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!
Those with a modicum of common sense â€“ which frankly excludes the readers of this blog and, of course, itâ€™s author â€“ would have reconciled the omen of â€œpants on the desk at home, willy unencombered in the office?” with a zero tolerance response to anything difficult or challenging on this particular day.
But no. Of course I didnâ€™t. I had a handful of bike parts, a half baked idea and the remainder of my lunch hour. Sadly not really enough bike to fit them to due to the little known â€œtheory of Rush Hour?. Rush Hour is a kids game where a grid of toy cars block the heroâ€™s (rather modest) sedan from making a quick exit. Only by understanding fourth dimensional phase space and the theories of quantum can one progress to the higher levels. This was pretty similar to the problem my already frazzled brain attempts to solve.
Replace truck, van, car, motorcycle with crud guard, lock, light and bottle cage. There was clearly some Fibonacci sequence by which component karma could be achieved but just as clearly, Iâ€™m too stupid to understand what this is.
After much lateral thinking tending towards whether wheels were really necessary on a bicycle, my patience snapped and I chucked away the rear crud guard. This left me with just the rear light, bottle cage and lock on the â€œgrid?” But if we extend the metaphor back to Rush Hour, the only way our heroâ€™s car could have left the board was with a personal missile launcher and an alternative view of the highway code.
A sidebar here: my rationale for installing a portable lock was driven purely by an intensely frustrated five minutes Kryptonite hunting at Marylebone, while the engine of my train revved to depart. My motives were good â€“ lock the bike wherever you can find a space â€“ but were let down by shitty execution. Yet having bought the lock, (in fact this is the second time I tried this, the first time involved a short conversation with my wife in which I advocated purchasing yet another frame because this one couldnâ€™t accommodate a lock. Yes kids, I really tried that) I was determined to fit it even if I had to sell my soul to gain access the fourth dimension mentioned previously.
So after much grunting spannerwork, Iâ€™ve removed the need to find my lock. I have however created the need to find a dry arse. Also the lock is so massive that it obscures my rear light so thereâ€™s a good chance Iâ€™ll be wearing a delivery van before the winter is out but on balance – I’m sure you’ll agree – a worthwhile upgrade.
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.
On the bit of riding I did acutally manage today, I see the “naughty cyclist” police were out in numbers around Trafalgar Square. 3 of them apprehended a hapless Bromtoneer as he ducked onto the pavement. I mean THREE cops for one poor guy. And while this was going on, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of two buses and a car jumping the red lights right in front of them and nearly cutting a cyclist in half.
What’s that saying? It you can’t catch the criminals, criminalise the ones you can catch? Surely there needs to be a co-ordinated approach so ALL road users abusing the law are punished.
I am not having a good day 🙁
…this morning I bottled it. Oh I have excuses locked, loaded and ready to fire at those hardy commuters, who see brutal rainstorms as a meteorological foe to be fought and bested at every opportunity. But I have a bit of a cold and Iâ€™ve just cleaned the bike and itâ€™s been a tough weekâ€™s riding on tired legs and the catâ€™s not been well andâ€¦. But once you break through this flimsy web of deceit, the simple truth is Iâ€™m nesh and I bottled it. And I feel terribly guilty.
Continue reading There’s no other way to say this..
…. my arse. After a winter maintenance regime of “slinging it in the barn and forgetting about it”, it became clear the time had come to clean the shopper. The rear cassette had morphed into one single big gear packed with two months of gritting salt and road muck. The rest of the bike was in a shocking and neglected state as well. I feel the latter may have been the cause of the former.
Cleaning it was akin to urban archaeology. Layer and layers of road grease interspersed with random vegetation were stripped away before a long forgotten silver toothed thing was triumphantly unearthed.
I had to be pretty generous with the degreaser and I’m not sure the brush will ever work again but I’ll admit to a pang of satisfaction when it was done.
The rest of the bike is still a shed. If I had a pond full of degreaser and an army of brush wielding enthusiasts, it may be possible to restore it to its’ former glory. Failing that I’m chucking a bucket of water and a blanket over it possibly even in that order.
This morning the train was working but the track was broken. Rubbernecking up the train line, as the passenger information system entered an electronic sulk some months ago, there was a complete lack of train shaped objects emerging from the pre-dawn gloom.
Then the flat distorted tones of the PA system informed us that a â€œmajor points failure at Amersham has suspended all southbound services indefinitely”. Only train companies and BBC announcers use this type of syntax â€“ is there a school they go to? My fellow commuters remained unmoved on the platform even after a further announcement suggested re-routing via High Wycombe or Rejavik.
Sensing something afoot, I awaited further news which wasnâ€™t long in coming. Alledgedly the â€œmajor points failure” was now magically fixed and the next train would be along as soon as the driver had finished his breakfast. We all shuffled forward to the platform edge, in the manner of lemmings facing a bit of cliff action, before old â€œflat-tones” on the PA cheerfully announced the points were, in fact, still broken and London bound services would resume sometime in the Spring.
Continue reading 2 hours, forty miles, you do the maths.
For Chiltern Railways. In the future they shall be known as the “Unreliable, Overcrowded Baggage Truck” or BUT-O for short. This morning after a total of two hours travel, I have covered a truly epic 15 miles. Of which the first 5 had been on my bike.
The first train never turned up. The second one broke down threatening to leave us destitute in the Buckinghamshire flatlands. The third has mysteriously mislaid about half of it’s carridges reducing us to increasingly irritated sardines.
Still Chiltern Railways did offer their apologies and hoped we hadn’t been inconvenienced in any way. No, two hours to cover 40 miles while being repeatedly wounded by a fellow commuter’s sharp edged laptop bag and tortured by a thousand inane mobile calls is hardly an inconvenience. How could it be? But for the record I don’t bloody well accept your apologies. Make the trains run on time. It’s not hard and I don’t know why you keep having a problem with it.
If the Americans want to force confessions from those still held in Camp XRay, make them commute for a week on Chiltern Railways. They’ll snap like a twig.
And the creaking singlespeed is now attracting worried glances from passers by no doubt expecting mechanical disaster at any moment. Nothing that sounds like that can be expected to remain in the same shape and configuration for long.
I swapped the pedals. Same creak. It’s definately not my knees. H’mm what next?
…Wind, Rain, Dark and Cold. All four horseman were out riding with me this morning as 30 MPH winds first batted me sideways, before settling down and driving cold stinging rain into my face for three long miles. Dark and Cold were in close attendance adding their own brand of misery.
Riding in these conditions sometimes feel like a tax on the stupid. And maybe it is â€“ the seeds of my downfall were planted last night with the abandonment of a resolution to pre-pack the commuting bag ready for morning. The alarm trilled irritatingly as it always does at 6:30am and as normal I flail around wildly trying to cancel it/break it into a thousand small pieces so not to wake my wife. From there on in, things kind of went downhill.
Itâ€™s dark. Really proper dark where I live with no streetlights and no close conurbations. But thanks to the miracle of electric light, Iâ€™m able to dress in sufficient expensive gear to waterproof a small elephant before heading out into the cold and moistness of a winterâ€™s morning. Today I headed back in a number of occasions for keys, water bottle, work shirt, etc. Thatâ€™s what happens when laziness overrides common sense leaving me standing uncertainly in the kitchen, head swaying from side to side, trying to remember what Iâ€™ve forgotten.
As may be apparent Iâ€™m not a morning person. My cognitive functions refuse to operate before daylight creeps over the horizon and they have been fortified by a strong cup of coffee. Their response to any enquiry before such precepts have been fulfilled is to flip a neural â€œV” sign and suggest consulting the hind brain instead which may be able to help. It didnâ€™t and I had a train to catch so off I went with the fifth horseman â€“ more a pit pony really â€“ â€œdoubt” riding alongside.
Continue reading The four horses of the commuting apocalypse…