It would not be unreasonable to suggest that a man with such an extensive collection as I, could ever be embarrassed by riding an inappropriate bicycle for the prevailing conditions. A pre-ride enquiry may be met with “Mild rock, light shale, short, sharp hills, soupÃ§on of mud, occasional wet grass.Trees? Mainly Beech“.
These important variables could be simply plugged into a spreadsheet*, the mighty pivot table unleashed and correctbike(tm) shall be brought forth. Unfortunately such simple equations cannot factor in a mechanical ineptness co-efficient which renders bikes inoperable with just a few spanner twirls.
The Cove is perfectly suited to the Malvern Hills. It was also broken and the urgency of my need to repair it was not matched by any haste from the Post Office. My remaining choices were between the CX bike (Off Road insanity wrapped in thin rubber tyres), the DMR (gathering dust, goes uphill best on chairlifts), the full suspension Pace and the no suspension Kona.
The Kona has never been ridden properly off road, which – added to the nagging concern that I’d built it – made my wasting ten minutes trying to fit the light battery feel even more stupid. A desperate bodge brought forward the next issue where the light bracket was configured for the wrong bars and the missing widgets were hidden in a place known only as “fuck that, I don’t have time to look for them”
Pace it was then. I surveyed its’ appropriateness and marked it with a 2. Out of a 100. Five and half inches of travel both ends, short stubby stem, huge brakes and 2.5 inch balloon tryes stuffed with downhill tubes. Still the light bracket fitted and only when I attempted to heft it into the car did I think I’d been a little generous in the marking stakes.
Once I’d had someone help me upload it, the first 600 feet of climbing reminded me to get my imagination gland checked. Because it clearly needs recalibrating, as my fantasy of a relatively painless experience refracted through the reality prism and left me breathless and cursing. It wasn’t much better downhill either with too much squish and not enough feel.
I felt it alright for a while after, every time someone popped a big sodding hill into my personal geography. I felt as old as the Granny ring, and even though the Malverns don’t really get that muddy**, the sinking feeling was well and truly received as we plodded ever upwards at the speed of stupid.
Some days later, my riding buddy decided we had not suffered enough*** and enthusiastically set course for a second ascent of a hill locally known as “oh shit, not that bastard again“. The top of that was a long time coming, but from there it’s 500 vertical feet of giggly dirt starting fast and open, snaking through some woody singeltrack before the crux being a steep cross rooted plunge best tackled on one of two dry lines.
But only one wet one really, the “sissy” line along the top misses out the off camber routes and steepest pitch. When those roots are damp, you may as well throw yourself off at the top and save the embaressment of giving it a try. Unless you have hauled too much bike for too long on easier terrain. Because then for twenty seconds, you can mainline payback and plunge brakeless down the fall line.
It is only then when you realise how astonishingly good modern full suspension bikes are. So much so that all manufacturers should be forced to name every model “Talent Compensator”. You don’t need the brakes, all you need are a couple of beers, a blindfold and a parachute. Every time I ride the Pace, the true extent of the performance envelope becomes clear. You will never, ever be as good as these bikes.
So shall I be selecting the big fella again this weekend, pushing it a bit harder, trying to find my limits, all that kind of macho nonsense? Of course not. the spreadsheet says “No” 🙂
* I haven’t done this. Yet.
** I am comparing them to the Chilters – twinned with Flanders – Hills where 20 seconds into any winter ride turns your comapanions into whinging swamp monsters, and your bike into 45 pounds of gloopy non rotation. Oh the horror !
*** I don’t feel he was speaking for both of us.