Rag it. Ragged.

Last night, on wonderful summer trails, I rode my blisteringly quick titanium hardtail in a harmonic partnership of a singletrack machine and a bag of spanners. In fact, it wasn’t so much a ride rather an orienteering exercise hunting for the scene of a crash. Finding one early in no way dimmed my enthusiasm to keep on looking.

Released from a vein throbbing vocational space full of other people’s problems masquerading as my own, my focus was more inside that out. So a certain internalising of “grrrrr” propelled an angry Al on the first downhill at the speed of stupid. Or stupid squared, because my little talent requires constant compensation by awesomely clever bike parts, of which a fully functioning fork ican be thought of as key.

A fork I had locked out for the bastard steep climb immediately before Mr Kamikaze was placed firmly in the drivers seat. The trail feedback suggested all was not well, but any inkling that fully rigid and full speed may not be compatible for a man wishing to retain all his teeth, was sidelined by every upstairs neuron desperately searching for solutions to a high speed off track diversion bringing an extremely difficult looking tree into my immediate future.

Not having any feet on the pedals by this time wasn’t helping my internal or external balance. and really that tree was getting mighty close. Fuck it, foot down, wrench the bars, register pain shooting upwards from the heelbrake(tm) and a further sharp ow from my knee. Miss tree, regain control of bucking bicycle, further register howls of derision and giggling from behind. A quick call to damage control suggested nothing broken, although many parts significantly shaken and a good armful of blood from a knee/bar interface.

What I actually cut my flesh on was the lockout lever for the fork. Oh the irony.

The remainder of the ride retained a similar level of excitement coupled with raw, naked fear. First a 30mph drop from a grassy hilltop collected a gulley full of super-loose shale about half way down. It nearly collected me as well, and if I’d even looked at the brake lever, the sky would have become ground and the ground sky. Survived that, somehow made the corner, plunged into the dark woods barely registering the important difference between brown dirt and brown tree.

Back on the hardtail is ace. It’s properly direct, steers just on the right side of flighty, rewards every pedal stroke with a surge forward but is still beautifully poised on a long fork and clever materials over the rough stuff. But after riding the ST4 for seven months, you not only realise how damn good a sorted hardtail is, you’re also pretty much in awe how fucking amazing a full suspension bike is as well. Nice to have the choice because you can never have too many toys. Unless you 11 and 9 and you’re asking your dad for some new ones. That’s different. Obviously.

Last descent and it’s proper dark. I’ve yet to manage anything smooth and fast. I’m sat on the rear wheel of someone quick and I’m hanging in there but it’s ragged, constantly locking the rear brake and sliding on trail marbles. There’s a myth that the reason Full-Suss bikes are quick is because they soak up the bumps – there is a bit of that but the real USP is grip and especially when it’s at a premium under braking. I’ve lost the finesse of finding it through modulation of the lever and my progress is fast-slow-fast.

I am hanging in there tho, letting the bike have its’ head and trying to keep up with the blur of scenery when I do. Case a 2 foot drop that I’ve nailed forever on the ST4, curse, get back on it, smash through a bush on a bad line, be brave through three bends to bridge the gap before we’re in the trees where steep, rooty and off-camber come together in a three dimensional problem solved every second by shifting weight, feathering the brakes, picking desperate lines searching for the flow, finding something else – call it fun, reasons to live, drugs for free, outdoor therapy rolled into a line of dirt and a wheel to chase.

We all get it. It’s all “fucking hell” and “did you see…” and “how bloody good…” and there’s another three months of this before we’re back to slop and grime. The night before a good old friend and I navigated randomly in the Forest, me on the ST4, him on his hardtail and we had pretty much the same conversation. Whatever you may have been told, it’s not about the bike. But it’s damn good fun finding that out.

Right, that’s me done for a week. We’re off on holiday to enjoy the great British Summer. Which has been great until about a month ago, but never mind I find the beaches less crowded when it’s 12 degrees and hailing. One day we’ll be in a Helicopter which is going to properly test my fear of height/exposure. Expect wibbling come this time next week.

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