Silent running

One of the lesser touted joys of cycling is the minimal aural impact as you speed through the countryside. Aside from creaking knees, wheezy breathing and the occasional spittle-flecked invective*, your passage is registered merely as a soft whum of tyre on smooth tarmac. Off road of course, it’s a bloody riot of noise as chains slap stays, suspension squishes and components grind in a strange harmony only broken by the counterpoint of fleshly limb on unyielding stump.

But road riding should offer restful respite to such noise pollution, and yet this has not been the happy state of affairs visited on the Jake. Firstly it’s not really a road bike, too heavy, too soft, too compromised by tyres, angles and components. I’m fine with that because a switch to dirt and it comes alive in a way that pastes a shit eating grin on your face right up until the point when thin tyres beget zero grip. And when the groaning stops, you start smiling again.

Unless you are listening to a transmission of thrashing metal. The serial offender in this criminal approach to noise abatement was the rear mech which had fallen off the straight and narrow. I’d go as far as to say it was crooked – not only that it’d roped in “Big Charlie The Cacophonous Cassette” into attempted GBH on the rear wheel.

So armed with a big chain, these two made light work of a heavy metal noise even the MP3 player couldn’t quite drown out. Recently I’ve adopted a radical approach to bike maintenance in that I’ve not done any. It’s not just laziness – more a realisation that after spending time and money fitting new parts, the problem would be as bad or worse or maybe different, I was always poorer and some poor bike shop owner had again suffered at the hand of my unending stupidity**

Sadly the reverse isn’t true either, and no amount of giving it a stern look was going to kick start some kind of self healing process. A closer examination showed the seven year old components were really badly worn which was rather disappointing. Talk about built in obsolescence – seven years? I’ve got children older than that.

Cash was relunctantly exchanged for things shiny and a mere three hours later, all sorts of precise – yet quiet – clicking noises sold me a belief I’d actually fixed something. It would have been about ninety minutes had I not gone exploring in the dark recesses of the cunning shared brake/gear lever. My random prodding released a tightly wound spring from deep inside the component, and only an outstanding piece of fielding by the dog handily placed at third slip saved me from buying a new one of those.

I’m thinking of putting him up for the upcoming Ashes series. Anything he can’t catch, he’ll retrieve, always happy, positive and a keen team member, can’t bat for shit but that doesn’t seem to be much of a requirement nowadays. And – an added bonus this you’re not going to get from Ian Bell – he’ll have a good chew of the opposing bowlers legs before making off with his sandwiches.

So a happy silence accompanied me on a sweaty ride to the station through weather best described as “hot, damp flannel”. I could barely contain my smugness as a single click of the shifter would instruct the spankers new mech to serve up the next cog. Which was better than good when compared to last week, where the first two shifts did nothing before a third would slew the chain across multiple sprockets without bothering to clamp any of them.

A result then? Yes and, because it’s me on the spanners, no. Firstly I’d unknowingly created the sub-niche sport of “hardcore commuting” having failed to reset the brakes and leaving them lightly gripping the wheel. I thought progress was proving mightily difficult, but was so pre-occupied with my silent transmission I’d failed to investigate.

If I had, I may have noticed the mech was still on the piss. Closer inspection proved this to be simply because I’d bent the mech hanger during on of my many traction-lite moments in the woods. It’s easily fixed at a cost of£4.20. That’s approximately one twentieth of the cost of all those new parts I’d identified as the root cause of the problem.

Maybe I’ll go back to doing nothing.

* generally brought on by a bloke in a BMW/AUDI/Generic Cockmobile attempts absent mindedly attempts to kill. Some of them do it on purpose as well. But only once, and I’m safe until they find the bodies.

** “Did you fit it with the 14mm spanner as I explained” / “Yes, and far from it be from me to tell you your job, it was RUBBISH for hitting it with. I went back to a hammer, and now it’s broken

Riding buddies

Mountain Biking should not be a solitary sport. Fifty percent or more of the fun is who you are with, and the rest made up of where you are. Most riders subscribe to this opinion, so we all gravitate to people who will put up with your bullshit, and kindly check your bike for damage while you’re bleeding elsewhere.

Sure there are those outside the bell curve who decry group rides as diluting the ethereal experience, others’ chatter mere white noise against the simple beauty of being at one with the landscape. I tend to think of these people as a) a bit up their own bottom and b) having no real friends.

And whilst I say your riding world is peopled with those sharing similar mental DNA, there are always leaders and followers, fast guys up hill, nutters streaming down the other way, talkers and silent types, tech heads and don’t give a shitters. And then there’s always one, just one who has a personal mission to make you hurt yourself.

Take my pal Jezz, a rare – and bloody annoying – combination of decent technical skills, a strong climber and a firm expression when offering up a short extension likely to take you into a) the next county and b) tomorrow. But under that genial expression lies the heart of a sadistic bastard. And he worked me out quickly enough as an old bloke whose mouth was writing cheques his body couldn’t cash.

So the challenges started. Not that I really knew, as on our inaugral ride, I thought I was going to die, and on the second I was pretty sure I had. But extra bits started to be worked in, lips were expected to be stiffened during a riding into driving snow experience, hills were for going over not around. But like I say I was too busy suffering near death experiences to notice.

And then I was sucked in “Hey Jezz, I reckon this loop is all doable in the middle ring”. I tossed it out for a laugh and the bugger only went out two nights later and proved it was possible. For him anyway, when I tried I was unpleasantly reminded of singlespeeding. I am such a sucker for this stuff, all competitive bravado, no actual way of backing it up.

This morning I had a proper commute to work and electronically informed the young fella that us oldies cracked out a massive 18k of road work in 43 minutes. Adding hastily that I was weighed down by laptops, shoes (the ones the dog hadn’t eaten), knobbly wide tyres and the dark. The bastard – because that is what he is – replied I was merely a big girl and should put some bloody effort in.

Which is why I was hating my texting finger as it gripped the bars climbing the 200+ vertical feet of twatty hill separating me from home. Lowest gear (which on my CX bike is still bloody hard in case you’re interested), dribbling, sweat rolling into my eyes, 1000 yard gurn in place. The valley road was far below, but that would be far too bloody easy wouldn’t it?

Better to die up here in the rarefied air of the terminally stupid. My breath rasped out and a sane Al would have reached for a Asthma blow, but no because that may slow me down. It was the same spark of lunacy which kept me on the drops on a road much given over to mud and running water, and offering up about as much grip as jelly on ice.

Can’t slow down, it’ll cost me 10 seconds“. Fair enough I suppose although a couple of times, it did feel I may be forty years early for the next life. Rolled up to the home gate, fumbled for my watch, clicked the light on. Looked. Looked again. 41minutes29seconds. It must be broken, it had to be faster than that.

It wasn’t.

I was explaining this to Carol while lying on the floor, legs a tremble and refusing to move. On the not unreasonable grounds there was no way I was going to tackle a difficult set of stairs. Just throw a blanket over me now and feed me my phone and some humble pie.

My riding buddies seem to be mainly Mr. Pain and Mr Suffering, but I am starting to feel sort of fit. And very, very old.

Mad dogs and Yorkshiremen.

Dog meets Man. Man loses.

If a man is knocked over in the woods when no-one else is there, does he still make a sound. Yes he absolutely does and the noise is “uuuumpppphh”. Murphy has learned “Come” but has yet to master “Stop” or even “Swerve

Still he does reward your comatose form with a form of slobbery mouth to mouth that would resuscitate any human with even the merest flicker of life left within them. To the commentary of “Geroff, GEROFF, Yuk, Ugh, GERRRROOOOOFF“. This merely seems too encourage the pup who fails to understand that 25+ Kilos and a decent link of speed is likely to flatten anything with less structural integrity than a good sized building.

Low sun You never learn.

Either that or he just doesn’t care 😉 Properly icy this morning which made this afternoon’s ride swing between amusing and bowel clenching. It’s a good job the brakes don’t really work on a CX bike or I could have been in some real trouble.

Just walking the dog Bright light

As it was, I hurtled down frozen roads and scared a few dumb birds in the local woods with some ad-hoc cycle based beating. Not sure they are entirely legal trails, but since no one shot me I have added them to the list for further investigation. That’s the woods, not the birds. I shall be likely investigating those with a nice side of roast potatoes.

Talking of food, two weeks off the bike and a diet based entirely on whatever crap is placed in front of you, while you’re working your tail off, has not given me the turbo sprint or immense stamina I was hoping for. I feel some of the blame for this must be laid firmly at the door of full fat Coke.

You see, the South African’s refuse to accept the existence of fizzy drinks without a thousand calories in them. Or parts of a dead cow that don’t overhang the plate on both sides. “You want vegetables with your steak sir?” “Where do you suggest I put them?* Tell you what bring me a spare plate and a larger pair of trousers and we’ll be good to go

A man came today and tried to introduce a sub prime bathroom experience by designing a “water based luxury experience” that would have cost about the same amount as the whole house. This did not sit well with my self imposed temperance approach to the weekend.

Still wine is basically one of your five a day isn’t it?

* Thankfully the waiter failed to offer the obvious alternative receptacle at this point.


Although “knackered” would be a better adjective to describe my current condition. Two hours of messing about in the local woods, and straining every muscle to remove a muddy deflated tyre has left me quite spent. And that’s before the final pull home on gear ratios that are going to make a man of me.

I have, however, discovered a number of important things – even on such a short ride:

a) My “slam into things because I’ve paid for a big fork” translates not at all to a bike with thin tyres and no suspension
b) I’ve ridden some fast steering bikes. Only I haven’t because they all feel like oil tankers now. The bar has been well and truly raised. And, er, shortened.
c) Sliding round muddy corners on 28c tyres while gripping the arse end of 12 inch bars is terrifyingly involving…
d) … and more fun that you would imagine
e) Non disk brakes don’t really work well off-road. I considered dropping anchor a couple of times until it became apparent the top tube is at the same height as my love nuts. Arresting velocity using ones testicles as braking collateral feels even more dangerous than just accelerating ever faster to an accident that’s out there and waiting
f) Closing your eyes helps. It’s not like you can see anything anyway.

Jake first ride Jake first ride
But – and it’s a big one – tracks that’d be dull on an MTB are really quite ace. And being fast on the road encourages you to explore all those paths written off as dull before. I’ve linked up more in two hours today than in the last two months, and finally a loop from home is beginning to emerge from the contours on the OS map.

Before setting off on my first dropped bar ride since puberty and “10 speed racers”, I completed the rebuild of the little DMR and took it out for a bit of skills training. I can still just about bunnyhop, trackstand and wheelie up to and past the balance point. Murphy found the whole experience quite exciting and – while I was sat on the floor rubbing my sore arse – he ate a tyre.

I’m thinking of this as a worthwhile period of dog/bike bonding. Although he’s going to be a rubbish trail dog if he just injests vital components when we’re miles from anywhere. Maybe I’ll get him a saddle 🙂