That ended well…

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?’

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.

Buckets of sunshine

Riding with Jess

It’s been eight months since I rode with Jess. She’s likely missed it less than I have.  Whatever, these rides have the thinnest intersection against what I do week in week out. Bikes yes, everything else no.

That’s definitely a good thing. Riding with your friends – especially after the clusterfuck of previous twelve months – is a festival of chaos. Fast, slow, serious, stupid. Shallow as a tea spoon or as deep as blokes ever get. Genuine kinship and relentless banter. Extensive use of the word ‘fuck‘ as both an adjective and a a verb*

Love that. Tomorrow a legal six will forge British Summer Time, early spring sunshine and dry trails into something special. Outdoor pizza and beer will follow. We’ll probably label it epic, whether it is or not.

But today was different for all the right reasons. Firstly a diversion to sell a frame to a lovely chap who opened negotiations with ‘Hi Alex, I bought a frame off you 11 years ago, would you consider selling me another one?“**

He had and I was. So with that done, Jess and I unloaded bikes under sunny skies at Pedalabikeaway. She was worried about her fitness, I was more concerned with potential mud slides after a weekend of rain. Three days previously we’d dropped into PAB from the west side of the Forest, and it was way wetter than expected. On the upside first proper cup of mid ride coffee since Autumn last year.

Setting off with more hope than expectation, Jess’s lack of riding fitness soon became apparent. There were many stops for a breather and, occasionally, a walk. As a man with approximately zero patience this could have been a problem, But it wasn’t because the sun was shining, deadlines were happening to other people and one of my offspring was still happy to ride with her old man.

I say happy.  More suffering with fortitude and a long list of ailments, Wait till you get to my age I failed to say out loud, as we struggled upwards under blue carpeted skies. Jess could be a decent MTBer if she rode a bit more and trusted her skills. After half a year off she’s still pretty competent and it’s impossible not to be proud of that.

Sure it doesn’t define her like it does for me. But seeing her revel in being properly outside after three months of lockdown made my brittle old heart sing a bit. We took a break where Jess longitudinally measured herself on a fallen tree. After a rest, she women’d the camera while I sweatily gimped in and out of a handy bombhole.

Riding with Jess

She’s ace at this. We had lots of fun me staring long-sightedly into the screen while she enthusiastically pointed out my many flaws. But in a lovely positive way which had me go at it 20+ times***. I retrieved the phone so she could describe a joyful parabolic on a handily placed rope swing

Riding with Jess

We sat on that log munching snacks and pontificating on little lives. Jess is a proper Psych undergrad while I’m a half-arsed read amateur, but blimey we share a proper despair at late stage capitalism. I never got the whole hand ringing thing that your kids become independent of you. That’s not the point, they are always bloody interesting and I’ll take that over changing a nappy.

Soon those hard earned banked gravity credits were joyfully spent on the final two descents. The last one having been recently de-brake-bumped. Jess was a little apprehensive but once she got going I knew how much she was enjoying it. Because I was having just as much fun at 50% of the speed I’d normally ride it.

In the same way there are no fast bikes, fast is absolutely in the eye of the rider eyeing up the next obstacle. Adrenaline isn’t triggered by a speed trap. This is still my world of going as fast as you dare, and then maybe just a little bit faster. I could see Jess re-introducing herself to that so no words are needed to codify why it’s were of the best feelings in the world.

She had many words tho, because – well – chip off the old block and all that. Steam of consciousness. Trying to capture the moment. Feeling the urge to share how that feels. Being a bit scared and doing it anyway. This really is why.

Back at PAB we secured cold snacks, cake and ice cream. There is no indoor service, outside tables or familiar normality. But there’s a chink of light these things are coming back. So we propped ourselves up against the bikes and toasted our success. Then went home to lie in the sun and ignore the pile of work stuff that seemed very important a few hours before.

Jess goes back to her Uni accommodation next week. We’ll miss her of course but she’ll be back for the summer. I hope then she wants to ride with me some more. Because much as riding with my mates is what I love to do, I love this just a little bit more.

Even better is if it’s under buckets of sunshine****

*Anyone who loftily declares swearing as a cipher for a limited vocabulary needs to spend more time with percussive poets firing semantic filth into innocent sentences.

**We will so be back to this. A strange 24 hours indeed.

***there’s a big gap jump I’m training muscles with memory for. We’ll be back to that as well.

****I wondered why I remembered this phrase. So I googled it. It’s the RAF slang for nuclear bombs hung in the bomb bays of the Buccaneers during the Cold War.

Wait, what now?

Ibis Mojo4 build

You may be disappointed. Possibly even appalled. But likely not surprised.  A new bike portal’d into the ShedofDreams(tm) is hardly news at all. Even so I expect you have questions. Starting with what, moving onto how and finishing with why. Or simply a shaken headed ‘what the actual fuck?

I have no answers. Nothing within sectioning distance of rational anyway. This time there will be no talk of an end game choreographed by 4-D chess moves. Or reasons pertaining to opportunity or guile. Nope none of that. It’s something of a relief not torturing logic to slight the insisting hand that the emperor may indeed be fully clothed.

There was no need. There was only want. There are many excuses. But when the result is three carbon full suspension bikes from the SAME brand, you don’t need excuses, you need a therapist. Please take that role, while I recline on the chaise longe and explain how we got here.

It started on a cold winters night when I harvested the Ripley from hibernation. First time riding anything other than the hardtail for five wet and grim months. Dirt was frozen solid, basically summer from the axles down. It should have been amazing. It wasn’t.

I’ve never quite gelled with that bike. Which is pretty fucking annoying considering it’s wanted for nothing other than a decent pilot. Entire suitcases of cash failed to secure that bond.  I told myself it was the dark or the cold, and my inability to deal with either.

So a week later the RipMo* sallied forth on muddy-again trails, and we just had a brilliant time. Until the following day revealed exactly how much damage one muddy ride inflicts on Californians’ finest**.  The RipMo and I have shared three amazing years, so it’s as close to a permanent fixture in the shed as anything I’ve owned***

Those last three paragraphs are mostly displacement tactics. They offer nothing to explain the escalation of financial destitution on the following Sunday. It started with me musing how the Mojo3 was my favourite ever bike and how – flawed as it was – I really should have kept it, and ended with the latest of its genus being added to basket some four hours later.

Along with a plethora of parts best categorised as “heritage wheel size”. Not satisfied with buying a bike that has around 100% overlap with the Ripley, I also felt it was exactly the right time to significantly invest in 27.5 inch wheels. They were the future once. Just not recently.

So after all these shenanigans, what have we ended up with? A trail bike balanced between 140mm and 130mm air springs. Short chainstays, long front centre, slack angles and Ibis’s ludicrous design approach to mud clearance****. So it’s compromised, but pretty. Like my Mojo3.

That bike – built exactly four years ago – brought my riding on when I believed my limit had long peaked at bang-average. That same year, a week in Spain remains my riding high water mark where fast and confident displaced over-thinking and hesitant.  Did I buy this bike to recapture those glory days? Maybe. Don’t judge. It’s as good a reason as any.

The silhouette is similar, the numbers aren’t. 2 degrees slacker, 2 inches longer, back end fettled with updated kinematics, front end bouncing on better damping. Stuff in between more expensive if not actually better.  Rider pretty much the same confused graft of enthusiastic and stupid. And bloody impatient when four weeks of stuff got between delivery and a proper ride.

First ride of the "Prince of Grayness"

A ride on trails not ridden for six months. In the dark. Initial impressions were confused. Turns really fast, feels a bit flighty.  Agile and lithe or nervous and needy? Lots of time to pontificate on the climb back up. Climbs well, maybe not quite Ripley efficient, but held back by nothing but noodle-legs here.

Next trail is fast and twisty. Bike feels good in the corners but I can’t trust it yet. It’s egging me on but I’m not feeling very eggy.  Steep and chute-y very nearly ended in lying down and bleeding. Luckily Rex took one for the team showcasing his full-body-slam signature move on some unexpected mud.

Mmm so like it but not sure, Skived off today to try again. First trail totally fucking useless with a head full of work stuff. Deep breath required to deliver inner monologue to whit “past is back there, future out in front, get on with it”

Which kind of worked. Cleared the two big gap jumps that require suspending the belief that crashing is going to be really sodding consequential. Kept Matt in sight which is a good measure things are going okay. Massive grin plastered on my fizog which may be a new bike thing, or a dry trails thing, or a Friday skive thing. Whatever, it’s a thing. I’ll take that.

All that means I can give you some answers. Was it worth the money? Fuck knows, go find me a measure of value. Will it replace the Ripley? Fuck knows, find me a metric to choose. Does it actually make any sense at all? Fucked if I know. Makes me happy so you know, there’s that.

Are you done? Surely there are no other niches to chase? Wait, what now?

*Yes I know it’s hard keeping track. Think of it as a Christopher Nolan Movie without the special effects. But with more swearing.

**I asked for three particularly muddy trails to be renamed ‘Collapsed Bearing‘, ‘Ruined Pivot’ and ‘Warranty Claim‘.

***Except the beer fridge. You’ll be prising that out of my cold dead hands.

****That being the Californian assumption that such a soil compound is a European myth.

 

Time isn’t money

Back on the big dog!

It certainly used to be.

For as long as I can remember* time was indeed money. In the shark infested world of those big consulting firms, billing hours were both an evaluation of your job performance, and the metric by which you got to keep it.

Sacking that shit off over ten years ago, at least some of everything I do doesn’t represent a zero-sum-game financial transaction. There’s doing the right thing and doing the thing that pays the bills. Mostly they intersect, sometimes they don’t, but I’m financially fortunate enough to care more about relationships that money.

What has this to do with riding bikes? Too often I missed rides for what felt like good reasons – stuck in a hotel 200 miles away, and bad ones watching shadows of sunshine tumble down my computer screen.  I should be outside chasing dust motes, but I’m in here chasing money. Or more likely racing against stupid deadlines I’ve breezily set a few days earlier.

Someone once said hope for the best but plan for the worst – I’ve no idea who as I stopped listening after the first four words. I’ve put work in front of riding, but way worse I’ve put it in front of family and friends. And fuck me did I feel righteous about doing so.

Notice the past tense? What’s changed? Oh so many things. Clock of time ticking feels quite important.  Financial security being its’ vulgar twin. That’s a double edged sword tho, one forged for Damocles if you will. I am well paid for what I do, but an employee count of one means zero scale. So new piece of work or an epic ride? There are no easy choices.

It’s easy to declare you’re done with exchanging money for time. It’s harder to instantiate that declaration in the physical world. It’s also a crushingly first world problem lacking any wider perspective. But hey this is me we’re talking about. It’s going to take a while to get better at more than one thing.

Today I got better at one thing. A glorious Sunday blue sky morning felt like Spring may be coming. By 8am I’d written an epically ambitious to-do list for next week. By 9am, I decided that if someone was going to be disappointed in the next seven days, it may as well not be me.

Matt and I rode a well grooved path to the Yat, only this time without the shivery embrace of a long winter. The trails weren’t dry, but they ticked all the boxes the two month festival of slurry failed so hard to do so.  My excitement got the better of me with the first trail nearly being my last. A damp root punted me tree-ward and only an instinctive ‘enduro tripod‘ saved me from shunting into an arboreal halt.

The sun climbed higher and so did we. Accessing trails winter shuts down. Faster, steeper, more committing. You know that whole stuff of life thing. Back on the RipMo, I felt fit and confident. Maybe five months of Hardtails and four months of Zwift has slowed the inevitable decline of that soon-to-be mid-50s demographic.

Or maybe it’s in my head. Doesn’t matter, the bike feels amazing, the trails are giving up a little of their spring bounty, and I’m keeping Matt in sight if not entirely honest. For glorious minutes I completely forgot the choice I’d made. It didn’t feel like a choice at all, it just felt like the sodding obvious thing I should be doing. In other news, this is why riding bikes are the antidote to procrastination.

We made grand plans to ride all the fresh-dug trails visible from every fireroad. A year of lockdowns has been a boon to the trail-pixes. We finish though on an old favourite. Steep enough to be fun, off camber enough for its’ obvious non-dryness to punt it just on the right side of exciting, long enough to reboot muscle memory.

Matt led the first half, I nipped in front to gimp for his GoPro. It’ll probably look flat and slow, but if you think that matters, you’re drinking the wrong Kool-Aid. I was mainlining 150 beats and words per minute as we skidded onto the fireroad. Even passing our favourite closed-up-tight pub failed to dent my happy countenance.

It’s coming back and it’s coming soon. And I’ll be ready. I’m done with making excuses, choosing the wrong option, saying no to the wrong people. I’ve even bored myself with ‘I don’t know how much time I have left to properly ride mountain bikes‘. But that is so obviously the wrong question.

The right question is what am I going to do with that time?  Make excuses? Take the easy can’t be arsed option? Exchange it for money? Absolutely not. The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.

Chocks away then 🙂

*which nowadays may extend to what I had to breakfast but not far beyond. After which it’s a request sent down to deep storage which may elicit an answer many hours later**

**Normally around 2am sitting me bolt upright in bed exclaiming ‘That’s right A Flock of Seagulls 2nd single was Telecommunication. Excellent. Remind me why that was important”

Simpler times

2004. That’s me and a bike. So far, so standard. Mostly everything on that bike has changed though. Frame design, suspension sophistication, tyre compounds, lengths lost from stems found on bars, dropper posts, fatter rims and proper brakes.

Less obvious is any rider metamorphosis. Seventeen years on and that awkward stance memorably described as ‘crouching badger, hidden terror’ remains very much in evidence today. Nowadays I’m sporting significantly more joint protection and a niggling pantheon of injuries*

Still have those shorts somewhere if not the calf muscles. The bike is, somewhat predictably, long gone. In my defence the ‘hinge‘, as it was known, was not one of my finest  purchasing decisions.  Alcohol was involved.

It was a study in unbalanced design; the front compressing and the rear extending at the perfect amplitude to eject crouching badger into now very visible terror. Often a concussed and bleeding badger if memory serves.

In my mid 30s tho, those scars were a badge of honour. Returning bleeding to a young family, I’d make up stories focussing on extreme bravery and stoicism in the face of blunt force trauma. Because back in those days capturing that truth was an experience closely allied to a massive ball ache.

Phones and cameras were still separated by technology. Even digital soul stealers had shutter speeds best recorded by a sundial.  My old friend Julian has done well here with long forgotten skills to capture movement without blur. To be fair we weren’t moving very quickly.

We were having fun tho.  I poured over those photos of riding buddies mostly missing from todays social circle. Some moved thousands of miles away**, a couple more are shockingly no longer with us, a few more have given up cycling or replaced dirt with tarmac.

The rest of us old bastards soldier on. Heavy on memories and light on what’s left to rage against. I wish that ride still resonated somewhere, but after thirty years in the dirt it’s lost amongst three thousand others.  I expect it’d follow the grooved pattern of every organised group ride. It goes like this:

Early start. Someone has forgotten something. Or we’ve forgotten someone. In days before vans, there’s a complex Fibonacci sequence of bikes, riders, trailers and cars. Eventually we crack the sequence and we’re on the road. Nervous talk of what is to come, bravado and arse-wind compete for mockery.  Pre Sat-Nav Man-Nav makes us later still.

Arrive eventually. Some people we instantly recognise, others only from their early internet personas. “Hi, I’m John” from a normal looking if slightly embarrassed fella. Pause. “You probably know me as ‘Rubber-Jonny‘”***. We pretend we don’t.

Check out bikes and riders. The Mid-2000s wasn’t a stand-out period for frame design. Natural selection has yet to take its course. I offer up the ‘hinge‘ as an example but it isn’t the only one. Over there is a tiny hardtail with a massive fork. In its shadow is a race bike with 600mm bars and cow horns. Rubber-J is astride a weird looking V-shaped frame vibrating around a protruding undamped coil shock.  Entirely appropriate username then.

Eventually we ride. These are the days of 20+ riders of – let’s be charitable here – differing skills. I am one of those riders. Although skills is probably being a little too charitable. Looking at the photos, it’s not conceit to know my riding is way more proficient today, regardless of those extra 17 years on the clock. Much of that is the bikes I ride, at least a little is how much I’ve ridden them.

Photo stops are just that. The ride stenographer dumps his sack****, fiddles with tiny dials and low res screens, declares himself ready, choreographs the now tetchy riders into ham and fail, before declaring he’s captured something. Until he gets home and makes various electronic offerings to a PC, no one quite knows what that might be.

This stop-start-to-you-to-me goes on for a while. Friendships are forged on the trail and cemented in the pub. Talking bollocks bridges the two. More drinking evokes more piss taking and before long we’re everyone’s best mate, this is the best thing ever, and you need to come and ride with us.  Even Rubber-J is invited.

Back in the Chilterns, we host a ‘weekender‘. It was a qualified success. The trails were dry, the pubs were welcoming, no one suffered a major injury. We also lost three riders within 5 minutes and never saw them again.  They may still be out there.

Seventeen years is long time. They ride different trails there. Simpler times for sure. No existential dread of age ending all this soon. No riding the same trails for a year because of a pandemic. No wondering over wheel sizes, pointless niches and technology confused as progress.

Better? I don’t know. Part of a glorious seventeen years of riding bikes in amazing places with brilliant people many of whom I’m glad to call my friends? Oh yeah, in bloody spades.

We’re not done yet. But I’d love to do that 2004 thing again.

*these two things are very much related. Sadly not in the right order. The stable door is open, and the horse is nowhere to be seen.

**I don’t think this a direct consequence of riding with me. But I never had the courage to actually ask.

***This kind of situation is made even worse when it goes like this: “Crikey I never expected ‘Devil-Balls’ to be a women

****”Hey are you Sack-Dumper off the Forum?” / Frosty Silence / “Oh sorry, honest mistake”

Solaris UnMaxed

Solaris Max

I’m so down with the kids. I’ve seen lots of this sort of thing on Twinstagram and FaceTok.  So obviously now I’ve ‘done‘ one, it’s so crushingly uncool, you’ll only ever see it again on FriendsUnited or archly hashtagged ‘Yeah I think you’ll find that’s irony Grandad

Anyway for all that, this is not some ludicrous attempt to remain relevant* to those under the age of ‘Can we interest you in a Cruise and a complimentary dose of COVID-19?’. No, for all of those undergoing a ‘journey’ from one state to another**, here’s an analogue only with bike parts.

Parts being the key difference. Frame, fork and wheels were all that remained from the component heist pulled to build the Bardino. Sourcing the remainder would normally be nothing more than a rummage in the box of cast offs, abandoned projects, impulse purchases and a tiny percentage of my grip collection***

Not this time. The bike industry’s maxim to ‘never create a standard that will last longer than a wine gum‘ has obsolesced swathes of previously enjoyed parts which otherwise satisfied ever requirement other than being shiny and a bit old.  An excellent metaphor for my own journey through hair loss and accelerating ancientness.

There’s been talk of an economy drive in the ShedofDreams(tm) before. Not by me obviously, but emptying the virtual wallet on brand new parts doesn’t make much sense. Assuming you can get them. Which of course, currently you can’t and that’s okay as the ride to cost ratio remains low with Jess.

For it is she for whom the bike is built. Regular readers may remember the MK1 Solaris Max was pretty much perfect for her. However it was sold while she wasn’t looking and she never fully got on with its replacement. Let me take you through the teenage angst accompanying those rides.

Too long, bars too wide, too heavy, doesn’t go round corners, too hard to pedal up hill. The obvious solution would be an e-bike but we’re absolutely not going there. I never claimed to be the best parent, but really short of harvesting them for their own organs, I cannot think of anything worse to inflict on an offspring.

Having exhausted my own spares kit, I skip-ratted most of my friends.  Lovely old but pretty XTR cranks from Cez, a narrow bar and some leaky brakes from Ads and a dropper from Matt’s ‘shelf of abandoned seatposts’ left me needing to pay actual money for a stem and a non pissing caliper.

It took Matt a couple of sessions to build it up. Firstly because I’d failed to deliver all the actual parts to his garage, and secondly as Herefordshire had a brief tier-1 window into which we jumped. And rolled out of some time later. For the sake of mitigating the possibility of Jess’s patent Paddington Hard Stare, I threw on a half worn front tyre, a 46 tooth cassette and comfier saddle.

Solaris re-build

Solaris re-build

Matt dealt with keeping the brake fluid on the inside of the hoses, unslackening the fork**** to bring the front wheel back from ‘it’s out there somewhere, just not quite sure where‘, rejuvenating a very bent mech with a very big hammer, and general fettling well beyond my ken.

SolarisMax rebuilt for Jess

And there she is. Not Jess, the bike. Total spent £40. So about 1% of what I normally spend on a new bike. Which includes the Stem-of-all-the-colours she picked from a selection of £13 ones off eBay.

So how does it ride? Well a quick blast down the road in the snow was interesting. Mainly because the bar width screams ‘zip tie on a race plate‘. Other than that it’s definitely lighter, more spritely and well you know bike like. It was a great frame to start with so hard to screw it up really.

The more pertinent question is “Does Jess like it?“. She likes the look of it. Ride impressions will have to wait until the mercury rises above zero and / or we’re actually allowed anywhere fun to test it.

The important thing is it’s not longer languishing in the rafters and – due to the generosity of my friends – is ready to go for when Jess is. Obviously when she’s back at Uni, I might have to test it myself.

Not before fitting a 780mm bar tho 🙂

*which suggests I ever was.

**New Years Resolutions:  What I think of as the ‘Pasty to Salad back to Pasty‘ journey. Completed in around 10 days.

***I have around 40 grips. Some even in matching pairs. I cannot reconcile how this has happened. I can only assume they breed by eating individual socks. There has to be a correlation.

****Keen readers may note it looks very short. Spotters badge. It should be 120mm, it’s currently 100mm. I refer readers to the previous paragraph re: pub.