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Wharncliffe Woods… Mud and Glory

Wharncliffe Woods… Mud and Glory

There is much to smile about on this sunny Thursday May evening. I’m going on a ride, it’s not raining, it’s not cold and I have fixed my bike.

I went out with Lambo last weekend on the Inbred 29er and we relived our first ride, the Win Hill, Blackley Hey loop. This was I think only my second ride with out a fall and it felt like hitting the reset button on my confidence after my disappointing performance on Snowdon.

Before this ride I put more air in the fork, this performed much better for it. I also spent an afternoon with the gears, tweaking and adjusting and finally got them shifting predictably. The only problem left was the headset, I couldn’t get the play out of this no matter how tight I made the top cap. As the ride progressed, the more the headset wobbled. Upon my return home it was clear that the movement had mashed this component and it was time for a new one. I bought a Cyclus headset press and a Chris King headset in mango. I installed the headset and found that there was still play between the bearing cap and the top cap… bollocks.

After having Gav and Jim take a look before the ride last Thursday, we all agreed that it wasn’t worth destroying another headset and I dragged the Dawes out again. With brakes dragging on the back wheel, frequent chain stuck and the chain stuck in the middle ring due to front derailleur issues I slogged my way round Houndkirk and Cabbage Bench, cursing my luck and the bike I found myself on.

I was on the cusp of giving up and taking the Inbred it to the LBS, but on reading some forums I discovered a theme running through threads about problems with Chris King headsets. Many posters claimed that the issue with the bearing cap not seating is often caused by the quite deep top cap bottoming out on the steerer tube and not applying the preload fully to the stem, spacers and bearing cap. Rather than trim the steerer I bought some oddly sized spacers (12mm, 6mm and 3mm), these increased the stack height by 1mm to 21mm. New spacers installed, top cap tightened, stem tightened, front wheel on and… NO PLAY, HOO RAH!

So I have a working bike and Lambo, Chadders and I are off to Wharncliffe woods, this involves a half hour ride over to Hillsborough to meet the lads and then another half hour on the road until we reach the woods. Fire roads crisscross the woods and make the climbing easier, although there is a short, very steep section at the start to get up that only Lambo cleaned, a trophy climb that will be mine one day.

Wharncliffe now has a sign posted, designated red route for bikes that is a mixture of swoopy single track interspersed with bits north shore, rocky slabs and muddy pits. The first section contained a tricky roll off followed by one such bog that we all approached with some trepidation. The expectation was that one of use would fly over the handle bars and skid to a halt in a patch of slop. With saddles dropped down and balls pumped up we all cleared it. We briefly lost Chadders but found him amognst the blue bells, berating his newly aquired clipless pedals – they do take some getting used to.

A short techy climb and muddy descent brought us back to fire road and after losing height for 2 minutes we decided it was time to find a more interesting way down. Slinging our testicals over our shoulders we rolled into the unkown.

We descended a very steep bank with wheels locked up and tails drifting. We popped a nose around the first corner, Lambo froze up so we parked the bikes to take a look. We’d found a step, that wouldn’t have caused too much bother if the run in was straight and the runout hadn’t be a large berm and a narrow exit between two trees. This was going to take some bottle. Lambo went first and did a good job, I made a start but lost my nerve and decided to start my approach again. Chadders wisely walked it. When I did go for it I rolled it whilst sitting on the back wheel, I remember thinking “surely my front wheel should have hit the ground by now?” as visions of a face plant into a clay berm flashed through my mind but I took the corner and stopped by the tree framed exit, not a catastrophic attempt, it will be easier next time.

More mercifully dry technical trail followed as we descended through the trees. The trail seemed to gradually increase in difficulty as went and as each section was cleared with out damage or injury our confidence grew. The last large drop off needed inspecting, after satisfying ourselves that it could be rolled, Lambo took it, I went next but Chadders stalled at the top and he walked it after common sense prevailed.

Thoroughly pumped up we made it back to the fire road and found some more fast single track through the woods to take us back to town, avoiding most of the road. We met Jim in the New Barrack tavern, he’d been on his own adventure on Houndkirk and had then ridden across town to meet us. Two pints and it was time for Jim and I to take on the hills of Walkley, Crookes and Greystones.

I checked my headset for play upon returning and the bearing cap was still seated snugly in the top cup, I will sleep well tonight.