Author Archives: Mark

Mark

About Mark

I ride with a group blokes that I know from various areas of my life, some I see weekly, for others it is every couple of months for a weekend of descents. Mountain biking addresses my need to go fast, down something steep and dangerous. It is accompanied by the highs of achievement, the pain of failure, camaraderie and real ale. Google +

Cyclists don’t pay road tax so it’s OK to knock them off their bikes.

Cyclists don’t pay road tax so it’s OK to knock them off their bikes.

This is a philosophy I was unaware of until the outraged Twitteratti got hold of the issue following a tweet by Emma Way who had posted the following on the 19 May 2013:

“Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier – I have right of way he doesn’t even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists”.

Perhaps more disturbing than the obvious concerns about irresponsible driving, is the perceived moral high ground associated with paying “road tax”, which hasn’t existed since 1937 and there has been no correlation between vehicle tax and expenditure on roads since then. How many motorists are bowling around with a similar sense of righteous indignation imbued by paying a tax they don’t pay and doesn’t exist?

I consider myself a careful driver, and more importantly a polite and considerate one. I’m a believer in the philosophy of road karma, which goes like this: I let someone pull out, this puts them in a good mood and makes it more likely they will be generous and considerate to other road users. My goodwill is passed on through the driving community making the roads a safer, nicer place to be. Maybe this is naive, but on many occasions, when I’ve left room for an exasperated soul to join the main flow of traffic, I’ve seen them pass on this favour to another driver at the next junction – instant road karma.

How many times have you seen driving that has made your blood run cold? Where centimetres have been the difference between getting to where you’re going and a catastrophic pile up, usually as a result of an impatient “person” in a high powered saloon weaving in and out of traffic in an attempt to gain a couple of extra metres. How many times have you wanted to say to another driver: “get out of my arse”, “would it kill you to use your indicators”, “why are you trying to kill both of us?”, “please stop driving like a twat!”

Can the police be expected to pursue matters of road etiquette? Of course not, I wouldn’t expect them to as most people drive like they have Miss Daisy in the back of the car when they see a copper. It’s the everyday road user that bares witness to the potential carnage caused by a basic lack of manners and maybe they should be the ones to record it.

It’s no good fumbling for a pen or trying to remember the number plate of the car that’s just forced you to swerve into the outside lane of the M1, because they couldn’t be bothered to check their mirrors or indicate. We all know that without evidence there is no case. So why not give all car drivers the tools to gather court worthy evidence?

With the advent of instant upload tools we can easily share moments of our day with anyone and everyone, is it beyond the realms of possibility to take this technology and build it into a car, as standard. Why not mount a couple of HD cameras in a car, one facing forward and the other facing backwards and constantly record journeys on a hard drive? Enable the driver to highlight moments of dangerous driving from the drivers console and then synch these segments of footage to a smart phone for sharing with the police at the end of the journey. I like to think that just the threat of having your obnoxious driving caught on film, by anyone, could act as an incentive to be a bit nicer to other road users.

Alpine Prep Course with Ed Oxley in Hebden Bridge

Alpine Prep Course with Ed Oxley in Hebden Bridge

They say that the best money you can spend on your mountain biking hobby is on a skills course, so when Beachy said he was planning to book a session with Ed Oxley in Hebden Bridge, the alps of West Yorkshire, I immediately said “I’m in”. Ed calls the course we took an Alpine Prep course, a name that suggests if you’re heading for some proper big hills on the continent you can pick up some tips on riding some steep gnarly stuff in Blighty and get the most out of your trip.

We were up early on Saturday as we had a bit of a pre ride bike maintenance issue to attend to. I realised on Thursday that my seatpost was stuck in the frame and all my efforts to shift it had failed so we scheduled a last ditch attempt at trying to make it budge on Saturday morning before the ride. We had the post in the vice using the bike for leverage and turned the bike upside down and tried knocking the post in by hitting the bottom bracket with a lump hammer, nothing worked. Resigned to the prospect of riding with the post jammed up my arse all day we left for Calderdale.

We found the Stubbing Wharf Inn without any bother and made a start on getting the bikes ready to roll for the 9:30 start.  Ed sidled over and we introduced ourselves and talked about stuck seatposts and the apocalyptic weather forecast. We had a late arrival which held up our departure a littler but Ed assured us we’d end the day a little later to make up for this.

The ride started with a little over a mile of road climbing that took us to the top of a  trail called the Blue Pig, this would be our home for the morning. We started with a brief talk from Ed about the what to expect from the day and a rough idea of the layout of the trail ahead of us in broad strokes; it’s rocky, steep in places, drop your seat post if you can (hardy ha ha).

The Blue Pig

This is a wooded trail described by Ed as the remains of a 17th century motorway. It’s a mixture of dirt track, rocks and cobbles with a range of gradients. split into three equal section by tarmac roads. Our first downhill started from the top of the second section which goes from dirt, to large bars of rock, to steep cobbles then gnarly chopped up rock with a step down to the tarmac lane. This proved a good point for catch up and a chat about how we’d felt that section had gone, I never grow tired of that warm “glad to be alive” feeling I get at the bottom of a technical section.

Blue pig Trail, Hebden Bridge, Calderdale on Pinkbike

Onwards and downwards through the next section which starts with a step off the tarmac into more rocks, then roots and back to steep cobbles followed by more technical rocky gnarl to the end. Variation in terrain on this trail makes it perfect to run this type of course. It’s steep but not so steep and intimidating that you can’t manage your speed, it’s got drops, babies heads, roots, rock gardens, natural places to pull over and regroup, I can see why Ed would choose it.

I never session the trails I ride, I’m always trying to set a decent time through the whole section and I can never be bothered to hike back up to try and ride it better.  The Alpine Prep course is all about analysing the trail, studying it in detail on the push back up in order to pick the best line on the way back down. What’s at first surprising with Ed’s approach is that the best line is nearly always straight down the middle. While the rest of us are congratulating ourselves on avoiding that nasty rock garden, Ed has bowled straight through the middle of it, “the bike can handle more than you think it can.” he says sagely.

With this in mind we take it in turns to ride the last 100 metres of the trail using Ed’s “no compromise” line. We talk about pumping the bike on the smoother sections to make the bike light over the jagged stuff, a useful technique but one that requires a real sense of planted confidence to pull off.  We also talk about speed management, scrubbing it off in the easier straighter section so that the bike can pick up speed through the rough stuff, none of this works without speed and commitment. After three or four attempts we all felt that we were more in control down this section rather than merely hanging on.

We pushed the bikes up to the tarmac lane that marks the start of the final 1/3 of the trail. As we pushed we talked about the line through the cobbles, over the roots and down the rooty step, it will be no surprise to you that Ed’s line was… straight down the middle.  Once we reached the lane we practiced manuals, rear wheel lifts and putting both these techniques together to form a bunny hop.  Then we marched back to where our morning had begun to do the whole trail again.

So much of mountain biking, like many adrenaline sports, is psychological. If the mind says “you can’t” the body doesn’t stand a chance, fear makes you do all the wrong things. As we waited at the top for our turn, a morning of tips, practice and a sense of familiarity with the terrain filled everyone confidence and we were all eager to nail the trail.

It’s testament to Ed’s coaching that we all rode it hard and made it to the bottom without anyone having an off and I felt that I may have even ridden a couple of sections, that I’d gingerly picked my way down the first time, with a bit of style. I found myself visualising the features of the trail before they appeared allowing me to mentally prepare for them and pick my line. There were still plenty of bits that I would want to improve but overall I’d say that it went rather well.

Cornering

We’d had to settle for a 2 o’clock table at the pub so after a quick snack we headed back towards Hebden Bridge to do some cornering on a nameless wooded trail. We rode the first 1/3 and then pushed back up to look at two of the corners. The first was a sweeping right hand followed by a chicane, with an immediate sharp left into the fall line.

Here are the bullets from Ed’s corner pep talk.

  • Slow down before the turn.
  • Let go of the brakes into turn.
  • Elbows out.
  • Chin up.
  • Look at your exit.
  • Point your belly button where you want to go.

but there’s more…

  • Compress down onto the bike coming into the turn, pushing the tyres into the dirt for more grip.
  • Move your body towards the outside of the turn, allowing you to bank the bike into the turn but remain balanced.
  • Release the compression allowing you to spring out of the turn.

That’s quite a lot to think about and I felt a little overloaded by all this information. I would have found it helpful to session this section, focusing on body position and then introduce, what felt like the more advanced technique of loading the bike into the turn, once everyone hand the fundamentals coming to them naturally. That said everyone got the hang of it eventually.

We pushed back up to the top the trail and did the whole thing. The section beyond what we’d been working on had some interesting features that interrupted my flow; the first was a fork that I hadn’t expected and the next was a very steep slab of granite that gave me pause for thought and I had to let the guy behind me know that it had got a little fruity. He was quite grateful that I’d let him know about this feature as he had no intention of riding it. I get pretty disappointed in myself if I don’t have a go at the scary stuff so I took a run up, pumped my balls up and gave it a shot. I got a little out of shape at the bottom but not too shabby, I did lose the trail and end up scratching my swede, trying to see where the others had gone. As it happens the end of the trail was close by and we reconvened at the road.

Pecket Well Descent

Another road climb took us to the top of what Strava tells me is called Pecket Well Descent, another steepish, rocky bridle way with a pretty gnarly rock garden at the bottom. Taking the “speed is your friend” cliche as my mantra for this section I did a pretty good job of keeping up with the full sus boys and staying in front of the Orange Five breathing down my neck.  The down side was that the hammering left my wheels weaving in a disconcerting and hypnotic fashion.

By the time we reached the pub my rear wheel was rubbing on the chainstay, I got lunch ordered and left instructions with the guys to come and get me when the food arrived, I had an appointment with a spoke key. I had to fall back on the key on my multi tool for this job, it would have been easier with my M:part Spokey but needs must. By the time the food arrived I had the back wheel approaching true. I chucked down my battered haddock bap and hurried back to my wheels to finish the job.  I don’t think I kept people waiting too long.

We retraced our tracks of the morning session with a steep road climb that took us past the Blue Pig and up towards another trail. Using our manual and rear wheel lift to conquer the step up off the road, we found ourselves at the top of a very steep woodland trail. This is where being able to drop ones saddles helps and not being able to really restricts movement and positioning on the bike.

I got into trouble on the third corner. Paul went over causing Beachy to slam on the brakes and caught between the trying to stop and find a way around this jam I pitched over the bars and landed on my face. After a helmet had been thrown and a tree kicked I felt a bit better about the whole thing. Ed wandered back up and said “your nose is bleeding.”

“is it broken?” I asked.

“I don’t know, has it always looked like that?” Ed replied chirpily and then took a photo so I could take a look. No it wasn’t broken and yes, it has always looked like that.

BM5rreICYAAuTXF

No real harm done, just a dent in my pride and my confidence that saw me bale out of the rest of this trail in favour of the Blue Pig. Our last run of the day saw us hike back to the top of the steep trail we’d just descened and take the alternative route that forked to the left, another wooded rocky, rooty trail. We paused for a moment on our way up to study a steep tricky feature with awkwardly placed  roots that looked rideably but sadly my nerve failed me and I opted to take the less dangerous route on my way down.

We reconvened at the Blue Pig for a final summary before heading down this trail for the last time and back to the Stubbing Wharf Inn for a pint of Copper Dragon.

Final Thoughts

I’m not a very good pupil and I don’t like being taught but I found Ed’s laid back and knowledgeable delivery very engaging. The terrain he selected for the sessions was perfect for the techniques we were working on and the whole day was very well thought out. Ed comes across as someone who loves what he does and his genuine enthusiasm for riding is infectious. I’ll be putting the stuff I learnt on the day into practice as soon I can get this bloody saddle shifted.

You can book a session with Ed by heading over to www.great-rock.co.uk

How to fit a Schwalbe Marathon Plus

How to fit a Schwalbe Marathon Plus

Ok you’ve found this page because you’ve just spent several hours trying to mount a Schwalbe Marathon Plus onto your bicycle wheel and this seemingly simple 10 minute job has left you exhausted, possibly bleeding and probably a little hoarse from screaming “GET ON YOU FUDGING BAR STEWARD, MOTHER LOVING SACK OF SUGAR” at an inanimate object.

What you may have found on embarking on this endeavour is that you get the bead of the tyre onto 90% of the rim and then spend the next two hours chasing the last 10% of the tyre around the rim bending your tyre levers on the way. Before you jump up and down on your wheel or march back to your local bike shop and shout at a spotty teenager for selling you the wrong size tyre, I have two words for you.

Cable Tie

cable-tie

You may know this trick, but if you don’t it works very well with Schwalbe Tyres, some of which are an absolute pig to get onto a rim, Hans Dampf I’m talking about you. Here are the steps:

  • Get one side of the bead of the tyre on the rim. Ensure you have the arrow pointing in the direction of travel.
  • Put the inner tube in, inflate it a bit if this helps you.
  • Get as much of the other side of the bead on as possible and then wrap a cable tie around the rim a and the tyre keeping it in place.
  • Working the rest of the bead onto the rim towards the cable tie. You’re done.

Hope this tip saves you some time and energy.

You have nothing to fear… but fear itself

You have nothing to fear… but fear itself

Two weeks off the bike have left me feeling fat and nervous about the next ride, so much so that I considered excusing myself  from No Excuses Thursday at the 11th hour. My nervousness springs from the fact that my shoulder is still stiff and achy from my last crash on the 9th of May; it’s one thing to fall off when you’re fit but to fall off onto an existing injury is an unpleasant thought.

Anyone who has had an exercise routine embedded in their schedule will be familiar with the invisible hand that gently helps you get your kit together and then applies pressure to the middle of your back, easing you out of the door into the cold, wind and rain. The chunk of psyche screaming at you to put your pyjamas on and spend a warm night on the sofa with Netflix is no match for this trance inducing force.  A few pedal strokes in and the hands last job is to wave you off, its work is done until the next time you really can’t be arsed to drag your carcass uphill and down dale.

Sunset over Houndkirk Moor, Sheffield

Sunset over Houndkirk Moor, Sheffield

Joining me on this evening’s jaunt were Gav and Jim, a spin up to the top of Houndkirk and then time for something new. We turned left and took and well hidden path through the heather, a gentle, muddy descent took us through a gap in a wall and along twisting single track for a 1/2 a mile. Jim had previously taken a tumble on this trail and pulled over to give us a description of what to expect from the next section: narrow, rocky, technical will large steps and lots to trip you up.

I took the lead and found the description was accurate, a selection of granite obstacles presented themselves in quick succession, from awkward jagged channels to deep steps and loose stones. It occurred to me that this just the sort of terrain that catches riders out, the inclination of most people with an ounce of self preservation is to take the speed off through such a gnarly section but it is often just this approach that causes the bike to stop suddenly on hitting an obstacle rather than rolling over it, catapulting the rider over the handle bars.

new-bit

New bit of trail, marked on Strava as “Unsafe”

As we approached the road the trail got a bit looser and presented a couple more tricky sections, I found myself muttering the mantra “look three metres ahead, look three metres ahead” as I caught myself staring down at my front wheel.

I was just starting to tire from the relentless pounding when I reached the gate and waited for the others to catch up. Jim wasn’t far behind a we had the usual enthusiastic exchange that follows the successful descent of a granite lined channel with your bike intact and all your teeth still in your head.

When Gav arrived we headed for the pub, tarmac all the way.

 

A Decadent Way to Travel

A Decadent Way to Travel

The rain stopped long enough for me to change my mind about venturing over to Hillsborough for our weekly night ride. With the hole in the elbow of my expensive waterproof cleverly stitched up by my talented wife I headed out the door and into the fleeting sunshine.

I opted for a new route that took me in a straight line down a steep path through the woods that border Bingham Park. This got pretty gnarly almost immediately with the combination of gravity assisted speed and large blocks of granite embedded in the trail making for an unexpected early doors adrenaline rush, I paused briefly to asses the rideability of ancient set of steps at the bottom of this path before deciding it was doable.

The ride over to Hillborough was uneventful and we met Dan at the Rivelin Valley “Big Steps”. While he’d been waiting for us he’d taken the opportunity to have a go at this intimidating hurdle for the first time. Always scary, but oh so rewarding and easier without the pressure of an audience.

After a brisk pedal up the Rivelin Valley we met Jim at the Lodge Lane car park for a bit of Wyming Brook downhill. On the climb up from the brook we decided to do the climb to Stannage Pole, despite the wind and rain vigorously trying to dissuade us.

Standing in the wind and rain on this exposed peak I asked the night “Who thought this was a good idea?”. The night threw back a line from The Motivativators Guide to Outdoor Pursuits, “You’ve got to go up to get down!” I told the night to stop quoting James Brown at me and we turned tail and headed back the way we had come. I had no intention of setting a time down this trail not least because I don’t know it that well and I was wearing my glasses as I’d run out of contact lenses, didn’t see that coming. The first section down to the gate went smooth and Lambo and I were neck and neck down the second section.

Egged on by this unexpected dual we found ourselves doing 25 miles an hour down the stoney fire road. I was aware that there was a barrier at the bottom of this road but it loomed out of the darkness earlier than expected. Pulling on the brakes at this speed didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, the wheels locked up and I hit a fist sized rock. This had the effect of turning the bike into something akin to a fairground broncho ride, minus the disappointed looking, tattooed operator and the squashy, padded landing area.

I was flipped from the bike landing on my shoulder and sliding to a halt on my back about 10 metres further down the trail. Despite the high speed nature of this event I escaped with relatively minor injuries. The same cannot be said for my bag or my coat. I expect it would appear to the casual observer that I’d been dragged behind a car down a rocky fire road for 10 metres at approximately 25 miles an hour, or that my left arm had be mauled by a hungry beast with a taste for Gore Tex.

broken-coat

Here’s a stat extracted (after a bit of zooming in) from Strava:

From 47.8 km/hr – 0 km/hr

in 3.5 seconds

over a distance of 10 metres

=  5th place overall

 

 

 

 

Troy Lee Moto Shorts Product Review

This feels like a fitting time to write a review of the Troy Lee Moto Shorts that I’ve been wearing for the last year. Despite being exposed to a significant number of crashes they show no signs of wear and tear and their tough but comfortable material has saved my thighs on a number of occasions, even with the velcro hip padding removed.

They have a rachet style buckle fastening that copes very well with fluctuations in waistline and the rubbery coating on the inside of the waist clings to lycra undershorts helping to keep them in place. They have two zip up cargo pockets on either leg that are perfect for soft items like wallets or gels, I wouldn’t stick your keys or phone in there. In short, these things appear to be bomb proof, or at the very least me proof.

Over Ride Lapierre Mountain Bike Demo Day – Parkwood Springs, Sheffield

Over Ride Lapierre Mountain Bike Demo Day – Parkwood Springs, Sheffield

I wouldn’t say that I’m in the market for a new mountain bike, I’m quite happy with what I have and there are other, more pressing demands on my wallet. That said, when Martin (Over Ride Cycles, Sheffield) said I’m having a Lapierre demo day, you should pop down, I’m unlikely to pass up the opportunity to spend the morning riding some very high end mountain bikes around Parkwood Springs Trail Centre.

For those of you that don’t know, Parkwood Springs is a newly developed Mountain Bike trail in Sheffield near what used to be the Ski Village. Made up of flowy berms and small table tops with a choice of descents designed to inspire every level of rider, a job it does very well.

Parkwood Springs MTB Trail Sheffield from Vertebrate Publishing on Vimeo.

I cycled from home, it’s only about 6km and served as a good warm up. When I arrived the bikes were all out and the menu consisted of the Zesty 514 (Medium), a Spicy 516 (Large) and XR 529 Carbon 29er (Medium) with electronic suspension.

Lapierre Spicy 516

demoday3

This is a 26″ 160mm travel rig aimed at the big mountain enduro rider and would happily chew through anything the Peak District could throw at it. I would love to take this thing down The Beast or Jacob’s Ladder and see what it does to my personal best. On a track like Parkwood Springs the travel and slack head angle feel a touch over the top on the hardpack single track, and they are, this is not the Spicy’s natural habitat.

I’ve not ridden a 26″ bike for over a year so the Spicy’s small wheels and short stem took some getting used to. For this reason I’ve posted the second lap where I was a little more settled. I’m not going to get hung up on the technical stuff except to say that the slack head angle of 66 degrees means the 516 is not a great climber and the front end wandered a bit going up hill, that said, at 13kg, this is a light bike considering the applications.

Downhill the Spicy felt lively and quick, really quick. As I chucked this bike around the berms I couldn’t shake the unnerving thought that “this thing is egging me on because it wants to hurt me”. Taking this bull by the 750mm horns was a lot of fun, but warm, fuzzy thoughts like “stability”, “control”, “grip” were far from my mind, terms like “skittish”, “unbridled”, “mental” came to the fore. Add to this the not unlikely prospect of running out of talent and stacking someone else’s £3000 bike and my over all impression of the Spicy 516 was unsettling, fun yes, lots of fun, but it’s a mad man.

Lapierre XR 529 29er

demoday4There were two XRs on the demo, sadly they were both mediums and the Lapierre rep suggested that I might need a large or even an x-large. An interesting feature of this frame is the electronically controlled rear suspension (£400 extra) that is supposed to calibrate the rear shock depending on whether you’re peddling uphill or pointing down.

Perched on top of this undersized frame I really wasn’t expecting to get much out of the XR as I pootled up hill but it climbed well and the times going down hill weren’t awful, a wider bar would have been nice and I’m not convinced handing over the configuration of the rear shock to a computer is for me.

I don’t feel I can really give this bike a fair review as it was considerably too small for me but Jim was a better match for it and was blown away by it, so much so that I think this could be his next bike. I might get him to add his comments at the bottom.

The Zesty on offer was also a medium but with 26″ wheels even smaller than the XR, this really would have looked like a clown bike with me on it so I didn’t bother taking it around the loop. It is however interesting to note that Lambo didn’t rate the Zesty while he was riding it but when his Stava results came back he’d beaten all his best times laid down on his own bike.

Back on Katie

I was expecting to get back on the old girl after riding full suss dream machines and find myself a little despondent but quite the opposite was true, she climbs better than the Spicy, felt more stable and grippy in the corners and granted I didn’t have that exhilarating  “glad to still have skin on my knees” feeling that the 516 gave me at the bottom of the hill, but I’m not sure I want that from my everyday mountain bike. The times were just as good as the mad man too so it just goes to show that feels fast is not the same as actually faster.

So it would seem that all I have to show for a Lapierre demo day is affirmation, I am better off for good or no, on a home built steel hardtail. Of course this isn’t true, benchmarks are important and it’s always interesting to compare and contrast and when all the proceeds are going to a great cause like the Lady Canning’s Mountain Bike Trail, everyones a winner baby.

No Excuses Thursday Returns

No Excuses Thursday Returns

Spring is here and No Excuses Thursday is back baby! I had to miss the 6.30pm meet on the 11th of April (children to bath, stories to read) and instead met the guys and girl at the Sportsman pub for 8pm. This meant I didn’t have to try and keep up with Julia Hobson going up hill. Keeping up with Julia was hard before she won Single Track Weekender, won Mountain Mayhem, cycled from John O’Groats to Lands End off road,  left blighty to compete in Mega Avalanche, worked as a mountain bike guide in portugal over last summer and then competed in the Cape Epic in South Africa. Mmmm, I’ll meet you in the pub Julia after I leisurely grind up the road to it, in the granny ring and in my own time.

Two pints of liquid courage and then lots of down flowy and technical downhill into Hillsborough left us all grinning. The only notable event was my head light going out half way down one of the technical descents, not for the last time. That’s a Thursday night that is.


Appetite for night riding reinvigorated the next Thursday saw the introduction to No Excuses of Martin, who has just opened Sheffield’s latest bike shop, Over Ride Cycleworks, and has therefore not been out on his bike for quite some time. We showed him the Flow House, he liked it, we went for beer.

During the third NET on the trot we rode up the Rivelin Valley, met Jim at the top of the Wyoming Brook downhill and had two pints of Landlord and some rather nice jalapeno pretzels. Resisting the urge to save myself 10km of riding by pootling straight downhill on the road to my side of town with Jim, I opted to descend into Hillsborough with Lambo and Chadders and take in some steep, technical descents through the woods on the way.

Chadders has just bought himself a new 26″ Cube with 100mm up front, it’s a very nice looking bike, quite racey for some of the stuff we throw ourselves down, but he’s done the right this going for a high end hardtail, you wouldn’t get much of a full suspension bike for £1000. The other aspect of opting for a hardtail rather than full suspension bike is that full suspension can make it too easy to get down technical descents, which on a hardtail is more difficult and this means that the hardtail rider either improves his or her technique or falls off a lot.

So No Excuses Thursday is back with a vengeance and the main players all seem suitably enthused by the fun we’ve had on the last three rides to maintain the trend. The momentum required to drag yourself away from the telly on a Thursday night is not always easily mustered but having a couple of mates to drag you out always helps.

It feels like I’ve been riding on snow for a while.

It feels like I’ve been riding on snow for a while.

It’s been a while since my last entry, the discipline of writing a diary is not a natural inclination but I enjoy looking back through past entries and this encourages me to write the next one.

I suppose I have several good excuses, we moved house in March, I had to find a new job in June, the baby was born, 4 weeks early in August… all in all 2012 was pretty hectic.

I did find time to do the 12th Hope Valley Mountain Bike Challenge on the 15th of September with a few mates, this is billed as a 50km off road ride around some of the Peak District’s classic descents starting from the base of Win Hill. The route has regular water stops with mountains of home made cakes provided by the organisers, with out this and a Camelbak containing a cocktail of energy powders and caffeine tablets I think I would have struggled more. I genuinely believe regular slurps of carbs, sugars and salts prevented the peaks and troughs in my energy levels, and certainly avoided the grumpiness I suffer from when tired and hungry.

The route took in The Beast, riding this with a cascade of other cyclists buzzing around you, shouting to let you know where they are and crashing in front of you, was an experience that seems to have spurred me on and I have yet to improve on the time set during this event. A long steep muddy climb out of the belly of The Beast brought us looping back to the top of Win Hill, the route took us up the Roman Road for the second time but we went left at the cross roads down to Jaggers Clough.

Other moments that stay in the memory are the hike up Jacob’s Ladder, this is hard work without a bike, and the general camaraderie and good nature of everyone involved in the event. We plan to do it again this September.

The rides have been sporadic at best. Lambo, Jim and I did manage to get out on a Boxing Day ride around Lady Bower. Do you remember all that rain? It was muddy and the water in the reservoir was so high it had breached the retaining wall and was cascading down the side producing an impressive water fall effect, an eventuality that was clearly planned for in its design.

Upper Derwent, Lady Bower Reservoir, Fairholmes

No Excuses rides have taken more than a back seat, it has got out of the car and been left in a layby on a remote hill side. This is a shame and has had an impact on my fitness, so much easier to lose it than it is to maintain it.

It feels like I have been riding on snow for a while, this is because I have, January and February have both been inclement and have produced some bracing temperatures and interesting riding conditions, burning all my energy pedalling but not moving up the Wyming Brook climb, trying to get to Stanage Pole but failing due to the depth of the snow and travelling sideways down Clough Lane were all features of the ride of the 26th of January.

 

The Top of Clough Lane

The Top of Clough Lane, Peak District, Sheffield

We’re at the end of February and the weather seems to be improving and I will have no excuse to not start riding to work again. This will improve my fitness and encourage me to get out on the mountain bike a bit more.

Bring on the spring.

On fatherhood…

On fatherhood…

The newest addition to our family is now a little over 48 hours old and doing ok considering she is 4 weeks early. With mum and baby still in the hospital it is down to me to hold the fort with our eldest, just trying to keep the place tidy and entertain, then entice food down a picky toddler is proving a challenge.

It is very different the second time around, still wonderful just different. I think this is because having one prepared me for the wave of love I experienced, that rush of oxytocin can’t be as unexpected the second time and is therefore somewhat less intense than the first hit. Another difference is that over the last 20 months I have got used to loving someone more than anything else in the world, initially this feeling is rather bewildering, liberating and unfamiliar as it is not like the love for your own parents, siblings or partner. It is instinctive love; you’re not obliged to feel it, there is no personality to work around, there is no baggage or history and no wish for them to be different in any way and there is no desire for love to be reciprocated and no fear of rejection – you are free to just love, love, love.

I’m looking forward to the girls coming home so life can return to something that resembles normality. Our eldest has taken it all in her stride (her stride of choice is a lob sided goose step which she has been practising up and down the maternity ward) and doesn’t seem at all fazed, she may not realise the baby is coming out of the hospital to live with us and will want to play with her toys, but early reactions to baby are good. I think this may be attributed to my wife’s cunning plan that involved buying a smaller, identical version of her favourite soft toy, a monkey, and giving it to her a few days before the birth of our new monkey.

I didn’t care about gender before the birth and I am just delighted to have a healthy one, a boy would have been nice but not nicer, in many ways it is better for the my daughters this way, they will hopefully have lots in common and be very close. That said, I expect them to ski and ride mountain bikes as well as any son, I will allow protection to prevent scuffed knees, I know girls care about how their legs look. My one regret is that I doubt I will get to use the name we’d picked out for our daughter had she been a boy – Edward D Tyler. Now that is a strong name.

“What does the D stand for?” I hear you say. Danger was to be his middle name.

After riding everything else in your life has the volume turned down…

After riding everything else in your life has the volume turned down…

I limped into work last Friday morning with welts and cuts on my arm and a large patch of skin missing where the granite kissed my knee – I’ve let Strava egg me on. This has led to a consensus of opinion between my friends, stop chasing King of the Mountain, use Strava to push yourself and concentrate more on enjoying the ride and less on the stats.

Does this mean I am going to stop turning Strava on before my rides, no, but I am going to stop chucking myself down stuff faster than my limited skills will allow, and this Thursday I have the perfect excuse to concentrate on riding well as I will be setting an example to our newest recruit.

I’ve been bugging Adam to come out for ages, almost as long as he’s been moaning that he doesn’t see enough of us, Lambo thought that it might have been the moaning that was the important part, rather than the doing something about it, but I have set about removing excuses for not coming biking as they present themselves.

So decked out in all my spare gear, which is all pretty decent kit, I stuck Adam on the Dawes which is not decent but is ridable and has coped with everything that we’ll find ourselves on this evening. The consensus was that if we’re going to convince Adam to spend £500 on a new bike we’d need to hook him, and the way to do that was to take him down the best technical downhill our humble Thursday night ride has to offer, and that means the Flow House.

Why is the Flow House so good? For a start, being mostly granite it stays fairly dry, there is only one short steep section during the down hill, meaning the rest can be taken at your own pace, it has some wonderful natural technical features and there are so many lines that you never ride it the same way end to end twice. The problem with it is that it is a 8.5km up hill slog to get there.

This has stopped being a problem for us regulars a while ago but Adam struggled. I should point out that Adam is cardiovascularly the fittest person I know, but it’s football fitness which is a different set of muscles. It doesn’t really matter how much you want someone to enjoy an activity, when they reach the “good bit” on their last legs, having rubbed raw their virgin perineum and their two fat mates are fresh, chipper and full of encouragement, it seems unlikely that they’re going to see the attraction of this sport.

Adam commented that this wasn’t like football where if someone is slow and crap you just shout at them until they get better or leave and I think he appreciated the nurturing inclusive environment we tried to provide for him. Lambo and I both know that he can’t stand being the worst at something and we really wanted him to get into it. Sadly I fear we have failed, you can tell when someone has been bitten by the wild, glad to be alive glint in their eye that accompanies their first high speed completion of a descent, there was no glint. Oh well, you can’t say we didn’t try.

Despite failing to recruit another rider to our chapter the benefit of taking out a newbie is that you have to slow everything down, the climbs, the descents and this means that you have time to think. You have time to spot the line you’ve never seen because you’ve just been bundling through chasing your personal best. You have time to go back and do a section again whilst they catch up. Going slower could be the best way to go way to go faster.