May we present..

.. 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.

Start small and work down.

That’s always been my motto when faced with anything even tainted with mild terror. Point me in the direction of a well stocked bar or groaning pudding trolley though and I immediately Go Large*. So when the motley Ross Night Ride Crew began enthusiastically planning some epic flirting with the Welsh Borders, I couldn’t help but remember exactly how long a previous daytime jaunt had taken. Sure we did get lost and spend a quality hour in mid ride quaffage, but – even barely past the longest day – I felt bringing lights was sporting a certain keenness my body was unable to match.

We wasted too much of that precious natural light with Olympic grade pontificating, faffing and debating route options going something like “Yeah, you know if we cut round the back of Six-Fingered Bob’s Dogging Spot – so neatly bypassing the Pheasant Shaggers – we’ll pop over dog-turd hill and slip into the back of Geoffrey’s wiggle“. To which the other revered route finders would respond with something like “But that misses a cheeky dart through Necrophilia valley and leaves us with no chance of sticking a fast one in Big Vera’s Tunnel”

I stand aside pondering if this is merely a mighty wheeze – Muddy Mornington Crescent for the new boy. Eventually some decision is made and for a happy five minutes I actually recognise where we are. But not where we might be going with a confusing mass of left-right-lefts onto trails shadowed by dense vegetation that scratched hard at my strimmer itch. At exactly the point when I became totally and irretrievably lost**, the route-finder generals too began the slow head-turning of the navigationally incapacitated.

I knew we were lost in so many ways when chief Route Finder and all round downhill-mentalist Gary asked me – Me for fucks sake, a man who can often be found lost wandering around his own house looking for the dishwasher – if I remembered where a tiny track, now covered in head high vegetation, may start. I mugged for a bit hoping to create an air of trail locating competence which was fatally exposed when said track appeared in exactly the opposite direction to which I was confidently pointing.

Great trail tho, tight and twisty then steep and deep in roots, fallen logs and – in Tim’s case – fallen riders. Top job he turned his wheel into a metal-y pretzel which Nick somehow made round again even after ignoring my suggestion to whip it out of the dropouts so to give room for a few of us to stamp on it. A brief period of collaboration broke out between the route finding factions leading us upwards before splinter groups again began whispering that if we’d wanted to get there we wouldn’t have started from here.

Not so much a tight-knit trail location committee, more a loose confederation of closely warring tribes. Amazingly we found Buckstone hill – although even our ascent to the very top again split the flat earthers from the there’s-a-trail-here-somewhere-pushers, and better still had a properly bonkers run down the multiple trail sections each one building on the last. It’s fast and open, then tight, then twisty, then tight again before a wall drop opens up a fantastic rock step closely followed by a natural table top. I remembered enough from last time to scare myself properly silly, so giving me ample excuse to mince out of the vertical roll down some of the younger/more stupid/less burdened by dependants and imagination rode off with irritating ease.

These trails are used by the boys from Dirt Magazine, so even the chicken runs are not lacking in terror for the under-skilled. Fun tho, and riding the ST4 (Pace last time) didn’t slow me down much, fear and proper wheel throwing looseness did that just fine. More singletrack, sufficiently remembered to get the ‘Jedi Speeder’ experience although, on reflection, maybe I’m at the age where I should be considering a stunt man for the difficult sections.

Ace as the night was turning out to be, it was still night clawing away at a dropping sun and sending us back homewards through a long doubletrack gradual climb enlivened by some proper views and the odd cow that looked to add “bike eating” to their list of achievements for the day. Mercifully un-chewed, we took another “Dave Special” over a style and upwards for reasons of a fine rocky descent that would have been even more thrilling had I been able to see any of it.

Luckily we were only 30 minutes or so from home. Less luckily most of this would be under the watchful gaze of a healthy forest well known for shutting out the light. Had their been any. A few riders peeled off home leaving six of us groping about and making new friends of the two enlightened ones. The last descent was properly funny but only because the two full on tank slappers I encountered due to a) very loose and dusty trail under wheel and b) not being able to see a) finishing with nothing more than 2 second slides which lasted about 2 days in my head.

Not learning – as usual – I nearly stacked it exactly 20 yards from the truck. Didn’t care much though because if I hadn’t been riding somewhere beyond the ragged edge, then I’d be sitting at home grumpily staring into the darkness and wondering if the excuses not to go ride were really good enough.

Talking to my mum tonight I was reminded of a cheesy phrase she used to send her three offspring into situations that generally ended up being rather rewarding: “In twenty years, you will regret the things you didn’t do far more than the ones you did”.

Sage advice. Right now, I can’t think of anything to top that.

* and assuming I can still stand, keep on going.

** Had they left me there, I would have been forced to throw myself in front of a car so ensuring an ambulance would take me to a place of safety. You don’t want to be outside, on your own and looking worried in the Forest at night-time. The breeze in the trees whistles “Duelling Banjo’s”

Four out of six ain’t bad

As Meatloaf may once have crooned if he could count past 5*. I appear to have died and been transported to Singletrack heaven with 100 kilometres of the wiggly stuff squeezed into less than a week. Ascent and, more importantly, descent has reached five imperial figures which is exactly half of what I managed all of last month.

But these numbers mean nothing without context. In this rather lovely – if confused – country we live in, every dry spell is vigorously mainlined by MTB junkies getting their rocks off on dusty trails under sunny skies. And for those of us who refuse to accept this is a three season sport, all that winter drudgery is rewarded with fast legs and an unquenchable thirst to go do it all again. And again.

Four rides, three locations, one simple idea to bank happy memories against future wet and miserable. We rolled into the Forest twice this week, and it rolled lush singletrack right back. It might not have the elevation of the Malverns, not the stupendous panoramic views, but bloody hell it’s somewhere beyond fun and into a place that surely cannot be legal. And yet a Malvern ride some 24 hours later reminded me how damn lucky we are to live between this two MTB environs.

A bit cheeky, trails that come alive in the evenings when the walkers have rambled off, perfect blue sky and visibility half way to Russia. A final descent into the setting sun with many metres bagged and ready to be unleashed in a duet with gravity. That’ll stay with me for some time, as will fast laps of CwmCarn – a trail centre 45 minutes from my house and a chosen testing ground for new bikes**

I know its’ secrets well enough to show Martin a clean pair of wheels on the first lap – feeling fit and pretty fast. Big Sandwich and Life Saving Cup Of Tea later, then it’s pretty much even as Martin hustles his big forked hardtail line astern to my brilliant – if fragile – ST4. I can forgive that bike anything because it is so natural to ride. Don’t think, just do. Don’t brake, just trust . This sometimes leads to Don’t look, just hope but how damn alive do you feel when all that is going on?

The last descent at CwmCarn has been properly breathed on by the trail pixies and now it is a kilometre of giggly awesomeness. I can hear Martin’s fat tyre scrabbling right up my chuff so abandon fast and smooth for ragged and dangerous. There is nothing wrong with such an approach assuming you’re still trail side up, which I very nearly wasn’t. Very Nearly is more than okay because it takes you to a place where you want to speak at a hundred miles and hour, but you cannot actually get any words out. I find pointing helps.

The only thing that scares me now is how long will it be before I’m too old to do this any more, maybe too broken, or too tired to ride in the winter, or too worried about mashing myself up. Just too damn crocked and decrepit. The worrying thing is – right now – I am as fit as I’ve ever been and riding at a pace that feels reasonably brisk. Probably all down hill from here then. Hope so, sounds like it might be an uplift 🙂

* Our mutt appears to have some musical talent as lead hound for Mad Murf and the Howlers. Current album “Where’s my breakfast” includes such classics as “Is there any more?”, “That was disappointingly small” and “How long till dinner?“. The difficult second album has stalled at the concept stage with only a working title “I’ve eaten the cat, what’s next?

** There have been a few.

Somedays’ you’re the slugger…

.. somedays’ you’re the ball. In life, and much more when bikes become involved, I have tended to “The Ball”. Occasional glimpses of what the Slugger might look like have rarely occurred – and then only from the position of “The Ball“. Today I observed my two of my friends riding rather splendidly, while my own contribution to this riding ensemble was a proper sky-ground-sky event not experienced for many moons.

If we were to assume the mantle of the three cycling musketeers, Tim and Martin could fight over temporary custody of “Athos” and “Porthos” whereas I – of course – would rightfully claim the title of Dead-loss. It started well with enough with nearly a kilometre passing under tyre before I became hopelessly lost. For a while we thrashed through sunken trails with me looking worried, and the GPS demanding I turned right back at Reykjavik.

Eventually I passed off this navigational blunder as the new MTB Sub-Niche of “All Forest Extreme Power XC Exploring”, and introduced the clan to the “Mushroom Trail”* designed by nature to put the “hard” into “Hardtail” – machine gun firing off camber roots at single sprung cannon fodder.

I am very fond of my ST4, at times like this possibly rather more than is normal for a bunch of non organic tubes, but rooty, pedally singletrack is a lovely watch from a full suspension bike. We found much more of this in the next two hours, some of it actually on purpose but my random meanderings did have a final destination in mind.

Forest of Dean - May 2010 Forest of Dean - May 2010

The famed “Dowies” singletrack is hewn by a single man with a motorbike and way too much spare time. Forestry keep logging it, he keeps rebuilding it – multiple trails snaking down a steep slope, littered with fat roots, berms, jumps and general MTB gigglyness. If you can be smooth, you can be fast but that requires good trail knowledge, better skills and a whole world of self belief built around the grip of your front tyre.

Tim went first, me after using a few previous trips to hang pretty close to his rear wheel. This felt pretty good, not too scary, a salutary lesson on how damn far you can lean a well sorted mountain bike finishing with a mild buffing of an ego. “1:50 is the best time down there Tim” I offered as we winched back up for another go. What I didn’t know was Tim was going to have a crack at that time, what I should have known is there is absolutely no way I’d be able to stay with him.

I must have misheard “Ragged = Fast” because actually “Ragged = Slow = Crash” is what it must have meant. Ragged also means all that skills-shit which seems to work pretty well is given a slap by Ego as he barges uninvited into the driving seat. Ego thinks he’s fast but he’s so busy looking at himself, he rarely bothers looking up at the trail. As Tim disappeared at an alarming rate, I responded with a casing of a big-ish jump that – with Mr. Rational in charge – had been nothing but a bit of fun.

Now Disaster joined the race. He’d nearly caught me on three previous occasions, but this time changed tactics instead hanging about with Mr. Crash at the next corner. I turned up mostly out of control hard on the brakes, eyes on the front wheel, ego catatonic at the wheel. If I’d committed to the bend, I might have made it but I never gave myself that chance, hitting a big root square on with my head – think Tortoise being offered a juicy lettuce leaf – far over the bars, and not such much a passenger as an accident looking for somewhere exciting to happen.

The crash went on for a while. Over the bars and into the forest which was unpleasantly akin to being beaten with sharp sticks. Eventually the sky stopped flipping but I felt – since I was lying down – it’d be a damn fine idea to maintain that pose until my heart rate dropped below a million. Martin turned up looking as concerned as a man can while pissing himself laughing, and we determined other than a somewhat clarty elbow, the only real damage was to Mr. Ego who’d slunk off and left the scene of the accident.

I quite like crashing without properly hurting myself. It’s a bit like drinking without adding a hangover to your morning challenges. The high water mark of my ability is such that even a brilliant bike and dusty, dry trails cannot compensate sufficiently for ego-stoked bravado. I know exactly why the crash happened which is fine, because that doesn’t stop you being silly again. Possibly just a bit less silly.

Forest of Dean - May 2010 Forest of Dean - May 2010

Great ride tho; end of the bluebells, start of the summer. bonkers fast trails, fit feeling legs and a bike that was both superb to ride and – refreshingly – unbroken come tea and medals. If I could keep my aspirations in check, I might be sort of okay at this mountain biking thing. Maybe being the ball isn’t such a bad thing after all.

* Not quite true. Martin found it, having never been here before. The word that comes to mind here is “portent”.

Pass me those legs..

… no not those, they’re entirely useless for anything other than modelling socks. Assuming I am sitting down. Slightly tired right now.

Bit special this weather isn’t it? Trails so dry that a couple of brief downpours were almost dust-dampeningly welcome. Not quite as moistly appreciated as a couple of mid ride pints ,in a rather fine pub on the banks of the Wye. I rarely risk beer when the off road isn’t done, as the increased alcohol induced silliness in no way makes headbutting trees any less painful.

Today’s justification came after a section of trails that invited you in, shook you up, blended pure adrenalin with healthy dose of fear before spitting you out gabbling, giggling and desperate for a pint. A pint that was preceded by some urban amusement in the form of many, many steps which rewarded a bit of pace and rhythm. I certainly achieved both in the pub afterwards.

It is a bit odd riding with people you barely know as one of two things generally happens a) they try and rip you legs off or b) are the kind of riders whose view on life is diametrically opposite to yours. In the Forest, you must also be ready for the sounds of Duelling Banjo’s, when someone stuffs a pair of boar tusks in their helmet* and darkly proclaims “It’s time to initiate the new boy, fetch the chicken”.

Multiple Daves, a Nick and A Gary did none of those things – although I feel an initiation ceremony may only be waiting for the hours of darkness – and proved just damn nice people who were happy to show a gobby northerner their favourite trails. And what trails they are. After Wednesday, I fully expected to be a bit disappointed because it was hard to see how the basic awesomeness of that singletrack could be matched, never mind bettered.

And, cutting to the point here, the first hour pretty much backed that up as rendezvous plans fell to confusion, a dearth of mobile phone coverage and some roadie criss-crossing. Eventually – after nearly being taken out by a twatty eye-test needing Volvo owner – we found an approximation of a riding flange and went searching for some dirt under tyre.

FoD Monster Ride - April 2010 FoD Monster Ride - April 2010

And what we found had a bit of everything, fast turns, tight turns, open sections, rock drops, jumps, gulley’s and occasionally terror all bounded by the bountiful forest. I was happy to bottle a big roll down that required precision and bollocks, neither of which I’d remembered to pack in my Camelbak, but did my best to make up for such wanton neshness everywhere else. I think the school report would read something like “doesn’t have much aptitude fo the subject, but tries hard. Rather noisy in class“.

And far from being embarrassingly overbiked – with the ST4 shock being properly broken, and a bunch of bearings having gone the same way – the Pace was a perfect accompaniment to some steep’n’deep trails which went from the barely defined to the obviously crafted. At no point did I think “you know what, I really should have brought the rigid Kona, that’d be ideal for that steep, rootfest, death line over there”

Proper ride that. 45ks, 1100m of climbing (I’ve gone metric, it’s all that road riding), out for five hours, one of those spent happily in the pub. And the second I’d made my goodbyes, while trailering the dusty bike, the heavens opened and the righteous gone rained on. Which was fine as I was inside the truck at that point.

I nearly didn’t ride today due to a combination of terrifyingly complex family logistics, and the option of throwing expensive gliders off windy slopes. But I can do that when I’m old and broken – until then more of this please.

* the one on their head. It’s not quite as bad as you may have heard.

FoD

The Forest Of Dean is often abbreviated to FoD. After Wednesday’s night ride, I shall be writing to the appropriate naming body proposing a change:

Forest of Dark
Filthy ‘orrible (&) Dirty
Festival of Drudge
Failure of Drivetrain
Full of (potential) Death

Lately the grumpy hedgehog has been whining that the Malverns are a bit boring, although really that’s nothing more than a failure to MTFU when faced with their challenges: to whit unrelenting steepness and an amazing ability to store snow. The FoD offers different sorts of problems but vertical climbing isn’t one of them, with a sixteen mile ride raising a barely humpish 1400 feet of climbing.

This doesn’t however include the four miles travelling entirely sideways and a the few – yet unremittingly terrifyingly – hundred metres bug eyed and entirely out of control. It’s been a while since night rides started SW of home to a meeting point full of strange men apparently attending a “Bike Light Arms Convention“. Two other things were apparent in the drizzly gloom, one was a splattering of muddy body armour and the second an almost 100% coverage of double mudguards.

We don’t do mud in the Malverns. There’s an occasional sticky few hundred yards of heavily travelled slop, or a few woody sections that can get a bit “Chiltern-Y” , but up top the worst we can expect is a bit of moist grass. Our route in the FoD was an educational journey into a thousand different types of mud, all of them offering us mudguardless fools a gritty enema, and extending their no traction guarantee to every rider.

It was fun in an old school sort of way. Sliding about in a parody of control idly wondering if the next crash would end in soft mud or a hard tree. And while we’re on a renaming track, I’m sure Schwalbe, being a proper German firm, will have some kind of formal procedure to approve the “Nobbly Nic” becoming known as the “Suicide Sam” in conditions so slippy you could dress them in a suit and call them Peter Mandleson.

My newly learned trail skills had already been hosted in another forest the day before where, after much intense muttering and mentally beating myself up, I managed to look a long way around a bermed corner and tear a swathe of dirt from it with my back tyre. Question for you: “If you pull of that kind of stunt in a forest where there is no one to see it, did it really happen?”

Anyway emboldened by this trail magic, I found it almost entirely irrelevant when blinded by flying mud and with tyres never gripping sufficient dirt to make cornering much of an option. I think it may have saved me on a few slick off-camber root sections, and a bit of vaguely remembered trail seemed to flow a little better than before. But with a light pointing one way and me squinting unknowingly in the other, finishing the ride alive felt like progress.

You wouldn’t want to ride in that every week, if only because no man without a large trust fund could afford the wear and general destruction of parts. Two sets of cheap brake pads are now entirely worthless unless there is a second hand market in backing plates. My new drivetrain is looking quite old and run in, whereas most other bits just look a bit run down. My rain jacket did a superb job at keeping the incessant showers away from my snug torso though, all the more impressive since it is entirely transformed to this season’s new colour*

Lovely bunch of lads though, who made me feel most welcome and made me laugh with their incessant piss taking of everyone for anything. And it’s a brilliant place to ride in the dark even when you’re wondering at what point mud becomes quicksand. I can see an bi-monthly split between this and the Malverns – although such is my love of riding in the dark nowadays, maybe I’ll manage both on lovely summer evenings swooping down dusty trails and beer to follow.

This feels like it may be some way away. On arriving home, I spent a happy 10 minutes hosing first the ST4 and then myself before being allowed over the threshold. I still fear for the washing machine even after my best efforts. But what the hell, if nothing else that two and half hours further nailed the truth that riding a bike is nearly always better than not riding a bike. And sure, the trails have suffered with all this rain, but if you can’t deal with the mud you can’t really call yourself a mountain biker.

* Brown in case you were in any doubt.

Double Take..

Best way to describe the FoD return ride today. Except the trails were even dryer, the car was frost free when we left and my attempts to conquer the Downhill courses started small and worked down from there. I added another Tim (that’s him above) and nature gave freely of her spring bounty. Dust motes flashed in the weak spring sunlight and shone on white knobbly knees which powered black knobbly tyres.

FoD 14th March FoD 14th March

FoD 14th March FoD 14th March

Even Mono-Lung appeared to embrace it’s lost twin and for most of the ride, I was blessed with most of my aerobic capacity. Careful use of the word “Most” there, but I’m increasingly hopeful the worst is behind me. Generally struggling to breathe and making gasping noises. See how tomorrow’s ride to work goes, six am has not generally been associated with a peak flow much more than a coughing squirrel so we’ll be leaving the cold beer on ice for a while.

FoD 14th March FoD 14th March

Riding was good tho. Spring feels really well earned and the harshness of the winter places the firmness of trail and warmth of rider into pretty stark relief.

FoD 14th March FoD 14th March

You never know, maybe we’ll even get a summer this year. I’ve just taken the mudguards off my road bike, which confirms a mental state on the rubber roomed side of delusional.

Spring Therapy

Forget the seasonal pedants – for anyone with a love of outside, March 1 is the unofficial start of Spring. And, whilst we know it is irrational, the expectation is for the hedgerows to explode into growth, the sun to come – and stay – out, the trails to dry up overnight and with all this, seven months of uninterrupted MTB goodness to begin.

For those of us with a real weariness of winter, these changes cannot come too soon. With two events already entered, both with the number ‘100’ in their distance classification*, and the first of which is less than six weeks away, I’ve been upping my riding frequency as soon as the clock struck March. This has already included a Malverns death march, and two commutes that are mildly life-affirming, but generally undertaken in the dark, cold, wind and rain.

Through such trails and tribulations, it’s important to remember why you’re doing this; increased fitness, good summer base, miles in the legs, pounds off the belly, all that sort of stuff. But I have two problems with that; the first is MouseLung(tm) has played the Squatters’ Card so I’m struggling with about 80% lung capacity**, and secondly that’s not what I ride a bike for.

Time for a change then. Today I needed to tap back into my woody roots, get back to setting off with no plan, no target mileage, no goal for vertical distance. Just go and do what started me on this ten year journey of fun and frolics; messing about in the woods if you will. And there is no better mate for that sort of thing than TimH of this parish, who greeted my question of “What’s the plan then?” with an airy digit waving in the direction of some trees.

No ride with Tim is complete without some hike-a-bike/trail finding action, and no sooner that we’d spun up a sun-splattered fireroad had he dived off into the bushes promising “There’s a trail in here somewhere“. Indeed there was, and more than one frozen solid but lightly warmed by a weak sun and shielded from the bitter wind. Tim found us a fun little bombhole to play in, which we did for quite a while even getting the cameras out. Obviously we were both WAY better before new-media was there to catch our efforts.

FoD March 2010 FoD March 2010

A little more perambulation round some recent logging had Tim apologising for missing some tasty singletrack action, but I didn’t care one jot. Bike, Hard Dirt, Narrow Ribbon of Singletrack, Woods, Mate, Sunshine, Bacon Butties to follow. Doesn’t just tick all the boxes, but writes mile high in neon crayon “I REMEMBER NOW WHY BIKES ARE ACE

And they are, especially when thrown roughly at a couple of the FC sanctioned DH tracks. First up “Corkscrew” a belter of tabletops, berms and one fairly “woooah where’s the bottom of that?” drop. It’s all rollable – ask me how – but a second and third run had me hanging onto Tim’s wheels, as his lines tore up the trail and beat down the obstacles. We approached the drop at a speed entirely inappropriate for a man of my bravery, but – as ever – enthusiasm had taken over from common sense.

There are points when you are riding trails on the limit of your ability when you need all your bike skills RIGHT NOW. As we cleared all three foot of the drop, this was clearly one of these times. I landed near the trails edge facing a tree, with my rear wheel locked up. A moment of adrenaline fuelled clarity sequenced a brake release/turn in/push down/grit teeth approach which gained me the corner, but lost me too much time to catch Tim.

FoD March 2010 FoD March 2010

I kept trying tho on the next DH trail named somewhat extravagantly “Sheep Skull“. I didn’t see one of those, but what with everything else going on including steeps, exposure, encroaching trees and relentless roots, I’m probably not the most reliable witness.

DH Sated for the time being, we headed off to the next valley searching for the next slice of singletrack – allegedly totalling over 200k in the entire Forest. After some more tree wiggling joy, time and tiring legs conspired to place Tea and Medals in our immediate future, but we were high on the ridge now – cold out of the sun and in the wind – searching for the most fun way down.

This appeared to be a mellow top section which dropped into a close contoured hairpin alley. Two of these steep and loose exposed scaries had to be conquered before plunging into a high speed chute over another maelstrom of interlocking roots. I’ll not document the rider who managed to do it first time, mainly because Tim had shown me a clean pair of wheels all day, and I reckon he was just trying to salve my ego a little!

FoD March 2010

Giggling like the inner children we are, big hand waving ideas of where we were going to explore next time, accompanied big handfuls of tea and pig-inna-bun. We hadn’t ridden that far, or for that long, or climbed very much, nor maintained a high average speed. And you know what I’m going to say next – it mattered not at all.

This was a ride which reminded me why I ride. Last week a different Tim and I messed about in a similar manner on the fall lines in the Malvern hills. In between I feel like I’ve been trying to damn hard for something I’m not that bothered about.

More Spring is good. Less targets are welcome. Bikes are ace. I’ll not be taking myself too seriously again any time soon.

* and one is more than that in real non metric miles. Gulp.

** Which, with Asthma, is about sufficient to tackle a difficult set of stairs.