Sometimes stuff all comes together to create the perfect weekend. Not often and rarely does it involve paintbrushes or aged relatives, but this weekend we had a good stuff implosion centred on the Quantock Hills. Firstly proper winter weather – crunchy underwheel, windchills up to minus six and endless muti-toned blue sky. Then add commuting fitness, a great bunch of friends, huge plates of dead animal and, of course, beer. Or in some cases Cider. You know the stuff they make in Somerset – tastes like some unholy union of marmalade and rocket fuel.
When riding in summer, there is an expectation of dry trails, sunny days and cold beer. But I’d forgotten the unconfined joy of finding the same deep in midwinter. In 2006, I’ve already had two great rides (although this has to be offset by one pantless morning) so I’m starting to believe this could be a fantastic year.
You’ll be glad to hear that I’ve decided to let a picture or two paint a thousands words rather than drivel on about how great mountain biking is.
Nigel descending to the tea room
Andy having a collective moment
Gets a bit windy on top!
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Riding mountain bikes in winter presents certain challenges. Many of these are around removing ones warm body from the bed to do battle with mud, rain and other general unpleasentness. Another is trying to earn enough money to fund entire drivetrains to replace those lost to the grinding paste of winter.
Once actually on the bike, riding ice is generally a precurser to landing on your arse but even with this historical precedent, some riders insist that through a combination of slick bike control, balls of steel and a smattering of good luck, they can glide serenely over any challenge.
This weekend in the Quantocks, one such foolhardy soul goes by the name of Nigel. Here his attempts are mapped out through the magic of photography.
A 30 foot long ice sheet glistening evilly under an azure sky. We all detoured around with the respect such an obstacle demands. But the gravitational pull of the focal lens was too much for one of our party.
Nigel “Elephant Rider Extrordinaire” slips onto the ice sheet. As you can see, his front wheel has seen the danger ahead and made a command decision to turn sharply towards safety. As you can also clearly see, turning the bars makes absolutely no difference to his direction of travel.
Yes check out that face; the face that lauched a thousand shits. Nigel is regretting his decision to dispel myth#3 while simultaneously coming to terms with an icy face plant heading his way.
Nigel demonstrates the ancient art of eskimo fishing by plunging his gloves below the ice. Excellent technique especially as he’s also had to content with throwing himself off the bike.
“Just chuck it away Andy” Nigel pleads. He’s not happy with that bike at all. It may be lacking useful bike like functionality such as being able to climb hills but it’s superbly equipped as am ice pick!
You do if you’re doing this.
I woke up this morning wondering if this is how it feels to be old. Iâ€™ve a mixâ€™nâ€™match of ailments including sore head (too much post ride beer), sore back (too many runs on the dual) and sore shoulder (plank bites man). Short of trawling the second hand market for a FreeRide Zimmer frame, my options would seem to be:
a) Stop whinging
b) Initiate a fitness programme to radically improve core stability.
c) Develop a landing technique that stops treating the bike as a two wheeled spade.
d) Buy a(nohter) new full suspension bike.
a) is clearly not going to happen since Iâ€™m a card carrying Yorkshireman â€“ whinging is basically our regional identity.
b) appears to warrant a time commitment that could be better spent drinking beer.
c) is an aspiration, but nothing more than that as, in a year of progression I’ve peaked at the â€œclose eyes, clench buttocks and hope for the best” stage.
Looks like d) then.
There was a Spesh SX trail at Chicky yesterday which was looked the prunes d’un chien and seemed to ride ok as well. Like thatâ€™s important.
Still Iâ€™d better keep option d) well away from Carol whoâ€™d quite legitimately add â€œGBH with edged cutlery” to my list of injuries if I instigate another bikes not food programme.
Chicksands is neither populated by nursery hens nor is it noticeably beach like in terms of crushed golden micro-rocks. It should be better described as a year round playpark for Mountain Bikes stuffed with jumps, drops, raised planks and other amusing ways to hurt yourself rather badly. I wrote about it here.
We arrived late. Two of my riding pals – who’d arrived on time – took that as their cue to leave. Iâ€™m not sure the two were connected but I nearly left with them due to being â€œinsufficiently motivated”? as my appraisals are want to document. My previous visit had been blighted by a serial bottling of a large drop which had my name written all over it. Unfortunately â€“ as smelted in my excuses workshop â€“ it also had pain, suffering and a ruptured spleen written in slightly larger letters. I wasnâ€™t really looking forward to a rematch, so instead chose to tactically ignore itsâ€™ existence and try and recapture the essence of fun this place always use to have.
After a practise on some baby obstacles proved that three months Chicksands absence makes not a freeride God, I grasped the nettle of fear and whimpered a little before attempting to ride some learner plankage. It was neither very high nor terribly narrow, but having the balance of a three legged stoat suffering a serious head wound and possessing the low speed bike handling skills bettered by almost any 4 year old who has chucked away their stabilisers, itâ€™s a bloody challenge. Mental rather than physical which mocks muscle memory and laughs in the face of previous successes.
Continue reading When DIY isnâ€™t enough. A day at Chicksands.
It’s official. I am a proper mountain biker. Retro traditionalists may claim that 300 metres makes not a mountain, but this is nothing more than semantic pedantry. I’d further refute their laughable claims by offering this compelling and watertight evidence:
Impervious in the face of dampness. As the weather tended to the spectacularly moist, my riding buddy cluster compressed to five or less. Proper riders unearthed dusty waterproofs, traded race shoes for winter boots and, striking a heroic pose, manfully rode out into the driving rain. Frankly, it was pretty unpleasant – a flashback to November with greasy trails outing summer technique as overconfident ego-stroking rubbish which dissolved under sheets of the wet stuff. Although once I’d slid into a tree and suffered a two hour deluxe mud enema, it became strangely enjoyable. Especially at the end. That was the really good bit.
Continue reading Real Mountain Bikers