As good as it gets?

About the best feeling ever

So was the Basque Back Country tour the trail nirvana everyone promised it would be?  Oh Yes. Miles better than the previous twenty years of mountain biking globetrotting? By some distance. Stunning vistas? Fantastic guides? Every type of trail mostly going on for approximately ever? All of that and quite a lot more besides.

Not riding that!

Perfect then? Well no but pretty damn close. Weather had its moments. Most of those were filled with rain. More time sat in the van wondering if maybe this was a little bit too much a little bit too late*. Some frustration walking sections that were absolutely ridable. But plenty more when I puckered up and got it done in a parody of bravery and competence. In my head anyway.

Yep it rained 😉

Better still no one came home in an ambulance**. Not that thirteen riders hitting trails eight hours for a solid six days was ever going to end without a few injuries. Most of which where of the ‘fucking hell, dodged a bullet there‘ kind except Jim (of the fantastic Northern Contingent making up most of the other half of the group) who was properly fast and apparently fearless.

Broken Jim 🙁

I arrived pretty late to his crash what with that speed differential, but early enough to catch a gritted ‘fuck it, dislocated my shoulder‘ which since we’d barely dropped off a high ridge above any kind of civilisation wasn’t ideal. He forebode that journey down, the hospital visit and the next couple of days in a sling with way more fortitude than anyone looking like me.

1800m. The descent went on for a bit 🙂

Much as we felt for Jim, we were, frankly, having too much of a good time to think much beyond ‘might back off a bit‘. Still with many of the trails being at about 102% of my skill level, backing off pretty much meant getting off. But since I was pretty sure we weren’t coming back, the prospect of post trip self loathing was more than counterbalanced by praying the bike was quite a lot better than me.

Rock. So much rock!

This led to so many memorable moments. Not the weather ones. The thousand metre descents, the 15 minutes of thigh burning ecstasy, the desperate need to stop to shake out brake-numbed wrists, the hanging on to the back wheel of a mate totally unsighted to what comes next, the endless switchbacks, the whip-fast Jedi-Speeder blasts through the trees, the tight and techy, the flat out ruler straight bedrock, the ‘fuck don’t look down there‘ exposure, the raise your head and marvel at the mountains, the banter and the bollocks. The thing no one at home gets.

Steve on some of that epic bed rock

So like every great ride I’ve ever done. Yes but no. Harder, longer, more intense. Trail Evo if you will. No filler, all killer. And each trail transported you to a different location. Oh this loamy forest, that’s the Ardeche in France. Rocky switchbacks? Sopsel in the Maritime Alps, loose sandy frictionless madness, Malaga and the Sierra Nevadas, Badlands Grey Earth? Well fucking hell, this is new, surely I’ve just ridden through a CGI movie set?

Grey earth. You have to go and ride there!

An assault on the senses, and the muscles holding those senses in place. Reviewing the GoPro footage, the ‘house style‘ is mostly heavy breathing, cursing, gibbering and the camera slamming into the bars as I repurpose them as a full body rest. Clearly my plan to mitigate age with a rigorous diet and fitness plan lasted all the time it took to illuminate the light in the beer fridge.

Si on one of a million rocky switchbacks

Talking of which, the food was mostly amazing. Accompanied with only moderate servings of beer and wine. Because 102% commitment is not compatible with 18% blood alcohol ratios. We stayed in villages literally at the end of the road, pretty rural towns full of spirit and community, then MTB hubs split between modern metropolis and ancient castles.

Not actual accommodation 🙂

But mostly we lived outside of normal time. Wake up, remember where you are, hot showers fail to ease aching muscles, eat everything in front of you then snaffle the remainder for trail snacks, find your bike, kick the tyres for the look of the thing, worry not about patina begat by rock strikes, high five the guides, stumble into the van, watch your world get many hills deep, relish the stillness as  engines fade, flick your brake levers, focus on the gap in the mountains. The future is right there. Waiting for you. Best get amongst it.

Not pedalling up hill 🙂

Back to that first image. Fag end of a long first day. Already overloaded on amazing trails and fading fast. There’s not much downtime on this trip. So no surprise it’s another climb and a carry. But the reward is riding the gap between two freaking mountains ranges. It is a stretched minute of ‘holy fuck‘ as the trail narrows to a sliver of perfect rock.

And then we had to get down. Chasing Si I forgot everything other than there is nothing else – absolutely nothing – that can better this right now. For a man who spends far too much time worrying about the time that has gone and how much is left, that’s as good as it gets.

Other than us finishing in a bar. With a beer and my best friends in the world. And knowing we were doing it all tomorrow. And the next day.

That’s a good memory.

What I’m feeling now is mostly loss. Lamenting I can’t get that time back. But I can go back. There’s still time. Money I can make every day, time, tho, I need to spend. And spend wisely.

*more of than privileged introspection in the next Cranked mag. Don’t worry there is lots more interesting stuff in there 🙂

**Si was lucky not to go home in a hearse. We ‘shared‘ him between the three twin rooms. Each of which showed great restraint not smothering the 8 hour snore monster he transmogrified into at midnight 😉

Flat lining

MTB Yat both sides

Been a while. Life and all that gets in the way of writing stuff. Most of what passes as content is virtually penned lying wide awake in dark times. None of which passes the 8am-what-the-hell-do-I-absolutely-finish-today test. And behind that existential angst is plain lazy lethargically waving in plain sight.

Still did take loads of photos. Spring naughtily flirted with us and it was all t-shirts and mostly dusty trails. Then winter gave spring a slap for coming too early, and we were back to icy winds and horizontal rain.

So let’s start with things that didn’t happen. Our third tilt at the King Alfred’s way was more windmill than charm. There were reasons. Individually resonating, cumulatively adding up to not much more than ‘it’s cold and wet and we can’t be arsed‘.  So we did something else instead.

Katy Curd Coaching - FoD

Katy Curd Coaching - FoD

Before that though, this. A more successful third attempt at something – in this case being coached by the never less than fab @katycurdcoaching. Katy did her stuff and I mostly worked on my timing. The sun shone and mostly good things happened. As ever, trying to make them happen outside of that environment is a challenge I’m up for, if not entirely qualified to tackle.

Abandoning the KAW, Adam and I headed up to North Wales for me to burnish those shiny new skills at a couple of trail centres. Sandwiched between was a big day out on the gravel bikes which made me wonder if four days of this might have been another of those challenges eagerly accepted right up to the point of attempting them.  I doubt we’ll find out, it feels the time for this tour has passed so we’ll dream up something even more stupid. Quite looking forward to that.

Dolgellau Gravel Epic

Dolgellau Gravel Epic

Dolgellau Gravel Epic

Nant y Arian

Looking forward is the new dealing with disappointment. Specifically I was more than a little keen to complete a whole ride without being sleeted on. Shivering needed to be yesterday’s problem. More than anything I just wanted to ride in the sunshine and toast dusty bikes from the pub garden. Not wrap myself in every packed layer to combat hail and headwinds.

Someone listened. Unlikely to be the cloud fairy of your choice. Not with he/him being busy with the whole resurrection thing. Logistical nightmare right there. Worse than a wedding “for God’s sake make sure he’s sober, on time and looking the right way” – how hard can it be. And find someone to take all that fish off our hands*

FoD/Pludds

FoD/Pludds

Easter tho. Tradition is more about the resurrection of anecdotes of either a) snow or b) heatwaves.  This weekend we had something a little closer to the latter setting me up for riding four days out of five. Every one was a blast, carving up dry trails, watching the bluebells bloom, heading to the pub for a cold beer and doing it all again the next day.

Penyard - Easter 2022

Penyard - Easter 2022

Short of nearly t-boning Dave in a ‘what the hell are you doing on that fire-road‘ situation that ended with a relieved giggle rather than a hospital visit, it’s been a incident free long weekend.

Which is good since in 12 days we’re heading out to Basque MTB** for a week of shuttled riding and really I need every available limb to be in the best condition it can manage hanging on the old withered frame. Swerving COVID is a secondary priority as too many friends have contracted it these last few weeks.

First beer outside after a ride in 2022!

There’s other stuff to deal with. But we all have that. And 99% of the time I know I’m in a pretty good place to make the right choices. Even when those decisions slam up against my own well documented mortality hang-ups. More than ever seizing the bloody moment feels like the right thing to do. Not to create the kind of memories digitally archived by those images, but because there will a time when those are the only things you have left.

The last few months have shown me what that feels like. Second hand but first receiver. The middle aged fella creaking a bit in the mirror needs to find a way to deal with that. That’s more than riding bikes of course, but these last few weeks reminded me – as if I needed any prompting- it’s sometimes a great first response.

2D images are great for what they are. 3D immersion tho – that’s where it’s at.

*yes I know I’m mixing made up stories. I expect this will be brought up, along with many other misdemeanours, come pearly gate time. I am atheist but I’ve still prepared a robust defence 🙂

**I’ve been desperate to do this trip for approximately ever. Still I said that about Finale and it’d rained the entire week. Lightening can fuck right off if it thinks about striking twice.

Dig it

I don’t want you to get distracted by that image up there. Even while accepting that  a cursory glance suggests yet another bike crowding the diminishing floor space in the shedofdreams(tm).

Conclusions are assumptions, but context is everything. Well something anyway. Maybe an excuse thing. Whatever this isn’t N+1, it’s merely N, a holding pattern, more of the same but a little different. A day before whatever that is arrived, something far better defined left in the hands of a very happy man three days short of a significant birthday.

What has he bought? Previously we’ve described these triangular garments, entirely failing to clothe the emperor, as last century’s mountain bikes wrapped in shiny marketing cloth. That holds regardless of their party trick is being pretty damn good at a lot of things, and amusingly useless at a few others. In a time of no bad mountain bikes, this is to be celebrated.

We came into the sport as silly. Seriousness is not something to be applauded. Riding excitedly to your local woods, playing between the trees before trudging home with a bloodied knee is exactly how your eleven year old cherished their spare time. So more of that can’t be a bad thing, right?

Yes, Al maybe/possibly/what the fuck are you talking about? Get to the point – what is this new thing and why’s it replaced something that looks – at first, second and forensic glance – pretty damn similar? I’m glad you asked. No really I am, as this is not just drunken purchases disguised as a grand strategy.

Nobody who rides mountain bikes with any level of obsession would allow ‘well they’re all the same, why do you need more than one?‘ to pass without a vigorous defence probably including complex charts, longitudinal analysis and peer reviewed research. *

So it its with gravel bikes, or whatever we’re calling them now. We have road bikes with a nod to imperfect surfaces** and mountain bikes Frankenstein’d into drop bar mutants. Grade them on a curve and the Tempest was a refined, comfortable mile muncher, while that green monster prefers to paw away at raw soil before thugging its way through the countryside.

Look closer and there are many differences; frame material, wheel sizes, head angles and other items of irrelevance. The important disparity is intent. The Tempest wants to pick a distant spot on a dusky horizon and navigate there via interesting paths. The Digger (what is it with me and stupid bike names?) tolerates a bit of tarmac, but what it really wants is to hunt down an enduro bike and poke it with a stick.

The Tempest is background, the Digger is front and centre. It needs to be ridden, it’s not interested in being out all day, it’d rather rip your legs off, scare you shitless and then drop you off at the pub. Which is  absolutely brilliant for a mountain biker looking for a bike to make the local woods a bit more interesting.

Unless the same individual was tilting at a third attempt at a multi-day self supported King Alfred’s Way in less than two months. I used to have the perfect bike for that. Until yesterday but now I have something else entirely. There’s a hurtful rumour my purchasing criteria was based on ‘I‘ve already got one that colour’ and ‘last years model is going at a heck of a discount‘.

Regular readers will back me up that such salacious gossip is entirely at odds with my unimpeachable integrity, ruthless logic and legendary fiscal responsibility***

Regardless it’s been pedalled out to those local woods which was perfectly fine if a little slower than previous drop bar bikes. The payoff is picking lines on muddy singletrack when you reach that destination. Wide bars, knobbly tyres, dropper post, this really is an MTB hiding in plain sight.

It’s fun on easy trails in a way that my 160mm hardtail really wouldn’t be. There’s nowhere here I’d bother dragging the full-suss bikes for. But an hour on muddy trails going mostly sideways with a big grin on my face? Lots more of that please. Yeah sure that was the same face accessorised by new bike glasses. But even so, it’s quite a thing and if my thing is 90 minute escapes from this long-stared pane of glass, then it’s my new favourite thing.

For now anyway. As Herefordshire’s undisputed “Mr Fickle‘ for 14 years running, who knows if my fruit-fly attention span will bridge the gap between new and bored. I’m ever hopeful. And possibly delusional.  Let’s try working a bit less and riding a bit more to find out.

Oh and we’re not done with bike laundry either. A second much loved frame is on the edge of shed and sullied. Still might not happen. There’s a real danger this may become a habit.

*just me then.

**99% of the roads where we live. We’re net importers of potholes. While `asphalt comes here to die.

**Laughing is beneath you. As for pointing, there’s no need. I buy 50 bikes with absolutely no rationale whatsoever, and this is the respect I get. Really, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Tradition

Gap Ride - December 2021

If you don’t want to read all this – and who can blame you – then more pictures and less words here:

A month has passed since so many of us do things we don’t really want to because we’ve always done them before. That’s right, tradition.

Or as I really like to think of it ‘the things we do because we lack the ability to think beyond pagan festivals‘.  I’ve never really understood the annual firework event that is ‘let’s pack flammable DNA matched individuals, with nothing else in common, into a small area and ignite with alcohol to see what happens’.

We know what happens. Controlled explosion of the ancient relative. Hard stares over under boiling sprouts . Passive aggressiveness spilling over to slurred finger pointing. Old grievances and new stupidity. Goodwin’s law upgraded to ‘Do your own research

Thankfully we don’t have much of that, and even if we did fucking off on the 27th of December is as close to tradition as our MTB club has. If we had one. But we don’t have one of those either. We do have a history of setting out more in hope that expectation to ride the classic ‘Gap“loop.

Previous escapes have seen us mired in snow, broken by wind, terrified by ice and faced with imminent benightment. Which is pretty much why I love it. A fuck you to the the previous year and a thumbs up to what’s coming. Ride this route in summer and it’s lovely. Busy but convivial. Finish in the pub by the canal and toast the awesomeness of the South Wales valleys.

Winter tho, it’s a different beast entirely. 2021 was all globally warmed rather than the epic snowy death-march of 2017, replacing snow and ice with dankness and endless rain. Which seemed an ideal time to test the new heavy and un-mudguarded bike against a trail well known for a full body water-sports experience.

it started well. Mostly I’m terribly hungover for this ride after we host a Boxing Day ‘All my friends, all the booze‘ event which tends to end with at least one individual* promising to give up alcohol for ever. Knowing how these things go, we pushed the ride back one day so my arrival was not accompanied by ‘piss eyes it the snow‘ or any lack of kit**

No snow but it wasn’t warm. Blue sky flirted with us but it was nothing more than a temptress. The north wind was keen to find any chinks in our winter armour. The van to trail transition was somewhat delayed by the need for some GoPro footage. On reviewing said footage not sure it was worth standing about in the cold for.

Classic Gap.. Classic conditions

We began climbing on the old Tram Track. I’ve ridden this so many times. Today – regardless of my increasing years – I felt pretty good. Sure the Giga is heavy but it’s still a good climber if you don’t rush it. I was in no way keen to rush it.

Classic Gap.. Classic conditions

Even so, the awesome grip mentioned often by proper reviewers failed to compensate for my lack of commitment on the two steep pitches.

Classic Gap.. Classic conditions

Still the sun was out*** and so were we. Next up was the climb from to the moor. Upside amazing view to your right of your Talybont reservoir. Downside a 30 MPH wind making that whole climbing thing somewhere between tedious and endless.

Got it done. Had some shouted conversations “WINDY ISN’T IT” that I’m not sure anyone heard. Slogged across that very wet moor which wasn’t much fun until it turned downhill, at which point two weeks of rain became focused on an increasingly damp arse.

Gap Ride - December 2021

First proper descent. On my new bike. That’ll be awesome. It was. It was also wet. So very, very wet. Every rock was a skipping stone offering occasional grip and frequent terror. It was like riding down a river. Hold that thought. The next 5km are mostly traversing a fire-road mostly known for its bastard headwind. Today it wasn’t so bad. Again hold that thought.

Matt decided this was the perfect time to add another trail to the route. That was a 20 min climb in chilly rain to access what was most definitely a river. Honestly a kayak would have made a whole lot more sense. In fact sitting in a pub by a roaring fire would have been the preferred option. Still we’re here now.

We were here for a 25 min climb to the Gap that names this trail. It’s never fun with lots of loose, slippy rock for ages, then more of that and some unwanted steepness at the end. It’s considerably less fun in the aforementioned 30mph headwind. When I finally made it to to the top, Matt and I emptied our rucksacks of any and all clothing before pitching into a maelstrom headwind funnelled through 30m of rock.

Gap Ride - December 2021

180/170mm of travel doesn’t really have a lot of truck with rock. It assumes you can accelerate to a decent percentage of light speed. I had a go with variable success but the views and the lee of the hill made everything really rather splendid. There are millions at home biting their tongue, watching shit TV, managing perceived butt-hurt while we’re living in the moment.

That moment is a sun streaked valley mapped out by higgley-piggley dry stone walls and two hundred years of community. It’s a brilliant thing and I feel so privileged to be seeing it. Even with my wet arse and damp feet. Still not as bad as Matt who squeezed out about a decent sized pond from his socks.

Before that we’d dropped into the fall line where big rocks and high speeds meet. I was astonished on how good my new bike was. You can call it a skills compensator and I’d be fine with that. But for me, it’s maybe the best all round trail bike I’ve ever ridden***

We’ll see. There have been a few. Anyway, we yomped the 5km on the canal and declared it done. Tradition ticked off. Just the best day. Feeling alive versus being alive. It’s a hoary old metaphor, but this really is our church.

Classic Gap.. Classic conditions

*me, obviously.

** Forgot my helmet. Bought the only £15 one available. Dog ate it. It was a mercy killing.

*** this didn’t last as long as I hoped.

****Early days, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here!

Cheers 2021, it’s been emotional

This is the best bar in the world. Yes I’m sure some of you have sipped sophisticated cocktails in high rise buildings overlooking what passes as progress, or risked the local firewater in a far flung shack where the international language is ‘drunk’

But this IS the best bar in the world. A backdrop of the Sierra Nevada’s and – more importantly – one of the best trails in the world. The Elephants Tail etches a dusty scar on the edge of those imposting mountains. After riding that, we dived into the hot tub sharing one of those epic post ride moments, and a decent sized gin.

A gin improved by local pomegranate harvested from a trail we’d ridden about an hour earlier. In the tub are Matt, Mike, David, Si, Em, Steve and me. Names you don’t know and faces you wouldn’t recognise. But that’s exactly my point, these are my friends and this is our moment. I hope you all had at least one of these moments.

It’s an image I’ll treasure because of the continuing shadow of COVID-19 and all sorts of other stuff mostly related to ageing parents. It was a week of escape, and I couldn’t have chosen better people to avoid responsibilities with.

Right, enough of that let’s talk bikes and stuff. Firstly the bike page has had what can only be described as a massive update. My 2021 resolution  to spend absolutely no money on the fallacy that new bikes make a new me failed to survive first contact with reality.

The litany of failure is laid out here:

Updated bike page

There’s more. But not much. I didn’t write as much stuff but all that new bike nonsense generated enough content to update the ‘who read what the most’ page.

2021 most read articles

And that’s 2021 done. Big plans for 2022 while the withered frame can just about keep up with major physical commitments. Time is definitely ticking. Let’s not waste a moment of it eh?

What’s this, and what have you done to the RipMo?

Nukeproof Giga - first ride

Good questions. I’ll do my best to answer.

But oh God. Where to start? Maybe at the end. Or ends. The rear one has a frankly ridiculous 170mm of travel which leaves me short of adjectives to describe that 180mm fork.  In between sits a carbon frame strong enough for the worlds rowdiest riders to plunge it into some terrifying freeride abyss.

It’s obviously very slack and noticeably long*. What may be less obvious is what the hell is in doing transiting the one-way departure lounge that is the ShedOfDreams(tm)? It’s akin to handing an automatic weapon to a toddler**. Clearly inappropriate and someone is going to get hurt.

Let’s rewind a bit. Remember this?

Behold, the “SlackMo”

The SlackMo was awesome in Spain. No that’s not quite true, Spain was awesome. Probably my favourite ever trip for all sorts of reasons, many of which had nothing to do with riding. We’ll be back to that when my to-do list fucks off and leaves me in peace for a few days.

Anyway the bike was faultless, but not perfect. I kind of felt like I’d – if not ruined it- pushed it a bit too far from its design parameters. It still saved my arse from many full-pucker moments, and sped a whole load of perfect memories through dusty optic nerves.

But it lost a bit of the RipMoNess which is hard to define, and seemingly impossible to replicate***. I would really like my fantastic trail bike back and that’s a problem. As the Rascal has taken top spot in that category. Which made em-biggening the RipMo a logical evolution. Shame it didn’t quite work out.

Which is kind of where we came in. What started as a desultory search for a new rear shock to take the RipMo further into Full Enduro territory somehow morphed into ‘well that looks interesting, mm only full bike that’s no good, oh here’s a frame only in my size, I wonder if there is a deal to be done, Hey Carol I’ve got an idea……’

There was indeed quite a deal. Fellow keen-of-eye hedgehogers will endorse their spotters badge cataloguing familiar parts recently attached to my forever bike. Apart from the bars, stem and pedals because, I dunno, let’s go with a schism in the space-time continuum.  Better than anything I’ve got.

I don’t know what was worse burgling the RipMo for parts or washing the Spanish dust of its blameless tubes. No I know what was worse, the frame abandoned in the rafters glaring balefully at the back of my head. I’m sure I can hear whispering ‘after all I did for you, THIS is how it ends, you ungrateful bastard‘. I mean harsh, but it’s a fair point.

There’s a very good chance it’ll get rebuilt. I have many parts and a desire to ride it again in stock configuration. I might have to dig down – Batcave style – to carve out sufficient space to store it tho. It’s getting a bit crowded on the workshop side****

Having decided to go big and then go home, we had a couple of freezing nights in Matt’s unheated garage to build the Green Monster. The Pistachio Princess came together with little drama, other than Matt fixing the many and varied issues created by yours truly not really being on the RipMo disassembly ball.

Nukeproof Giga build

Nukeproof Giga build

Nukeproof Giga build

The frame is really nicely finished. It shares its brand name with my 2014 Mega but not much else. Composite curves have replaced brutal industrial design. Clever details  take precedence over lowest possible production costs. Really this frame has a close equivalence to all my boutique Ibis’s, except for the price.

So how does it ride? This was very nearly a review of riding it along a freezing river towpath after we built it. It’s debut on the Wednesday night ride was raincheck’d by a 90 minute deluge flinging freezing rain at the windows. A collective ‘fuck that‘ saw those of us with ‘something of the night about them‘ heading straight for food and booze without passing any sodden trails.

Nukeproof Giga build

Dark clouds and a misty head greeted the morning as I trudged out to this shed. Work needed to be done. Deadlines to be met. Commitments to be honoured. Adulting absolutely required. Luckily I’m not the man for that job, so I waved a couple of fingers at the Mac and, instead, wrestled the shiny bike onto the trailer.

Trail conditions rocked that lethal combination of still hard dirt covered with about an inch of rain filled slop. Known locally as ‘Greasy Snot Death’ they are without doubt my least favourite way to crash horribly. And yet nearly two hours later the only thing needing plastering was the shit eating grin on my fizog.

The Giga is like a very capable trail bike. Until it isn’t. In trail bike mode, it’s super supple, finds grip everywhere and has exactly one speed going uphill. It’s an efficient climber, but not a fast one. Downhill tho, you have to recalibrate exactly what a modern mountain bike can do.

Then you let the brakes off and it becomes something else again. I’m not sure what that is as the experience left me a little shaken. I’m probably going to need some faster eyeballs to do this bike any kind of justice.

We’ll see how that goes. Modern bikes are all pretty much brilliant. The RipMo is one of the best in that trail bike category. The Giga feels like it can do that and quite a lot more. And if it can’t, well I know the old stager won’t ever let me down.

Let’s find out shall we?

*just fits on the bike trailer without needing a wide load warning. “Just” is doing some heavy lifting here.

**unless you’re a certain type of US citizen. In which case that’s called a 2nd amendment birthday gift.

***I’ve tried a few times. Fair to say mistakes have been made.

****Somehow a broken road bike has slipped into the shed. There are reasons and most of them start with ‘that bloody turbo’

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!