Beacon Run

There is significant pointy geography jutting ever upwards in my riding life. Look over there to Wales with seemingly endless ranges of sharp peaks “ proper mountains – looming over deep valleys. Closer to home are the muscular Malvern Hills, reaching not so high but still at a straining gradient.

Largely free of mud regardless of season, packed full of rocky, open descents and cheeky hidden singletrack this compact range of lumpy loveliness has much to offer the keen mountain biker.

But it hides a dirty secret. While the South and North ends are stuffed with trail nuggets, the middle is “ let’s be honest here “ a bit dull. Hilly, Yes; Interesting, Not really. Which explains why it’s a bit of a mission to summit the Beacon on the North when starting from the other end.

That and it’s a bloody long way. Not in miles, not even in my newly chosen ego stroking kilometres. Horizontally it’s nothing, vertically however it’s a bit of a monster. The hills are canted to the North so four grunty climbs are not rewarded with a similar amount of descending. But those four are the quickest way across.*

Quick being a relative term. Quick for me with a level of riding fitness someway below my Winter peak. As I wondered if my lungs were blowing out of my arse, or had already been abandoned on a previous climb I couldn’t help also wondering if a bit less biscuit tin/cheese board/wine bottle action might aid my ascending prowess.**

The descending on offer did more than take a little edge off the gurning glumness even after sufficient rain to make Mayhem more of a nightmare this weekend*** The elbow of increasing articulation may be finally healing but still ignites the mental bushfire on the scary bits. Comes and goes, better bloody go soon tho otherwise I’ll be chopping out the cowardly gland with a blunt spoon.

We’d dragged the Beacon closer through application of pedal on gradient, the peak showing itself from various angles. First we’re left of it, then right but always below. Highest point in Worcestershire, made higher by my riding bud’s choice to first descend rather than take the easy way up.

Which provided an opportunity to heckle two slower riders who didn’t seem to find our tailgating inspirational. The Irony card was played once a freak mechanical sidelined me to the side of the trail leaving them to huff past. At which point, Jezz “ who is consumed by a Labrador fetch mentality “ hunted them down on the next climb.

By the time I finally made it up there, the same two riders were looking seriously pissed off. Which “ in my experience “ is generally triggered by a large man on an even larger bicycle racing by. A hypothesis confirmed by said rider, sat a little further up the trail, with the subtle manifestations of a man seeing only black spots in front of his eyes.

We scooted off ever upwards in the fading daylight for the traditional lean the bike against the trig point which is really bikey sign language for Thank Christ that’s over, I’m having a proper rest now.

Even close to the Solstice, our light abandoning decision was beginning to look somewhere between ambitious and foolhardy. Time to go. The Beacon Run is a proper man’s descent. Fast, rocky, occasionally rutted, enlivened by big holes torn out of the track and a level of exposure that would still induce vertigo in blinkers.

Good, fast run down, too late for random walkers diving for cover under the barrage of chain slap ordinance. Hero line over the big drop, sketchy on the marbles, hold it together and chase that setting sun. All that climbing? Worth every pedal revolution.

Quick conference, time for the long way home we think. Drop back into the valley before climbing back onto the ridge, but missing a couple of pointless hills. Flat out down the next one, where a quick glance at the GPS shows nearly 60k, and a look out front shows we’re going to beat the fast incoming dark.

Until Jez cases a drop and sacrifices a tube. Still nice place for a sit while he fixes it. Had it been Winter, I’d have left the bugger 😉 Tired legs propel us gently up the last proper climb opening up my favourite jump followed by my least favourite steps. Survived those, railed the following berm with reactions now perfectly tuned to trail pitch.

Into Narnia and into the dark. Proper dark with the sun setting, we make adequate progress only though trail memory and a sudden desperate belief in ESP. We hit the only really mud on the final trail link home which is fine because now we really can’t see anything at all, and it’s some manifestation we’re not riding in a cave.

It’s way past 11pm as I wearily roll the bike back into the workshop. I’m a shower and some faffing behind a much needed bed. And in just over five hours the alarm is going to be all loud and spiteful.

Who Cares?

* Unless you choose to ride along the ridge. Which would mark you out as some kind of lithuanism lesbian.

** Probably. But what’s the option? Lettuce? If the day has come that dinner is essentially crinkly water, I’ll need to up my alcohol content somewhat mitigating a salad day.

*** For those racing. Not for those turning up in wellies, grabbing a beer while pointing and laughing.

I am an idiot

No, really I am. Stop your protestations right now. Ah, I see by my waving the electronic ear trumpet in the general direction of the Internet, all I’m hearing are a few bored people muttering strong affirmations.

Idiocy is really nothing more than short cuts crashing into brick walls. I’ve always maintained life is fairly agreeable if you are lazy or stupid, with only simultaneous behaviours becoming problematic. Getting stuff done is actually quite easy for the lazy person; the trick is to sequence start to end whole ignoring those boring and time consuming interim steps.

Such a strategy marks you out as an efficient and busy person who couldn’t possibly be asked to do anything else. Especially if you’ve booked the afternoon for some blue sky thinking*. Only very occasionally does the edifice crumble generally with someone noticing the emperor is playing naked. And at that very point what looked like frenzied competency is laid bare as unstructured idiocy.

Happens to me occasionally. Few examples come immediately to mind; booking a campsite and time off work at the same time but not for the same dates. Commissioning a 4m satellite dish without troubling a structural engineer, and being mildly disturbed when it ripped the top of the building off** Launching blindly into obstacles on fat tyres and receiving fat lips and hospital appointments. That sort of stuff.

After the latest rock-Al interface, a week was barely enough for the elbow to start healing. But experience tells that the mind needs to get back on that horse right now. Otherwise displacement activity fills the riding void; nasty thoughts about how much it would hurt to fall again on that body part, maybe wait another week before getting back out there, stick to the road, trails’ll still be there, etc, et-bloody-c.

So with some trepidation and not a lot of my normal pre-ride enthusiasm, stuff was sorted, bike was given a cursory examination***, – short cuts remember – excuses shelved and clothing donned. Additions were a set of lender elbow pads that made me feel silly and secure in equal amounts. Deletions were anything I’d been wearing the previous week because clearly it was my riding environment rather than my riding ability which had triggered the crash.

In the zone of stupidity now, I took different paths on every level; first a slightly different route choice then stretches in reverse order, bike on trailer not in the truck, light on first then battery, rear shock checked first not forks. I grudgingly accepted the ritual pre-ride cuppa but considered following Jezz’s jokey advice I should run around the car three times to break the hoodoo. Definitely considered it. Idiot I thought. You’d probably think so too.

And it’s nothing to do with being stuck in some groundhog night, stuffed down the same trouser leg of time that ended so badly last time. It is – however – everything to do with finding something else to worry about other than the ‘it shall not be named horror‘ of being too damn scared to ride quickly. Fast is a filter graduated by ability, experience, age and your mates. It means different things to us all, but being less fast and less brave than you were…. now that’s a problem which speaks of slow decay and the end of things.

These are not happy thoughts and they followed me up the first climb. Which I generally put up with as it has a fantastic woody descent that is both fast and furious. It was neither of those things this time around, because Jezz was reigning it in an effort to build my confidence. Damn fine gesture but it didn’t feel good, it just felt slow.

Next climb my phone is ringing and I’m ignoring it. We’re climbing again into the twilight and the horse is waiting for me, steaming and rearing in the middle of the next descent. I’m stupidly nervous, stomach churning and talking myself out of it. Because it’ll still be there next week, I’ll do it then, it’s not a big thing, I’m not going to be somehow diminished by taking a safe course to the side.

Yeah. Right. Lights on, hard to know if to trust night vision or bar mounted lumens. Drop in at 80{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} of last weeks speed, Christ it’s loose, was it this loose before? Have I got a flat? Oh for fucks sakes just get on with it. Miss an apex and slide close to the trail edge, too slow to ride on instinct, too fast to really be in full control, see rock, give it a pre-huck nod to show I mean business, look away down the trail, anywhere but right in front, relax stiffened muscles and flop over in the manner of wounded seal attempting to make landfall.

Relief floods through muscles – my favourite natural drug second only to adrenaline – and that demon is pretty well exorcised. The rest of the ride was 70{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} fab and 30{45ac9c3234d371044e23e276755ef3a4dde8f1068375defba7d385ca3cd4deb2} worry about a total lack of flow and smoothness. Last night was about 90/10, and I never got anywhere near the rock. Been there, done that, got the scar.

I’m an idiot though. From almost the second I hit the ground, insidious worry sat front and centre blocking out what is probably more important stuff. And it was a non event, a million times less dramatic than what’d be playing in my minds’ eye. So stupid, pointless and – if I’d followed those logical steps I’m so keen to launch over – I’d have realised that the fear isn’t the rock, it’s being too broken to do what I love doing at a pace and danger that absolutely defines the difference between being alive and merely living.

Riding last night is EXACTLY why slogging through the Winter makes some kind of idiotic sense. Rock hard trails, dust, cheeky routes, nearly crashing, holding it together, maybe not so fast but a little bit smooth, good friends, happy times. The elbow is still sore, but it’ll heal before my head’s entirely unfettered by thoughts of crashing again.

But consider the alternative. If we’re looking for hoary homilies, you really don’t know what you’ve got until it’s taken away. So when the very next person adds their weight to an argument that riding bikes with the definite possibility of hurting yourself is idiotic, I shall offer them some useful advice in return.

Try being an idiot for a while. It rocks.

* which – as slackers everywhere know – means looking out of the window at blue sky and thinking “I wish I was out there

** It wasn’t my building. It wasn’t even in this country. A fair part of the top floor did end up in a Moscow street tho. It wasn’t entirely my fault. I made sure everyone was more than aware of that.

*** So no surprise that the cleaved gear cable and bent mech weren’t noticed until catastrophic gear selection failure half way up the first hill. At times like this, it’s important to appear humble while others with good skills fix your bike.

Rock, Paper, Scissors.

Rock: Mid-Trail, nasty misshapen lump, anchored grimly to a steep and loose descent. Requires avoidance or commitment.

Paper: “Fell off Bike“. Scrawled about four times across two hospitals. Appended with “significant abrasions to right side” and “elbow cut, bone in view

Scissors: “This might sting a bit” says the child-Doctor in her bedside pre-laceration chat.

Post lurgey comes a desperate need to ride. After a week off, the trails are running super fast, so we’re on a speed mission. First descent dispatched in a blur of hip-jumps and mini doubles. Wheels off the ground, bike whooshing through spring-leaved trees, brain some distance behind.

Big grins, bullets dodged. Climb and climb but going well, eight days of not riding fails to spike the fitness balloon of three months solid effort. Feels good to be back in the hills, day fading, bike lights dancing in the twilight, so dry and so fast, going to be an epic.

You go first“. Ego stroked, I go as hard as I dare, sketchy, it’s loose and my brain is still not calibrated for the speed, think about rock step, dither, engage fuck it gland, fail to get a line or a decent pop.

Bad stuff happens. Tankslapper briefly caught, thoughts of redemption founder on second rock, abandon bike calling “turtle” as over bar exit has me wrapping limbs to the inside. Cacophony of bike and rider smashing down the trail. Goes on far too long, roll, roll, roll, miss tree, momentum done, pain starts.

Big one that, you okay” / “Grrr…yes…no..fuck dunno fuckfuckfuck that hurts“. Important stuff works, nothing broken, much scarred. Abrasions run to half a side and most of an elbow. An elbow that has the bone poking out. End of ride then, get up, sit down quickly, feel a bit odd. Babble a bit. Hurt a lot.

Push down steep section then back on bike. So slow, where did the confidence go? Back there in the dirt with some of my skin probably. Road home, can’t quite remember which shifter does what. Did I fall on my head? Might have asked the question more than once.

Driven to Ledbury hospital which is big, clean and open but entirely unpopulated by anyone qualified to stitch me up. No amount of pleading saves me from the ball-ache of Hereford A&E. Refuse further chauffeuring and head homewards with a woozy head full of irritation and angst.

I know the drill. Shower now saves pain later. Sticky Grit has adhesive properties of superglue. Some swearing but it gets done. Double Vodka with a Nurofen chaser. Carol – entirely unflappable as ever – takes over the driving. A&E full of drunks, police and heavily pregnant teenagers smoking endless tabs.

Wait, wait, wait. Bored, bored, bored. Sore as well. Relieved to have swapped bloody and sweaty attire for something cleaner and less gritty. Still small on pleasures, long on fuck all happening when phone alarms me that in five hours I need to leave for London.

Midnight comes, nobody else does for some time. Then it’s us, ten minutes of not much drama, no antibiotics, some brave little soldier action while staring anywhere where the needle isn’t.

Home, wine transfusion, three hours sleep, bastard alarm call, get up very slowly. Driving isn’t any fun. Neither is sitting on a train for three hours typing one handed.

Both infinitely preferable to tube buffeting and eight hours of gentle ridicule and more pain that I’m ever going to show. Someone carelessly knocks my elbow and the world goes fuzzy and soft for a few seconds.

More tube, hide in the corner hoping it’ll be over soon. Fall onto train and fall into bar. Grab a beer and a brace of painkillers. Worst is over. Bored of “aren’t you too old to be falling off bikes?” no point crafting a reply because they won’t understand, and I don’t care. But I’ll take occasional A&E thanks for asking.

Summary? Riding ragged and fast. It’s going to happen. Could’ve been a whole lot worse – arm, rib or collarbone. I’ll back off not because I want to, but because survival instinct will cut the speed. For a while. Let’s not hope too long. Going to be another week before I find out when the stitches come out.

But roadbikes are going to be fine. Ride to work Friday? I should bloody well think so, if I can attire myself in cycling clothing without excessive chaffing. Bikes you see, like the Hotel California – you can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.

You’re going home in a Gloucester ambulance.

This ride was many things. First time at night in the Forest this year, anniversary of the muddy induction ride when I fell in with this mucky crew, a potential redeemer for the new not really light emitting diodes and the chance to make merriment and new swear words with old friends.

It was all of that, and a little more. The route was mostly new, sometimes muddy, often heroically slippy, occasionally hard and fast and marked frequently with prostrate mountain bikers. So one of those rides which gradually whittled down the men from the boys, starting with double figures but falling to six and then just falling off.

Even by my ever lowering standards, I was entirely rubbish. Mostly because I’d forgotten how to dodge trees while travelling sideways on a sea of something that might once have been dirt. Not now though, it was a heady chemical amalgam of viscous and slop dishing out the odd soupçon of grip to keep you interested, before dispensing brown justice in the form of a handy tree.

Many of the regular Forresters were sporting mud tyres and smug expressions. My all conditions rubber were instantly converted to slicks at which point I fell off. This seemed to go on for quite a long time. Until it became a bit boring – especially for the poor sods behind who were stalled by my repeated sweaty apologies – although having stayed upright for about three minutes on one descent, I’d have paid good money to be lying again in that nice comforting mud.

That was proper scary. I have now experienced personal continental drift. From the tyres upwards, stopping briefly at the bowels and carrying on into a head wondering what happened to my “Chiltern reactions“. One crash did give rise to the concept of the “testicle fairy” where one could demand payment for a love spud, separated from its’ bag-mate through the simple un-anaesthetised application of a saddle rail.

I’ll never dare put my arm under the pillow again. And I’m also mentally drawn to exactly what the Testicle Fairy might look like. It’s not going to be Tinkerbell is it?

Entertaining as this was, as a displacement tactic it fell flat when the trail didn’t, with the not terribly magnificent six winching skywards into plummeting temperatures to access a trail I’d ridden bits of, but never in the dark. This climb seemed to go on for a while, longer for me I noticed as the mud-shod regulars wobbled upwards bathing most of the forest in a million lumens. UFO sighting must have gone up a million percent since MTB lighting went nova.

To access this fantastic trail, we first had some bone dry singletrack to climb which was both tiring and rewarding. The top of which opened out to a bank – with a entry only out-dodgied by the exit – for us to play on. A few of us played nicely with appropriate respect shown to lobbing oneself off into a dark abyss. A few others didn’t – Steve especially was having it medium, occasionally large.

We left him to it, shivering on the road side. What came out of the dark wasn’t a grinning Stevo, no what came out was that horrible sound of rider hitting ground, bike hitting ground, bike hitting rider, rider making groaning noises. It goes something like “ARGGH-BUMP-BANG-ARGGHH“.

Siren call that it is, we all rushed over to find Steve adopting a position somewhere between foetal and hibernating tortoise. He wasn’t moving much. Which considering he’d unclipped at the apex of the parabola before ragdolling down the slope and then being seriously inconvenienced by spiky bicycle wasn’t much of a surprise.

After a while – and to our shame some merciless ribbing – he declared other than an extremely sore arse, he was good to go. As long as the going was slow and easy. Then he asked where we were. A minute later he asked again. At that point he felt it probably was a good time to explain he couldn’t remember anything about the last two hours. Arse on the floor, head in the moon, concussion kicking in, time for some proper decisions.

Matt’s much maligned “capacious bag of doom” had already saved me with emergency sustenance, and now birthed a virgin space blanket we ripped open to wrap an every more confused Steve into. Ian has proper first-aid experience and Nic has much experience of just monging himself, so we left those two with the patient. The rest of us turned away from the dirt and lost our height on the fastest tarmac route to the cars.

The plan was to fetch Steve and his bike, place one safely in a garage and the other safely in Ross Hospital. Matt was designated “responsible adult unlikely to mix the two“, but before he could carry out Plan A, Plan B was triggered by a now entirely spaced Steve wondering what his name was. A quick 999 call brought flashing lights and a dash to Gloucester to get his head examined. Riding at night with this lot makes me wonder if I should too 😉

Happy endings all round tho. Steve was fetched by his partner late that night and, other than being “bloody sore“, is recovering fast. We didn’t forget his bike, and I made it to the chip shop before closing time. Well a man’s got to eat!

Closing thoughts; night riding is just the silliest thing in the world, and I never want to stop doing it. Hurting yourself is part of the game, an entry fee if you will, rewards are never earned without risk. You can mitigate it, back off a tad, ride to the conditions, cap your bravado and squash your competitive spirit. But if you ride long enough and hard enough, you are going to end up in Hospital.

Oh and people that take the piss mercilessly are also your best mates when shit happens. I’d be happy to have any of those buggers get me off a hill when I inevitably lunch myself into a tree again.

If nothing else it’d give us something to talk about instead of the testicle fairy. It’d almost be worth it for that.

Lights out

There is a time for quiet contemplation, trading sanguinary* for calm reflection and playing the long game. Apparently. So I’ve been told. Comes with age and wisdom allegedly. Still time then even for humans of such antiquity as me. But not today. Let me take a deep virtual breath and scream:


Last night I’d have happily settled for just a bit of light. My recent expensive purchase delivered fantastic illumination for ten road pounding minutes, before switching off, shutting down and engaging in a permanent state of electronic sulk. This happens to me far too often during working hours, so my initial diagnosis was the now cooling appliance could only be running a form of Windows software.

Sustained hopeful prodding and poking about** for five more minutes achieved only frustration amidst continued benightment. As is the way of such disasters, my helmet light was uncharged and the repaired Hope Vision was resting some fifteen miles away. Luckily a spare was harvested from Jezz’s toolbox, leaving us with the repeat joy of a soggy road climb we’d only recently dispatched.

Good thing about the road tho was its’ wetness merely irritated rather than injured – a flipped condition come a switch to dirt. Tyres properly aslither, bloke on top wobbling about and bracing for bark impact, and any braking was just crashing by another name.

So we were late, partially lighted, muddy and – in the case of my riding buddy – extremely knackered from the bastard work week from hell. Obviously being a good mate, I took full advantage by suggesting ridiculous epics deep into the hills none of which I had any intention of actually riding. This is entirely opposite to what normally happens, except we end up actually doing them.

My Yang to his Ying was feeling pretty damn good probably as we weren’t going far nor ‘lung-out-of-the-arse‘ fast. This was an entirely unexpected state of affairs as, less than two days before, I’d not so much fallen off the alcohol-free week wagon as set fire to it – before toasting it with multiple double brandies,.

And it was still a proper laugh fighting tank slappers, transferring mud from trail to face via sliding tyre, then sloshing about in dank puddles. But really, we’ve suffered enough and it is starting to take a toll.

My ST4 has a set of rumbly hub bearings that’ll not survive another month. Already the winter has eaten through a shock bushing, broken that shock, destroyed four pairs of brake pads and turned my not-long-since shiny bike into something rather less showroom.

It’s not done that much for me either. Sure I’ve managed to get/stay reasonably fit. I’ve maintained motivation through the hardest month, and plans are afoot to cash in on the coming Spring. But it doesn’t feel we’re there yet.

Dark commutes stretch out a further six weeks, gawd only knows where I’ll dare venture back into the Forest, even the road bike almost seems like a good idea. I’m not sure I can hang on for much longer!

One thing I do know tho, is if we’d turned back, given up, called it a day as sense/tiredness/mechanical catastrophe strongly suggested we should, it’d have been a quick win but a long disappointment. Riding is always better than not riding. It’s also a shit load better when the outside environment plays nice.

Got to Keep The Faith for a few more weeks.

* My “word of the week“. Beats f*ck I suppose.

** Pretty much describes most boys sexual awakening.

Let there be dark.

Lumi XPG 3

My trusty night-riding light has countered three winters of abuse with an attempt to exact painful retribution. Not so much “Hope Vision 4” more “Hope I still have all my own teeth“.

The maker is Hope Technology – a UK firm based on the wrong side of Yorkshire* – housed in an industrial unit full of proper machinery. Their ability to CNC, Mill and Bevel metal results in an extensive range of MTB products. Some of them are very good, some of them are a bit special, and occasionally one of them is a dud.

Their showpiece 4-LED light that pushes the night away for 9 months of my riding year is somewhere between “special” and “terrifyingly unreliable“. Bit like kids, when they are good they are very good indeed**, but when they are bad “bloody awful” isn’t the half of it.

Wednesday night put Dr Jekyll in charge of illumination. Or not, when the light flicked to black as the bike was dropping smoothly over a rock-step. That smoothness absented itself with the light, and only the backup torch lashed to my helmet prevented a high speed gravelly facial.

This isn’t the first time unscheduled benightment has been visited on my innocent person. Nor the second. Or even the third. I now have a fairly matey relationship with the Warranty fellas up at Hope as the feckless light boomerangs between us. They’ve been fantastic at repairing way outside of any warranty period, and I’ve rewarded such customer service by campaigning the thing through years of rain, snow, frozen temperatures and occasional unscheduled trail percussion.

And while they are happy to give it another electrical brush up and polish, there really are only so many times that a fearful man can be plunged into darkness before demanding a replacement not marketed with a skull and crossbones. Laziness lulled me into accepted the “wisdom of the crowd” presented by Internet warriors who at least talked a good game. A quick scan of the ever escalating arms race between manufacturers’ added nothing but acronym confusion, so it was back to my night-riding roots with Lumicycle.

Whereas Hope are all grown up and serious nowadays, there’s still a whiff of shedness with Lumicycle. My first set of lights, bought nearly ten years ago, had clearly been designed and manufactured in a small wooden outbuilding. Yellow halogens powered by cut down car batteries dimly lit the trail for almost minutes, before fading to candle power. But this still proved to be a huge step up from catastrophic experiments with head torches and crappy clip on lights.

A decade later, development has been driven by technology, the 24 hour race scene and – somewhat predictably – huge steps in LED power from the Far East. The results are frankly staggering. Even compared to my Hope, the small form factor and huge light beam are really something else. It’s not quite the night-sun which appears to be gaining ground especially in homebrew solutions, but that’s not what night riding is about.

What it is very much about is sufficient light to go fast, go for a decent length ride, and go for a beer afterwards without having to rebuild complex electronics on the trail. The Lumi’s are definitely an upgrade on all fronts, but cheap they were not. But since six months of my weekly riding is undertaken entirely in darkness, and another three start that way it’s an investment worth making. That’s what I’ve told Carol anyway 😉

No excuse not to get out next week then. Well apart from the mud, rain, cold and a dose of pre-spring apathy. But that’s not stopped me yet, and we’re well past being half way out of the dark.

* Or Lancashire as the locals call it.

** We call this state “at someone else’s house”

Snowbody here

Not so much a bike ride, more a two hour tank slapper. Riding in snow is fun. It’s also bloody hard, and can be simply summed up by “Grip, Grip, WOW Amazing Grip, no grip, Tree”

These photos are from Jim’s iPhone which did its best considering a) it was dark b) it was about -2 and c) it’s not really a proper camera is it?

The FoD riding cluster climbs into double figures come Spring and isn’t much reduced during the months of mud, cold and darkness which precede it. Last night tho, only Steve, Jim and I made the more than a little exciting trip to the FoD.

The key to staying on was speed. Sufficient velocity delivered a wheel straightening gyroscopic effect to your track. Getting up to speed was tricky with bikes being rear wheel drive and we’ve all seen how well cars of that configuration go in the snow.

And if you should even twitch the bars or touch the front brake, the magic was gone and so were you. My 2.35 tyres floated well but you couldn’t really steer. Jim and Steve’s narrower nobblies seemed better suited but maybe they’re just a bit better than me!

We played about a lot. Skids were harder than expected tho with the powder snow offering up oddles of grip. Right up until the point when it didn’t. Ummmph generally followed.

We seemed to spend a lot of time climbing and not much descending. Although that perception was all about the sad fact we were pedalling downhill as well. No matter, a final three sections of singletrack where we were lucky enough to be carving freshies made up for the fireroad slogging.

Anyone who decided to stay at home missed one of my favourite rides of the last few months. And afterwards, the beer tasted better than good 🙂

That’s new then.

There is much love for newness. We a’e all constantly beseeched to embrace change. New is cleaner, brighter and somehow better. Built is obsolescence is the marketeers’ wet dream. The true cost of disposal are lost in the economics of shiny.

My loyal and – I can only surmise – medicinally enhanced readers may register surprise at my stout resistance to the pull of the new. Hard to reconcile this position from a man who disposes of bicycles at speeds close to light.

Here’s the deal; some new experiences are not welcome. And while avoidance of camel buggary, the upper-classes and time trialling are simple even for a man short of patience and sanity, others creep up on you before unleashing their horrible newness.

Chill Blains of the todger. That’s one. In fact, the argument could be closed right there. The juxtoposition of a much anticipated warn shower striking frozen gentleman’s regions can be aptly summarised thus: “FFFUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK

-5 is not a super temperature to begin a night ride. Frankly it’s not even a good time to be outside. And yet here were the magnificent seven presenting themselves in various genres of a fashion crime, shivering and looking for excuses to go straight back home.

Fair amount of scope for that. Frozen mechs could be thawed by a desperate wee, but stuck cables proved trickier. Freewheels were gluey with thickening grease, fluid froze in brake lines, pistons in calipers*

Trails were fantastic though, when we could get to them. Access was via icy fireroads which claimed more than one victim. The normally impressive array of lights were displaying all sorts of new things, although the old, tired idea of illumination didn’t appear to be one of them.

Cold batteries sent high-precision electronics into winter meltdown. After a few descents I learned to blink in sequence with the flashing approximation of lumens on the bar.

Eventually even turning on occasionally became too much for the poor thing, leaving me to divine the trail with the help of a fading helmet torch and occasional bark.

Stamping feet, and our own special-needs version of the sprinkler did little to return warmth to extremities bone-frozen by the unrelenting cold. Increased heart rates as dry, grippy singletrack morphed into tyre sliding ice sheets didn’t help much either.

After a couple of hours, we called halt before at least one rider shaped puzzle was ice entombed for the next generation of Channel 4 discovery programs: “An amazing find, the human shaped object is clinging to a tree, mouth open and wearing shorts. He may have been in a tribe, but appears he has been abandoned”

Damn straight. Not hanging around when there is a nice warm shower waiting at home.

* This is not a euphamism. Although later it could have been,


Post FoD Night Ride

My previous FoD night ride started in daylight and ended in darkness. This time around pitch black was wrapped round my shivering preparations, before even a wheel was turned. It may still be a month until the Winter solstice, yet it feels as if we’re there already.

Other differences presented themselves out of the darkness. Firstly, a nearly double digit turnout of riders I’d not seen for two months. The lumens’ arms race showed no site of abating, although it has branched off in interesting technological directions. Of all those branches, I am hopeful that the “Mickey and Minnie Ears” evolution is subject to brutal natural selection.

Following that helmet light setup put me in mind of a Disney rave with the mice off their faces on acid. This was an unwelcome distraction to a man already much distracted by a trail surface offering the traction properties of polished glass.

Post FoD Night Ride Post FoD Night Ride

In one of those ‘it’ll be funny afterwards’ ironies, my toes were frozen as were my fingers and probably my ears. Although that was nothing more than a guess since feeling had left the helmet some time ago. The trails however were not frozen. They offered a number of alternatives; 1) deep mud but rideable 2) slidey mud sort of rideable 3) large puddles hiding patching of mud rideable if you were lucky and 4) Chiltern-esque stretches of absolutely no point in even trying to ride.

We did of course. And much falling off and general finger pointing followed. Even the Singlespeeder was cut a bit of slack until the full moon rose hauntingly above the treetops, and it became clear that Adam’s Facebook profile reads “Likes: Singlespeeds, exploding knees, beards and werewolves“. Can’t turn you back on ’em for one second – it’ll be off with your derailers or something even more ghastly.

Post FoD Night Ride Post FoD Night Ride

There was plenty of time for piss taking, excuses and the new sport of precision mincing because this ride group isn’t exactly motivated by speed. Oh sure, it rambles along at a decent pace but stops are not mere halts for breath catching, more an opportunity to select the next victim. Compare this to Malvern rides which are all a bit “wham bam thank you mam” and non the worse for it, but there’s fun to be had with nine people and no mercy.

Everyone fell off. Some more than others. Some – smug mode – not at all until the penultimate descent on a fast, flowy trail barely hovering above the water table: “oooh nice drift, I’ve got it, I’ve got it, I’ve….. not got it”. It was almost peaceful as I slid down the trail on my arse, the bike long gone behind a distant tree.

A new ending started tonight. Final grind up a fireroad to access a cracking bombhole hidden deep in the woods. Again many of the group were in the vanguard of “All Mountain Free-Mincing” while a few of us just rode down the bloody thing. From below, the circling lights of the lesbian horde put me in mind of a very camp UFO experience “ooohhh I’m not sure about that, noo you go first

Honestly, just get on with it man. They did. Eventually. Proper cold at rides’ end. Six desperately defrosted cars and hurriedly packed their gear. Three had a more leisurely experience via the pub.

Post FoD Night Ride

I love the FoD in the dry when it’s fast and whippy and you can rocket through the trees for ever without riding the same trail. I’m quite surprised to find much of that love extends to the muddy season as well. C’mon winter, I’m ready for you.

Muddy Musings.

Fat Tyred Cove

Yeah, it’s another pic of a static bike – nothing more than a visual prod to de-randomise some recent thinking.

1) Mud Tyres are for those who lack ambition. Really, thin sludge-cutting rubber may provide the illusion of grip and traction, but where’s the fun in that? The Cove is booted up with 2.35in wide tyres, the front being basically a downhill tread and compound, while the rear is barely less of a monster. No point in having wide bars/short stem/ace fork/brill frame emasculated by condition specific tyres. Get out there and slide about, the ground’s pretty soft when it goes wrong.

2) That bike is a lot cleaner than it was at 10am last night. Two hours riding* in the grottiest Malvern conditions I’ve ridden for a while turned the word brown under the black of night. When we weren’t sliding around in a vaguely comedic fashion, we were groping about in hill clamped top fog. Jez is either better at remembering where the trail may be than I, or he’s upgraded his night vision to HD/X-Ray. I stumbled about, blinded by reflected light, occasionally intersecting with remembered obstacles, before falling off over them.

3) It was still, surprisingly, fun. I know this is somewhat expected behaviour to appear stunned that travelling at 10km/h, mostly sideways and grinding over endless peaks can deliver so much pleasure. Especially with a knee that appears to be going backwards. Certainly painful in the opposite direction. And back in the Chilterns, the winter mud was an endless horror story – a place where even singlespeeds made sense. But here, there’s still enough yang offsetting grimbly yang to bring a smile to your face. A face chowing down on gritty granite and half covered by suspicious smelling mud, but a smile nevertheless.

4) Hardtails are hard work. A few times my ankles took the brunt of trail debris normally softened by rear squish. The Cove feels really properly odd after two solid months on the ST4. Possible MTFU required.

5) Exactly how dependant on the re-hydrating power of beer are you, that you will insert a soggy foot into the door of a trying-to-close-shop and demand alcohol satisfaction? I wasn’t sure if they served me out of fear that the swampmonster cometh, or just plain pity.

* and about 10 minutes lying on the ground awash in a sea of sludge.