Sure we got midged and fly’d to death but what a trip.

In between there’s been all sorts of shenanigans involving bicycles and beer.  Scan forward and we’re back to the last post on jibbing the King Alfreds Way. Come this Thursday we’re back set fair by forecasts not projecting sideways hail onto my unmotivated person.

Words shall follow. Unless that forecast deteriorates. In which case both Adam and I are firm in our pact of ‘well fuck that for a game of soldiers‘. Tomorrow we’ve duped a few Wednesday night stragglers into a big full day out. On the hottest day of the year. On our favourite full on trails. On hardtails. Nothing to go wrong there**

Right done the whole ‘squirrel‘ thing. Displacement and distraction cannot suppress my ego much longer. An ego which had me explaining to Matt that I felt I might be a ‘little bit stoked‘. His expression pretty much validated that even if I was, this is not something a post-50 rider should ever express.***

I was still expressing it. Having cleared a pair of 10-12 foot tabletops. No one was more surprised than me. Be clear tho, this was not some light bulb moment upgrading me into a riding colossus, as I’d properly crashed a few minutes earlier. No one was surprised about that at all. Except me who assumed it was a fractious dirt bunny grabbing my front wheel. Until I saw the video.

Offered up by our coach Katy (www.katycurd.com) attempting to get two old white guys to jump. She’s not working with top quality talent here, and yet I found myself relatively relaxed as a huge slab of dirt passed serenely under my wheels.

Back in May I booked a session with Katy which mostly fixed my ‘arse going like a rabbits nose‘ approach to downhill drops. I wrote something far better than this for the last Cranked mag so nothing to add here other than, yes, I did crash that time as well.

Matt and I are half way through a second coaching session. Katy has been improving our corner techniques. Making me look mostly competent and Matt look even faster than usual. We’ve moved onto jumps and I’ve moved on to reasons why the simple exercises are beyond my cerebral buffer.

Repetition and gentle encouragement nudges the dial. I’m not good but there’s a noticeable uptick from enduringly shit. That mark is being hit by almost everyone else on the skills loop. Lots of grunting, no technique, repeat until ego masks failure.

We moved on. To two tabletops where my standard approach would see me brake mightily before compressing at least three vertebra many feet from the downslope. Katy believed in us in a way I cannot, and sent us back up the hill to commit to what we practised.

Well fuck me. I flew over the first one and massively cased the second. I’m taking that I said. She pointed me back upwards with a few tweaks and, a few runs later, I’ve cleared both of the monsters.  I was, er, a little bit stoked. Matt asked if I’d mirror that commitment if they were gaps. I was suddenly quite a lot less stoked.

Katy then offered Plan B. Sometimes you just have to hit the buggers as fast as you can. I’ll admit here to being a bit nervous as this approach has never served me terribly well. Unless your goals were extensive bleeding and the possible unplanned removal of a vital organ.

Still we’re here. And no one is going home dying wondering. Big old crank, lean into the berm, time that compression and the lip is coming up terrifyingly fast. Breathe. Push into the lip, keep pushing, wait, wait… wait just a little longer, now let it come back as the bike goes super light.

Suspension unloads, manage that, try and remember all the stuff that is probably important, None of it is important. You are flying. Really, no longer an earth bound misfit. Point stiff hips downward and the landing feels like nothing. Don’t blow it now, death grip the bars, slingshot the berm and go again.

This time it feels both familiar and unreal. Time slows but the scary doesn’t fill the gap. I go again and it’s just as good. Then I watch someone less than half my age throw all sorts of shapes with nary a care. I’m fine with that. Because this morning I was casing this every single time.

I cannot wait to ride tomorrow. I’m sure most of the controlled environment won’t happen on the trail. Going to be fun finding out. Especially on the hardtail.

It’s less old dog and new tricks, more you can just keep on learning. That’s a pretty cool thing.

*combination of loose camera harness and some middle aged wobbly bits.

**next post might refute that last statement. Possibly from a hospital bed.

***Should have gone with ‘well that was jolly nice. Tea anyone?’

Jibbed

A bit like of gravel!

Excuses first. When it comes to misery and riding bikes, I’m gold-stamped and time served. While I’m rubbish at suffering, I’ve still suffered mightily over the last thirty years. Rain, hail, snow, gales, endarkenment, blood, sweat and many, many tears. Really I’m done with it. Type 2 fun can go fuck itself while I hide inside.

Which is why as of 8am this morning three of us were not riding the King Alfreds Way (KAW). As of 8am a week ago we called it. Six weeks of rain and the prospect of hard precipitation for another seven days was enough for at least two of us to play the ‘sod that‘ card.

Almost four years ago Adam and I spent three days being blown off* a smorgasbord of Welsh mountains.  At the end of which I made it absolutely clear that was the last bloody time we let man-logic rule proper meteorology. Sure I look back at the Trans Cambrian with some affection. Back being the key word here.

Looking forward to the KAW was quite a thing, After the brilliant experience of riding the Lon Los Cymru, 2020 was slated for a crack at the west coast of Ireland. The guidebook for the Wild Atlantic Way looked epic and we got close to booking flights before, you know, that whole global pandemic thing.

So when the KAW was trumpeted as a whole new semi-off-road experience, we were all over like a cheap suit. Ads is more your ‘Yep that sounds good‘ type of planner, where I’m deep into the the details with multiple spreadsheets. We took a punt on post lockdown opening times and booked three pubs on the route. A route that’s pushing 350km and a whole lot of elevation.

Instead of training for riding proper trails over four days, I invested in new kit. Heavier wheels and fatter tubeless tyres. A new bar mounted nose bag. A smaller chain ring panically purchased after a proper review of the route profile.  All of this was tested during the cold but dry April when my main worry was how unyielding the tracks might be.

Hah. Careful what you wish for. Rain arrived Easter Monday and shows no sign of leaving. Came for the downpour, stayed for the hail. Social media hash-tagged the route with broken mechs, fourteen hour days, misery compounded by desperate entreaties the weather might be better tomorrow. Of course it wasn’t.

Of course we vacillated. This was not our first rodeo. Even so, riding fully laden gravel bikes on the wet chalk of the Hampshire downs was not filling me with joy. The stories afterwards would be reassuringly epic. The actual daily experience reliably shit. We could get it done, but I’ve enough of those memories and not enough time in front of me to collect many more.

So we jibbed. Additional context was Ads hadn’t recovered from crashing his MTB a few weeks earlier, and I was shuttling up and down the motorway worrying about an ageing parent. But honestly if the sun had been shining these last few weeks we’d be sat in a pub right now, some 80km into the route, congratulating ourselves on a day well done.

Instead I’m sat at home with a glass at my left hand wondering about what might have been, Sure we’re talking about postponement not cancellation. We’re not giving up, merely picking a better time because this is meant to be fun not some homage to purgatory.

Even so, it feels like failure. Is this how the end starts? Faking adulthood to avoid tackling what might be defining? Too old to learn those new tricks? A bit nesh in the face of difficulty? Or wise enough to wax the board and wait a few weeks?

Whatever we’re not doing the thing I was really looking forward to doing. Regardless of the crap Spring, I’m pretty fit and ready to go. But not ready to go and endure four days of misery. Yet I need to be sure there will be more adventures coming soon. So I’m not filling the next four days wondering about what they might be,

Instead I’m going to ride that bike as a proxy to what we didn’t do.  Or at least what we didn’t do, yet.

I expect it’ll be the standard life affirming riding bike thing. Tinged with a little bit of guilt and regret. Whatever, It’ll all be clearer when the rain finally stops and the riding starts.

*this is not any kind of metaphor. It was way less fun than that.

Never gets old.

The last of the bluebells..

Power of 3. Murf was 13 last week, I turned 53 a few months ago and the mighty RipMo clocked its’ third year in the ShedofDreams(tm) today. It’s fair to say both the Lab and the bike are wearing that age rather better than their owner. The senior dog spends most his time asleep with vigorous activity being reserved for anything food related. At times like this I’d like to reverse the axiom that pets resemble their owners.

The bike retains the boundless enthusiasm which sealed the deal back in 2018 and cemented it’s place in the top three MTBs I’ve ever owned*. While its inherent qualities remain intact, the components transforming that frame from a shiny bit of garage art to a full functioning bicycle are somewhat more mutable.

While that picture and this one look similar they really are not the same.

Ibis RipMo. About to get very dirty on its first ride !

Let’s start at the rear; three wheels, four cassettes, three rear mechs and a similar number chainrings, two cranksets, four sets of pedals, a replacement seat post, a warranty stem**,  new posh forks and a front wheel. We’re not done yet, annual fork and shock services, new shock inners after the originals shat themselves in Malaga, and a final addition of ‘Strict Helga the German Saddle‘. And tyres? Well I dunno, let’s go with ‘a lot‘.

That whole paragraph could be summarised as ‘only the bar and brake rotors are original‘. What’s still missing though is the majority of these changes are wear and tear related. In three years the RipMo has clocked nearly 4000 kilometres across four countries. It’s been smashed down endless switchbacks in Sospel, brutalised by a sodden week in Finale, bashed nearly to death in Malaga and abused on a mostly weekly basis all over the UK.

And still on the original set of bearings and bushings. Which considering it’s designed in Drought County, California is something of a testament to the build quality***. Regardless of the Triggers Broom component stack, the heart of the bike is as it was when I fetched it from a battered box in May, 2018.

If it were a three ringed tree, it’d have notched the passing of time as new and shiny bikes orbited its wall bound status. I never really got bored of riding it, but there was always something new to try instead. Ironic really as in the first six months of RipMo ownership I sold every full suss I owned, including the Ibis gateway drug that was the Mojo3.

Me being predictably me reverted to type and bought stuff that seemed – oh I don’t know what the word is, let’s go with – appropriate. The last of which was the Ripley and we all know how that worked out. Well I say last, obviously that doesn’t include the Mojo4. Because why would it, as that’s an entirely different proposition. Or so I tell myself.

Although not so much this last two weeks. The RipMo has missed the last couple of upgrade cycles what with the new and shiny taking preference. After some post-Ripley bike Cluedo ‘the bike buying idiot in the shed with an XT crank‘, a whole new 12 speed wheel and transmission were slated to freshen up the old girl.

Obviously my skills lie elsewhere so I slotted it into the trailer on the way to a big Saturday ride. Arriving at Matt’s, I decided a second RipMo ride in six months might be quite the thing. Even with it’s mostly knackered gears creaky rear wheel. This entirely failed to stop it being entirely marvellous to the point where I wondered out loud ‘do I really need more than one full suspension bike?‘.

The case for the defence is it’s built heavy with parlance mud clearance. It’s really too much bike most of the time so making trails a bit too easy. What this misses is how much I’ve missed this bike. It’s saved my arse and many other useful limbs countless times. It’s brilliant because it disappears. It elevates me beyond average because it’s just so bloody competent. As a package it’s pretty much perfect in terms of geometry, kinematics and build.

There’s a new version I really don’t care about. What I cared about was buying new bikes that might be better than this old one. Honestly I never found one. Last night there was much briskness and bravery on the Wednesday night ride. Stuff that gives me pause doesn’t stop the Ripmo for a microsecond. Just point it, show a little faith and get off the brakes.

It’s pretty much the perfect trail bike. The median of the three bears. The average of XC and Enduro without ever feeling even slightly average. The only bike I feel fast on even when my head is hard stopped on slow. Honestly it’s so good I’d even let the beer fridge go before I sold it.

So if this feels like a love letter to nothing more than araldite and string, then so be it.  It doesn’t stop me tapping the bars after a great ride and whispering a ‘that’ll do pig’ when no one is listening.

And I get to ride it again tomorrow. Never gets old.

*which is a hell of an achievement when you consider the extensive and bewildering pantheon of bike shaped composites that’ve passed through the shed door.

**Original cracked. Which I discovered the night before an uplift day to a bike park. That check is the reason I still have all my teeth.

***to be fair, Matt’s saved them with an annual service. Even so, that’s way better than a few ‘UK designed’ bikes I’ve had.

 

The numbers do lie

Ibis Ripley v4 at 1000km

Respectful silence please. A bicycle has passed on. On a journey through this vale of tears* over the River Styx** and into a final resting place. Well if not final at least with a decent chance of seeing a few seasons, instead of the revolving door policy of the ShedofDream(tm) punting it into the sellasphere.

Anyway it’s not really dead, just resting. With Nick who opened negotiations with “Hi Alex, you probably don’t remember me, I bought a bike from you 10 years ago. Do you want to sell me your Ripley?”. I didn’t, he did and I might. Vague memories of my old Pace 405 being shipped onto a affable fella possibly located in the Chepstow region.  There’s been a whole lot of life and a shit load of bikes since then, so I sent a request down to the deep archive*** and struck up a careful dialogue.

The backstory of the talented Mr Ripley can be found here and here. The TLDR version is we’ve never really got on. There have been a few great moments but not enough fantastic days.  I fixed the front end, the back end, the wheels, the tyres, even the bloody seatpost but I never fixed me. I was about the only reviewer that couldn’t correlate the experience with brilliance.

So – being a data guy – correlation is kind of my thing. If things don’t make sense look at the numbers. The Ripley and the Mojo4 share many of those. One has a bit more reach, the other a bit less head angle. Different wheel sizes but clamped in the same model of posh fork.

There aren’t enough points of difference to make the point they feel very different. I’ve ridden lots of DW Link bikes and they share similar characteristics.  They don’t squat much under power, they’re pretty plush on small bumps. They have a bottomless feel, even on shorter travel versions,  without losing that never-defined-but-quite-important ‘poppiness‘ of a well sorted trail bike.

Even so quantification works better in a lab. It loses much of its efficacy outside. For example, one of my many skills deficits is committing front end weight on corners. The Ripley fed the fear that the next second might end painfully in hedge or tree. Well until I handed it over to my mate Steve at Afan, then he handed me my arse right back a few trails later.

It’s not about the bike then. Even so I was keen to understand why. A hatched plan saw me riding the bikes back to back on the same trails. Even if the numbers matched, my experience would trigger the Nero thumb. I’d explained this in tedious detail to Carol who wearily acknowledged this was a good idea and could I please shut up now?

That plan didn’t survive first contact with an email. I dithered for a bit, called a few friends for advice, one of which asked “When would you ride the Ripley over the Mojo?“.  A good question for which I had no answer. I’ve already thrown the Mojo into all sorts of situations way beyond my bravery. It’s saved me so far.

That’s not to say the Ripley wouldn’t have but it didn’t give me the confidence to even try. Which again is odd as it has the same or more travel. More? Yes because of the industry maxim****  that a 29 inch wheeled bike adds 10mm or 20mm ‘real‘ travel compared to a 27.5 inch. That might be true at the extreme of the riding envelope. Maybe, but I’m not riding close to that envelope.

I am however getting a whole lot more confident riding the Mojo. I’ve chucked it over the big gap jump on two consecutive weeks. Which has happened  – hmm let me check – exactly zero times in the last two years. I’ve kept the fast fellas in sight and, because none of those metrics really matter a single fuck, finished every ride with a bloody big grin on my wizened fizog.

So it wasn’t too hard to transact a one-price deal with Nick. He’s a good egg and we had a no bullshit convo ending in a physical switcharoo only 24 hours of comms being established. I’m very happy to report he’s loving the Ripley and it’s ripping his legs off on big days out. This is 100% better than it hanging unridden on my shed wall.

Better still he’s keen to show me round his local trails. I’ve not so much lost a bike as gained a new riding buddy. Those numbers though – better to treat them as advisory.  Sometimes you have to go with what feels right. And right now I’m pretty happy with how things worked out.

N-1 tho. Blimey. Let’s not make a habit of that.

*not veil. Vale as in Valley. Honestly I’m a practising agnostic and even I know this. I’ll happily co-opt some Christian liturgy tho when it scans better than ‘shed

**Okay Severn. Jeez when did fact checking on the Hedgehog become a thing? And no, I didn’t pay the bloody ferryman. Because the bridge is now free.

***Got nothing. Until the physical instantiation of Nick at which point all I could think of was he’d aged quite a lot better than me 😉

****Made up. I’m assuming to sell more 29ers.

Do or do not. There is not try.

Penyard April '21

(this gap is fine. It’s tiny. The one in the text below? Absolute bloody monster)

Me to Matt: “I know I’ve ridden them before. But that bloody chute and big sodding gap are living rent free in my head. However good the ride is, it’s pretty much ruined by anxiety and indecision. I know I can ride them, but I don’t know if I want to. But if I don’t I’ll be filled with self loathing. It’s bloody annoying

Matt to me: ‘Just ride them or don’t ride them. It doesn’t matter, nobody cares‘.

Matt’s a very good friend and mostly good council. But today he’s straight up wrong. It does matter and I bloody care.  Let’s break this down. YouTube has replaced self-help books. It’s awash with content on how to manage this kind of stuff. If you can’t be arsed to read the Chimp Paradox*, there are bite sized fifteen minute videos of talking heads kind of taking sense.

Derivative reduction leaves you with the mental (“I want to do it“), the physical (“I have the skills to do it“) and the doing (“I will fully commit to it“). Nestling in the centre of that Venn is a happy place. Outside of it is a whole load of conflicting advice and new age bullshit. My least favourite is visualisation “imagine clearing that jump and banish negative thoughts

Fuck? Really? Ask me to imagine the second after takeoff and all I’m getting are R-rated rushes of parabolic blood spurts, severed limbs and ground-sky-ground rolls ending in life changing injuries**. Rationally I know this is a statistically remote possibility, but it’s the only possibility I see whenever someone suggests mental exercises are the key to progression.

Okay, moving on. I know I can do this stuff. Assuming my subconscious has bullied its way into the driving seat and tossed all that mental angst out of the passenger window. I came late to steeps and jumping and I’m not great at either. Nor am I totally useless, except when it comes to proper steep and proper gaps. Then I just kind of freeze up and forget the very skills I need to deploy right now.

At which point we’ve been somewhat overtaken by events. The chute is right there, the lip of the jump is filling my vision. I wonder idly if I can grade all my riding pals on a curve. Back here we’re banging the needle on coward, a few yards up may register mildly anxious. Up front the perpetually unworried are on the stops marked bravery or lack of imagination.

Honestly there’s a time and a place for this kind of thing, but let me tell you this it is NOT when you’re about to dive into the void of the unknown. Really, this is not a great point to replace your agency with passenger. Get this wrong and you’ll have no one to blame. Except maybe those YouTube idiots.

Who are smugly clever after the event.  I’ve certainly failed to be clever beforehand.  The chute I fully commit to but blimey I’m scared. Which is entirely reasonable but also consequential. I’m so stiff I might as well be dead already. The line*** is so close to a muscular convex rock and then over a spur that just looks stupid until you consider the alternative.

One foot bounces off the pedals and I exit wide eyed and somewhat stirred. A couple or riding buddies thank me for showing them it’s not quite as easy as the previous two riders made it look. I garble something in reply waiting for my heart rate to drop below that of a amped up hummingbird.

Twenty minutes later, we’re backed up behind the big gap. Rex and I have made a pact to get it done tonight. We’ve both done it before but it would be a hell of a stretch to call it a regular occurrence. I crank hard behind Matt but it still feels too slow, so I’m still pedalling as we hit the lip.

Brilliant. All that practice the day before was for nothing. I’m so far over the front of the bike, physics punts the front tyre on a direct trajectory just below the exit ramp. Body parts inventory coming right up I muse. I’m surprisingly calm because the screaming part of my brain is off line. It’s basically gone stack overflow and taken an early reboot bath.

I feel two bumps. One from the front and one from the back. I then feel the bike is still under me which may have elicited a bit of a relieved noise. I wouldn’t call it a laugh exactly, more the return of respiration and a mighty sob. Six more inches and there would have been all sorts of trouble****.  Matched with equal quantities of trauma.

The rest of the ride was great. Feeling super confident and making decent progress. Still fucking up on a regular basis but that’s just Al standard operating procedure. But loving riding the new bike with a legal band of six.

Even so my thoughts turn back to the chute and the gap. The positive vibe is that if I can fuck them up so badly and not actually crash, the next time will be way easier. A few more after that and they will be normalised. Until the next thing.

The negative black dog is telling me I just got lucky, and that’s not going to happen again. Quit while I’m ahead. Or still got a head. You’re too bloody old and breakable to be taking these risks. Just enjoy what you can rather than lamenting what you’ve lost.

I’m not sure this is an easy resolution. All I know is I’m doomed to spend a lot more time thinking about it. It’ll probably go easier with a beer.

*I’ve read this a couple of times. I think it’s a good book but there’s a bit of me – maybe the chimp – wondering if it’s snake-oil.

**It’s a pretty vivid depiction. Think Hieronymus Bosch only with a little more focus on Hell.

***Line my arse. Path of potential survival is more how I see it.

**** Stop it. It’s beneath you.