If you want mud, you’ve got it.

And if you don’t… probably best to stay inside. Until about March. It seems only a couple of weeks ago* we were hanging on the tails of fantastic weather and still dusty trails. Then the sky broke and poured rain with a frequency which sends religious types to pairing up animals.

My response was somewhat more pragmatic. Hang the bag of expensive bearings on the wall and prepare the Ti hardtail for the muddy season. Not everyone’s idea of a winter bike, draped as it is with expensive / notoriously un-bombproof stuff, but to me merely lacking the right tyres.

There is a right load of old toss talked about tyre sizes, pressures, spread patterns and TPI by those who find themselves in a group internet session where everyone else is wrong. The rest of us happily acknowledge the days of the murderous knobbly are mostly behind us** And yet, we cannot resist a bit of a fettle with the European Tyre Mountain we’ve erected over a few riding seasons.

My approach was to take advice from a friend to whom I’d already bequeathed the last set of tyres he’d recommended me. Always a man ready to give out a second chance, a shiny new set of bristling rubber adorned my mighty steed ready – if not able – to face the challenges of water mixed with dirt.

Mostly water to be fair. And wet leaves. And dark. And more rain. It’s like winter with the cold replaced by more dark and more rain. But things started brightly with laser beams reflecting in tarmac puddles as we pulled our way into the hills. At this point my bike and tyre choice were spot on – fast and direct gaining me pretend fitness as we steamed ever upwards.

Stuff only started to go wrong when we replaced road with trail. I didn’t have time for a proper panic as the front wheel headed off in a direction no way instigated with anything I was doing with the bars. Because the rear tyre bypassed the whole grip/slip/slide sequence instead just barrelling sideways at 90 degrees on contact with a small but moist root. My defiant battle cry was – as rated by those who heard it – more akin to a choked off whimper.

So I fell off. Obviously. Crashing is too kind a word. Crashing sounds as if something difficult has been attempted and the failure penalty was a huge stack. Battered but worthy. This is not a description that can be applied to a man lying on his side fetching globules of mud from his ear. The first time it was slightly amusing, although I found my humour mostly exhausted after the third soft thud into trailside vegetation.

These tyres are shit” I pointed out looking for some one to blame “Why did you say they were any good?” / “Good for Summer” came the reply. Right. Could be a misunderstanding. Could just be my riding buddies are all bastards 😉 It was like riding in a minefield, every so often some innocuous obstacle would explode sending the – now fatalistically weary – pilot into the comforting arms of a tree or barbed wire fence.

A week passed and some of the bruises faded. So disregarding historical precedent, I accepted a part worn tyre from the “rubber expert” after sealing the previous incumbent of the rim in a locked box marked “Under no circumstances, open before summer 2012“. Heading back out with the attitude that it couldn’t be any worse, my joy at a fantastic moon-lit ride was occluded by a pea souper of Dickensian proportions.

High powered lights are pretty useless in these conditions. For all of their technology and night-sun reach they lack a fog setting and are merely reflected by the clamping fog. The first descent perfectly skewered the Venn intersection of Danger/Blindness/Sort of Fun. It is known merely as “terror“. A quick “fuck that for a game of soldiers navigational conference” saw us dropping into cheeky wooded singletrack right on the cusp of usable traction.

Great fun especially if you make motorbike noises as the back end steps out. Important not to take yourself too seriously at times like this. I mean we’re a bunch of middle aged me plastered head to foot in slurry while everyone else is tucked up in front of the X-Factor. Hah, more fool them.

I didn’t crash. Everyone else did. This cheered me up enormously as did the lack of landmine action with the new tyre selection. Less joy was derived by the pre-loved tyre puncturing in spite of my mincetastic, brake-heavy riding. It was at this point I realised I didn’t have a pump. Which became less of an issue when it became apparent I didn’t have a tube either. Saved only by those very mates I was laughing at earlier.

And, to be fair, there was a bit of an Atmosphere after Martin and I refused to follow a man training hard for next years Time Trial Season back into the hills. While Mr. Labrador seemed keen and determined to fetch the entire North end of the Malvern Hills, we felt that time had already passed Beer O’ Clock. He did go for some distance before accepting that our mugging “You’re going the wrong way” wasn’t some kind of motivational instruction.

All’s well that ends well. Which of course it did, because being out with your mates in shitty conditions means guilt free school night beer and affirmation that Gyms are for people who don’t understand that outside is always more fun than inside.

What’d have been even better was a weekend in Coed-Y-Brenin currently being ripped up by the boys from the Forest. Sadly, and in an entirely unexpected turn of events, work got in the way and I had to quit before a pedal was turned. Still I’m sure they’ll tell me how great it was. At some length 😉

* The chronological evidence suggests the answer may be that it was exactly two weeks ago.

** First bike I ever had was shod with “Tioga Pyschos” – never had a product been so aptly named.

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