Taken by Tim B, December 23rd 2009 during this ride when we still found snow novelty fun. How that changed over the next two months, with a winter cold enough to freeze or bore you to death.

Today was the first “proper” MTB ride with smallest (and yet not very small nowadays) child, with the Verbal one dispatched to ruin a friends’ house on the roundabout of Sleepovers that have erupted this last few months. Talking of eruptions, it is clearly a train company plot to bolster profits because we’ve had a horizon scraping blue sky day that speaks of summer. Ash did feature in my day but only shovelling some fire remains into the compost bin and fetching the dog out of what was left*

Random, despite her bike being mostly unridden for a few months, picked up from where she left off, climbing a few more hills, eeking out a bit more speed on the downs and looking pretty damn relaxed. A steep, loose path to the lake was a two person descent with one running along side holding the brake lever only last year. Now she just controls her speed using the infamous “Donut”**, until – about half way down – abandoning them completely and hooning off to the power of “wheeeeeeee”. Scary stuff I can tell you.

Embolded by fearless trail skills, we tried a “hard” track by the lake with a few roll ins, bigger roots and tight turns. Aside from falling off and attacking a stump with her front wheel, she was essentially awesome and undamaged. Even my personalised 1:1 tuition didn’t seem to hamper her much either. A half fallen tree was negotiated with a breathtakingly instinctive move to stick her head on the stem and hope for the best, while a tricky bit was undertaken three times to make sure “I got a decent photo“. No idea where she got that kind of Prima Donna “look at me” attitude from.

Obviously she then boasted to her now re-located sister on how much better her riding was, leaving me to arbitrate sibling DEFCON 2 with a crowd pleasing “You’re both really good“. “Yeah, but I’m still BETTER” asserted verbal. I chucked them outside and left them to it. Practical parenting I like to think of this as.

Anyway, the point – if there has to be one – is that the seasons have really changed. Apparently dead stuff is becoming leafy stuff, grass is growing, days feel long, weeds are being dug, things that look like weeds are being planted, and tomorrow I’ll be earning cold beer on dusty tracks, going fast and praying the weather won’t break for a bit.

I’m struggling with my normal grumpiness. Probably means I’m due to fall off and lose a limb or something.

* That’ll teach me to give him a wash then. He’s remonstrated by rolling in anything ending in the word “Poo” for the last week. If anything he smells even worse, and honestly I didn’t think that was possible. It’s like having our own mobile Porton Down.

** Squeeze the brakes like you’re holding a donut and don’t want projectile jam in the mush I taught them. They now seem to think this means I have to actually give them a donut.

Filthy Rich

That’s pretty much how I was feeling when taking that photo. Which would seem a difficult mental equation considering the evidence; endless swathes of wet, mud to a depth which offered drowning as a real possibility, encroaching darkness and being quite properly lost. But I always find it really rather simple to solve: Bikes + Dirt = Happy Al. Hence my plan to make my personal World a better place snatching a ride between work ending and family stuff starting.

It didn’t start well. I was gritting my teeth on the first road climb soon to be picking detritus out of them, as my choice of mudguard* failed to prevent tarmac shrapnel fired by water tracers blasting me at high speed. Inevitably this wetness extended to an all over moist experience which at least prepared me well for when tarmac switched to trail. The woods here share none of the porous geology found in the Malverns. Instead they hold rain in a thick clay soup, making them largely off limits for MTBing during any prolonged wet spell.

This “Red Death” sets in about October and hangs around past Easter. There are – for the adventurous rider – some lovely dryish trails** but these are mostly lost in a delta of mud fed by rivers of gloop. I’ve seen terrible thing happen to great tracks when over-ridden during shitty conditions, so my approach is always to head straight down the centre regardless of any wheel swallowing puddles.

This served me well until I attempted to pedal or steer. Pedalling immediately drove the rear wheel sideways, and any attempts at cornering boldness immediately led to the kind of catastrophic oversteer where the front wheel ends pointing back at you. Or at least it would be, were you not now lying winded on a handy stump laughing your tits off. I dusted off the old cerebral CD cabinet and loaded up the forgotten “Chiltern Hills” riding skills to see if five years of falling off there would be in any way useful.

It was in a nudgy-nurdly approach to making progress. The fantastic ST4 was largely pointless as when it’s this wet – you’d be as quick on a shopping trolley. But that is not the point here; love the Malverns as I do for their all year riding, their steeps, their proper mountain-lite ness, woody singletrack still feels like home. And even when it’s under about four inches of mud, there’s still fun to be had switching drift for grip and sideways movement for speed.

90 minutes was all the time I had, which included a total of eight pot-holed road miles miles to reach the woods. Talking of totals, the scores on the now darkened doors were not terribly impressive. 13 Miles with a smidge over a 1000 feet of climbing. That distance in the Malverns, and you’re half way up Everest.

But it was brilliant fun, and entirely fitting in with my goal of doing something silly every day. Which may go some way to explain why tomorrow 5am will see me getting up to drive sixty miles to Birmingham in order to get a train to London. When ones leaves about the same time as the one from just up the road.

That’s not silly, that’s on the mentally unstable side of bonkers.

* None. Bought one of those fancy RaceGuard ones. But the clearance under the Reba fork arch is, well, Californian.

** Where the horses haven’t been. Clearly most horse riders are illiterate as the “Please Don’t Ride in these woods” are generally ignored.

Feeling the pressure

I’ve always admired the type of mind that doesn’t really have a lot of time for instructions, recommended settings or any type of measuring equipment. Individuals of this class will merely prod, spanner, poke or eyeball anything from a simple bolt to a quantumly physiced quark* before confidently declaring “That’ll do, lad“. I am a wannabee member of such a social group, but my application would surely be rejected on the not unreasonable grounds that I’m both mechanically incompetent and habitually lazy.

My view of fixing stuff not quite broken tends to run something like this; start off with all the correct tools, optimal settings and clear instructions, then – after at least ten minutes of increasingly frustrated getting nowhere type of actions – sweep it all to one side before selecting the biggest hammer off the tool wall. Assuming that doesn’t go well, I’ll up the ante by reaching underneath the bench for the fire axe.

So my pre-ride check of the not much ridden DMR went “Bars attached, wheels on, chain not totally brown, it’s good to go“. I further decided not to offer any kind of mechanical sympathy to the bike on the grounds I wanted to use it in a few minutes.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Want being a good verb, need being a better one. After a week of “Shed Fever“** where leaving the boundaries of our property was limited to some food foraging and an icy blast depositing the kids at school, I desperately needed some two wheeled action. There’s only so many times you can re-arrange the tool wall or sit in front of 500 unsorted photographs thinking “No, I really can’t be arsed, I’ll just stare at the floor instead“. The snow and ice seem entirely undiminished, and while this provided much smugness as my happy truck motored past low profile tyred and single axled snow blowers, it’s not been brilliant for Mountain biking.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Snow is ace for the first 12 hours before becoming cut up and thin, so making progress difficult and largely unrewarding. The Malverns are currently an unhappy combination of deep drifts and overtrodden tracks leaving little for the MTB’r to enjoy. The woods however are a little different, attracting less traffic and sheltering favourite trails under an organic, evergreen roof. Without a 4×4 you’re not getting there either, so I abandoned the ten legs of family and dog to strike out on two wheels through a snowy, tamped down and mostly deserted Winter wilderness.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Which in the trees was a lot of fun. Like riding in mud without the muck, grip comes and goes, bold moves are needed to make the turns and – I find – it’s important to clench everything while murmuring “I‘ll vote Liberal Democrat, Be a nicer person, help old people, just let me please end this corner on the inside of that tree and not in it” to the Gods of the Trail. They seemed entirely indifferent to my pleas, and yet it took quite a few sky-ground-sky rider exits to take matters into my own hands. Those hands incautiously whipping off gloves and getting jiggy with the presta valve reducing pressure from not much to a smidge more than bugger all.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

That’ll do, Lad” I parodied in the manner of One Who Knows and struck forth is quite a few different directions as the rear tyre fought for traction, but at least I was still sat atop it. I briefly toyed with a practical experiment testing thin lake ice by prostrating heavy bike and *ahem* mid weight rider on top of it. But instead settled for a photograph and a double scoot round the lake side trail that was somehow even more brilliant in the snow. Possibly because again I didn’t fall off, but soon I was off the bike again of my own violation as the freeze/thaw cycle made the busier fireroads to much effort for too little reward.

Dymock Woods Snow Ride! Dymock Woods Snow Ride!

Back on the singletrack, the thin white line between carving success and tree banging failure was perfectly demonstrated by whether your awesome two wheel slide ended in a “Brappp Brapp” stamp on the pedals to bring the flicking beast back into line, or the thump of man on bark. I crossed that white line a number of times but somehow this hardly devalued the experience, and on rendezvousing with my family the world had become a nicer place and my place within it more tolerant, forgiving and significantly less grumpy.

Short of stuffing yourself full of Class “A” Drugs, I cannot think of a single way in which 90 minutes can transform your perspective of what’s important. I don’t just love riding bikes on buffed, dry trails, or perfect flits through the warm moonlight, or even fast and loose with my best friends and the promise of beer to follow. I just love bikes, and my whole hand wringing about which ones to keep is absolutely bloody irrelevant.

All of them, of course. And to ride them as often as I can. That’s a simple enough concept that defies any measurement.

* This is not the not the noise a posh duck makes. And don’t get me started on bytes and nibbles.

** Like Cabin but for smaller buildings.