Tag Archives: beginner mountain biking

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.

Melted ice and snow, mud and of course rain.

Melted ice and snow, mud and of course rain.

Just me and Jim last Thursday, it had been fairly dry but as we set off from Endcliffe Park the drizzle started, as we ploughed up Clough Lane the wind howled and as we pulled onto hound kirk moor the mist descended. With nature screaming in our faces to go home or straight to the pub we pushed on up to Jim’s rock as tradition now demands. This track has now become one long rut though over use, we suspect because the “improvements” to Houndkirk road have rendered it so boring many more riders are using the alternatives. The climb is a real test of skill and although I rode up more of it than I did in last week’s snow and ice the stop start, wheel spinning  and pedal strikes made it an exhausting slog. The way down was not much better, slippery mud threatened to drag us into the heather and the mist meant we couldn’t see the steps until we were on top of them, I was glad to be at the bottom in one piece.

For the third week in a row we called off Cabbage Bench, it’s hard enough in the dry when you can see more than three feet beyond your front wheel, tonight was not the night. We took the bikes about half way up the Houndkirk Road before turning back to the pub. We broke the 2 pint rule; this is the rule that states, any less than 2 and you might question the wisdom of firing through the woods at speed, in the dark with a lamp on your head, any more and you may end up in a river/ ditch / tree trunk.  That said, this rule was established by short people with less blood for the purposes of dilution than Jim and I so to hell with it. We found a different route back to town that took in Jim’s local circuit that he does a couple of times a week. It would be pretty tame in the day but at night, swooping silently through the trees not really knowing where you’re going with three pints inside you makes it quite interesting.

We popped out in Whitley Woods and went our separate ways, both glad we’d dragged ourselves out and grateful for mud guards.

Buying a new bike… 29er vs 26er

Buying a new bike… 29er vs 26er

When my On One 456 was nicked I had every intention of replacing it with a carbon version of the same bike. I don’t like to sound like a sales rep for On One but I just think they make great bikes and they don’t take the piss with their prices, I mean why would you pay more than £200 quid for a few steel pipes welded together? I had my heart set on the SRAM X9 456 build for £1299, unfortunately there’s been some delays in getting the money together and the price has now gone up to £1499, still great value but at this price point there are other options that present themselves. One is a new carbon 29er called the Lurcher that is arriving in the UK in March, it’s been in the pipe line for nearly 2 years. The 29er is the new standard that everyone is talking about, the fact is that big wheels roll over big rocks more easily and now that designers have got a handle on the geometry needed to solve the handling issues of early incarnations of big wheelers, there’s no reason not to give them a try.

Having owned a 26er and loved it, it’s very tempting to stick with what you know, that said I know that I ended up going over the handlebars of that bike a number of times. Most of these instance I put down to bad positioning on the bike, but there were several times where I felt that being flung over the front was a harsh punishment for a minor error. The more I think about the times I’ve scrubbed off speed on the approached to a steep section or step and not had the momentum to roll over the first root, rock or rut that’s met my front wheel, bringing the bike to a sudden halt and sending me over the bars, the more I think that the 29er is the solution.

I went to One One’s showroom at the weekend and although the staff were very helpful it didn’t really make the decision any easier. The carbon 456s are very pretty and chucking my leg over a 20 inch frame felt like home but I also got to see the Lurcher. I had thought I’d need a 19.5″ in the 29er but the cockpit of the 18″ prototype felt very roomy even with a short stem and is probably the size for me. I’d be happy with either bike, the 150mm travel of the 456 is great but you don’t need as much with the  a 29er, making the fork cheaper or a lighter, higher spec fork the same price. It’s a tough one but the Lurcher has it by a nose at the moment, it’s not landing until the 2oth March so plenty of time change my mind.

[slideshow]Here’s a list of 29er problems that I believe have been solved.

Handling – Big wheels may be stable but they’re not as manoeuvrable as 26″ wheels

I think this has been solved with the geometry of the new breed of 29ers, I needed an 80mm stem on my 26er, the longer the stem the less responsive the steering, but 80mm was necessary to fit a 6ft 2in bloke on to a 20 inch frame. The 18″ Lurcher had a longer cockpit, and a shorter stem (about 40mm),  shorter stem means more responsive handling, my theory is that these differences in layout should negate any differences in handling between the two bikes.

Parts and Spares – 29ers are not as common and replacing parts is a problem and there is not the choice.

The 29er standard is being embraced by all the major manufacturers and with Fox and Rock Shox expanding their range of 29er forks in 2012 this problem is of the past.

For big guys only – 29ers are only good for bigger riders

You may have a point, I read that really big guys (25 stone +) should stick with 26″ wheels, but shorter riders may not experience the benefits of big wheels in the same way as us six footers. Would you want a 16″ frame with 29″ wheels?

Wheel Strength – Bigger wheels have more flex in them, don’t track as well and are weaker than 26 inch wheels.

I understand that the shop return rates for both standards are about the same, you could argue that there are less 29ers out there so if the return rates are the same then that suggests 29er wheels are weaker. That said I’ve bent in half a 26 inch wheel, mainly due to being fat and clumsy, but if 29er geometry suits a bigger rider it might make wheel bending accidents less likely. With the introduction of the 15 and 20mm front axles last year the issues of tracking for both 26 and 29 inch wheels should be a thing of the past.

No good for Down Hill – You’ll never replace the 26″ standard in this discipline, it’s just the best tool for the job.

Only time will tell, I guess we won’t know until riders start winning events on 29ers.

Having not yet ridden a 29er this is all conjecture and imbibed wisdom, but I thought I would share my decision-making process with you.  I hope to have a 29er in place by the end of March so then I’ll be able to speak from experience.

The first rule of bike club is… You’re going to need a bike.

The first rule of bike club is… You’re going to need a bike.
No Excuses Thursday – 2 Feb 2012

No excuses Thursdays has taken a back seat over the last few months, equipment failures, Matt’s pre wedding riding ban, Matt’s Honeymoon and then I had my bike nicked. Apart from last weeks ill fated puncture fest we haven’t been out as a group since Jim and I meet up at the Norfolk Arms at the end of November and as we set off Jim’s rear brake caliper seized up and that was the end of the ride, three pints in the pub and home.

So with a text from Matt on Monday asking if I had plans, and a response from me stating that I had no excuses, we arranged a 7.30pm meet. It would have been a less stressful start to the evening if, upon wheeling out the bike from the shed at 7.20 I hadn’t discovered that the rear wheel had a flat. I left a message on Matt’s phone telling him that there weren’t enough swear words in the English language and set about prising the tyre from the rim. On doing to the usual checks of the inner wall I found another f-ing thorn. I had to go back into the house to find the tweezers to get this one out. I was about 15 minutes late, this would have been bad enough if it had just been Matt and Jim but also there where Gav (Jim’s Brother and Chadders, a new one). I apologised profusely and we set off.

It was clear, dry and not as cold as I was expecting as the five of us cycled through Whitley Woods, I explained that I’d had two punctures last week and that this evenings flat technically made it three. Silence descended upon us as we concentrated on keeping the wheels turning up Clough Lane, as the fittest among us Gav broke away with Jim not far behind. I kept them in my sites but I always find this the toughest part of the ride, just when you think it can’t get any steeper, it does.

We stopped at the end of the lane to wait for Matt and Chadders. I hadn’t realised that this was poor Chadders’ first time out: welcome to No Excuses Thursday, now ride up this wall. As we all had on our first attempt at Clough Lane, he ended up pushing the bike to the top and it took a fair few platitudes and reassurances that the worst was over to keep him in the game. We took the ride up to Ringinglow Road slowly, Chadders told me that he would normally be sat on the sofa playing Call of Duty, hopefully the chat kept his mind off the fact that we were still slogging up hill, and would be for the next mile and a half we reached Lady Canning’s PLantation.

On to Jumble road and then right up to Jim’s Rock, the Dawes reminded me of its crappy clearance issues all the way up. Once we were all at the top we took a moment to take in the lights of Sheffield as the snow started to fall. Matt and Jim led the way on the descent, it’s a great little warm up and for Chadders it was the unveiling of the reason we ride up to the moors in February in the snow, rather than sitting in front of the telly. The smile on his face as he reached the bottom of the trail suggested that he’d been bitten.

Down to the “improved” old Houndkirk Road which has recently been filled in, smoothed out and essentially ruined for mountain bikers and off roaders alike, if I wanted to ride on a smooth surface, I’d use the road. We turned right towards Burbage Edge but only rode for 20 minutes before deciding to head back to the Norfolk Arms via Lady Cannings Plantation which is a pine forest that has a wide central track with a well concealed narrow path down to Ringinglow road. We’d hoped that the temperature would have frozen the worst of the quagmire that we usually find on this route, and it had but as we sped through the trees Chadders managed to find a patch that hadn’t frozen, his front wheel disappeared and he was over the bar, I was directly behind him and it looked like he could have left his testicles dangling from the stem. Fortunately he was all smiles as I handed his bike back to him. The rest of this blast through the trees went without incident and I even managed to clean the narrow bridge that I usually struggle to get across without putting a foot down.

Following a couple of pints in the Norfolk Arms we braced ourselves for the coldest part of the ride. Gav and I waited for the rest of them at the junction to Clough Lane as Matt approached he said that Jim had taken Chadders back down the road as his legs had cramped up and he couldn’t face any more off-road. Down Clough Lane, remembering to avoid the large patch of ice we’d seen on the way up, through Whittle Woods and home.

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.

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

A bike centric diary about life…

A bike centric diary about life…

It’s the last day of 2011 and this is something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Whether it’s because life has become more interesting or just that I want to forget less or perhaps remember more, whatever the reason, this feels like a good thing to do.

My obsession in life has been skiing, I don’t really remember that first trip to Italy with my parents and sisters in the early 1980s but I am told that the itinerary was left on the kitchen table so the first night we didn’t stay in our booked hotel as my parents couldn’t remember the name of it. My father remembered its name the next morning when he looked out of the window and saw it printed on the building on the opposite side of the road. Things went down hill from there, with almost no skiing, lost comfort blankets (gollies), family wide illness and a bout of athletes foot that almost went gangrenous.

So why the obsession? At 6 I went with my father, uncle and cousins to Italy again and this has formed some of my earliest and happiest childhood memories, I’m told that after a couple of tantrums I took to it fairly quickly and was racing my Dad down the nursery slopes by day two. Other memories include my first big crash and humming the theme tune to Airwolf as I snowplowed with great speed and precision down the pistes. I can think of few another events from my past that I remember the details of so crisply.

After a change in fortunes that prohibited expensive skiing holidays I skiied once more at 13 with the school and then not again until 18 when I mentioned to my father how much I would love to do it again and he organised a boys skiing trip for the two of us. This trip became a regular feature of our calendar for the next 10 years. At 28 I went on a trip to Zermatt with some University friends and got chatting to a bloke in a bar who had seen a group of trainee ski instructors snaking down the mountain, each on only one ski. The thought that you coud train to become a ski instructor had literally never occurred to me, thinking back, the ski instructor gap year course may have been a relatively new beast.

So I signed up for a course in Meribel the next winter, just passed, did some teaching for Interski in Italy before returning to the UK. The skiing bug was sated for a few years but it was not long before I got the urge again. Fortunately an understanding boss and a very understanding and supportive wife let me swan off to Verbier, Switzerland for 5 months to teach and train. The plan was to take the ISIA qualification but cost prevented me tackling this final hurdle.

The part of the season I enjoyed the most was a 10 day mountain safety course ISIA module. This involved mostly off piste ski touring which is a mixture of cross country and downhill skiing. The obvious advantages to this form of skiing are escaping the crowded pistes and the challenge and peace of skiing in the wilderness. The less obvious and in many ways more rewarding benefit is climbing up what you ski down also known as the opportunity to “earn your turns”. The bottom line is the it’s the adventure that commercial skiing isn’t. I guess I just got rather disenchanted with the snowsports industry.

I didn’t even realise that I missed  plummeting down a slope under my own steam until Beachy’s birthday bash in March 2011 at the Llandegla trail centre. My introduction to mountain biking had been at Llandegla for Beachy’s stag do in 2009, but a year and a half later and unwittingly suffering from adrenaline withdrawal I was ready to be bitten by a new hobby. I rented an Orange hardtail, not sure what model but it could have been called The Lead Pig,  I was also very unfit.

That weekend in March just about finished me physically but I was hooked and it was time to buy a bike and make use of the peak district which just happens to be on my doorstep.