It is about the bike.

Upping the ante is where it is at for 2010. My heroic couplets from last weekend are now cast into shadow, when compared to my attempted-death-by-commute this morning. If you were hunting for a set of circumstances to ensure a proper accident, it’s hard to think of anything more causal than these sick puppies.

Ice and Snow. 23c slick tyres and 100psi. New road bike and dubious battery lights. Zero visibility fog and, oh I don’t know let’s just go with bowel clenching terror should we? An hour earlier than Sunday, a further degree colder and a rider injured from a tripping incident involving a dark room and a black, slumbering mutt.

And in the same way we’ve had proper pre global-warming snow this last two weeks, the fog of this morn was of a type last seen when nefarious Jack was ripping through London. So thick you could chew on it, while waving a hopeful hand in front of a face merely panicked one into believing you’d been struck blind.

I risked catastrophic voltage collapse, with a clumsy grope to high beam, only to see it reflect back at 90% brightness and 0% improved visibility. And what I couldn’t see, I could hear with that horrible crunching sound of slush under tyre. The new mudguards were almost too efficient, with their low tyre rubbing profile delivering forty minutes of finger-on-blackboard aural stabbing.

The bike is fantastic though. Oh it properly is, light, stiff and flighty. Where the Kona would accelerate under spongy protest, the Boardman springs forward rewarding each pedal stroke with a surge onwards. When you hit any incline on the Jake, your options were a right hand ratchet and a long spin or a black-spotted, rivet-ridden, busted-lung sprint praying the gradient gave out before you legs did.

The Boardman isn’t like that. Because it weighs 8ks plus some commuting collateral, and has a BB junction forged from a pineapple hunk of carbon. I found myself shifting down the block and accelerating up hills. This is unheard of, and made me very proud I’d bested something similar last year.

Don’t get me wrong tho – this bike has the potential to hurt you. Because it is so rewarding to crank out maximum power to bring forth the horizon, then soon your aspirations are ruthlessly gaped by your fitness and ability. But even in sub zero temperatures, blinded by the fog and scared of the ice, I glimpsed that road riding might actually offer something other than non motorised commuting.

Lance was wrong. It’s all about the bike.

In The Grim.

I may have mentioned before how I quite like riding bikes, but always struggled to distill the why from the how. Take this morning, I haul weary arse from warm bed before the cock* has struck six, peer out into the gloomy, wet and general filthy conditions thinking “Yup, looks perfect conditions for a ride

A sidebar here: At work, I castigate all and sundry for over-designing stuff, building in layers of redundancy and pointless planning for the extremely unlikely. And yet, so terrified of missing my train, I buffer 20 minutes when I should still be sleeping in case of punctures, mechanical disasters or badger attack. Which in eighteen months of commuting has happened exactly once**, and I still missed my train. Meaning I had to wait almost twenty minutes for the next one. Bonkers.

As you were, anyway there is something righteous about riding this time of the year, as so many treat cycling as a three season activity. Instead of keeping calm and carrying on , they worry away at escalating girth, nibble on ugly looking food and – most of all – miss the hidden joy of two wheels always good.

I see them – more so in London – choosing a commuting alternative which includes compression tubes, grimy pavements, multiple delays and frustrations all to be borne in a suit. Then these very same people disappear into the Gym at lunchtime oblivious to the superb cycling facilities right next door. I can’t quite work that out.

I don’t miss riding in London though, except for the odd bout of commuter racing. Too bloody dangerous – whereas now I have the roads to myself and some rather fetching moving pictures as the sun struggles over the horizon. This does not appear to be the happy experience of uber-obsessive cyclist Samuri who seems to be conducting his own daily “DeathWish survey.

And while the weather may be filthy, I am dry in breathable fabric, layered in warmth and driven on by the shuffle of a thousand tunes. I arrive at the station, smiling and ready to cash in some hard yards at the bank of the Bacon Butty, while my fellow commuters shiver, snivel and stamp. They are adding clothes as I’m stripping off, breathing in big lungfuls and assuming this is the best part of my day.

It’s always a bit less enthralling heading home, tired, lacking the energy of twelve hours before, but still content to be sandwiching my day doing the stuff I love. Even when bits of that stuff are attempting to blow me off my bike, rip traction from my wheels and blow hard rain into my face. Most of the time, I find myself laughing, I’ve no idea why. Probably early onset dementia.

Tomorrow we’re nightriding in conditions that trigger multiple weather warnings depicting diaster and travel chaos. Not for me, no roads where I’m going. Saturday and Sunday I’ll be out again under thunderous skies and lashing rain although that has more to do with the onset of multiple in-laws. And today was a marker for at least one commute a week until the onset of BST.

I’m starting to think November is the new July.

* Lazy sod seems to be having a lie in. I’m going to get him a new watch.
** Those Badgers are nasty bastards. Lie in wait and then “mwwwaaaaah, eat the human

Riding buddies

Mountain Biking should not be a solitary sport. Fifty percent or more of the fun is who you are with, and the rest made up of where you are. Most riders subscribe to this opinion, so we all gravitate to people who will put up with your bullshit, and kindly check your bike for damage while you’re bleeding elsewhere.

Sure there are those outside the bell curve who decry group rides as diluting the ethereal experience, others’ chatter mere white noise against the simple beauty of being at one with the landscape. I tend to think of these people as a) a bit up their own bottom and b) having no real friends.

And whilst I say your riding world is peopled with those sharing similar mental DNA, there are always leaders and followers, fast guys up hill, nutters streaming down the other way, talkers and silent types, tech heads and don’t give a shitters. And then there’s always one, just one who has a personal mission to make you hurt yourself.

Take my pal Jezz, a rare – and bloody annoying – combination of decent technical skills, a strong climber and a firm expression when offering up a short extension likely to take you into a) the next county and b) tomorrow. But under that genial expression lies the heart of a sadistic bastard. And he worked me out quickly enough as an old bloke whose mouth was writing cheques his body couldn’t cash.

So the challenges started. Not that I really knew, as on our inaugral ride, I thought I was going to die, and on the second I was pretty sure I had. But extra bits started to be worked in, lips were expected to be stiffened during a riding into driving snow experience, hills were for going over not around. But like I say I was too busy suffering near death experiences to notice.

And then I was sucked in “Hey Jezz, I reckon this loop is all doable in the middle ring”. I tossed it out for a laugh and the bugger only went out two nights later and proved it was possible. For him anyway, when I tried I was unpleasantly reminded of singlespeeding. I am such a sucker for this stuff, all competitive bravado, no actual way of backing it up.

This morning I had a proper commute to work and electronically informed the young fella that us oldies cracked out a massive 18k of road work in 43 minutes. Adding hastily that I was weighed down by laptops, shoes (the ones the dog hadn’t eaten), knobbly wide tyres and the dark. The bastard – because that is what he is – replied I was merely a big girl and should put some bloody effort in.

Which is why I was hating my texting finger as it gripped the bars climbing the 200+ vertical feet of twatty hill separating me from home. Lowest gear (which on my CX bike is still bloody hard in case you’re interested), dribbling, sweat rolling into my eyes, 1000 yard gurn in place. The valley road was far below, but that would be far too bloody easy wouldn’t it?

Better to die up here in the rarefied air of the terminally stupid. My breath rasped out and a sane Al would have reached for a Asthma blow, but no because that may slow me down. It was the same spark of lunacy which kept me on the drops on a road much given over to mud and running water, and offering up about as much grip as jelly on ice.

Can’t slow down, it’ll cost me 10 seconds“. Fair enough I suppose although a couple of times, it did feel I may be forty years early for the next life. Rolled up to the home gate, fumbled for my watch, clicked the light on. Looked. Looked again. 41minutes29seconds. It must be broken, it had to be faster than that.

It wasn’t.

I was explaining this to Carol while lying on the floor, legs a tremble and refusing to move. On the not unreasonable grounds there was no way I was going to tackle a difficult set of stairs. Just throw a blanket over me now and feed me my phone and some humble pie.

My riding buddies seem to be mainly Mr. Pain and Mr Suffering, but I am starting to feel sort of fit. And very, very old.

The dog ate my footwear

A contemporary reworking of the classic excuse offered up by lazy school children who couldn’t at least be a little more imaginative. A bloke I was at school with would regularly regale the terrifyingly northern Mr. Baxter with tales of alien invasion, a small boys’ single handed saving of the planet and the unfortunate collateral damage of his “Algebra 20 Hard Questions” being discombobulated by a frazzling death ray.

He still received the standard punishment of detention and a meeting with Baxter’s much feared “metal slipper“, but fair play to the fella for trying. It was only last night I remembered my oft slippered pal, during some ‘excuse brainstorming‘ for why my next day London meeting would be conducted in suit trousers, formal shirt and flip flops.

The dog has previous, redesigning Random’s week old trainers into fetching open toed sandals with custom chew motifs. His recent freedom from overnighting in his cage allows access to all sorts of interesting things that can be slobbered, chewed and then eaten. This includes a book – appropriately entitled – “Natural Disasters” which he took some delight in shredding.

Already, I wasn’t in the best of moods after my first bike commute of the year. Exactly half of it had been fantastic, cold and dark but immensely satisfying and reminding me why cars are just so rubbish. As are trains, especially the ones run by London Midland that can apparently teleport between platforms.

Because otherwise, why would I be chasing trains all over Birmingham New Street with my bike on my shoulder and innumerable flights of stairs blocking my progress. Some thirty minutes after this jolly game had started, I had ended up parking the bike in the correct carriage, divested myself of outer garments and courier bags, plugged in traveling tunes and opened the paper.

At which point the driver gleefully informed us that this train was giving up at Worcester, and poor saps heading West of that better get over to platform 7 sharpish. My frantic reassemblage of commuting collateral begat an elbows out charge up two punishing stair sets and a plunge down the far side. Excellent training if I ever considered Cyclocross racing,* but not an absolutely ideal way to spend most of an evening.

Especially since the overcrowding on this final train morphed me into a bikey sardine, trapped between two overstuffed carriages. The next hour was gainfully spent shuttling the bike between suitcases, tired looking passengers and train doors as I’d hurriedly parked it in the main thoroughfare. I feel my smile of acknowledgment, when being politely asked to shift IT AGAIN, may have become somewhat forced after a while.

So when Murphy greeted me with his standard arse cantilevering tailwag and slobbery hello, I sternly rejected his advances with a steely accusing finger and an admonishment of “YOU. SHOE EATER. YES YOU. WHAT HAVE YOU GOT TO SAY FOR YOURSELF?”. His confused expression suggested the evidence of mouthy shoelace had been planted, and it was all a stitch up. Honest Guv.

Two seconds later, having conveniently forgotten his telling off, he dropped to the floor and began licking his willy in a “Bet you wish you could do this” happy manner.** This is the default position of the Murf assuming there isn’t any footwear to be chewily mangled. It’s hard to be angry with a pet which clearly takes so much pleasure in basting his testicles in slobber. I mean there is an animal which clearly knows how to have a good time, and no amount of telling off is going to change that.

I have avoided potential disciplinary being cited due to inappropriate footwear by ballasting myself down with the spare pair from the office. Climbing the last gruesome hill before home , I couldn’t help thinking if that dog continues to suffer “separation anxiety”, he’ll more likely be suffering “sharp rap on the nose with the remains of my shoe“.

Not that there is much left. He’s going to be pooing leather patches for days.

* Which I won’t. As I’ll die of heart failure or embarrassment.

** Not really. Fond of the dog as I am, there are limits to my affection.