A spot of summer

"Summer" walk in the woods

I was doing so well. 4 rides in 4 days. Then I wasn’t doing so well. No rides in the following six. Some would call it tapering, those -with a working knowledge of my lazy gene – would call it absolutely right : rain stops play.

With work shuttling me all over the shop, when others could ride last week I could not. And when I could, I couldn’t be arsed. It’d was all for change this morning with a repeat of two weeks ago combing much needed miles in the legs and fab-a-dab-a-dosy singletrack in “the Yat”.

Except it rained And never stopped. The issue was tho when it started. 8am and I was poking about in the workshop looking for excuses. Rain hammered on the roof, so I answered with a text declaring a lack of impermeability and motivation. Text’d returned sometime later spoke of good times had by all which didn’t cheer me up at all.

Before which, my penance was to include the entire clan in a soggy dog walk through our local woods. A wood that Jess and I regularly have much fun swishing between trees on two wheels. For a mad moment I considered adding bike-age to our already considerable payload of kids, dog, wellies and sulking but a brief outbreak of sanity stayed my hand.

Instead we wandered the bike trails marvelling at the volume of unrelenting wet from upstairs and the slickness of anything unearthed from the puddle strewn ground. On a scale of “loving the experience”, the dog rated a hard 10, me a guilty 8, carol about a 6 due mainly to a lack of water repellent headgear and the offspring a number somewhere near Kelvin’s absolute zero.

"Summer" walk in the woods "Summer" walk in the woods

"Summer" walk in the woods "Summer" walk in the woods

"Summer" walk in the woods

Not riding did open up a window into which I transferred thirty odd photos from a time so ancient, not only was my hair brown but it was also mostly on my head. My lazy edit before publishing to a squillion bored wibbly viewers was mostly driven by a level of self awareness that is grounded in the sure knowledge that having people laugh at you is nearly as good as them laughing with you.

More of that soon, but if you really can’t wait to point and giggle, try my photostream.

Don’t expect much of a response from Mr. absence-of-anything-approaching-dignity here. I’ll be hauling woger wog up some steep hills in a desperate attempt to avoid the Lantern Rouge at the oh-God-It’s-So-Close Dartmoor 100.

Elbows out!

Jessie, Haugh Woods from Alex Leigh on Vimeo.

Jess and I have been out a few times “skills training” since our last video production in the woods. And it shows I think, both in how much better she’s getting (although still has that cursed-dad stiff looking riding technique!) and how much time I have to spend showing her the “rushes” before we can go ride the next section.

Today I found riding is possible with a dodgy elbow and we lost the dog. Luckily he retreived the rest of the riding family pacing it out on the fireroads while Jess and I were so busy having fun on dusty singletrack, our reaction to missing mutt would have been “we own a dog? Are you sure?

Trails are lovely. Elbow less so but it’s definitely on the working side of ridable. Off back to local community hospital tomorrow to beg stitches out. I’ve borrowed some elbow pads for the next few rides, as there is no way they will be passing me by in my favourite season.

Still I did miss HONC, so that’s something. Looked hot I thought as a beer and I made an afternoon acquaintance. Much rather ride with my kids than 1,000 lunatics on trails of mostly dull.

Quite small but lots of fun

Jessie on her new Islabike from Alex Leigh on Vimeo.

A phrase that could be equally applied to nearly 10 year old Random, or her new Islabike. Two more crashes, much hamming it up for the camera, occasional dog.

Recording the video was quite easy, especially with a more than willing lens junkie. Riding with Random is always a pleasure – even when I was feeling pretty uggity and grim – but splicing it together using Microsoft’s finest software was not.

Firstly, as with all Windoze products, the support for anything not written in Redmond is fairly poor. But clever with it. For example, it didn’t crash catastrophically until I’d spent an hour editing various bits of the footage. Had I saved it? No, of course not as it takes bloody ages. Did the application fail gracefully? No, it died with an apologetic error message before chowing down on my best work.

Being an idiot, I tried again. Being Microsoft, it trashed my work again. So I switched from AVI to WMA through shareware developed by the admirable Hamstersoft, and went for third time lucky. On this doomed attempt, the application generously allowed me to save my magnum opus in all its’ edited finery, before letting me down somewhat with the resultant video being more occasional jerkiness and static shots than actual 30FPS HD as promised.

I wish my trials and tribulations ended there, but of course they did not. Finally after some video success, I still had to trawl the murky backwaters of the Internet for accompanying free music. That voyage of discovery did bring me into contact with some really decent tunes, so not quite the entirely pointless endeavour I had anticipated.

And now being a keyboard expert on the underground Seattle Indie-Rock scene, I’m 99{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} certain this makes me significantly more windswept and interesting. Possibly not a universally held view.

To summarise, bike good, rider happy, ancient parent proud, Microsoft rubbish, opensource marvellous, free-music lovely, Holland on Thursday. It was all going so well until that last work based directive was slipped in. It’ll probably give me something to write about, I wonder if it’ll give me some more free time to do so?

New Years Bleed.

Haugh Woods NYE Ride
Once I’ve shoehorned one dog, two children, three bikes and my long suffering wife into the truck, any actual riding feels like a bonus. But even before the geometrically puzzling angst of loading the trailer has begun, first we must repair what is broken.

Abi hasn’t ridden much this year. And when she has managed to get on her bike, it’s not long before she’s off it again, furrowing a trowel line with her head – stopping only on contact with a painful stump. This may account for her noticeable lack of enthusiasm when offered an opportunity to hurt herself again.

Still game enough this morning, leaving me with to fettle hastily on her dusty steed* so bringing hammer no.2 to bear on a bent mech with the kind of satisfying twang promising component purchases soon.

The woods could best be described as ‘encouragingly moist“. I know this to be true because they were the exact words I chose in my motivational opening to the children. I didn’t feel this was the right time to ponder the adhesive qualities of slick-wet roots cambered at bike-punting angles. They’d find out soon enough.

They both showed some proper bravery clearly not inherited from my DNA. Jess christened her new bike by throwing it roughly to the ground at least twice, but was usurped for “best crash award” by her Sis who attacked one particularly nasty set of wheel sucking roots with innocent vigour. The tyres held on for – oh – nanoseconds before letting go and starting a sequence of events that could only end in one eleven year old lying on the track.

Again I kept my council other than to offer parental sympathy while checking surreptitiously for unattached body parts. Probably for the best as it is unlikely that a blow by fall account of our two days Welsh “Slush Puppy” tour focussing on exactly how hardcore, skillfull and downright manly their old Pa is would have had the desired effect. Unless that effect was to receive a couple of yawned “Yeah Dad, whatever

As it was – and even tho we’d had to finish with a rather testing ten minute climb – both kids are now mad keen to get out ‘every weekend when it’s sunny‘. I know this to be a fallacy, which in no way shall stop me reminding them of it every Saturday come the Spring.

Riding with your kids is ace. Much as the Wales trip was fab fun, and much as I am properly excited by oodles of mountain biking here and there come 2011, I’d happily give up my weekends to ride with these two.

If only to get the crashes on video next time 🙂

* In my younger years, I would assume that sort of thing would annoy the farmer if he caught you at it.

It’s not about the bike.

And sometimes it is not about the rider either. Or more specifically not about me, as I had my socks well and truly blown off by Little Random and her cycling heroics today. My family – as befits a much put upon group herded around by one individual who is regularly as self centred as a tornado – have spent far too much time not enjoying doing not much while I do my stuff.

Examples include being abandoned in muddy fields while strangely dressed blokes ride round in circles, or suffering 50mph battering’s on remote hilltops while other men throw toy gliders into that wind, before collecting the remains in special bags.

But as I get a little older, I can not but help notice how much more grown up our own kids are on a seemingly daily basis. How long before their idea of a quality interaction with their parents is only in their capacity as personal bankers or 24 hour on-call taxi services?

They do seem remarkably well balanced considering the eccentricity of half their genes, and I cannot but feel proud of their achievements – large or small. Tomorrow sees one reading a rather fine poem to a worryingly large audience, while the other is straining kidfully to pass her first violin exam*

But it’s not really Dad’s stuff is it? And with Verbal confined to barracks until the nice man in the hospital gives her an all clear to, well, be a child again, there has been little in the way of family outings including bicycles.

Carol isn’t really bothered and – even with a superb new MTB hanging up – I feel Verbal may be edging some way along that same genealogical branch. Random however is more a chip off the old block except for her willingness to learn, stupendous progression and apparent lack of fear.

Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010 Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010

Today we packed two bikes, two camelbaks full of water and snacks, and one dumb mutt in the love-bus for some woody singletrack Dad’n’Daughter action. We’ve ridden in these woods a few times, but generally on the easier tracks and with much pushing uphill. And some falling off, getting off, getting cheesed off going the other way. This time around things were a little different.

Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010 Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010

Random rode everything put in front of her. Sometimes with a little bit of help, sometimes ignoring the trail completely and plunging into scratchy undergrowth, but all the time with a smile on her face. One of the reasons for her improvement is that she listens, and after playing back to me “Stand on the Pedals, stay off the brakes, look round corners and remember to breathe“, I just shut up and let her get on with it.

Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010 Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010

On some pretty tough trails especially riding a heavy-ish, rigid bike wearing your dad’s crash-hat** and no gloves. The latter two issues due entirely to my inability to prepare the kids for anything without Carol sweeping up behind me. Asked whether she wanted to try the easy or hard option, she constantly chose the knarly option giving her license to burst back into the house explaining how many injuries she’d sustained. Proud of them she was, that’s my girl!

Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010 Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010

We managed two hours before very tired legs and some bleeding called a halt to our fun. Probably 10k in total (about 20 for the dog who at least had the decency to look a bit knackered), 10 great sections of singletrack conquered, three quarters of the fireroad climbing done in the saddle, and huge improvements in just those two hours. Stuff she couldn’t ride three months ago, is now dispatched with a carefree “Yeah, that’s easy now“.

Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010 Random Ride - Haugh Woods July 2010

So today I chose to ride not with my friends ripping up buff trails in the forest, but with my offspring at not much speed and with much getting-on-and-off. And it was brilliant.

Only one problem, won’t be long before she’s better than me.

* Standing joke is we decided to buy this big (wreck of a) house specifically when both kids registered a strong interest in learning to play a noisy instrument. Still may need more sound insulation tho.

** That’s what it is. I use it for that very purpose all the time.

The Return of the Sweaty Helmet..

.. or “Why must I race every day, even when there is only me, and therefore I can only lose“. Standard Disclaimer absolutely appropriate here: “It’s not my fault“. My unpleasently perspiring arrival at the station this morning was entirely driven by technology and fear.

Technology being my bike computer pretending to be a GPS. One of its’ nastier features is a “virtual partner” where a slimmer, faster and less heavy legged version of yourself powers away effortlessly into the far distance. Essentially you’re racing a clone from another ride, but it’s a speedy clone saved with the fastest time ever acheived.

And that’s a bugger, because every commute Bealzibub’s LCD annointed one on earth mocks me as he stretches his lead. Until today, when – head down, legs madly spinning, lungs gulping down bucketloads, and sweat poring down my face – I beat it. By 7 seconds.* At which point alarms were going off all over my head including “Warning – legs not available for re-use”

The fear bit is wondering if enough riding has prepared me for a spring/summer/autumn of endless riding, without a lack of fitness chucking a stick in my spokes.

it won’t be the same stick which ripped out my rear mech yesterday, as that was both real and really bloody annoying. I am not entirely blameless, since our hack through stick alley was brought on by a navigational failure made worse by refusing to accept the wrong way was -in fact – the way we’d been going for some time.

Tim B fashioned an epic uber-bodge with nothing more than a chain tool and basic knowledge of chain growth, while I silently brooded over the thick end of a£100 worth of busted parts and fat dinks in a previously pristine chainstay.

We managed to finish the ride and, even with the silliness of singlespeeding, it still proved to be awesome under warm skies and atop dusty trails. If we were being honest, neither of us were really truly at the races; Tim fell off early doors and seemed to spend the rest of the ride trying not to do the same, and – even before derailer emasculation – my newly learned trail skills appear to already be half forgotten.

It mattered not. We climbed enough hills and covered enough miles to earn a large egg based reward. Aside from Tim’s claret coloured knee, both of us had received sufficient bramble action to pass off as “badger strike” when curious children questioned why I was bloodied from both thighs down.

The trails are so rock hard at the moment, a spot of rain wouldn’t do them any hard. Did I just say that out loud?


* Tonight I shall be clearing ALL the ride histories. No way I’m racing myself again at that pace. I will die.

Kneed For Speed

The rehabitilitation of the knee was fully tested by three rides in four days over the Easter weekend. After which my real holiday and the rain started, and much of the fun stopped. I am now a man tediously schooled in the art of plasterboarding. A skill normally abrogated to those with limitless boredom thresholds and ‘ave your arm off powertools. Sadly, the budget spreadsheet said no, and I inadvertently said yes.

Ride one was with my not-ridden-with-much-lately pal Ian who runs, walks and cycles in the Forest of Dean. Not all at the same time because a) that would be silly and b) I was already doing it. On my third unscheduled dismount, I lamented my choice of rubbish tyres, soggy fork and threadbare brakepads. This verbal lambastation went unheard by Ian, who had cleared off into the distance with his ten year old alu frame, one gear, venerable forks, v-brakes and a set of Panaracer Suicides*

We returned muddy but happy, and I’d committed to memory a choice selection of fantastic trails for an Easter ride with some friends who were scheduled to eat our food, drink the beer, ride some bikes and build a plasterboard ceiling. Obviously I was instantly lost on our return to the forest and never found ANY of the trails so carefully mentally waymarked.

But the great thing about this huge area of woodland is finding buff singletrack is akin to throwing a hedgehog at a dartboard**. This – and the happy navigational wild guess that deposited us back at the cafe – not only saved my bacon but made sure we were ready for some on returning home. Having ridden Jason’s fat almost-downhill bike most of the day, while watching him zoom off on my lovely light hardtail, made my need for food sit slightly behind that of a strong desire to lie down and not be disturbed for many hours.

The following day the boys then ceiling’d the big shed in double quick time, while I played to my strengths fetching tea and pointing our where things could be done better. As this wasn’t really adding much to “Team Plasterboard“, I dispatched myself to Morrison’s to clear the shelves of anything remotely BBQ’able. On my return, the roof was done, and the fellas were demanding more riding under sunny skies.

A quick mooch up to Haugh woods had us up to giggly armpits in rooty woodland singletrack. We rode everything I knew and found quite a lot more, all of which was dry, fast and extremely twisty. Again I was shorn of my proper bike, and instead rode the fully rigid Kona. A decision that had immediate consequences of loosening a brake pad, most of my teeth and a full re-organisation of my internal organs.

But sunshine, a working knee and a bit more speed brought the experience round to extremely satisfying. The prospect of finding the other 30k of Singletrack in these woods through a hot, dry summer could make even a trip to the FoD seem a bit pointless.

We returned and approached the shrine of the sizzling BBQ with revered silence. Before falling upon it and devouring the lot, much to the disappointment of an under the table based disposal unit. Murf looked particularly miffed at Al “three burger” Leigh who couldn’t find it in his stoney heart to even allow the smallest grain of sizzled beef to fall to nose height.

Top weekend. Fantastic weather. Non hurty knee. And because Yang must follow Ying, I am now putting the bored into plasterboard.

* The “Trailblaster” – a tyre that has as it’s unique selling point, a complete lack of grip in any conditions. Damp Roots?-certain death. Mud – uncontrolled slide into something pointy. Hardpack – from vertical to horizontal in all the time it takes to ask “any warning when these tyres go?

** You know you’ll score big, just not quite sure what.

Muddying the waters

We’re lucky living here at the epicentre of some fantastic and varied riding. Head north to the small but perfectly formed Malvern Hills, drive west for 45 minutes to confront the hard edged mountains of South Wales, or draw a 10 mile circle around our house to find cheeky singletrack hidden in vast Forestry plantations.

It’s almost as if I planned it that way. No really, there are people who honestly believe I am nothing but a slave to such a single agenda. And while my smug gloating of mud free rides all year round are based on the almost truth, occasionally I need to pay homage to the sloppy dirt embedded in every mountain biker’s DNA.

Today I promised riding pal Tim an endless vista of carefully crafted singletrack nestling between fast fireroad transits, spiced with roots going one way and cambers the other. What a rain soaked forest delivered was something significantly more muddy, and immeasurably more comedic.

This is a silly sport, and days like this remind you of exactly why. There are trails in this forest that could justifiably be charged with corporate manslaughter – all slick roots and jagged stumps. But most of our two hours of mud plugging were spent heading sideways occasionally backwards, and sometimes still on the bike.

That picture up there is taken from a carefully chosen position, into which I’d fallen trying to ride the same trail about twenty seconds before. My tumble from the bike was punctuated by a slippy slide of giggling and general tomofoolery. Tim – the bastard – only rode it, but then generously fell off one second later to make me feel a little less rubbish.

We felt better than that as well – once the ride was done, we couldn’t decide between Egg or Bacon sandwiches. So we had both. Tomorrow is forecasted -2 at 8am, which’ll be one hour after I’ve stumbled out of a warm bed. Stupid? Probably. Looking forward to it? Oh yes 🙂