There are no fast bikes

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There are, of course, fast riders who will be rapid on anything sporting a wheel at either end. There are, also, frame designs likely to be quicker on specific terrain be that up or down.  Especially with our faster rider on board.

Further, expensive components may harvest marginal gains just not within the metrics defined by marketing departments.  The issue with modern bikes isn’t that they aren’t fast, it is that your average Joe is not. On race courses, winning is time sliced by tenths of seconds, outside of the tapes we could probably make do with a sundial.

Which is pretty much how we find ourselves today and looking back maybe ten years. But cast your gaze a little further and you may remember the noodle-tech 90s where mountain bike frames were barely mutated road bikes. Purple anodising and bar ends hardly masked a hundred years of thin tyred DNA.

Back then Joe or Jo Average could easily overwhelm frame stiffness, brakes, tyres, elastomers and a whole bunch of components barely fit for purpose. Yet our magazine heroes wrestled those steep angled bridleway bashers through downhill courses in ways that still amaze today.

I miss those days even if I don’t miss the bikes. And if I did I could buy something labelled gravel and replay the whole experience*.  But jump onto a contemporary trail or enduro bike and while you may be going faster, that velocity is hard limited by the six inches above your shoulders, not the six inches below**

So far, so old news. Sure, but I’m just riffing on the periphery of an important point coming soon. We’re travelling in that direction, and shall arrive shortly***. Before we do let me share a vignette of todays’ ride. March likes to remind you we’ve barely closed the door on winter with hail, hard rain and bitter winds. All of which soaked the trails under my tyres.

The last of which is steep, committing and unforgiving. There’s lots of places to crash and none of them are good. My standard earworm is Pinball Wizard as I attempt to present a thin veneer of competence in the face of sustained terror. Ridden this on many bikes including this new one last week. Never ridden it in these conditions. My brain is distracted by rocky wet limestone promising geological trauma keen to collect another victim.

But I’m okay. Not because of an unlikely skills upgrade. Or a sudden lack of imagination. No, I’m managing the whole thing in my sphere of ability because I trust the bike. But it’s more than that. The last few hours we’ve been hooning down mellower trails where all my usual hang ups have been knocked down.

Not being worried about grip in corners. Especially off camber corners. Not being scared by the speed through trails narrowed by trees. Not dithering on drops or braking for jumps. Not over-thinking what’s coming. Not thinking anything at all, so getting as close to living in the moment as I ever am.

All of which means I’m riding more quickly on these familiar trails. Don’t confuse this as fast. And certainly don’t confuse it with the limits of the bike. But there is something important here; there is something unquantifiable about bikes – any bike – that gives you the confidence to push a bit harder. Towards your limits, maybe beyond them. But not within screaming distance of what’s underneath you.

It has nothing at all to do with the material the frame is made of. It’s definitely not related to wheel size, head angle, chainstay length, reach or stack, suspension travel, bar width, tyre compound, yada yada yada. All of these thing play a part. But not to set a limit, more to encourage you to push yours.

Great bikes do this. They are not fast bikes. They may not be expensive bikes****. They will probably not be race bikes. They are the bikes you grab every time the trails waits, the bikes you mutter a silent prayer to when it’s all getting a bit serious, the bikes you sit and stare at in your shed. The bikes that make you fast.

Back to today and I’m on one of those bikes. There’s some shit coming up that’s has two outcomes. Well maybe three if getting off and walking counts. Deep breath, muscle memory, bit of a death grip, hand the thing over to your trusted sidekick and let that breath go when you sail out the far side. Total non event.

For the bike. Up here in those six inches a light blinks on. This is what happens when you stop trying to fix bikes because they can fix you better. I’ll never tire of the simplicity of feeling like that. Because it’s takes the limit out of limitless. So I tap the bars, whisper thanks, pretend my organic mate can hear me.  Breathe again and up the pace.

No bikes are fast. Some bikes make you faster. Go find that one.

*Only every single thing is quite a lot better. Because long term evolution beats revolution.

**Just so we’re clear, I’m talking about suspension travel here. You filthy animals 😉

***You may ask why does it take you so long to get to the point, to which I’ll reply ‘You’re new here, right?’

****Okay yes for this sample size, I accept they are.

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.

 

Project 76

It’s tragic really. You can eat and drink what you like well into your late 20s. Then you hit 30 and wake up as a fat bastard“. Thirty was so long ago for me,  it’s probably classified in the Jurassic period. However the axiom holds; that is youth being wasted on the young and fat bastardness is pretty much your future once its gone.

I’ve flirted with the porky*. Having the physique of a wonky pipe cleaner, weight doesn’t so much hang off me as throw shapes in the manner of Kane having a bad day on the Nostromo.  Although increasingly this manifests itself as a gut like trouser roll, and a pair of moobs wobbling in their own gravitational fields.

Before life got in the way I’d struggle to nudge past 11 stone in old money. Chest like a toast rack. To get close to that today I’d have to chop at least one leg off, or maybe remove the hard working liver with a spoon. That’s probably the firmest muscle in the entire withered frame.

2018 was particularly bad. Too many hotels, far too many hotel bars, not enough exercise and menu choices starting with ‘burgers‘ and ending with ‘extra chips‘. Returning from a family holiday in an all-you-can-eat-resort where I-ate-almost-everything, a behind the hands eyeballing of the scales showed them starting firmly with 13. Nothing else was firm. Like My Blobby but without the happy countenance.

I was determined to do something about it. I remember chugging down a beer while considering it. And a biscuit. Maybe two biscuits. Possibly the whole packet. My ruminations didn’t come to much other than ‘Al, this is mostly vanity, you’re not obese you’re just in denial. Exactly one person cares you’re a bit tubby and unpleasant to look at’“**

Another tired maxim is you can’t out-run or out-ride a bad diet. That was fine because I was working such stupid hours I wasn’t troubling the bike much- other than an odd weekend effort finishing with an avalanche of beer and crisps. And running was definitely out after an incident best remembered as an attempt to remove one of two feet the previous winter.

Enter the turbo.  A device designed to repeatedly demonstrate not only how unfit you are, but configured to broadcast that rubbishness to thousands of people on-line***. It’s hard to believe you actually have to pay for the humiliation of the whole experience. But under the cartoon graphics and in-your-face gamification lies a dirty secret. It’s way easier to lose weight going nowhere slowly in the shed than outside. Mostly because you don’t finish in the pub.

Even so, I still suffered weight fluctuations that cannot be explained by slow metabolism****, glands or big bones. They can be explained by zero will power, a love of beer and significant denial. This last year tho I’ve travelled exactly nowhere. Both inside the shed and outside in the real world. I rode 5500km of which a third were turning circles in the virtual world.

This made a difference. But not enough. So at the ripe old age of 53, I redefined my relationship with alcohol. That’s a pretty way to say I was drinking too much, too often and it needed to stop. Well honestly that wasn’t going to happen, but knocking it on the head Mon-Fri has become pretty much learned behaviour. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss a beer in the week, but not enough to sneak a visit to the fridge of plenty.

Piling on the misery, I’ve mostly given up crisps, biscuits and all sorts of other shit that makes life worthwhile. I’ve probably substituted cheese but come on throw me a bone here. It’s not like I’m accessorising that with a bottle of Merlot. Except on Fridays.

So what’s the result? I aimed to hit 12 stone/76kg by March 31. That was going to be a bit of an effort but it’s not a just 2021 thing. I’ve been smashing myself on the turbo since October and riding lots once the uber-grim dropped back to just mostly-grim.

My jeans now sag a bit. But the beer storage area – while reduced – has not completely disappeared. I can see some of my ribs but I’m fairly sure I have more than three. On the bike I definitely feel a bit lighter, and that’s backed up by the scales confirming my target weight last Friday.

Obviously I celebrated with an orgy or chips, crisps and booze. I feel bad, but – you know – not THAT bad 😉 More importantly, is this now a stable state? I’m confident it might be, because we’ve postponed too many places to ride. There are two years of brilliant trips coming up, and I am determined to be in good shape.

So yeah I need to give myself every chance to do those justice. Being as light and fit as I can be arsed should be a given.  And it’ll save me buying any new trousers which appeals to my inner Yorkshireman.

So yeah Project 76 is done. What’s next? Tune in next week 🙂

*that didn’t scan quite as well as expected.

**Carol is far too polite to mention it. Although I think ‘Oi Fatty the bed is in danger of capsizing‘ would have been useful motivation.

***Zwift avatars are funny, No way I’d recognise anyone from the virtual world in the real one. Me included, I pretend to have a full head of hair.

****or as my friend Ian Says ‘Slow Metabolism, fast pie hand’

Zoom in.

2020 then. Hard to know where to start. The year may be coming to an end, but we’ll be reaping its’ shit-storm a little while longer yet. A global pandemic brought local by incompetence, ideology and insanity repackaged as winning. Brexit Britain ruling all those statistical waves, where deaths per million stamp exits on the petty nationalism passport.

Still on the upside, I rode quite a lot. That image is my ‘Covid-Box’. More a 5x10km rectangle fencing 98% of every time I tried to leave the madness behind. Early on alone and introspective, later on with friends I’d desperately missed, occasionally normalised in the pub and latterly under darkening skies.

Zooming out fills in the 2%. Three trips to Wales, all the more unusual for blue skies and sun baked trails. The last of which – late September – felt like the start of something normal. Eight of us descended on Coed-Y-Brenin to climb the steep sides of those North Welsh hills.

To then plummet down the other side, reacquainting ourselves with what we latterly took for granted. Post ride sitting in a pub garden toasting the end of the beginning. Yeah, that’s aged well. Still a great memory and there’s been a few more of those.

Zoom out a little more and a few tracks fan out from Malaga where we had the most amazing time way back in Feb. Feels like a different time.  A different life where social distancing was swaying away from an unwashed pal, or masking your drunkenness by hanging on to a handy lampost.

That’s it tho. Andorra for Alex’s 40th went early, whereas a second trip to Spain suffered a realism deficit right up to the point when common sense overcame desperation to ride dusty trails we knew so well. I totally accept this is a first world problem, but it’s still my first world problem and while everything else can be postponed getting older cannot.

I’ve no idea how many of these trips are left.  Again let’s focus on the good stuff; I’m mostly uninjured, 1/2 a stone, in old money, lighter than the last time we passed round the sun, feeling good on and off the bike, and not yet bored of slithering around the local trails in a percussive manner.

That summary hides a dirty secret. Of the rather impressive 6,000km I’ve ridden this year, 30% were racked up going nowhere slowly in the shed.  First time I’ve cracked 100,000 metres of climbing but again 25% of that elevation was nothing more than a flywheel and a desperate urge to chase people I’ve never met.

The other 70% is encapsulated by the Covid-Box. Living smack bang between two areas of Areas of Outstanding National Beauty does have its advantages. Forests and views being a couple of them.  Bike forums are awash with those having neither. Apparently getting bored of your local trails is a thing.

Not for us. The trail network is criss crossed with classics, old favourites and new digs carved out by furloughed trail pixies. Digging into my ride data unearthed a couple of nuggets; firstly I’d climbed the bastard-oh-god-are-we-there yet track into the local woods a one less than make-your-own-joke here 68 times.

Over half of those were to access the two forks of our trails; Penyard being more trail dense, shorter and a bit less technical. Chase benefiting from a little more elevation, lumpier geography and longer runs. On long summer days we’d fork both left and right, before forking off to Matt’s Speakeasy to neck cold drinks toasting perfect sunsets.

The rest of the time we’d go long. Penyard being a gateway to the Yat where trails sprout from every forest road. Climb enough to be rewarded by views across about five counties and one other country.  Descend on perfectly sculptured tracks until arms pointed to the pub when the legs were done. This was pandemic-lite – we knew what was happening but it was mostly happening to someone else*

Sometimes that was people we knew. Seb (editor of www.cranked.cc) and I swapped rides. After a fantastic Mendip loop, I hosted him on our local trails in perfect conditions. We had such a blast finishing in the pub, accessed via the local Church steps, arrowing you into the welcoming garden of the Kings Head.

These – and so many more – are the memories I’m taking from this shitty year. Because I can’t control any of the scary externalities. I honestly don’t know what normal is going to feel like, nor when we might celebrate that moment.

I know this tho. 2021 just has to be a better year. And we all have a part to play in that. We’ve learned to endure so many things, but it is the random acts of kindness which stand out. Almost like spies behind enemy lines. There’s more to bring us together than to divide us.

None of us can fix the clusterfuck that is 2020. But all of us have shown we don’t need to. We can be there for each other. Nothing is more important than that. Even riding bikes.  Although, let’s be clear, that is still extremely important

Happy new year all. Fingers crossed it’s going to be at least okay.

*Herefordshire having the lowest rates of the virus right up until we went into Tier-1 the week before Xmas. At which point those five counties and one country pretty much fucked it for everyone.

Back in the room

Back in the shed!

Back in 2008 we had a new house, lots of ideas but not much money. Therefore the priority was some form of heating to combat the inrushing winter. That form ended up hoovering up all our funds, and lots more beside as, in the process, we created an authentic WW1 trench experience*

Having swerved difficult conversations with social services**, thoughts moved to freeing the house of bikes, bike stuff and the primary bike rider. My thoughts anyway which envisaged a cycling cathedral soaring high into the Herefordshire skyline.

After all we already had a 50×25 foot slab laid for an unbuilt stable. We didn’t however have the budget to fill it, so instead commissioned a modest*** structure satisfying both ‘bike storage‘ and ‘home office‘ requirements. Some dithering, a stud wall and a purchasing strategy best summarised as ‘lowest cost bidder‘ brought forth the ShedofDreams(tm).

Considering it’s not build of the highest quality materials, it’s survived remarkably well. Apart from the roof taking flight last winter and the fascia boards demanding a monthly paint refresh.

Emergency roof repairs

The bike side has seen extensive use. It’s looking a little tired but is still home to many of my favourite tools, all correctly labelled and mostly unused.  Actual bikes tho they’ve all been campaigned extensively. If – in most cases – somewhat briefly.

Annual ShedofDreams deep clean

Annual ShedofDreams deep clean

The office side has seen rather more sporadic occupancy.  When the kids were young, my attempts to project a thin veneer of professionalism were often punctured by noisy sibling rivalry and occasional violence. So a ‘safe space‘ had many things going for it- a good part of that was its lack of said rumbustious offspring – but a decent internet connection wasn’t one of them.

Back in the day not a massive issue. We weren’t 100% dependant on the Internet and even if we were, our broadband bandwidth was somewhere between dial up and despair.  The phone worked tho, and occasionally I’d be delighted to find an email dated within the last month pop into my inbox.

Other issues need to be surfaced though. We’d gone a bit insulation mad when building the shed. This kept it lovely and warm in winter – even with the wind whistling between most joints, I refer you back to lowest cost bidder – but come summer it was an unpleasant fusion of a grotty Sauna and the Hot Boxes best known from the ‘Bridge of the River Kwai’.

I gradually migrated back into the house. The office became mainly an auxiliary dumping ground for shit we’d never need but you know just in case. It also became home to a rodent population gorging themselves on said crap. Not an attractive proposition in terms of moving back in.

Then COVID. Before which I was on the road so much of the time, my ‘home‘ office was generally a hotel or a train. Now 6 months after snaffling Carol’s craft room, my marching orders were received, notarised and absolutely not to be considered a request. Which is entirely fair since I’d annexed a decent chunk of the house.

We cleaned out the mouse-poo, had the painting finished we’d abandoned some ten years before, assembled a ‘zoom wall‘ of cheap Ikea bookcases and attempted to fit everything around the turbo by accidently burning it. Sadly it appears both bloody annoying and inflammable.

Testing the new WFH second monitor :)

Internet tho. My weeks now are filled with a minimum of 50% ‘you’re on mute, I can’t see your video, can you see what I’m sharing?’ While the cosmetic upgrade was impressive, the digital footprint was still mired in the sand. Turtles racing through treacle best describes the pedestrian opening of a web page.

Not to worry, we’d foreseen this problem during the excavation phase, so burying a hosepipe route between shed and house. Sadly no-one could quite remember where it might be located. As ever my friends rallied round my incompetence with practical solutions; a box of externally rated Ethernet cable from Matt, A crimp tool and a bloody big drill from Rex*** and some strong managerial support from yours truly.

In my defence I designed the not-very-complex non physical network stuff. On the grounds I’ve built some proper fuck-off massive global networks in a previous career, so I’ve got this. Nobody cared. Quite right too.

Back in the shed!

All a bit anti-climatic really. Cable laid (insert your own joke here), outside wall drilled with a bit barely fitting in a LWB transit, cables crimped, slight fuck-ups corrected, connections snapped in and we had all the good lights. ‘Communications have been established from the MotherLode‘ I bellowed triumphantly from the shed. Again, nobody cared.

Now that's a proper internet connection :)

Makes me happy tho. 50 meg from the shed. 50 bloody meg. On the downside Zwift will now never drop out so that’s that excuse gone for good. Upsides tho? Many, out of Carol’s hair for a start. A door to close so I know when to stop working, a chance to flex my Sonos speaker without upsetting – well – everyone really.

https://flic.kr/p/2jLKU5w

There’s more. I have a double zoom wall, one containing the BEST PICTURE EVER commissioned for my 50th, the other stuffed with my favourite books and a few lego offcuts. I might have cracked that professionalism thing, Until I start talking obviously.

And I haven’t even got to the best part. Smart-Plugs. Why was I not told about these digital sorcerers? We’ve run out of space this time, but a thrilling post is in the works. I know, I know you can hardly wait.

Until then, I’m back in the room. For a laugh I might move the laptop to next door so the customers can see what their custom mostly pays for 🙂

*300m of ground source pipes dug to a depth of 1.5m. I’m sure we had more pets before we started.

**both of your young children have called us asking for heaters, blankets and some proper parents.

***it’s still bloody enormous compared to normalised shed dimensions. Yet I look out on 8 feet of slab and feel a bit sad 😉

****who last year risked life and least one limb wrestling the 4G antenna on our chimney. Goodbye shit ADSL, hello 50meg off the the local transmitter.

What do pictures paint?

Words allegedly. Many of them. Yeah about that.  Let’s kick off with some honesty. Appreciate this challenges the norms of this blog, but just trying to keep things fresh.  When film was king, the shutter release demanded some respect. 36 images represented a couple of pints and a week of waiting for the postie*.

Now it’s spray and pray. Well just spray and post really. The photographers art has been mostly lost to a signal to noise ratio long on notoriary and short on quality.  Honest admission number one: I’ve been the noise to that professionals signal. Too many taken not enough deleted. Relied too much of photoshop. Seb’s – www.cranked.cc – words ring loud in my head. Composition not compensation.

Here’s number two. I’m mostly done with writing about riding bikes. Fuck me I’ve mined that seam well beyond exhaustion. There is so much more riding behind me that before me. That’s just bloody depressing. So as a muse it’s suffused with melancholy and pity. No one wants to read that flowery-wank. Not even me.

But we’re not dead yet and I’m giving Dylan a beery hug when he tells me we must fight the dying of the light. Fight yes, write no.  Back to those flickering images. A moment catching something special; golden hour light, snatched facial expressions, sustained bravery, momentary pratfalls, ride-end tiredness, glorious companionship. All this and so much more.

Casting aside planetary orbits charting 53 years of my wizened fizage, let’s move right to the the good stuff. It’s been a strange year. Dreadful in so many ways but life affirming in others. Dragging the focus back to my tribe and the stuff adjustable in my purview, there have been many fantastic moments.

Time to stop talking.

Heading out after a day of Zoom calls.

Solo riding in the bluebells.

Crappy Selfies during lockdown

Riding past our favourite pub. Closed for four months.

From driving every day to working at home with help from pets.

Back to riding with mates. A video still of my good mate Martin.

Riding with the offspring

Back in the room! H enjoys Wales being opened.

Wales doing its big sky things. What a day that was.

The pubs open. Dave and I make haste.

The Saracens head reopens – rejoice!

Riding with Seb in the mendips. Good times.

12 years old. Big dog bossing the lawn.

Riding with Jess. The best of times.

Walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path with Carol.

Travelling with the family, not for work.

Riding my favourite trails with my favourite bunch of idiots.

Adequately distanced, relatively relaxed 😉

So what does this tell us? That I missed my friends but remembered my family. That Inbox Zero ended up as Inbox Zero Interest.  That however down you may feel, you must always look up. That loving what you can do is a fuck load more productive than lamenting what you cannot**

What else? I dunno. There’s likely some crappy metaphor peripherally linking riding bikes with more important things.  That doesn’t feel right. It’s not one or the other. Multifaceted problems are not solved through the power of a pedal revolution. You may feel better, but the real world is oblivious to that. It’ll drag you right back in.

All is not lost. Bikes have a superpower. They are binary. There is no nuance. No degrees. No strategy. They drop you in the moment and you can grab that by the balls or walk the excuses line. Either is a simplification, a choice, a moment in time. One of those 36 exposures.

I’ll never stop loving it for that.  The world feels a pretty scary place right now. But in two pedal strokes that’s someone elses problem. Let’s go ride into those pictures. The words can wait. But I won’t be.

* followed by disappointment. Flicking through – shit, rubbish, crap, over-exposed, under-exposed, oh and a random picture of a strangers arse.

**my mum is 88 and not having a great time. This is her advice. It’s definitely something to live by.

What Car? Wrong question.

None more black

Buying bikes is fun. This is not idle conjecture. I can back it up with real-world experience.  Buying cars is shit. Another position I’ll die on a hill for even when my vociferous defense is based on 40 less examples.  I’ve written extensively on my hatred of the whole shebang.  Research, dithering, salespeople, more dithering, multi-paged spreadsheets, test drives, boredom, frustration all ending in buyers remorse.

All which represents a highlight reel of the best bits. The rest is time-lapse misery. As I approach my 53rd birthday surely the flip side of increasing physical decrepitude is tolerance, patience and the ability to take the long view? Nope. With great age comes great rage. Not so much raging at the dying of the light, more wishing that light was a full showroom fire shadowing an angry form mutering ‘I’m trapped in the movie ‘total fuckwits’, everywhere I look another fucking spunk trumpet’

Let’s break this down. I’m actually okay with bike marketing. They are pitching a lifestyle that – while obviously unobtainable – is appealing. Cars tho, no fucks given for what’s being pitched. I’m at that difficult age – our own kids can drive* so the ‘active family’ schtick is lost on me, as is the ludicrous assertion that ‘something sporty’ will somehow roll back the years.

I make this position extremely clear when entering the den of the slimey. This is no way nudges them an iota off script.  “Look‘ I plead “I get you’re excited by sports suspension because you are 12 years old, but did you notice how long it took me to get out of that chair?” and “any car with a sill lower than my knee is going to need to come with a hoist and a burly attendant“.

I’ll give them something tho, they are bloody accomplished liars. I’d love to chart my journey through a couple of “prestige marques”** but honestly it’s just profanity with occasional punctuation. I didn’t know what I wanted, but it wasn’t what they had to sell.

Okay let’s get into that. I don’t need another massive car. The Bavarian Hearse has offered an interesting ownership experience. Brilliant engine, amazing brakes, shit stereo, average air con and apparently a state of the art electronic brain. Yeah right, I’ve never trusted that smug bastard after, on our FIRST JOURNEY together, the SatNav directed me down a steep, narrow icy track. 10 minutes of slithery death that’ll live me way longer.  And I’ll never get those brown stains out of the faux leather.

The next three years were significantly less exciting, Summary of which is one average sized bloke driving 20,000 miles a year in a vehicle designed for at least three more is a pretty stupid enterprise. And that’s before we get into the realm of parking anxiety***

So if not that, then what? Brand loyalty is obviously over-rated yet I’ve always identified as ‘Skoda Man‘. Some of which is because I am so clearly not ‘BMW Man‘ even after attempting to improve the image of the marque one indication at a time. This earned me suspicion from most drivers and pity from the rest.

Now we have a manufacturer, let’s set a budget. Post COVID-19 that 20,000 annual mileage is going to be halved. Maybe more than halved. Whatever happens next there’s no way I’m going back to 4:30am starts and 10pm finishes. That’s not a trajectory which sits well with a slide into semi-retirement.

Rather than actually speak to anyone – based on how well that’d gone so far – I fired up a browser, tapped in some details and sat back with a well earned beer. The whole reverse-auction/blood in the water dealer bitch-fight is my new favourite thing.

Buying bikes is an investment in time and people. Buying cars is strictly transactional. There’s no value in loyalty when operates in a single direction. There’s pretty much no differentiation between identikit showrooms. I’d argue not that much between different manufacturers either.

So it came down to simple maths and a dither over full electric (next time for sure), a bit electric (transitional technology at a hell of a price uplift) and planet killing IC (petrol at least this time, I shall salve my environmental angst by driving a whole lot less).

With that done, I ignored all the ‘we want a relationship‘ bullshit and stabbed a ready credit card at the lowest cost bidder. They were surprisingly lovely but I’m still fucking suspicious this is merely a front to rip me off sometime in the near future.

I also signed up for a longer lease. Because making cars is environmentally destructive. Because driving isn’t going to bookend my working days. But honestly because I cannot be doing with this fucking shitshow in the next four years.

What car? Who cares. It’s done and I can go back to looking at bikes.

*well someone somewhat incautiously presented them with a certificate saying they could. Since which we’ve named their car the hedge magnet.

**their framing not mine. I’d lump ’em all in with ‘bunch of larcenous rapscallions‘. Where do they get these people from?

***It fitted nowhere without at least one end sticking out. I suppose that explains why I came back to one night to find it a couple inches shorter on the back quarter.

We need to talk about Corona.

Welcome to the zombie apocalypse. Dystopian fiction made real. Hunger Games re-imagined for toilet roll battles in Morrisons. The very end of days indeed. Grab a bottle of your favourite medicine, a copy of The Road and consider which household items might be reclassified as food.

Or not. Let’s not trivialise the facts here.* People are dying. Many more will follow. As ever the poor, the marginalised, the desperate will suffer more.  History teaches us disease has no class vector, reality suggests otherwise. The virus has snared royalty and heads of government but let’s not confuse their treatment with some poor bastard on a sink estate struggling for breath.

But we have new heroes. No that’s not right, we have old heroes properly dragged into the light. Sure there’s a government, whose welfare policy can be neatly summarised as fucking the NHS up the arse for ten years, is now apparently in awe of what’s left.

Forget them and their frankly embarrassing attempts at empathy.  The irony that the saviours of our world are not running banks or financial scams, rather those on the front line of what is essentially a war without ordinance. Doctors and nurses, thousands of committed researchers, decent souls stacking shelves, school ‘failures‘ driving trucks, ranks of forgotten minimum wage slaves stepping up in a way their more privileged contemporaries entirely fucking avoided.

And they are dying as well. Because ‘getting Brexit done’ is a ‘look at me’ slogan while basic PPE is a bore. Still got to give the ruling class some credit for a bail out that’s basically nationalisation and socialism hidden under the banner of an emergency measure. A tory government massively expanding the welfare state? Fuck me it’d be funny if it wasn’t for the whole people dying thing.

At some point in the distant future, there needs to be a reckoning. Not just finger pointing of who didn’t do what,  but also if we learned anything. This is what I’ve learned so far.

Most humans are decent individuals. Those who don’t monopolise the news media. Stuffing blogrolls into trolleys, picnicking on the beach and essentially mainlining the selfish gene. Through stupidity or hubris, who the fuck knows. But these people are not important.

Who are important is everyone else.  Mostly everyone else is synonymous with not being a dick. Quietly doing the right thing and not wanting some kind of social media medal for it. Of course I counted myself amongst their number until around 3pm today.

After 10 days inside** most of which has been lost in virtual conferencing*** or finding new friends on on-line platforms, I cracked. So all my virtue signalling up there isn’t worth shit when, after FIVE MONTHS of riding in the grim, the trails dried up.

Oh irony again. It’s been literally seconds since we last met.  Our freedom gave us Carte Blanche to slog about in a festival of slurry. And when that freedom is rightfully restricted it’s all bloody lovely weather, t-shirts and dust, dry lines and new flowers. You know the gig. Spring spinning the season ratchet. But like most things it’s less fun watching than doing.

I’m no rebel nowadays. I get the social distancing thing. Both because it’s absolutely the right thing to do and – as an asthmatic – I’m keen to swerve a dose thank you very much. So riding now isn’t like riding used to be before all this started. Was it only a month ago? Already feels like a lifetime.

I’m opening any gates with a jauntily angled elbow. I’m making judicious use of a small bottle**** of hand sanitiser. I’m acknowledging my fellow trail users with six feet of good natured hellos.  I’m two hundred miles and a million light years from my brother living in a small flat in Ealing.

I’m also not a total bloody idiot. The NHS is kind of busy right now. It doesn’t need entitled mountain bikers to rock into A&E with wonky body parts.  So riding downhill is more about precision than speed. Crank not, brake not, find some flow. Pump the trail, don’t bend it to your will.

Then stop. Sit on a stump. Pig out on a bag of sweets. Listen to the birds. Remember all this will pass. We may lose a summer but most people are losing a shit load more. Maybe the world turns so we can learn those lessons about what’s important. And who. And why.

Maybe we don’t. Maybe it snaps back to survival of the assholes. I just don’t know and there’s nothing I can do to influence that. But we are not powerless. There are things we should do.

Spend time with your own family. Catch up with everyone elses. Help out those who may not even ask for help.  There’s something about the stripping back of our vocational and social veneer which feels important. I’m not sure there’s any such thing as over-sharing right now.

Above all observe rule#1 ‘don’t be a dick’. Closely followed by rule#2 ‘be kind’. We’ll get through this. Even though the other side looks pretty scary.  Still anyone making predictions is merely selling snake oil.

So let’s stick together. These last three years the politics of division have set the agenda. All of us should feel pretty bloody motivated to do something about that.

*a Venn diagram not including experts on Facebook, conspiracy theorists and shouty nutters. The media is doing a decent enough job aiming at the heart of the periphery.

**and we’re very lucky. Healthy family, large if unruly garden, walkable paths into open fields, customers who still want to buy things, significant stocks of alcohol etc.

***We’ll so be back to this. Many years ago I wrote a very cutting article on the desperation of ‘second life’ and now I’m living it. Karma is indeed a bitch.

****Like bitcoin it’s worth about a million pounds today. And peanuts in two months.

Winter is a state of mind

Yat - The mud and sun edition

It’s hardly California is it? That’s a climb, come Spring, we yomp up with nary a care. And then freewheel down the other side.  None of that is happening this winter. Or any winter really, but endless wet has replaced proper cold and the Forest is dead and sodden.

Which doesn’t mean it still isn’t some kind of type 2 fun. It must be because that climb is part of a 55km route I’ve already ridden 4 times in 2020. It started off a bit wet and has seamless transitioned to what you see there. Climbing is a proper physical challenge, descending more of a mental one.

As my mate Steve summed it up rather neatly ‘the mud adds mass to your bike while simultaneously reducing grip’. There’s been much sideways action, and not a little crashing. After some initial grumpiness at the endless clag, I’ve found myself almost enjoying it. Especially when someone else is crashing. Or we’re in the pub.

The bike/kit/human cleaning process is getting pretty old though. The floor of the ShedofDreams resembles a very large planter with soil from all corners of Herefordshire covering every surface. The greasy conditions have weaponised the Solaris’s drivetrain as its segued from worn to knackered. Sharp edges shot blasted with grit still somehow rotate under power. I’m hoping it’ll last a bit longer as replacing it now is about as fiscally prudent as setting fire to tenners.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Yesterday was another tough ride. Because I’m an idiot with delusional meteorological aspirations, I re-introduced the new Ripley to the Yat. Four rides that bike has had and never has it been clean for more than 30 seconds. Not helped by my refusal to furnish it with anything other than token mudguards.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Not a problem I thought. It’ll be a drier than last week. Which by a narrow definition it was. The mud had dried to that most horrible of slop which fills tyres and clings to the bike.  Motion under pedal power was primarily in any direction other than the intended one. Motion under gravity was more of the same except with significantly more terror and crashing.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

We’d barely ridden a downhill trail before man and bicycle parted company in the most comedic of circumstances. The grip was variable. By which I mean between ‘not much’ and ‘absolutely fuck all’. You had to commit to get the tyres to bite, but if they didn’t you’re eating that same dirt.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Having already thrown himself rather ostentatiously to the ground, Deano couldn’t wait to re-interpret mountain biking through the art of creative crashing. I had just navigated a tricky steep and greasy chute when behind me there was the sound of accelerating rider interfacing with local shrubbery.

I then had to dab as I find riding and laughing hard to do at the same time.  Deano emerged blaming a lack of rear brake. Usefully a tree had provided a second front one. Learning from his mistake, he then abandoned any form or retardation firing courageously into a small rock garden. I was right behind him and, while keen to have a go myself, couldn’t see an option that didn’t involve riding over a now prostrate Dean!

Haydn being the caring sort of chap he is, decided that Deano really needed the kind of company that only misery can supply.  So he collected most of a tree in his front wheel before physics did her thing and pitched him over the bars and into the soft earth. He was unhurt having luckily missed the rocks either side of his landing spot.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

This sort of set the tone for the rest of the ride. Struggle uphill on trails deep-rutted in viscous nastiness before descending with all the grace of a fridge on a roller skate. This was fine because the sun was shining and everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Even me. I’ve still no idea what the Ripley is like to ride ‘properly’ but it held it’s own – and more importantly it’s rider upright – over four hours of slop-induced silliness. This silliness peaked after Cez performed a ‘bicycle tango’ on a steep loamy corner.  While not hitting the ground, we couldn’t help but notice he appeared to be pirouetting around his bike with no obvious end in sight.

Eventually he wrestled the recalcitrant steed back into some form of known dimensional space. The dab committee did not need to sit. He had not so much dabbed as danced down the trail inconvenienced by bicycle.

Which seemed an apposite time to head to the pub. First tho the last two descents including a perilous stream crossing and a rocky gulley filled with damp limestone. I followed Steve down the latter asking him if it was a bit bumpy on his hardtail. It was lovely riding a full-suss again even if every bearing was crying out for mercy.

Yat - The mud and sun edition

Seven riders were muddied by unbloodied as the pub hoved into view. Two were celebrating the end of dry January*. All of us were toasting the start of Web February.

It was a good day. We’ve had many good days already this year. Riding in winter is mostly a state of mind.  Set the bar low and you’re almost guaranteed to have a great time. And every week we do it brings Spring seven days closer.

Until then, bring on the slop.

*not me obviously. I thought about it. Over a pint.

End of season clearout.

CwmCarn with Seb

Not a sly reference to some kind of fire-sale in the ShedofDreams. I mean like that’s going to happen. It’s more like a black hole. Stuff goes in, nothing comes out.

No this is more end of year admin. With predictable hilarity, I’ve attempted to justify the many and varied examples of the modern bicycle residing in the shed. This time livened up with a spreadsheet (calm yourselves down there!) summarising my bike rental scheme going back 20 years.

The Bike Page

It makes sobering reading. Even to me. And I’m sober already. Thanks for that January.

I’ve also updated the choice, or at least less grizzly, cuts from last years stream of consciousness.  Some even acknowledge a world outside of Mountain Bikes. I’ll try and nip that kind of seditious postings in 2020.

The best bits page.

First ride of the year tomorrow. Proper ride anyway. I don’t count going nowhere in the shed. It’s like cabbage, I know it’s good for me but it doesn’t mean I have to pretend it’s real food.

On that happy note, time for a non alcoholic beverage and some YouTube escapism where the sun is always shining and the dirt is always dusty.

That’s as close to a resolution as I’m getting to this year.