.. The “Alderly Edge”. That poor ST4 has the metallurgic equivalence to a lab-rat, with the innocent frame having ever more ridiculous components inflicted upon it. Those new wheels were also available in black, but I felt that such a colour combination lacked class. And continuing the mock mansion design motif, I am considering grafting some plastic graco-Roman plastic pillars onto the chainstays.
Tubeless as well – a tyre technology trillion-mile proven on anything motorised, but still swinging between mockery and explosion when fitted to a mountain bike. Especially if “el hamero” here is doing the fitting. But my boldness was rewarded by the reaction of the Ross Riding Widdle who spent barely ten minutes pointing and laughing as ‘Alds’ was proudly wheeled through the gamut of humiliation on route to another stonking FoD ride.
A ride, as my legs were keen to point out, starting barely 24 hours after a lighting attempt on the Malvern Summits had finished. And these Wednesday rides in the forest seem to have become rather more serious and speedy. And properly cheeky* with the evening bridleway stricture being properly enforced.
First tho, the “Campaign for the Unification of Nocturnal Trails “** (Western chapter) invoked the “Kinder Trespass” amendment bringing forth some serious nodding, waggling of fingers*** and sniffing of air to detect any upstream Forest Rangers. Satisfied, the rip-your-legs-off ride began at a furious pace which left me apathetic rather than angry. Resigned to a stint at the back, again I wondered if a lack of bar mounted illumination would come back to haunt me. What with most hauntings happening in the full dark.
We headed directly for Wales via a track with head high vegetation leaning inwards to rip skin open, before the rocky trail under-tyre took over the going-to-maim-you agenda. Proper steep and technical, invigoratingly gulley’d, off camber and packing a manslaughter charge in the wet. Good that I thought, and good too that my hashed together wheels were both round and still encased in tyre. Not that they were really needed as the next climb involved a proper carry over wooden steps and drainage ditches.
“You’d never get a horse up there” I thought as we trudged ever upwards on a cliff edge that may not have been an official bridleway. Topping out, a short tarmac haul ran perpendicular to a hamlet apparently full of very old people shouting at Mountain Bikers. “You can’t ride up that hill” they shakily denounced our passing and – you know what – they were absolutely right with a vertical climb having us off the bikes and onto our shoulders.
The views from the top were something else. Something else I wasn’t soon worrying about with a high speed chase on sinewy doubletrack demanding all my attention. Good, again, I mused but not sure it’s worth risking being shot for. At which point we started climbing again and my legs suggested if I was unable to find anyone with a shotgun, I should consider suicide rather than endure any more pain.
Now I have ridden a lot of singeltrack, most of it quite slowly, some of it upside down and while I’ve never “owned” a section of trail, I like to think I may have rented a few. And – like any heavily campaigned mountain biker – have compiled a list of top fives; best woody descents, scariest rocky horrors, fastest vertical plungers, adrenalin jumpies, most fun trail centres etc. It’s a pretty static list nowadays with entries from all of the premier riding spots that are unlikely to be topped.
Until tonight. When I’m dead and gone, I’ll fine someone younger to spread my ashes on this trail – as a final resting place it has no equal. At least a mile of perfect singeltrack, a gradient blended harmoniously between speed and braking, sweeping corners fast enough to frighten but open enough to flash through at a grin-inducing pace, line choices between quick and pumpy or straight and jumpy. Behind a lad riding a flat barred hardtail, it quickly became apparent how much of a talent compensator the ST4 is, but this bothers me not a jot.
Because flashing through the trees on sun hardened trails, skimming endless tree roots, demanding every more grip from squirming tyres and being rewarded with an experience that feels fast and looks smooth is something I cannot understand why anyone under the age of about 90 wouldn’t want to do. Every day. Sod our bloody stupid access laws, it should be on the statute book that this trail MUST be ridden by anyone who has a mountain bike.
And then, finally, I will have an answer to all those flat-earthers who cannot understand the mud, the madness, the bleeding, the broken stuff, the cost, the time, the effort, the how-can-you-be-bothered-when-it’s-shitting-it-down. This Is Why.
Out of the woods, and a path on the river’s edge confirmed we were somewhere below sea level. The five kilometre climb homewards was a juxtaposition of much elbows-out racing at the front and an old bloke at the back in ‘limp home mode‘ – turning the pedals in the easiest gear, but entirely unwilling to accelerate to anything beyond walking pace. Back into the forest, it wasn’t quite as dark as last week but still lights certainly would have helped.
As would not being completely cream-crackered. Chasing the fast boys on the ridge-top about did for me, and the tight twisty downhill finished was mostly wasted with my hanging on for grim death replacing any noticeable trail skills. A couple of crashes to other people is always cheering to a tired man, but it shows just how damn fast and on the edge these rides have become. Suits me, it won’t be long before we’re slogging through waist high mud in temperatures failing to trouble zero.
The car park was a happy place, with promises of something similar come Sunday. It’ll take me that long to recover based on my yawning and heavy legged performance yesterday. Good job I was at work eh? Still it does give me plenty of time to polish my new hoops because that level of design classic doesn’t come without some hard work.
* As cheeky as riding naked across the lawns of Buckingham Palace with a “Vive La Revolution” placard while shouting “We don’t want none of your stinking German inbreds here“. And possibly slightly more illegal.
** I shall leave you to work out the acronym we like to label this group with.
*** Don’t count them. Just don’t.