Monthly Archives: January 2012

I should have stayed at home

I should have stayed at home
No Excuses Thursday – 26 Jan 2012

In the absence of anyone to play with (Jim had the kids and Matt had mashed his finger in the door of a Ford Mustang) a moment of stubborn single mindedness descended upon me and I headed out of the door on this cold January evening with intention of riding up to Houndkirk moor on my own. The Dawes felt a little sluggish up Clough Lane and my back started to ache to the point where I had to get off and stretch it out. I continued the slog feeling that this was unusually difficult but putting it down to being unused to rear suspension. Getting onto the road didn’t make things much easier and turning right onto Ringlow road the going got tougher and tougher to the point where I got off and discovered that the rear tyre was almost flat.

I set about removing the rear wheel, levering the tyre off and running my fingers along the inner wall of the tyre to establish the cause of the flat. I felt a spike and on closer examination I had an 1/2 inch thorn buried in the tyre, I pulled on the chunk of bark that formed the root of the thorn from the tread side of the tyre and after a little persuasion it came free. I replaced the inner tube and levered the tyre back onto rim as quickly as I could as the frost started to form in the grass around me and I began to lose the feeling in my fingers. I continued up Ringinglow Road and took a left onto a track called Jumble Road, it borders Lady Canning’s Plantation on the left.

I was a bit paranoid about riding off road without a spare tube, I thought I had one in the back pack but it could be a bust one I hadn’t removed. That said I was not going to ride out to the moors, nearly get frost bite and not get some down hill, so I took a right up to Jim’s rock. I’ve not had any gripes about the Dawes up until this point but I hadn’t really taken it up a technical climb, the single track up to the rock has a number of rocks to navigate and I never had to think about pedal position with the On One 456 and its apparently vast bottom bracket clearance. The Dawes frame demonstrated its limitations as a Peak District bike as I caught nearly every rock with a pedal or the chainring. The positive to be drawn from this is that without the opportunity to ride a different bike I probably wouldn’t appreciate such subtle aspects of frame design. The bike was fine on the way back down but I was conscious of the reduced clearance  and combined with not being sure about the spare, spare tube in the bag I decided to chuck a left upon reaching the Old Houndkirk Road and call it a night.

On the way back through Whiteley woods I felt the front wheel start to skid around, I hoped it was just the mud, turned out to be another thorn and another puncture. I had no intention of changing another tube in the dark so I pumped it back up and rode it until the street lights started. At least it wasn’t as cold back in the city and the second tube I had turned out to be sound, saving me a half hour push back home. Not the most successful outing, but  an outing non the less, and one that has highlighted an urgent need for mud guards.

Getting used to a different bike

Getting used to a different bike

Despite telling myself “that it’s just stuff” I’m still very angry about my bike being nicked. In attempting to rationalise the problem I have tried to see the positive angles. The insurance has covered 95% of the cost of the stolen bike, I’ll be getting the next one through the cycle to work scheme, saving me a few hundred quid, and my boss has kindly lent me his mountain bike.

Up until this point my frame of reference has been a heavy Orange hire bike and a light well specced On One 456, both hard tails. I now have at my disposal a Dawes full suspension bike with a Marcozzi fork and Shimano Deore brakes and chainset. Mountain bikes have come along way in the last six years and it is somewhat of an education to ride a bike from an era when disc brakes weren’t the norm and lighter full suspension bikes were starting to become affordable. It’s first outing (maybe in 6 years) was a loop around Beachy’s house in Diggle, Oldham. First impressions were good, it climbed better than expected and didn’t leave me gasping for breath at the back of the pack. Not being fixed to the pedals felt unnatural down the first rocky track and the rim brakes were no substitute for the Elixir 3 disc brakes on the old 456. The stout, grippy winter tyres impressed as we crossed claggy fields and descended muddy frozen tracks.

My introduction to full suspension left me pleasantly surprised, it wasn’t horrible up hill, it felt competent on the descents, wider bars and better brakes would help but all in all not bad for an 6 year old, entry level rig. The real silver lining is the exposure to a different bike. It made me appreciate the lightness and superior components of the 456, but also left me aware of areas like ride quality and tyres where the old bike could have been better.

A beginner mountain biker’s last 6 months

A beginner mountain biker’s last 6 months

I’ve been attempting to give an overview of my introduction to mountain biking in my last few post but I am quite anxious to start writing about now. So this post will attempt to summarise the interesting bits of the last six months riding.

Ride 3 – Houndkirk & Blackamoor 7 May 2011

No drama until we hit the cobble stones at the top of Blackamoor. I was feeling fairly confident having cleaned this the previous week but I wasn’t carrying enough speed to roll over one of the large stones. I stalled, pitched forward and almost in slow motion hit the trail with my face. Initially I thought I’d broken my nose as I heard a crunch, this turned out to be the visor of my helmet wich took the brunt of the impact and transferred this force to the rear of the helmet, snapping a chunk of the back. I laid there for 20 seconds, wiggling fingers and toes to see if there was any other damage. I got away with just a cut on my nose. Time for a birthday pint at the Norfolk Arms.

Ride 4 – No Excuses Thursday 12 May 2011

No excuses Thursday is an attempt to get out and ride during the week in Summer (easy) and more importantly in winter too (quite difficult). Two riders will do but three is better as the other two can usually cajole, bully and cast aspersions on the thirds sexuality until he relents and drags his carcass to the meeting point.

There are a number of routes we take but this first attempt took us along in Rivelen Valley. The first obstacle is a shallow set of stairs that gentle curve around to the left as you descend towards a narrow bridge. The fork needs to be correctly loaded by the rider on this section to stop the bike pogoing down the steps with increasing vigour. Adjustment of the rebound damping can also help stop this. This is the easiest of three sets of similar steps that increase in steepness and curvature as you progress.

Perhaps the most intimidating hurdle on the ride is a 10 foot descent down a steep flight of 15 steps. I came unstuck as I reached the bottom, the fork compressed, rebound and threw me off the back of the bike onto my back. In trying to not go over the bars I had positioned myself too far off the back of the bike. No harm done, a grazed back but the bike escaped without injury.

Next is a woodland climb, followed by a nip across a road and more wooded uphill. A steep road climb greets you as you exit the woods then a narrow, technical and often precarious piece of single track. This path has narrow rocky channels and densely wooded, root smothered areas where the track almost disappears. Along climb follows, it is tradition to climb to Stanage Pole but the guys took pity on me and we went straight to the Sportsman.

There is a self-imposed, two pint limit. Any less than this and you might start to question the merits of riding, at speed, through the woods in the dead of night with a torch on your head. Anymore and you end up sailing off a bank into the night, dropping 7 feet into the river as Gareth did after a three pinter. Incidentally, he landed it.

The descent was without incident, we took some time to session the impossible step, a root edged, foot deep step, that needs to be tackled whilst turning the bike to avoid the tree that sits directly after it. Gareth and Matt both managed it but I felt like I’d save my luck for the rest of the ride and walked the bike around it.

Night riding is all about the pool of light three metres in front of you, your senses are heightened and reactions take over. There is a tangible high at the end of the ride, knowing that you’ve ridden along treacherous slabs of rock, ducked branches, traversed narrow tow paths flanked by water on one side and steep black emptiness on the other… and got away with it.

Rides 5 & 6 – No Excuses Thursday

I emerged from the second No Excuses Thursday without incident and feeling like I was starting to get the hang of it. This feeling evaporated on NET 3 when we took a slightly different route which took in took in  a series steps followed by a couple of 2 foot drops. I didn’t have full control of the bike down the steps so I was too far forward when I went I came to the  first drop. I briefly unicycled, tried to turn away from the second drop, went over the bars onto my shoulder while the bike headed off into the river.

Apart from a few scrapes I’d got away with it, the bike hadn’t. Gareth had gone on ahead, but Matt had witnessed the accident and as we dragged the bike from the river we saw that the front wheel had a 30 degree angle in it, like Salvador Dali’s clock. The back wheel was also bent to a lesser extent, the sum total of this damage was £260. I was gutted but as we stood about scratching our heads looking at the seemingly ruined wheels that had written off our ride Hobson rode back towards us. “You’ve rolled this up well” he said as he removed the front wheel and proceed to bend and beat it back into alignment on a roughly hewn bench by the river, the back wheel took less abuse to straighten out. 15 minutes later after some fine adjustments with a spoke key I had rideable bike and we finished off the ride, testament to Gareth’s unflinching positive, no problems, just solutions attitude.

The rest of 2011 can be summarised as a series of off-road bike rides punctuated by blunt trauma and puncture wounds, I’ll summarise.

Ride 7 – Ladybower Loop & Jacob’s Ladder

http://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=cjelvqrhusssuwgo

Enormous 18 mile loop around the lake on the Saturday taking in the Beast of Hope Cross, I had to walk down the worst of it but rode about 60%. The Beast did take a bite out of Chris however, he fell off and damaged his wrist, but he completed the ride even though he was in some pain. Uneventful apart from that. There were several sections where we had a “who can clean it” competition” Matt L came out on top in most cases.

http://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=iyhkueibujispkcp

On Sunday we cycled up to from our Edale campsite to the cottage where Beachy and family where staying and after a quick bacon sarnie hit the road heading for Jacob’s Ladder. We started the ride on a steep rocky ascent, it wasn’t long before the sky darkened, the wind picked up and the rain came in sideways… this was beautifully described by Matt W as a “Road to Mordor” moment.

The previous day had taken it’s toll and we found ourselves pushing our bikes up the really steep stuff more often than not. Jacob’s Ladder was the final downhill, and the videos on You Tube don’t do it justice, it is very steep. I was the last to go and didn’t take enough speed into the first section, the front wheel stuck in a rut and I went straight over the bars and bounced down the ladder on my knees, I did manage to catch the bike as it sailed over my head.

The rest of 2011

That was the last crash I had for a while. there were lots on No Excuses Thursdays in some foul weather. Rivelin claimed a victim that wasn’t me in October when Jim lost control on one of the many stone bridges and nose-dived into the river knocking his forearm quite severely, we continued for half a mile but Jim was in too much pain and we got back on the road and headed back to Matt’s. Once in the kitchen we saw that Jim also has a large deep cut on his calf that had that joke shop look to it, no blood weirdly.

My next accident came at Dalby Forest trail centre in November. We met in the car park on the Saturday morning and had a great day on the red route that has some really quite challenging sections on it. This was the first time I’d been to a trail centre with my own bike and it made such a difference. Rather than dragging around an unfamiliar lump of rental bike, I had a light, well specced On One 456 to play with. Everyone was on form and we made it back to the cars at dusk.

Sunday didn’t go so well and on the same red route I went over the handle bars and the bike came over the top and I think a pedal caught me around the cheek. Nige and Arnie helped me up and, throughly pissed off, I marched the bike back up the hill to tackle the section again. It wasn’t until we reached the bottom where the others were waiting that i checked the rest of me and found a deep wound in my right side, a proper ride ender. I still don’t know whether it was stone, tree root or gear lever that took a chunk out of me.

The drive back to Sheffield was stressful enough without the sat nav playing up taking me miles out of my way. With the car beginning to smell like a butcher’s shop I decided to duck into Huddersfield A & E. Several x-rays to check for foreign objects and 2 stitches later I was back on the road with the sat nav unceremoniously slung on the back seat.

That was the last ride of 2011, the injury kept me off the bike for several weeks and then it was nicked from the shed, goodbye On One 456, may you through the scum that nicked you off as often as you did I.

Saying goodbye to Gareth Hobson

Saying goodbye to Gareth Hobson

It’s a very sad day. Truth be told it’s been a very sad month since I heard, mid December, of the death of Gareth Hobson, but today is his memorial service. Gareth and his wife Julia were on the trip of a lifetime, mountain biking and climnbing in Canada and America when Gareth had an accident whilst climbing in Utah.

Gareth was real inspiration both as a secondary school teacher and to to his friends, the sort of bloke who does stuff on a bike that you tell other circles of mates about. With his skill came humility and a complete lack of the pretension that often accompanies those who are gifted at their chosen sport. He always had time to go for a ride or dish out advice, he will be so deeply missed by all who knew him.

One piece of advice he gave me was if the missus doesn’t approve of the large sum of money you’re planning to spend on kit for your bike, just tell her: “it’s a matter of safety”. This conversation inspired the following verse.

“It’s a matter of safety” he hastily said as she saw the receipt and
put her hands to her head. Don’t look at the price just think of the
need to have the best bits of kit for my steed. The parts of my bike all
need to be strong as it only takes one of these bits to go wrong and
I’ll be over the bars and flat on my face and we both know that is not a
nice place.

“It’s a matter of safety” he warmly insisted as she inspected the seat
post he had lovingly fitted. It is just a tube but it’s ever so light
and it positions and holds my saddle just right. And look at these
handlebars, please darling don’t wail, they’re carbon and soak up the
bumps in the trail.

“It’s a matter of safety and these were a steal” with a big stupid
grin he presented the wheels. “Just over a grand”, “How much over?” she
sighed. “About £900 quid” came the mumbled reply. They’ll last me
forever plus they’re very lightweight and who really wants a Parisian break?

When he’d finished the tour of the carbon rear mech he said with a smile
“I’ll be building yours next. Please don’t get irate or try to compete,
this thing has got wheels and you only have feet. The bike is great fun
but you’re my real thrill, besides I don’t think I could ride you downhill.”

So Gareth’s advice to those who have need to get past their partner
bling kit for their steed, just tell them without it you’ll scrap, knock
or scar those bits of your body they like as they are. You can sum all
this up with one little phase “It’s a matter of safety!” at the end of
the day.

Avoiding the wedding of the year

Avoiding the wedding of the year
Ride 2 – Houndkirk & Blackamoor 29 April 2011

This was the first ride from my doorstep and it was good to not have to muck about strapping bikes to cars. I met Matt at Endcliffe Park and we headed out to the moors via the horribly steep Clough Lane, it was a struggle to keep the front wheel from lifting off the ground and my fitness failed me again about half way up. The up side of this is that most of the climbing is out of the way early on. Taking the road for a mile or so towards the Norfolk Arms, turn right towards Houndkirk which is more of a fire road than a trail, it does have some rutted, rocky sections that get interesting but for the most part it’s a pretty leisurely ride.

Riding straight across the moor brings you out on the A6187 near the Fox House pub, chuck a left then a right after 100 metres off the road into fields along a rutted and puddley track. This doesn’t get interesting until you hit a section of downhill that looks and feels like a metre wide cobble stone road. Bearing left at the bottom of this through a gate there is more steep downhill, but this time dirt with a number of retaining steps down to another gate. More narrow twisting dirt single track with roots and steps runs down to the ford where, after a little more dirt track, you’re back on the road and begin a long road climb back up towards Houndkirk via Sheephill road and some more technical climbing. Riding up rocky tracks has to be one of the most frustrating parts of mountain biking, it requires high levels of fitness, explosive reserves of power to retrieve a stall, concentration and technique. Still lacking in all these areas I found myself pushing the last 50 metres yet again.

We stopped at the Norfolk Arms for a couple in the garden and talked about our next outing and not watching the royal wedding.

If you don’t fall off, you’re not trying hard enough…

If you don’t fall off, you’re not trying hard enough…

Learning to ride a mountain bike is fun, frustrating, thrilling, exhausting and expensive, but most of all it’s really bloody painful. The older I get the less I bounce, and I can’t help feeling that I should have given this a go 10 years ago. That said it’s often the falls and the injuries that make a good story, who’s really interested in hearing about a ride without incident? Wouldn’t you rather hear about the one that ended up in casualty?

Ride 1 – Blackley Hey (Potato Alley) Mid April 2011

The climb up Win hill just about killed me and I had to push the bike the last narrow, steep 100 or so metres. I was rewarded with the fast, smooth snaking trails along Hope Brink down to the junction of Brinks Road. Here Matt and I had a sarnie and talked about the way down – Brinks Road, The Beast or Potato Alley. Brinks Road cut the ride a bit short so we discounted that. I had questions about The Beast, like “Why’s it called The Beast?” Answer: “Because it’s pretty gnarly”. As this was my first non trail centre ride, I decided that I wasn’t ready to meet The Beast of Hope Cross so we hit the Roman Road with Potato Alley as our destination.

The Roman Road is strewn with a variety of loose rocks of different sizes, I’d never tried to ride up something like this before and I really struggled. Every rut and bolder seemed to draw my front wheel towards it, and every falter resulted in a foot dabbed and the loss of precious momentum that usually caused an energy sapping restart. I found myself again pushing the bike up to the gate feeling wiped out and a bit despondent. A group of riders at the gate dished out some “bike love” to me and the shiny new 456, I thanked them and said that “now I just have to learn to ride it.”

After a little more climbing we reached the top of Potato Alley, a steep rocky descent, I wondered “how much worse could The Beast be?”. Much, is the answer, but I found that out a few months later. The main trail has a thin track running along the narrow grassy bank on the right hand side and, where possible, I made use of it. This offered some respite from the pummeling I was taking from the rocks on the main trail. About 3/4 the way down we meet some riders coming up. Avoiding them interrupted my line and I went over onto my side. Apart from a bruise the size of a dinner plate on my arse I got away with this fairly unscathed. As we ploughed through the shallow stream at the bottom of the slope and onwards down towards Ladybower reservoir that old friend adrenaline said hello and I remember thinking that this must be what Peak District biking is all about.

http://monkeyspoon.com/peak-district-mountain-biking-route-map?track=1581

Shopping, making decisions and spending money.

Shopping, making decisions and spending money.

I didn’t know that mountain bikes are really expensive, this came as a bit of a surprise. Even a cheap bike that will cope with moderate abuse will cost you around £500 and will probably start dropping to bits shortly after being introduced to the more technical descents that the Peak District has to offer. I’m not very good at spending money or making decisions so I went to the pub with Mat and Gareth who were only too happy to give me suggestions as to where to spend my money and on what.

The budget was £1000ish which sounds like plenty to get a decent bike, and it is depending on the bike you’re after. My initial instinct was to get a full suspension rig because that’s what most of the guys I’d been riding with had, but a grand only gets you about half a good full sus frame. Not half a bike, half a bike frame. I didn’t really want to blow my budget on a heavy, budget full sus with low spec parts and the advice I was given by seasoned veterans was this:

“Don’t buy a full sus as your first bike, it makes it too easy. Buy a hardtail with a good, long fork and you can tackle the same terrain, you just have to be a better rider. This means you’ll get better at riding or break something trying.”

So buying a full suss straight off is like Mr Miyagi giving the Karate Kid a paint sprayer to do the fence. The first bonus of this reasoning is that a hardtail bike frame can be bought for as little as £170. This leaves more money to spend increasing the spec and decreasing the weight of all the other parts. The second is that I feel better about getting the bike I need rather than feeling disappointed that I couldn’t afford the bike I wanted.

Matt gave me a pile of What Mountain Bike magazines and started emailing me potential contenders. After much deliberation and research I was swayed but the astounding value of the On One 456 steel frame at £170. I briefly considered building it up myself but the 456 SLX package that On One offered had such at great spec (full Shimano SLX chainset, Elixir 3 brakes and 2011 Rock Shox Revelation RLT Ti fork for just shy of £1200) that it just wasn’t worth the hassle. I’ll build the next one.

I ordered the bike early April and it finally arrived early May. Unfortunately it arrived just too late for me to join in with the The Beast cable cam stunt, this descent lies between Hope Cross and the Lady Bower reservoir.