Category Archives: Mountain Biking in the Peak District

This is all about the trails around Sheffield and the Dark Peak that I’ve been riding with Mat, Gareth and Jim.

Taxpayer Funded Vandalism of the Peak District

Taxpayer Funded Vandalism of the Peak District

Like many other Twitter agitators I received a tweet with a link to a DCC page. This was in response to my tweets to Derbyshire County Council about the destruction of the Chapel Gate / Rushup Edge bridleway. It looked like this:

dcc-tweet

I will be reproducing the full Derbyshire County Council post at the bottom of this page in unalterable, Rosetta stone, screen shotted jpeg format for these things have a habit changing (£70K dropping to £30K for instance) and previous statements being denied. In this post I will address and expose the specious and facile arguments put forward by DCC.

Derbyshire County Council Chapel Gate

Derbyshire County Council Chapel Gate

As you can see from Derbyshire County Council’s own illustrative photograph, this bridleway is down to bedrock. the rocks you see in the picture are stable and are not going anywhere.  Let us look at what Derbyshire County Council have deemed suitable to resurface Rushup Edge with.

#rushopgone

If this is what Derbyshire County Council do in the name of safety I dread to think how they behave when they are being negligent.

To give you a sense of perspective the smallest of these rocks is the size of a large fist and when you ride a bike over them they undulate like a carpet of marbles. If this is what Derbyshire County Council do in the name of safety I dread to think how they behave when they are being negligent. Now imagine the surface area of a horse’s hoof. Does this in anyway look conducive to the safety and comfort of a horse or rider? My concern is genuine because it highlights the only real question I want Derbyshire County Council to answer: Who are you doing this for?

Walkers?

This is a wide group that encompasses young and old from every section of society. Walking is a unique human trait, one of the cornerstones of our evolution as a species, freeing up the hands to develop the fine motor skills to use tools, write down lanugage, share ideas, poetry and pass on knowledge to the next generation. Walking transcends class and financial means, to do it in comfort costs no more than the price of a waterproof jacket and a pair of boots. The one thing that we can safely assume, without fear of contradiction, is that everyone in this group can walk.

Now that we have established that walkers can walk, and they would have to do a fair bit of it to reach Chapel Gate / Rushup Edge in the first place, I would like you to imagine this scenario. You are standing at the bottom of a steep set of steps that reach up meters into the air, they number 10, maybe 13 and they stand between you… and your toilet. How are you going to conquer this monumental barrier? One approach could be to contact Derbyshire County Council’s PROW department and they’ll pop round and turn your house into a bungalow, not particularly practical or cost effective but that’s how they roll. My point being that most people encounter steps no bigger than those on Rushup Edge everyday of their lives, to say that these steps are impeding walkers is frankly laughable.

Does anyone go walking in the Peak District expecting it to be smooth, even and flat? Isn’t the fact that it’s rugged, exposed and natural part of the attraction of these routes? In September 2014 I rode up these steps on my bike as part of the Hope Valley Moutnain Bike Challenge. I am not especially fit or talented so if I can do it on a bike, I put it to DCC that even those of below average fitness would be able to walk up them at a steady pace. These steps were not impassable they were a unique natural feature that has been carelessly destroyed.

The Peak District Sponsored By Stannah

If I can ride up Rushup Edge steps most people can walk up them.

Horse Riders?

The following is taken from www.peakhorsepower.co.uk and I believe reflects the positive ownership of responsibility felt by the majority of those who use these bridleways.

This is a VERY CHALLENGING but very rewarding ride. The Loop is rugged and strenuous in places so you and your horse need to be fit and prepared. Sections of the route follow rough paths across exposed moorland.

The bridleways used in the Kinder Loop are often stony and steep because of the very nature of the countryside they are set in.

This has been lifted verbatim from Peak Horse Powers website (capitals and all)  and what I find most encouraging about the statement is not the recognition that it is a “very challenging” ride but acknoledgement that it is “very rewarding”. This is language I can relate to. I know it would seem to many mountain bikers that horse riders are just ambling along but it seems to me that they enjoy pushing themselves and their steeds just as much as we do.

This one sentence gives me a renewed sense that horse riders and mountain bikers are on the same side despite attempts by Derbyshire County Council to pit our communities against each other with sentences like “Mountain bikers prefer challenging, rockier routes, whereas these might not be suitable for horse riders or walkers.” Hear that walkers and horse riders? DCC think you can’t handle the Peak District’s rugged terrain. Feeling patronised? You should be.

The fact of the matter is that if Derbyshire County Council genuinely want their resurfacing to ensure these bridleways can be “enjoyed by everyone” then surely they have to cater to the one group who are most impeded by these routes. The group they have failed to mention in their post.

Wheelchair Users

If we take Derbyshire County Council at their word and their resurfacing is for the benefit of “everyone” then surely this should mean making the bridleways so smooth as to not impede wheelchairs. To level bridleways sufficiently would preclude the use of rough cut aggregate and certainly involve tarmac or concrete. I doubt even the most ardent wheelchair access advocate would expect Derbyshire County Council to take such drastic action.

So I return to my original question, who are you doing this for DCC? Surely you must have some data? A deluge of correspondence or a petition for improvements from a group of users? A statistical spike in injuries on Rushup Edge that would perhaps support your claim that it is unsafe? What are you basing your decisions on?

In Summary

Before DCC’s resurfacing we had a bridelway that was suitable for the majority of users and loved by mountain bikers (who apparently don’t count). £70,000 later we have an unstable surface making it more likely to injure walkers, cyclists, horses and their riders. Further more, despite their claims to be championing the right of access to all users we still have a surface that is unsuitable for wheelchair users.

Your arguments and claims thus far Derbyshire County Council have been shown to be contradictory, false and lacking in supporting evidence. The work you have carried out has damaged the character of the Peak District and benefits no one.

Derbyshire Country Council’s Response to #rushupgone

DCC Full Post Rushup Edge

DCC Full Post Rushup Edge

Derbyshire County Council Sanitising Bridleways #rushupgone

Derbyshire County Council Sanitising Bridleways #rushupgone

Dear Robert (robert.greatorex AT derbyshire.gov.uk) and Peter (Peter.White AT derbyshire.gov.uk),

I took part in the Hope Valley Mountain Bike Challenge this September and we were warned at the start of the event that there had been some changes made to a portion of the trail that leads down to Hayfield. Having ridden this route many times I was aware of the need to repair what had become a rutted narrow bridleway.

Sanatising Rushup Edge

Destroying another historic Peak District bridleway

The reason we were “warned” is because of the way these repairs had been carried out. It seems that Derbyshire CC have seen fit to dump tons of fist sized chunks of granite onto this route. Not large enough to stay put and not small enough to create an even surface, it would seem that DCC have chosen this particular size of rock because of its ability to damage horse’s hooves, turn over walkers’ ankles, whilst remaining impenetrable to wheelchair users.

From a mountain biker’s perspective, riding this bridleway used to be challenging and fun, I would now liken it to riding a pneumatic drill over a carpet of marbles. The ironic result of your “improvements” is that you have made the route unrideable at a safe speed, as going slowly over this surface only makes the experience longer and the bike harder to control.

It seems to me that even the most capable 4×4 would struggle to cope with this terrain. Who are you doing this for? I suspect the answer to this is that you don’t know. You have hired a contractor who has done the work in such a way as to make the most money from the project and there has been no effort to uncover the needs of those who actually use the routes.You have already sanitised Stanage Causeway and I am led to believe that you plan to do the same to Rushup Edge.

You must stop this vandalism. These historic bridleways are part of the fabric of the Peak District and the UK mountain biking scene. They draw tourism from around the country and whatever your opinion of mountain bikers you cannot deny the sport’s contribution to the local economy and individual fitness, both things you are supposed to be promoting at local government level.

You clearly have no idea what a valuable and unique asset you are destroying, the reason for this is that you have not asked for the opinion of those who actually use these bridleways. I urge you to postpone all further work until you have entered into a consultation process with mountain biking groups and other users of the Peaks.

Links to this story:

http://singletrackworld.com/2014/10/rushup-edge-picnic-protest/

http://singletrackworld.com/2014/10/rushup-roar-the-story-so-far/

http://www.ridesheffield.org.uk/2014/10/rushup-edgechapel-gate-story-so-far/

http://www.peakdistrictmtb.org/index.php/40-rushup-edge-is-it-just-us

Chap from 18bikes being interviewed, forward to 1:15

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p028ltd8

A great letter from Cy at Cotic

http://www.cotic.co.uk/news/

Derbyshire County Council Speaks

http://singletrackworld.com/2014/10/rushup-edgechapel-gate-dcc-speaks/

http://www.outdoorsmagic.com/outdoors-news/fury-over-flattening-of-peak-district-track/13495.html

http://www.ibikeride.com/latest-news/2447-sanitation-of-the-peak-district-mountain-bike-scene

The Beast of Clough Lane

The Beast of Clough Lane

As the weather has improved our Thursday night excursions have become more regular and the title “No Excuses Thursday” is beginning to have some meaning once again. We have added a couple of new members in recent weeks and lost a regular as well. We’ve explored new trails with intimidating names like “Wide Bar Death” and seen some of the beasts that inhabit the moors at dusk.

Stags on Blackamoor

Stags on Blackamoor

 

I also had my first big off in nearly a year descending Clough Lane. I completely misjudge the corner at the end and ploughed straight into a dry stone wall at 30 mph. I can only liken it to the helplessness of falling nightmares I’ve had where the ground hurtles towards your face and you wake at the moment of impact. I had just enough time to think, I’m going to wake up in hospital… the wife is going to kill me… before BANG!

Mashed fingers

Mashed fingers

Chadders was closer enough to see me somersault over the 4 foot wall and leave my bike casually resting against it like a country gent. I’m told it was spectacular. Miraculously the bike was unscathed and I got away with three severely mashed fingers on my right hand where they had been caught between the brake lever and the stone. I say “got away with” as I broke no bones and had to ask Chadders to check if my throbbing left ear was still attached, happily it was. Given the severity of the crash I was very lucky, 30mph to 0 in 1.5 seconds I’m told equates to pulling a couple of G.

30mph to 0 in 1.5 seconds

30mph to 0 in 1.5 seconds

It was on Clough Lane that the second notable event of the past few weeks occurred. As we took our post pub route down the hill we saw a car parked at the top of Clough lane. The owner of the vehicle and his companion were very surprised to have their privacy lit up by four consequtive, high powered head torches. As the last in the procession I caught a good look at the pair; a bald, panicky chap and the second, an imposing figure with all the features of a women, long hair, heels and skirt. “Her” height and stature aroused suspicion in all of us and after a brief discussion at the bottom of the hill we all concluded that rather than a giant ugly women with bad hair this was in fact a man dressed as a giant ugly woman in a wig.

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.

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.

Strava became the reason to cut your hair short or trim your fingernails

Strava became the reason to cut your hair short or trim your fingernails

The sun hasn’t really shone since my last blog back in May but the rides continue through the perpetual summer rain. On fathers day I took advantage of a sunny morning and headed out of the  door at 5am, a peaceful and secret time of the day reserved for those who stoically over come their reluctance to relinquish the Sunday eiderdown. I returned three hours later with a broken spoke, a perfect opportunity to use my new truing stand.

Since then the truing stand has seen some action as I deal with the fallout of using one’s rear wheel to chew off one’s rear derailleur. I may have found all the damaged spokes but the large dink in the rim is also preventing alignment. Sick of  hoovering up sealant from my tubeless tyres every time I removed them they now stay on the rims during this exercise.

Another new addition to my toolkit is my Samsung Galaxy S3. As my first new phone in 5 years it is busy reminding me what a technophile I am and what I’ve been missing. This thing is what might have once been quaintly called a palm top, but this technology is actually worthy of the name.

So why would I label this device a tool? Quite simply it has revolutionised the way I see my rides and interact with my biking buddies, to say it is like adding another dimension, a missing component, would not be overstating it. I am talking about an app called Strava.

Strava uses the GPS functionality of your phone to map your ride. What’s so special about that? I hear you mutter. Once the ride is over you hit the save ride button on the app and Strava uploads the data to your account. It then breaks your ride down into segments that other people with Strava enabled devices have ridden, compares the results and generates leader boards for those segments. This essentially means that every time you ride you’re racing against an online community and your friends whether they’re with you or not.

If you’re as old as me you’ll remember a time before home computing when playing computer games meant pumping coins into a large box and trying to get a high enough score to enter your initials on the leader board upon your character’s inevitable demise. On successfully achieving this ambition you would dutifully come up with a swear word that could be phonetically spelt using three letters, unless you were serious about posterity, in which case you would put something personal, like your initials.

Strava have managed to take this rather geeky pleasure from my past and bring it to my new hobby, which is not entirely free from geekory itself. Yes, Call of Duty has a leader board but do I have the hours or inclination to chase the leaders, and would any of my friends care if I reached the upper echelons? No, because my mates aren’t impressed by my ability to efficiently despatch the  avatars of obnoxious, American teenage boys on a virtual battle field.

They are however impressed by my ability to ride the Rocky Clough Lane downhill segment of one of our
regular routes in 1.03 and claim the title of King of the Mountain over this segment. This means that out of the 71 people to ride it I am the joint fastest (at time of writing). And if they’re following me on Strava they can tell me by giving me Kudos (similar to a facebook like) and  comment on the relevant segment, and I can do the same to them. The chat in the pub after the ride is a very different affair in this post Strava landscape.

There is a downside to this new toy, it’s got me riding every downhill section like a crash proof nutter on a divine wind. As a man in my mid thirties I don’t have that many high-speed crashes left in me. For this reason I do find my internal monologue having a quiet word during a luck pushing descent of something like the Devil’s Elbow. “Mark” it will whisper, “who do you think you are eh? Steve Peat? Nah, you’re a middle aged bloke on a homemade bike and you’re about to run out of talent” I’d like to ignore him but he’s right and I rein Katie in. The final time is three seconds off the fastest girl, Lambo and I call it a wet lap in fading light and start to negotiate the fallen tree blocking our exit.

So a new dimension to my riding means a new dimension to this blog, if you’d like to follow my adventures follow Mark Tyler on Strava, and say you found me through my blog.