And all my manly posturing on how easy it was on the new bike, and how all that was lacking in my mighty toolbox of skills was a little more style? Today, I tried it with a little more style and rather than receiving the plaudits of my peers, instead I received a helmet full of dirt and a full body battering.
But rewind a little. On a lovely winters day, full of the sunshine and light winds that have so forsaken the South East for the last month, we arrived in the middle of a body armour convention. I’ve never seen the place so rammed with play bikes of all description and a riding community ranging from young Gravity Dwarves to elder statesmen like myself.
The GD’s are born to ride in three dimensions launching small bikes over huge jumps while performing complex yoga moves, such as tapping a grubby ear with a Nike trainer while calmly flying at fifteen feet through the trees. Others of an indeterminable age but sporting ungrizzled stubble and motorbikes without engines were winding them up over the big jumps and drops that define the area. Well that and the air ambulances and broken bodies.
Trying to build on the previous festive ride of absolutely no style, I attempted to ape the skills of those who weren’t method acting a sack of potatoes velcro’d to a fridge door. The main aspect missing from my riding – other than the permanent absentees of bravery and commitment – was, and I’m writing this carefully, Hucking. To huck, one must perform a foolhardy firm compression of the bikes’ suspension to instigate a stylish, salmon like leap over the drop. This is best created by driving your body downwards and then allowing the bike to spring back by lightening the sprung weight. Which is this case means you and in my case is quite significant nowadays.
Now think about this – what we’re talking about is flying off a ledge with around twelve feet of thin air between you and the rather thicker ground while taking the weight off the pedals. There an integral part of what we mountain bikers call “the things that attach you to the bike and stop you getting horribly injured“. And yet, it was all going rather too well until, in a moment of unconsidered bravo, I attempted to go large.
As the ledge approached, I pushed vertically down – hard – with both hands and feet , feeling the tyres digging into the dirt. Then as the bike rebounded rather rapidly, I unweighted everything and flew gloriously into space. It was at this exact point that the total wrongness of style over substance overwhelmed me, as my feet and the pedals became pen pals. No longer were we connected by anything other than memory and as the bike landed hard on the downslope, I remember thinking “well I’m hucked now“.
Apparently you can ride this type of thing out. If you’re any good and don’t instantly stiffen up with the type of rigidity associated with rigor mortis. The “Leigh alternative” is to crash painfully down the slope, with feet acting as buffeted outriggers and bollocks bouncing on the top tube. And just when a small slither of survival gloating shafted low through the trees, my attempts to stay upright went sideways. The bike hit a lump and by the power of kinetic energy I exited sideways in a flat trajectory. Luckily, rather than a pleasant dirt surf down the slope unencumbered by stumps or pointy rock, my velocity was rapidly reduced by the shuddering impact of an earthen wall. The whole painful episode could be summed up with the simple phrase “Deceleration Trauma“.
“At least my friends didn’t see that” was my first thought as they ran over the hill to see if I’d trashed the bike. A short period of grunting followed while the full body systems check ran as a priority process. Aside from very sore ribs, a stiff neck and battered pride, the initial damage report was encouraging. Only later did I realise that the stabbing pain in my thigh was a perfect mirror of my car keys. These normally harmless items had burrowed deep into the limb in some kind of futuristic organic/mechanical fusion.
The bike was thankfully undamaged. Which gave me no excuse not to limp back on and ride the drop again. The Icy Hand Of Fear was clamped hard over my nether regions but it really had to be done. And it was, with no huck but a silent “thank fuck” as I landed happily still attached to the appropriate staying alive components.
I rode a bit more, but then it stared to hurt a lot more as befits an old bloke doing a young mans sport. So I quit whilst I still had a head but on driving home, my overwhelming emotion was of bloody annoyance that I’d failed to conquer this simple skill. And it never occurred to me until I began writing this that there will be a time when I break rather than bend. But that’s some way off I hope and through the power of Nurafen Plus, cold beer and hot baths, I’m already planning my triumphant return.
And this time, it’ll be so stylish even the GD’s will whisper “not bad Grandad, not bad“.
PS. Never again will I feel silly wearing leg/elbow pads and a full face helmet. They all took a proper bashing and without their protection, I would undoubtedly be enjoying an extended stay at Bedford hospital.