Somedays you’re the slugger…

Like a jump. Only not for me 🙂

… sometimes you’re the ball. Sometimes you’re caught between, betwixt hope and expectation, kidnapped by events, released by the moment. Mostly though you’re being shafted by the weather. In winter, this is stoicism blunted by seasonal storms. Summer tho, it is that hope that thrills us.

And thrilled we have been. After two months of ‘is it safe to go outside?‘, the incessant rain finally stopped, so the happy times started. Burnished trails puffing a million dust molecules into blinking optics. Nuclear stuff happening close to a 100 million miles away narrowing clothing choices to the acceptably skimpy*

We could get used to this. Mostly we did and – while the rest of the continent caught fire** – dry summer flakes combined with moist rider heat management starched frame tubes with Mandelbrot tattoos. It was never terrifyingly hot, but it was perfectly configured as one of those endless summers.

Until it wasn’t. Notice the past tense here. It feels absolutely wrong to focus on a stubborn localised low pressure system while the rest of the world basically burns, but you know what that’s just too scary so I’m drilling into the macro environment. One characterised by storms, wind, rain, sideways rain, drizzle, persistent rain, downpours, almost sleet and – no surprises here – more rain.

I swerved much of this meteorological mischief by retreading my pre-Covid gig to bisect the UK with all the efficiency a US maps App can offer*** This meant missing a couple of night rides already tagged with ‘blimey those nights are drawing in’.  I did manage to snuck out Friday after a week in Scotland with eBrown which does all sort of exponential things to a heart rate used to stopping occasionally.****

Woody 🙂

The previous weekends ride was not without incident. Starting with ‘the grip is fine, amazing really considering all that rain, oh hello tree, can we be friends?’ and ending in some extreme tripoding while pretending to be ‘riding it out in a new-school ‘style often arriving both without a bike and upside down.

Lessons to be learned then. I didn’t learn them even while populating the trailer, dodging another shower, post a hard days rain on the back of a weeks’ worth of filth. My one concession to summer being a wet-ass was to load the hardtail, long ignored but always Labrador ready, to get stuck in when the going gets horrible.

Most of me loves riding the BFEmax. Not my knees tho, they tend to write a strong letter of complaint. Ankles aren’t wild about harsh landings and stutter bumps either. Lower back warns of consequences later. My strategy of ignoring age related frailties instead sets me on a splashy course of harvesting fun from dirt presenting in all forms from firm to barely suspended in liquid.

Best way to deal with that is to plug a likely looking soil stack with a low pressure 2.6 inch tyre and lean on it a bit. Winners get a bit of a corner rail, losers slide but rarely fall as speeds are lower and  the ‘emergency dabber’ is on hyper-alert.  It’s not the summer smashfest we’re no longer expecting, but it was balancing the unexpected with the experience of riding this stuff for 20+ years.

Sun came out!

Still feels good. Doesn’t feel particularly fast, and while it’s not all hanging out, there’s definite evidence of sashaying back ends and tyre flung ‘clods of dust’ as we like to characterise these conditions. Stuff is happening mostly behind me which is absolutely fine as all I care about is the rubber in front of me bisecting glistening white roots and bog deep depressions.

Couple of features get done with the minimum of fuss. Any uplift I get from that bottoms out when compared to talking a couple of others down the same stuff . Although they are both smart enough to ignore my line recommendations. Getting it done, getting back on the bike, getting a bit closer to what’s important, getting dangerously near a post ride beer.

This is rightous stuff. It’s not the longest or hardest ride. The 200m optional climb was received as if I’d offered the opportunity to cuddle up to the farm animal of your choice*****.  Instead we rode the valley floor to a sun kissed centre of bikes, sausage rolls and cold beer. I went with the most important of the three, diffusing a difficult world into to one I better understand.

mmm beer. And Ali 🙂

I’ve ridden lots of scary stuff this summer. Which considering my years flipping around this planet is quite a thing. What is more of a thing is the ‘for fucks sake how many times now?’ realisation that riding is at least 50% of who you are with, and often less than 50% of what you are riding.

8am this morning it was pissing it down. Yesterday it never stopped. Not for a minute did I think I would. Dunno if I was the slugger or the ball.

I’d take either. Rain is forecast for next week. Bring in on. I’m ready to ride.

*and hats. For those of us managing climate emergencies and follicle sparseness. Also one riders’ skimpy is another’s extensive therapy session.

**We are so fucked. So  great to see a debate on whether to extend the ULEZ in London  is a vote winner.

***“The M6 at Stoke is blocked. Would you like to re-route via Hull?’. I wish I was making this up.

**** That’s me. Not my heart. Not keen on that stopping.

*****This is the Forest tho. So could have gone either way.

Return of the bling.

I always thought the RipMo was a classy bike. Especially when compared to my Giga which is essentially a carbon wrapped shaven headed bouncer, or the BFEmax rocking the more classic than classy vibe. In 2018 I bought about the first one off the boat because it looked just right. Then kept it for four years / 4000km* / for riding all over the UK and Europe.

Feb 2020, Malaga.

Then, during an extended field trip to the land of the stupid, I serially ruined it, replaced it and sold it. Because I was a desperate dreamer chasing the next big thing. Last month I bought another one. Because I woke up and smelled the reality.

The elephant in the shed is the Rascal. One of many ‘middle-bear’ bikes slotting neatly between the thuggary of the Nukeproof and the single sprung Cotic. A March to October bike nailing the gap between too big for big days out and too hard for aging joints. It’s a tough gig – many have come, few have stayed long. The Rascal lasted nearly two years, but that elephant had long learned to write on the wall before then.

Sidebar here: I am acutely aware whinging over a shed full of brilliant bikes is entitled stupidly at best. It’s easy to justify two**, whereas a totality of ridable steeds > number of available legs inevitably leads to a ‘shed queen‘. A role the Rascal was increasingly taking even when conditions / routes were perfect for a lightweight 140mm/130mm trail bike.

Instead I rode the slacker bikes with the steeper seat angles. And I had more fun because confidence is a big part of spiking the dopamine gland. Then I rode the Rascals’ big brother and got smacked with the memory that 160mm trail bikes are a victimless crime. Sure they’re a bit heavier, but you’re pitching that to a bloke well used to hoiking a 37lb Enduro Weapon on 60km rides.

Rascal’s big brother. Lovely bike, too much money

Problem solved then, buy a bigger trail bike. Save the super big bike for proper big days and uplifted utopia hills deep in proper mountains. Hardtail for the slop and general arsing about. Problem is the 160mm version of the Rascal is as beautifully crafted as it’s shorter travel sibling. With a price to match. For the first time in about ever, I just couldn’t justify it to myself***

Sulked a bit, attempted to make the Racal that bike – messing with the Geo, changing the tyres, tweaking the suspension. Took it for a ‘final‘ ride in perfect conditions and it’s one I’ll remember. Mostly tho because I’d moved it from a brilliant bike to curator of extensive parts list ready to be harvested.

RipMo’s don’t solve the ‘how fucking much’ problem what with their Californian Coolness and costs to match. So I hit PinkBike classifieds to find an updated version of my much loved V1. Changes are subtle but noticeable niggles are negated from the original. Bit slacker, coil compatible, new colours 🙂

An affable fella in Northern Island was asking pretty strong money for a 2021 example. He’d dropped the price twice but not by increments twitching my ‘buy it now‘ muscle. Engage WhatsApp as a fun negotiation tool. Shameless lowballing met with long ghosting followed by a counter offer. We ended up at a price neither of us really liked which probably makes it about right.

A few days later a battered box arrived. Inside a frame clearly ridden, cosmetically abused, mechanically ignored but the shell was there. Mostly hidden under Invisitape protection clearly applied by someone both a) drunk and b) blind. Happy times in the shed stripping all that off along with glue projecting serious abandonment issues.

Properly took it to bits to clean it!

Cleaned up pretty nicely. Carol took on the re-engineering of frame protection with her normal world weary competence, and we were ready to go. To Molini**** and beyond before life stuff rushed back in on our return. Finally tho, Matt cleared enough space in his garage to trigger his zen like spannering skills to deliver a freshly bearing’d, fully serviced bike for me to ride.

This is *after* Matt cleaned his garage 🙂

So what’s it like then? Unsurprisingly like my first RipMo but better. Not so much v2 as Evo. Ticked off four previously unridden features in the three weeks since going wheels down on our favourite trails. More important tho is how it disappears when I’m riding it. This is a very Ibis thing and it’s a very good thing. My Mojo3 had the same “go on, get it done, I’ve got you” vibe, and I’ll never not love that making me a little bit better, a little bit braver, a little bit less over-thinky.

It’s a keeper. What’s that at the back? Heard it before? Had one before which stood firm as other fads rotated through the shedofdtreams(tm). Can’t see this one being any different. And the Rascal? It’s such a beautiful frame, I can’t see me selling it. Maybe Jess’ll ride it one day. Until then, purple wall art is where it’s at.

I still feel bad about stripping it 🙁

RipMo v2. Al v300.7. We make a good team 🙂

*You may be surprised to hear this is not the bike longest owned. Veteran hedgehogers may remember the long campaigned ‘Grellow Pyga‘. Most won’t tho as there have been *quite* a few since.

**No, really it is. There’s a 3000 word article ready to smite the unbelievers 🙂

***No way I could justify it to any other sentient being. Other than “I want” being a well constructed investment case 🙂

****What a trip that was. Even ancient as I am I learned something. Hopefully to go in a Cranked Mag soon.

Head Games.

Right, that’s all gone a bit wrong. Evidenced on the intersection of misplaced confidence and new bike* enthusiasm.  Pub-bound on a trail I’ve ridden hundreds of times. Mid-Winter it’s an exercise in bike-uprightness dealing with steep ruts, relentless off-camber and a trench black-holing even the best riders.

We’ve all tales to tell. Tall ones “no idea how I styled that out, let me explain in some detail…‘, short ones ‘dropped in, crashed out’ and narratives proxying for excuses ‘you know just the wrong tyre/light flicked out, UFO sighting put me off’.

Summer tho, it’s a barely bucking double log, drop into the trench with a ‘feel the force Luke‘, brake stab to manage the tight berm, fling yourself over a little table and almost taste the beer a few hundred yards away.

That brake stab? I’ve always wondered if some righteous railing might ping you over the jump with dusty insouciance. Analogue black box recorder went something like this ‘don’t brake, going to make it, definitely going to make it, blimey this is quite fast, reckon it’s still on… oooooooh fuuuuuuuuuuck’, Followed by static as eight pots of Shimano’s finest represented the difference between a save for the ages versus a high velocity head strimming of the local vegetation.

Got it stopped. Gave myself a ‘never in doubt’ nod, glanced behind only to see a fully committed Al ‘The Wallinator’  on a crash course slamming the terminal into velocity. The arse of my bike perfectly marks the apex and Al – as per his one line operating manual – is coming in hot. Being blessed with quite the imagination, the frontal lobe suggests a strong possibilty we’re about to be punted headlong into one or many trees at a speed best thought of as ‘splattering‘.

Warnings of such outcomes punctuated not only this ride, but every one  since Molini stopped being a thing and started being a confidence trick. Stuff I’d built entire walls of excuses for avoiding have come tumbling down. Some cipher looking like me exchanged endless worrying for moment-living. Not so much taking risks, more not giving a shit for consequences. At an age when you’re really meant to be slowing down, this is life changing stuff.

But it’s still me, so it hadn’t all gone well. At no point did  a mental shift trigger some excalibur like physical skills. No swords removed from rocks, more crashing into the mineral record barely avoiding blunt force trauma through the power of awesome bikes. Getting away with it doesn’t even get close.

Close enough tho. I’ve ticked off a nasty steep chute bastardised with a wheel stopping rock half way down. First 2023 ride of the rockiest thing we ride in the FoD**, had a proper go at a rock jump I mostly fall off in the manner of an aging seal sliding torpidly into the sea. A gap jump swerved for a year barely cleared recorded a review of “not as easy as advertised, would not do again’.

Even a bomb-hole surely ripped from the hill by a WW2 ‘Tallboy” was inked into the ‘got it done’ ledger, mostly by following Matt in and closing my eyes when the horizon flipped what felt like 90 degrees. Blood was about 95% adrenaline at this point.

Which may explain how the means really doesn’t justify the end. Progression is really happening to other people. I’m a month away from the dark side of my mid-50s. Upside is any managed decline is nothing more than starting from a bang average baseline. I was never that great at mountain biking, so it’s not so far to fall.

Fall to what? eBike? Gravel bike? Touring with panniers? None of these things are terrible and I’m trying very hard not the be judgey about them***.  This New Al would rather focus on the positives. Twenty years ago I tipped the scales at 174 pounds. I still do today*****, four rides a week are still a thing in summer, I feel both pretty fit and completely knackered, broken bits are manageable while stretching/pilates/staying away from the beer fridge stays the inevitable reasons to stop.

Back to where we came in. It could all end right now tho with Al shortening the ‘punting distance’ by the millisecond. He sees me and his eyes widen, there’s bits of me puckering madly, but short of a early doors dive into evicerating  shrubbery I’m right out of ideas. Instead a desperate bike shuffle gives Al another few inches and he responds by RAILING the berm in exactly the manner I pretended I could.

Cheeks blown out. Some gabbling. Go to pub. Do not pass A&E.

Next night, a whole lot of steeps only a few miles away, often talked about but never ridden. Day after a cheeky Friday night blast fuelled by tired legs and the prospect of a cold beer. Day off and then back on it tomorrow. Still properly excited.

This is not riding transmogrification. Matrix like skills are not in my purview. I didn’t suddenly find bravery when meekness has served me so well all these years. It’s all in my head.  A head normally full of reasons why things can’t be done. Days ruined by worrying about one feature. Nights awake wondering if faking it is really any fun.

No idea where it’s come from. No idea how long it’ll last. Know one thing, it’s bloody great fun right now, and that’s more than enough.

*Another one? Colour me surprised. There’s a reason, a rationale, certainly a story. Only one of those nouns is reasonably adjacent to the truth.

**Somewhat predictably labelled ‘Rockadillo‘ but in my head it’s almost “Dr Rillo” – makes it feel a bit less scary.

**Trying. Not succeeding.

****To be fair, there’s quite a lot of ‘slumping‘ in the last two decades.

Electric Schemes

Mysterious affair, electricity. I only know this quote from Samuel Beckett because I’ve often plagiarised his pithy assertion “I am still alive, this may come in useful”  after short but painful kinetic experiences starting with bikes, and ending in trees. It’s part of a well worn reboot process triggered by a skills crisis manifesting a second or so before the point of impact.

Rebooting is something Carol’s new car probably does. It certainly hums into life without anything so traditional as a key. Displays flare to suggest a moon shot is your chosen destination. Rotate the big knurled drive dial to ‘D’ and soundless motion sends you on your way. After 35 years of cars with mostly controlled explosions firing off under the bonnet, it’s quite the thing.

But it’s not the thing we’re going to talk about here. Even if there is much to talk about, most of it good, some of it a bit meh and a couple of niggles best summarised as ‘whoever is responsible for THIS ABOMINATION report to the Scorpion Pit immediately’

Because first we need to deal with the EV nemesis – namely charging the bugger. Public charging in Herefordshire is unbelievably rubbish. While I accept electricity is still a bit of a new fangled novelty in these parts and ‘the candle party‘ polls strongly in local elections, the dearth of any kind of charging infrastructure is definitely something to consider if a) being stranded amp free many miles from your house isn’t in your daily schedule and/or b) you’re not desperate to drive to Bristol to find something useful to plug into.

Home charging then. Car comes with a three pin plug. Assume manufacturing such a useless unit is cheaper than – say – a chocolate teapot. Twelve hours at a couple of amps will get you maybe 50 miles. Assuming your house hasn’t burned down first. Rex – MTB mate, top chap and retained sparky – took one look at my dodgy extension based charging set up and immediately scrambled the fire brigade*

We needed to come up with a better plan and, due to a series of closely related events escalating from a ‘well that looks interesting‘ to a new car on the drive a week later, that plan required rapid enaction.

Fitting a ‘fast‘ charger** to the front of a house should not be a massive pain the arse. Because most houses have the important bits of the National Grid terminated somewhere close to where you park your car. Not our house. Not even close. Closer in fact to the road where parking is undesirable due to a traffic profile made up primarily of large farm vehicles who smash first and avoid questions later.

Additionally our house is essentially in the middle of a large terrace. A terrace that used to be one single structure. Look carefully and you’ll see bricked filled door openings, look anywhere and you’ll understand the direct consequences of the intersection between ‘splitting the utilities‘ and ‘lowest cost bidder’

Thankfully Rex has weathered this electrical storm, and dropped us down the local Fire Station watch list. Sadly our options for cabling appear to be a) run a cable all the way round the house, b) chuck it over the roof or c) compromise the structural integrity by drilling through about 20 joists.

a) is a hard no. Long route we’d need a cable thick enough to run a commercial cannabis farm b) is ugly, horrible and Rex, rightly, has no truck with it. c) is such a ball ache, but we catch a break with a right-sized cable running from the main fuse board to within 5m of the outside wall mooted for charger installation.

But because it’s our house, we’ve bricked the other end up about a month ago and spent quite a lot of money to make sure it’s entirely unaccessible. Instead, Rex and – coopted ex electrican and all round problem solver – Matt do stuff involving pulling cable, pushing cable, feeding cable, swearing at cable, terminating cable, you know general cable things on the hottest day of the year and often in the loft.

I sit watchfully in the garden and adopt a managerial stance. Activities include making coffee and asking stupid questions*** Eight hours after starting though, my narrow skills close the gap between switching on and plugging in. The charger is allegedly smart and so there must be an app. In fact two apps, the instructions for which appear to have been translated from Chinese to English by a person understanding neither.

Much of this configuration is to ensure firing up the dishwasher while the amp hungry charger is firing electrons into the car doesn’t plunge the terrace into darkness. Three days later I’m not absolutely sure this risk has been entirely mitigated. As we have new neighbours, I’m slightly worried our future relationship may be predicated on my sketchy interpretation of technically obtuse log files.

I’m sure it’ll be fine. Whatever, we’ve mitigated range anxiety with the commissioning of our very own domestic electrical petrol station. 4 hours on a cheap rate tariff stuffs 100+ miles into the car. For less than a fiver.

Electricity? Might just be the future.

* unroll the whole extension cable is the advice you need here. Otherwise you are creating first a heater and then, shortly after, the source of extensive crop destruction.

**It’s not a charger. it’s a bloody expensive posh socket that can supply 3x the power of a standard plug, with a close to zero chance of undesired electrical outcomes.

***We did make sure everyone ate their own bodyweight in dead pig later that evening. The BBQ is gas so I’m slightly less dangerous operating that.


Against the last post, entirely made up of whinging. Standard operating model for AL v.Old but not without some justification. Mid May, Mud May, Minging May, Motivationless May – you get the drift. Well not so much dusty drift, more slithering about in search of an accident. Welcome to Spring 2023.

In my moments of maximum delusion, I pretend a man shouting at rainclouds correlates to strongly worded letter to the weather Gods. Who, after a beat down on blameless customer service operatives, magnanimously snatch a quick look at our watery planet and ratchet the season switcher.

Whatever, things have changed.

Summer comes fast when the rain stays away. Head high swaying vegetation hides leathery spikes whipping out at exposed flesh. Mud turns to dust turns to marbles, soddden troughs to sun hardened ruts. tractions stays about the same but post ride switches from decontaminating the swamp monster to a desalination event. And some itchy and scratchy behaviour.

Between then and now was a second trip to Molini. Where our long-seasoned mud skills were at a premium during thunderstorms of world-ending violence. Then it dried out and it was epic. Three weeks have passed and I’m still mired deep in post holiday blues. We’ll be back to that, and it’ll be a multimedia event*

Right now tho riding at home is pretty damn good. Tempered by the date – the Summer solstice always comes too soon. I can’t help feeling it’s all downhill from here** And not in a ‘oh there’s the van, take us to the top o the next great trail, beats the shit out of pedalling‘ kind of way.

Time to live in the moment. Still unclued on how to instantiate that. Maybe sofa bound flicking crap food detritus into empty beer cans or launching a culling “I never fucking liked you” event on random digital  connections, might be mooning off Nelson’s column**** or  striding nonchalantly into your workplace and punching the boss?

No idea. So instead I swapped a night in a bland hotel some 200 miles north for a skive ride with my good mate Haydn. We slacked off early for no other reason than riding always beats working. It wasn’t the longest of rides nor the fastest, at no point did Zen pop in to educate me on flow, neither of us felt the urge to break out a fist pump, progression was hidden – camouflaged by our hinterland.

But what a thing. Dump the inbox at 3pm, make slow but continuous progress on the first few climbs. Fresh logs dumped on the fireroad have us worrying for the loss of favourite trails. But weaving between massive logging trucks, we’re soon flashing blades scything through vegetation seemingly hell bent on reclaiming those trails for nature.

I’m okay with that. We have no entitlement of  permanence here. Visitors at best, vandals at worst. Might explain why puddles from weather cells forming flash storms are incorporated into heat management. We don’t stop much because the insects are hungry, and some of those winged bastards plug exposed skin for about a pint.

So we ride, we descend with normal excuses leaving plenty of time to rationalise those on the climbs, We see the sun optically trolling us with an apparent azimuth of high noon. We know we are lucky – mid 50s, skiving off from some 1950s 9-5 worth ethic, riding brilliant bikes on perfect trails. And while maybe we’re not brilliant, we’re good enough. The year I can’t do this is going to feel like a milestone marking a slow death.

Last weekend, we revisited my last barely noticed celebration of another planetary rotation survived. Tintern was as magic as ever, old school route with a lot of the old being sunken bridleways, ancient woodland barely changed in millennium, ruler straight tracks linking long forgotten trade routes.

And lots of full on ‘well fuck me that’s steep‘ and ‘oh I see that’s not actually the steep bit’. Riding it in the wet would be nothing more than a cry for help and/or some quality time spent in a local hospital. We got to ride it in conditions so perfect they should first be preserved is aspic, then donated to a local museum.

I was pretty much bouncing off the ceiling in the pub. The day that doesn’t happen, the solstice I don’t love/lament, the week weather forecasts are not forensically examined, the year we don’t plan summer riding while shivering on a winters’ hillside, the decade starting with six when I might need to consider a bit of help with a motor.

Yeah, that’s been known to keep me awake at night.

All that can wait. In fact it can fuck right off. Dylan might be raging against  the dying of the light, I’m sat here watching that light backlit by a still high sun and wondering if I can ride again tomorrow.

Longest day? Shortest reason not to get back out there

*not from my GoPro tho because Numpty here packed everything needed for a weeks worth of ‘nobody other than you is watching’ this footage except for the small matter of the harness to connect it to the ‘moobtube’ 😉

**This is the time of year where I say ‘I can already feel the nights drawing in’ and Carol attacks me with kitchen implement/spiky gardening tool/small piece of furniture for being such a grump.

It’s one of the most important cornerstones of our long relationship 🙂

*** FNAR. Just me then. Ok, as you were.

May the filth be with you

May should not look like this.

Beyond bored of the filth. Properly and totally fucked off with it. Six months of November compressed into six weeks. False spring in February triggered two months of Autumn come March.  In the twenty of so rides since endless rain became the weather event of choice, only twice has the sock drawer been harvested for a non waterproof item.

The Uglyguards are a constant companion. As are the sounds of a drive train crying for help / grinding its own suicide note. I’ve given up cleaning the bike, instead artfully positioning it in an occasional sunshine arc, before beating it with a brush to hammer off the worst of the mud.

Horrible. Dry arse tho. Priceless 🙂

Upsides? Reaching a bit here so let’s go with System 1 mud skills* and, er, no, wait for it, there’s more, really, no don’t go, nearly there, ah yes Bluebell day. That herald of Spring was as optically visceral as ever. Broad lakes of purple split by damp dirt tributaries. Beer and non shivering t-shirt action to follow. Felt great but did not feel like early May.

Still lovely. If a bit wet

Nature whinges less than me. Just gets on with carpeting the forest floor with bluebells and wild garlic. Up top the skeletal canopy leafs up and casts shadows on the trails below.  And us, grateful for an organic umbrella as the next storm rolls in. We’ve had hours of the much anticipated dry trails, hero dirt between the puddles, pub ready without a jetwash. Days tho, they’ve been full of rain, thunder and latterly hail. Black as a winters night, and about as appealing.

Jimmy doing his thing

This is normally my favourite time of the year to ride. Twixt between Easter and the late May bank holiday. 2023 had a cheeky extra as some old fella was anointed with a funny hat while the Met ‘without fear or favour‘ arrested anyone who’d mistaken government sponsored censorship for our much trumpeted democracy.

Rained on the bugger tho. Probably should have learned the lesson of Canute. Rained on us as well, but we’re numb to it now, arriving at a ride start waterproofed, hardtail’d and mostly stoical**.

This is not my bike. Details to follow 🙂

Slide about for a few hours, idly wonder if the trails will ever dry out and more importantly consider the best way to drop back into the valley on a trail that’s not going to displace you from a much needed pint.

Trusty having it fairly large

Displace being a synonym for disadvantage, dismember or disembowel. I consider myself a ‘tree whisperer’ after two months of taking a bead on some innocent bark while grip, steering and stopping are mostly happening to other people. Assuming those people are in Spain riding dusty dry trails.

Which is where we should be in two weeks. Italy not Spain but still a 1,000 mile due south. Current weather there somehow mirrors our own storm tossed island, so  I may be grateful for those hard slid mud skills. I won’t be though, I’ll be bloody annoyed. Molini was awesome last September. It wasn’t insane to assume riding the start of June it’d be even better. Which is an odd way to spell wetter.

Yeah, keen to get back there

But for all of that, this. My friend Jenn Hopkins (Great rider, fearless adventurer, awesome human being, cruelly lost to cancer at the age of 38) once sat me down and explained forthrightly (probably while I was hosting a one man seminar on why today was so shit) ‘Hey, the sun is shining, you’re in control of you’re own arms and legs, you’re on your bike, the rest is gravy, you’re the luckiest person in the world

She was right. Because between the hurumphing of internet forecasts, the sighs as another rainstorm hits the windows, the crumbling drivetrain graunching through the gears, the frustrating loss of traction when mud is in the ascendancy, there is a continuum, a reference point, a happy place –  that is riding bikes with your friends.

About as clean as it’s been since February

It’s a simple test. Would I rather be on the sofa impotently shouting at rain clouds, or be amongst them? Wait for the storm to pass or dance in the rain. I do not want to wait. I am not going to rage against the weather. Well maybe a bit, but only when I’m sat on one of my fantastic bikes doing what others are not.

Find me a ride where going out has been trumped by staying inside. Tell me when dicking about in the soggy dirt is somehow less of an experience than cosplaying adulthood. Explain the difference between getting out and giving in. Arms, legs, sunshine, bikes, gravy. Jenn had it right for sure.

What else would you rather be doing?

Every time I hoik a filthy bike onto the trailer under broken skies, I can’t help but proxy a bit of Maverick from the original Top Gun “Keep sending him up’ I mutter.  Sending myself up is the key to getting ahead of other members of the ‘Slitherati‘ who never miss an opportunity to take the piss. As it should be, BlokeTherapy*** is a big part of why I ride.

Extending that to the pub, we turn mud into dirt, dirt into stories and stories into memories. We remember sunny rides but our happiest reminisces are the broken, the grim, the wet, the benighted. The hard stuff baseline that elevates the dry and dusty to the perfect living in the moment.

Told you Feb was amazing!

Light and dark. Wet and dry. Mud and dust. Two sides of the same thing. Riding bikes is a journey you’ve chosen. Important to remember that. Even when it’s pissing it down.

*I’ve been re-reading ‘thinking fast and slow‘. You should too. It’s properly thought provoking.

** Not sure the Stoics have been authentically recorded as offering a ‘For fucks sake, six weeks of rain, really I’m just meant to shrug my shoulders and marvel at the majesty of the weather?’

***I suppose we could talk about our feelings. But ‘Matt, want a hand there or were you intending to prostrate yourself face down in that innocent vegetation?’ feels a bit more authentic 😉

Ground effect

If you subscribe to Wikipedia, ground effect is “the name given to the positive influence on the lifting characteristics of the horizontal surfaces of an aircraft wing when it is close to the ground. ”

If you ride Mountain Bikes through all the seasons, Ground effect is the “name given to the positive influence of emerging vegetation horizontal to a previously muddy surface close to the ground

The wild garlic is out, a few early bluebells are out, the sun is out and we are “out out“*.  After February cosplaying June’s rainfall, March redressed the balance with rain everyday unless it was the turn for sleet or sideways hail. This moist meteorological construct turned mud free trails to just mud. Our first ‘light‘ night ride finished without lights, but the winter companions of wet, filth and steep trail jeopardy continued to outstay their welcome.

So with an Easter forecast promising sun, double digit temperatures and warmer mud, we yomped out to the Yat. Cold start, chilly in the wind, warm under the climbing sun, we stripped layers to follow it, finding trails mostly mud free right up to the point they weren’t.

More grip than expected, but often just a little bit less than you need. “Little‘ doing some heavy lifting here after we switched valley sides and chose to descend back to the river on a slick track offering either sweating limestone or not quite dry enough slick earth. But before that, there were new trails to ride.

New to me anyway. News of some rocky slabs had percolated through the WhatsApp group so we were keen to try them while they were hot. Spicy for sure with all sorts of shapes being thrown over no roll features, rolling into no obvious exit features, and exiting down steep muddy chutes. The latter offering your riding Hobson a choice between making the tight corner or braking on dirt brothered by glass from another mother.

Such good fun under more blue than we’d seen for a month. Applying winter skills hard learned under leaden skies to similar conditions but feeling distanced by a season. Sensors working overtime** with Spring happening all around regardless of our own sense of the season ratchet grindingly stuck on ‘for fucks sake, 14 days more rain forecasted

All that is forgotten with our criss-crossing of much vertical. My legs are sadly not solar powered though, and it’s a grind to our final top out is on a trail that’s known to be a bit lively after rain. The precipitation of the previous month suggests it’s probably been reanimated.

Sentient or not we’re committed to a fast approach into a plummeting fall line qualifier for a bombhole that’s fast in, fast out or fast in and crash out. When it’s this slick, fate is mostly in the riding seat. Which is where she should stay for the next 20 seconds of limestone teeth keen to take a bite out of you. Summer you ride them like a toothbrush, yesterday navigate like a toothpick.

Next section pretty anticlimactic (other than the search for a miserable anti-mtber who is keen to share his views with nobody who cares). Then we find the motherlode of his angst, a group of kids***, some shirtless, all riding bikes with truly shit tyres, a few whooping, a few more lying down in the dirt, those upright mostly pushing.

We pushed politely through eliciting cries of ‘these guys are going to make this look so easy‘. Have to say I’m shallow enough to take that as a testament to my skills, composure and – most importantly – appropriate tyres choice. Also have to say that was the EXACT moment it all went a bit wrong with Jim one bike ahead keen to reposition the rear axle as the steering fulcrum. As he was flipping ends, I was laughing until my rear tyre went full trade union to  join his slithering picket line.

Yeah I bet those kids were super impressed with our skills. At this point, I was less concerned in burnishing my image,  because there was a certain priority to keeping that image right side up and occasionally on both pedals. Mostly tho I was proceeding sideways in the vanguard of the new sport I’m naming ‘unipedal’

Like a demented hokey pokey, the leg was in, out and often shaking about. Performative balance performing badly. Stayed on the bike but a no point did I make it look easy. Ride like you think no one is watching and all that.

After making up some nonsense about how “I’d barely had a dab” we decanted ourselves into our favourite pub where well earned cold beer was accessorised with single layers, sunnies and a vague notion than sunblock might have been a good idea.

A better idea was a second beer. Right up until the 10km ride home. After a smidge under 55km supported on 1125m of climbing, those non solar powered legs were mostly in limp home mode. Ram raid on the fridge and a shower sluicing salt off my face revived me sufficiently for a Pizza and beer evening at Matt’s which was even better than it sounds.

Tomorrow off to Afan for the first time in 3 years. I have the perfect trail centre bike for that. Because, well, me I’ve decided to take something entirely inappropriate instead. But the sun will be shining again, I’ll be be riding with my friends and there will surely be a beer to finish.

I could get used to this. Hello Spring, we have missed you.

*(c) Micky Flannigan.

**(c) XTC

***anyone under the age of 40.

On a hardtail? With my reputation?

Hardtails for the win!

Sometimes it’s good to try hard things. Taming “The Beast” at Coed-y-Brenin on a hardtail is an excellent example. Making it harder still though speeds past good on it’s journey to bad, pausing only to transit through stupid.  Take a tough trail, remove a sprung end, add a head splitting hangover, then drench the whole endeavour in all the Winter weather a North Wales March can throw at you.

Trusty enjoying the conditions 🙂

Yeah, now that’s properly hard. Still at least we were riding which was no way guaranteed after the snow fell long enough to close many roads, and one of the trail centres we’d intended to tick off as part of Em’s birthday weekend. Ten of us took the brief thaw that followed as a sign to rendezvous at this fantastic and massive farm house.

The home to much debauchery 🙂

Where most ripped into the copious supplies of brought alcohol with inevitable consequences. My party trick was drinking wine from half pint glasses apparently. Not that I remember, but from the splitting headache and inability to make any noise other than a groan for coffee, sounds about right.

Ten friends riding together is fun. It’s also a faff so it was nearly 11 o’clock before we unpacked a slew of steel-y hardtails from the van. Cez’s was suffering from a split tyre which ensured a bit more of that stomping feet in the cold, feeling quite poorly, while it was rebooted with fresh rubber.

Cez, bike much improved with two working tyres.

My only two aspirations for the first trail were not to either crash or be sick. I only just clambered over that low bar mostly due to the distraction of being battered by rock, and evicerated by a wind failing to carry any kind of Spring breeze. The other riders all looked in a lot better shape, especially those who’d made more sensible bike choices, and especially the one with a motor!

Things improved but only because they couldn’t get any worse. My brain/optics pairing were separated from the rest of my body by about two corners. This led to the odd moment of great hilarity and many more of abject terror. The only approach that didn’t end with a crash and a whimper was to recruit Haydn as my harbour pilot and follow his lines all day.

Without the good ship H, I’d probably still be out there. As it was fun started to creep in around the edges of my hangover. And while the wind didn’t abate, the forecasted sleet and snow stayed away. But only because icy rain had snuck in and nicked their midday slot. Em then attempted to impale herself with the end of the bar, before wisely calling it a day and taking the road back to the trail centre.

The ‘remains’ of the goup – which seems as an appropriate noun as any – winched up the 3km fireroad climb suffering multiple precipitation types with increasing snow and decreasing temperatures. While it wasn’t the greatest riding experience of my life, it did have the welcome effect of finally pushing the hangover into 2nd on the misery podium.

Still a great trail

Only podium in my purview for sure. The Beast tho is such a great trail, properly old school, lots of different challenges, not always flowy but always rewarding and rocky enough to make even modern hardtails feel close to their limit. My legs and arms certainly were and regardless of really enjoying the latter sections, when they were over I was done.

Embrace the grim!

Neil “Nobby” Phillips before his whiskey thrashing session!

The really heavy rain held off until we’d returned to the van, but sadly not before we were inside it. Despite my protestations* we decanted our damp selves back out a few minutes later into the warm environs of the local pub. I ordered a lime and soda… for Matt while declaring my early morning proclamation of “I’m never drinking again” as fake news and hair’d the dog for a well earned celebratory beverage.

No alcohol was involved in the making of this image 🙂

That night tho, I stuck to beer and not too much of it while watching various bottles of tomorrows-bastard-hangover being quaffed by those significantly more hardcore than me. At least one of the quaffers had the decency to look a bit rough the following morning, which in no way kept him or us away from a fried breakfast slow cooked in the aga**

Pouring him into the van under sunnier skies, we all headed off to Nant-yt-Arian where a much curtailed – the ongoing larch disease issue – route had us climbing the first pitch twice to ride both the red and blue descent. I was feeling a whole lot better and just a big smug.

Sadly watching the video suggests I wasn’t riding any faster 😉 Where is the video from the first day I hear almost no one ask? Could barely operate myself, no way was I risking the GoPro. Also didn’t want to be sick all over it.

Watching the kites before the rain came

All in all a fab weekend. Great bunch of friends, decent chunk of riding, loads of amazing home cooked food, quite a lot more booze, even more piss taking, but accidents or injuries other than the continued abuse of my liver.

Think we’ll do that again. Maybe nearer my birthday in August. When at least the rain will be a bit warmer. Oh, and no more wine in pint glasses. Honestly, I’ve learned my lesson.

Gin however….

*Oh do we have to? Go on then.

** because there is no other way. They look great but it’d be quicker to set fire to the mature grounds and flash cook the bacon before the fire brigade turned up.

It begins…

… but not quite in way we’d planned. Those plans were big, even mildly epic in scope, but in denial of fiscal realities and kind of missing the point. That point being two people in a big house don’t use all of it. There are three bedrooms rarely interacting with further humans, two of which recently occupied by now independent offspring. Sure it’s still sort of their home, they just don’t live here much.

Full disclosure, the insane plan was mine. It involved removing a roof that is needy but not desperately in need of full refurbishment, bolting eighteen large solar panels into what remained, installing all sorts of complex batteries, rebuilding most things above the first floor and replacing everything else. And that’s before we moved inside to gut an interior originally provisioned from a seedy 70s reclamation yard.

That’s not even all of the work. But it’s enough to send out clear signals that the budget would have many zeros, some of which I wasn’t sure we could realistically fund. More though it offered a miserly return on that large investment based on our stated plan of downsizing in a single digit number of years. I wanted the house to be perfect, but it doesn’t need to be.

Carol – of course – gently guided me away from the edge of that financial abyss. I came around to her view that we should only spend money on things we were going to notice. That starts* with the roof on the single story extension that has so many things wrong with it, it’d be less risky to shoot the building inspector and take my chance in court than deal with the findings of their report if we allowed him or her onto the premises.

And I do mean everything. The electrics have that ‘lucky you didn’t burn in your beds‘ vibe, the insulation was improved when a nest of hornets moved in last year, the mildly sub optimal way the roof finishes before the walls, etc – you get the idea. So I was easily persuaded this was a better place to start. It’s also the best room in the house with views across the rolling countryside.

Views we currently enjoy either wrapped up in a blanket or broiling close to melting point, depending on the season. A combination of large steels, a void where traditionally there’d be something other than moving air and the well understood concept of convection currents creats the perfect environment for temperature fluctuations that’d give the climate crisis a run for its money.

First of many holes being cut into the void.

Many, many sheets of insulation backed plasterboard to be deployed over said holes.

So that’s project one. The picture up top was an early relocation of our fragile connection to the internet super highway***. It’s not much of a connection – bouncing off the cell tower on the hill a couple of km away – but it’s kind of vital for worldofteams(tm) that represents much of my post Covid working hours.

It’s such a good solution, I’m tempted to leave it 🙂 You can argue with ISPs crappy customer support for ever, but it’s still fun to explain your connection is hanging off a long 2×4 offcut. Go find a script for that.

The antenna was originally somewhat inconveniently attached to the wall now being extensively modified to create something most of you would recognise as a working roof.

Once that’s done, we’re storming through the house like a tightly focussed tornado. Lights clearly snaffled from a 60s nuclear sub are to be dispatched to the skip, ancient fire doors will follow***, windows were care about will be embiggened and furnished with glass that lets in more than wind and rain, other windows will be painted and re-pained with glass from this century, random cables boxed in, dodgy decorating corrected, you get the drift.

I certainly do. Fix the things we see every day. Leave the rest. Perfection isn’t a destination, it’s a fallacy. That’s the second useful insight I’ve had in this process. The first being there is absolutely no way I’m getting involved in any of the actual hard graft. For reasons graded on a curve from laziness to incompetence.

Instead I’ve spent many hours researching smart LED strips which both plays to my talents and keeps me away from the proper adults. Anyway we’ve made a start even if there’s currently no end in sight. Things will certainly look different at the end of the summer, improved for sure, finished absolutely not.

Whatever happens, its going to look a lot better than that!

If I can really get on board with ‘good enough is good enough’ I might even enjoy the experience. Even if I can’t quite ignore what it’s doing to my bike buying budget.

*not quite. We had the fence fixed first. I say fixed, more taken away in embarrassment. Basically upright due to aged woodworm holding hands

**More narrow, twisted, congested lane with accompanying slow progress, frustration and swearing.

***the house was a B&B for a while. All a bit Hotel California 😉

A chink of light

Go through the motions, count the short days, lament the long nights, bitch about how the endless slop is indescribable. No that’s not true, we just don’t want to talk about it. Fantasise about early Spring instead.

Sun on your face, trails dry-ish under leaf still a bit sticky but no longer greasy snot death. Climbs not demanding 100% effort with tyres muck spreading water cosplaying as soil until gravity kicks in with a half hearted effort to make things easier.

You’re still pedalling but that’s not really the issue at hand. A hand gently pushing a grip or carefully caressing a brake. No precision tooled summer lines, more a broken compass occasionally pointing in the right direction-  sometimes as a direct reaction to rider input, but mostly handing the whole thing off to luck.

That’s the reality of riding right now.

It’s kind of fun. Until every part of the bike is either broken right now or merely waiting its’ turn. The washing machine is on suicide watch, and with a weather forecast predicting clouds full of rain and days full of bone chilling cold, you wonder if this is the year to fuck the whole thing off.

And then you get a day. After 10 previous of hardly any rain and those drying winds. You’re hoping for something like a dry line but you pretend you’re not. Don’t want to jinix it because today might just be that day. The mid winter miracle.  When an extra trail isn’t a chore, a favourite corner loams itself out of the mud, a tricky obstacle can again be a brakeless giggle.

Yeah we had one of those days. And by god we’ve earned it.

More pragmatically, this is the first time i’ve ridden the BFE in the dry and it just came alive. Set of bends I love and the steel frame throws itself into the apexes in a way that’s hard to describe, but desperate to repeat. Grip is still mutable, but mostly  banging the stops on the fun-o-meter. Speeds ramp up, misery is tamped down.

There are – in my view – mostly heavily medicated riders who embrace the winter in a way I cannot. They talk of a skills upgrade when trading speed for grip. They offer up nebulous benefits of bastard muddy climbs and plastercine fire roads. For them this is not a season to be ignored, but to cherish as an antidote to summer dust.

We’re a pretty broad church on the hedgehog but there are lines never to be crossed. Places we cannot go. Fake news that shall not languish unchallenged. Hills on which we shall righteously die. And this is absolutely one of those. Winter is horrible. Its four months or more of enduring the grim. I know this to be true, and one day of riding dry trails confirms I am the only sane man amongst a bunch of lunatics.

Or night. Three days later just Rex and I headed out onto our local hill. Not only had the Wednesday night crew been denuded by injury*, no other rider seized the opportunity for a dry ride. You can count those on the fingers of one foot most winters, so we’re in good spirits climbing into the woods. This local patch of goodness was exclusively ours, and we were going to make the best of it.

A plan had been formed. As it had been formed by me, it wasn’t a great plan but we were soon shouting “hey this bit is dry, it’s NEVER dry in winter” at each other rather than concentrating on trails crispy under crinkly-dry leaves. Which made finding the dirt a little challenging, but this seems a churlish observation to make on otherwise brilliant conditions.

Rather than just poking the Weather Gods with a stick, I’d gone full frat-boy and pulled down their pants while flicking V’s by riding my how-many-pivots-no-forgotten-going-to-have-to-start-counting-again Rascal with summer-y tyres and no rear mudguard. Way beyond brave and long into stupid, we were lucky not to be drowned.

Instead the skies cleared, the wind dropped while the Earth did her stunning organic planetarium thing. We gave that a nod before turning our attention back to riding as fast as we could before winter again slapped us icily in the chops. This involved recalibrating how quickly stuff was fired into the aged optics, and how little braking was needed to deal with that. This is my kind of problem.

Even when my helmet light ran out of amps at the exact point a gap jump should have been its entire point of focus**, I couldn’t stop marvelling at how fantastic the trails were. This time of year we’re pining for summer rides, but after this one Rex and I agreed we’d happily ride these conditions every night without worrying about sunlight and warmth.

Life affirmingly good. As I explained, at length, to a – temporarily – broken Matt in the pub. I promised myself I wouldn’t gush how great it was out there, because he’s two+ weeks away from getting back on a mountain bike. Yeah, about that.

Will it last? No of course not. It’s not spring or even pre-spring. we’re a long way from emerging blinking out of the dark. But it’s a marker, a memory of better things, a signpost for what is to come, a reason to keep buggering on in the face of bike destroying shitiness. And for that I’ll happily take it.

Chinks are good. Full spectrum light will be better. Right now tho, two dry rides has me desperate to go long. The weekend awaits 🙂

*some post medical procedure, others long term sick, one nursing injuries entirely attributable to significant alcohol and a detailed facial analysis of the local tarmac while under the misapprehension that physics doesn’t apply to drunks!

**luckily my trusted technique of closing my eyes and hoping for the best defused any danger of a lie down and some performative groaning.