mud

Head in the clouds, Feet of Clay

Head in the clouds, Feet of Clay

Sometimes you ride under a cloud less sky, sometimes under a blanket of white. Sometimes a ride takes place inside a cloud. This was to be one of those rides

Head up

One of the fundamental tenets of good trail riding is to keep your head up. It’s also a tenet of good navigation. The more you keep your head up, the further ahead you can see, the better you can prepare for what’s coming, the more in control you are when it arrives. The further along the trail you look for that difficult-to-spot right turn, the greater your chances of seeing it before you go past. The only problem with this approach is when you’re riding through low cloud and can only see a few yards in any direction. That is the situation we found ourselves in on this ride for a considerable time.

It’s made worse by the navigational black hole that plantation woodland offers. Even the beechwoods mean that, just because something is marked on the map as a significant track, doesn’t mean that is exists on the ground. More confusing is that the broad track in front of you may not appear at all. That’s why we took the scenic route off the ridge line. It definitely wasn’t that we missed the right turn. That’s not what happened at all. Having said that, the route we did take was lovely as was the scenery that we could see.

Clouded judgement

Clark and I found ourselves out in the South Downs near Cocking (no laughing at the back) on a Tuesday morning in April in the name of a ride recce. There was a window in our diaries, and we went for it regardless of whether there was a window in the weather. The forecast was for intermittent drizzle all day, so we prepared to get damp. Better yet, it had rained persistently for days before the ride, which can play havoc with trails in this part of the world. So, we were prepared to come back to the car filthy as well as wet.

What I hadn’t expected in the South Downs was for a goodly chunk of the day to be above the cloud base. However, it wasn’t actually raining so we decided to get on with the lesser of two evils.

The first track was a pretty unremarkable track, except the farmhouse with the canary yellow UPVC windows. It’s a relatively easy way to gain a fair bit of height and the price you pay for a downhill finish. As it levelled off we found ourselves surrounded by some brilliant archaeology in a landscape littered with cross dykes and round barrows reminding us that people have been living and working in this landscape for a very long time. The views out across the scarp face towards the Weald. Or, at least we should have.

Cocking: there's a view out there somewhere

Cocking: there’s a view out there somewhere

Instead of the archaeology and the vista we were treated to the atmospheric tendrils of cloud wrapping themselves around us, obscuring anything more than a few metres away. Instead, Clark had to content himself with my colourful descriptions of what he should be able to see. I can spin a pretty good yarn, but there are only so many synonyms for “massive” that I could think of whilst avoiding the potholes and quagmires that presented themselves. Oh, and keeping an eye out for that elusive right turn.

The lively discussion of the Bronze Age landscape might explain why it took longer than expected to arrive at that right turn.

Head down, eyes up

Gently downhill duplex in the summer can be a ticket to light-speed on a bike. In early April after the wettest winter in recent memory it was a little different. We still whipped along at a fair lick but found ourselves having to time manuals well so as not to lose front wheels in opaque puddles or piles of sodden leaves. Closing my eyes occasionally helped keep the grit out of them.

I had a clear memory that there were a couple of slightly tricky junctions from a navigation point of view, you know the ones where two trails run off almost parallel where the map says there should only be one. So, I was keeping my wits about me for these choices approaching at speed, through the cloud and the spray of my front wheel.

Which is why I was more than a little surprised when the trail ended abruptly at a gate into a field. This was not right. This was definitely not where I had anticipated ending up. I thought we had gone a long the ridge for longer than anticipated. This gate confirmed that we were not where we were meant to be. The problem with missing your turning is that it can be hard to work out at what point you have deviated from the plan. A perusal of the map revealed that we had simply missed the turn and taken a path that ran parallel to our original plan. After a quick recalibration, a new route down was hatched that went through the gate ahead and joined up with the route as planned at the bottom.

Initially, I was disappointed. The descent to the combe floor was a grassy field. No fun in that. Still, make what you can of it. I kicked off and set off down the hill, very quickly picking up enough speed that washing out on the sopping grass became a realistic hazard. Stay loose, stay relaxed, trust your grip on the off-camber hillside. The problem with descents like this is that there’s very little calibrate your speed against. Ahead of me was a lynchet, it was approaching at warp speed, and the sharp break in slope meant that the crest was entirely blind. I had no idea what was on the downslope. Attack position. Commit.

It was relatively steep but nothing terrifying, granting plenty more speed. The bottom was a sharp enough trough that it needed a manual to get through smoothly. The horrible buzzing sound of rear wheel on mudguard confirmed that the rear suspension had absorbed considerable compression. Head up, look for the next one. Approaching even faster, this was much more fun than I was expecting. A few more lynchets between me and the bottom were despatched with increasing velocity before the reality of the rapidly approaching fence at the bottom of the hill made braking a priority. Clark appeared, grinning like a loon. For an accidental descent, this one was a keeper.

The archaeology is exciting, but can we do some riding now?

The archaeology is exciting, but can we do some riding now?

“So, are they barrows?” he asked

“No, these are lynchets” and proceeded to explain what lynchets are. To save you having to listen to me explain it as well: here’s a link.

The particular lynchets we were looking at turned out to be relics of a Bronze Age field system that, until recently was thought to be lost. This relic is a scheduled monument that, until recently, was thought to be the only remnant in the area. A LiDAR (follow the link) survey showed that the whole ridge here is covered in Bronze Age fields. We archaeologist are still very excited about it.

Clark was less impressed, so we rode on.

Going the wrong way

The difficulty in planning rides in this area (and to be fair most areas) is which way round to do it. If you’re riding a loop then, for every cracking descent, there’s going to be a climb. For every climb someone will tell you that you should be riding down it. The next climb was very much one of those. Maybe on a drier day it would have been rideable, but not today. I know why the ride is planned this way around, and this was something of an experiment. That didn’t change the fact that we were off and pushing up the kind of steep, sinuous woodland singletrack that people would bite your arm off to ride. We were definitely doing it the wrong way, and we seemed to be doing it the wrong way for quite some time. There has got to be a way of doing it the other way. This is one for the OS map, later.

On the up side, we seemed to have dropped out of the clouds. But it was still sweaty work, gaining considerable height ready for another descent. At the top there was a longish, straight tarmac transfer to our next point of interest, so time to get our heads down and make up for some lost time. It wasn’t quite a team time trial, but we weren’t hanging about. Straight past Goodwood racecourse and on to something that, for me at least, was far more impressive.

Trundling along

The Trundle, and Chalkpits Lane, in particular, holds a certain significance in the history of mountain biking in this area. Many of the bridleways that drop off this hill were within the reach of early mountain bikes and were something of a Mecca in the 90s. But that’s only the most recent episode in a long history of significance to this hilltop. As far back as the Neolithic, people were building things here. Many of them can still be seen. I get very excited about these things. I explained what a causewayed enclosure is, stating that the banks probably looked more impressive but they’re quite old.

I can see the sea from here. Normally

I can see the sea from here. Normally

Clark was impressed too: “are they old then?”

“About 5,000 years old.”

“Wow.”

This Neolithic site sits squarely in the middle of an Iron Age hillfort with an impressive bank round the outside. What makes for a strong defensive feature also makes for an excellent spot to have lunch. The view from here is spectacular. Given that it was all ensconced in cloud, Clark had to make do with my description. Again. It was a little bit “here’s what you could have won” I’m convinced I could just about pick out the spire of Chichester Cathedral, but there was no way I could see the sea. Shame really. And, it turns out, kind of chilly. Time to get on.

The drop from the Trundle is one of those old-school South Downs descents. It’s a wide-open field with a notional path down the middle. It’s steep enough that you can play the “how long do I stay off the brakes without riding into the fence at the bottom” game. It is, as always, over too soon. It took us back below cloud base though, so we began to warm through a little.

I found the black and white filter settings

I found the black and white filter settings

The South Downs is well catered for in pretty streams and rivers from the Itchen to the Adur, but this section of the Lavant is up there with the best of them. The draw to get moving and generate some heat was strong, but not as strong as the need to get some snaps of this pretty valley. Clark seemed happy to do the obligatory ride back the we he’d come for “one last shot”. I suspect he was being put off by my description of the “big climb of the day.”

The language of guides

I often joke that part of my leader’s training is how to lie about what lies ahead. “It’s contouring from here.” Means that there are several big climbs between us and the café. “It’s mostly downhill” neglects to mention the one really big climb. It is a joke really, I think it’s important to be honest with people.

The climb up the side of Kingley Vale is one to tell people about. It’s mostly not desperately steep. Nor is it particularly technical. It’s mostly not too boggy. Mostly is the important word, because it’s all of those things at one point or another. And it keeps going. And going. It gains over a hundred metres in little more than a kilometre. There’s a false flat at the summit too. It’s no horror show and a reasonably fit rider will have no problem getting up, but you’ll be glad to get to the top. Partly because the climb is over.

The top is just around the corner...

The top is just around the corner…

Partly because of the view: you can see miles to the east and west from the top. But you won’t take that in straight away, because your eye is drawn to the four massive burial mounds lined up along the ridge. When I say massive, I really mean it. Leaving the bikes behind, we climbed the nearest one and sat down for another bite to eat. While sitting there, Clark spotted something remarkable above us. A small patch of blue sky. The cloud was lifting! From being too cold on the Trundle we were now too warm and shedding layers.

Clark endured (or possibly enjoyed) discovering the difference between a bowl barrow and a bell barrow (the clue is very much in the name) whilst looking for buzzards.

It’s all downhill from here

Duly educated on prehistoric monuments, we remembered we were here for a bike ride. The traverse along the top of Bow Hill is normally not much to write home about. Normally. Today it was a touch slippery, a touch slidey and occasionally that kind of muddy where you have to put the power down to keep moving forward. I looked round to see Clark covered in mud from shoulder to knee. “I fell off.” Was all he would say.

The thing about a vaguely rubbish traverse to the top of a descent is the knowledge that, as a guide, your clients are all thinking “this had better be worth it.” I remember the descent past Goosehill Camp being a good-un on previous visits, but the dampness in the ground today had already taught me that all bets were off. Even I was thinking it had better be worth it.

It started innocuously enough, for long enough that I was concerned I had misremembered it. Not to fear though, it casually tips more and more downhill, introducing a tangle of small roots into the mix as it goes. In the summer it has those leaf-dappled shadows that make picking out roots impossible. The flat light of late winter was better for seeing them. Or, at least, seeing how slick they looked. It’s fun to see how much speed you can rack and whether there’s a good line through the roots.

The trail is a diagonal drop from the shoulder of the hill until, out of nowhere, there’s a right-left dogleg accompanied by a sudden narrowing of the trail. It’s quite easy to go straight on into the undergrowth here. In the damp, I was taking no chances. I’m not sure Clark agreed with me. Which is probably why he came around the left-hander trying desperately to clip back in.

Doing the left-right shoogle

Doing the left-right shoogle

Wandering lonely as a cloud

Now we were pointing for home, with only one big climb between us and the car. Thoughts naturally turned to food and the viability of vegan chilli (we both thought it would definitely work). On the map, it was a gentle fire road grind back up to the South Downs ridgeway. In reality, it was a lovely hollow way with old trees flanking both sides and obscuring the pine plantation beyond. Then…

“Clark. Get off your bike.”

“Why?”

Because that,” pointing, “is a field of wild daffodils.”

“That’s amazing.”

Wild Daffodils

Wild Daffodils

He was right too. From a pleasant but unremarkable coppice, there emerged a carpet of yellow flowers. Impressing a South Downs rider with a carpet of woodland flowers is a challenge: April & May are usually wall-to-wall bluebells. This was a real treat, it was like bluebells, but yellow. It was probably going to be the best nature moment of the day, made better for being completely unexpected. So, we stopped and took a lot of photos that would probably fail to do the scene justice.

It was one of those sights that’s hard to tear yourself from and remember you’re here for a bike ride. So, with heavy hearts (and legs) we got on with the job of reaching the top of the hill.

On the ridgeline again for the first time since this morning, we found ourselves back in the cloud. Brilliant.

I’d planned a small detour on the final leg. I wanted to check out another trail: an extra descent in case clients are still wanting more. Clark was up for it so we peeled off the ridge ready to drop off the scarp face.

Then we stopped.

“Is that enough buzzards for you, Clark?”

“I think so.”

We counted twenty of them, emerging one after the other from the trees the cover the slope, silhouetted against the cloud. Planted to the spot, we watched them soar and climb before sliding off the thermal to wherever buzzards go. The daffodils had been good, but this was gobsmacking.

However, time was passing. Wake up: time to ride. The trail became a wide chalk track that pointed down. It was smooth enough to pick up significant speed. It felt slick enough that your wheels might disappear at any moment, and that you would slide a long way before stopping. Relax and everything will be fine. It was. We reached the junction, only about halfway down, grinning from a descent that had been adrenalin filled far beyond its technicality. What might the second half bring?

Luke, you’ve turned off your targeting computer

Turning the corner onto the second half of the drop, quick reactions stopped me from disappearing into the muddy ruts that suddenly bracketed the trail. Just. Something big had driven this way and carved two trenches that could grace the Death Star (if the Death Star was made of mud), and definitely swallow a bike. In between was a narrow ridge, with an even narrower groove down the middle. Coming off was not an option. The track was still pointing downwards, adding momentum to the equation. It was also meandering adding steering to the mix. Speaking of steering, the groove was the kind of slick mud where the bike goes exactly where it feels like, you just relax and accept it. On several occasions my front wheel was at forty-five degrees and the bike ploughed straight on regardless. Relax, it’ll be fine, a nudge of the hips now and then to keep the bike upright. Remember those mud-riding skills you’ve spent the winter honing. And don’t try dabbing, as the ground is about three feet lower where you want to put your foot.

It was a giggle. For a bit. It seemed to go on a very long time, and I was getting mentally tired from concentrating too hard. Then the track fired us out into a steeply-sloping field at warp speed. Here the wheel-ruts went in all directions and just pointing at the bottom was an option. We both breathed a sigh of relief at the bottom. We also saw the cause of the ruts. Four massive Scottish and Southern Electric off-road flat-bed trucks, there to replace electricity poles. That would explain it.

Not enough to want to do that descent again though.

All that was left was the short climb back to the car. What it lacked in length, it more than made up for in steepness. The chalk track was flat enough, but every pedal stroke was a battle to keep the front wheel down, turn the pedals over and stop the back wheel from spinning out too much. Push hard enough to turn the pedals and the back would spin and stall. There was a delicate balance to be struck in applying just enough power to get the wheels to turn without breaking traction. It’s a while since I’ve felt so pleased for cleaning a climb. That was the glow that took us to the car.

A very short conference resulted in us agreeing that this diversion wasn’t really worth it. That’s what a recce is for: to see if the trails are fun to ride. This one wasn’t, really.

The rest of the ride had been great though, in spite of the unseasonal mulch that had coated everything, including our bikes. Clark pronounced himself a happy man, though a tired one. It’s easy to take a ride for granted once you’ve done it a few times, but this one is a classic for a reason.

This might take a while to clean off

This might take a while to clean off

Now to plot doing it the other way round so we can descend that steep climb…

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
This isn’t fun any more: lifting the bonnet preparing rides

This isn’t fun any more: lifting the bonnet preparing rides

Riding a bike for a living sounds like living the dream, but taking people out for a ride is the final tip of the, often no fun, preparation iceberg. This weekend was a classic example.

When riding plus weather equals zero

“This is approximately zero fun,” says Mel, picking herself out of the undergrowth “And I’m really cold.”

She’s right: it’s cold and we’re not having any fun. There’s a bitter northeasterly blowing across the downs and we’re in its way. It’s far colder than it looks, I can barely feel my fingers or toes. And that’s the least of our issues.

The track we’re riding at right now is churned to a depth of the best part of a foot. It’s not the usual chewed up leaf-litter-and-loam churn that leaves you sliding around desperate for traction. No, this is an entirely different beast. It used to be grass on clay soil, then it was rained on, then it was ridden on by a bunch of horses. The end result is something that has a consistency of the cob they use to daub the timber-framed houses round here.

This stuff is sticky and stops you in your tracks. Attempting to power through results in wheel spinning on the spot. It’s horrible. I dismounted and the bike stayed up on its own. Worse than that, it’s clogging everything. It looks like I’m riding a fatbike. All that mud is being trimmed by the mudguards, the excess is being deposited on various bits of the frame (or me) which is then being peeled off by my legs as they go past. Making forward progress is tortuous and hard work. Getting off is even more fun because the mud goes up to my ankles and tries to suck my boots off.

Which is why Mel has just fallen off into the undergrowth attempting to dismount. She is now covered in bramble thorns and, understandably, not very happy.

Have I mentioned the cold? Because of the mud we’re not going fast enough to generate the heat that’s needed to thaw fingers and toes.

It’s pretty miserable.

As Hampshire as it gets

It looked like this in summer!

Riding at the wrong time

We’re here to pre-ride a route for an event at the end of April. The event is a bluebell ride for families. A short ride of fast-rolling trails with some nice scenery.

I rode most of it last summer as part of another ride and thought it would make a nice little loop. Seeing something once does not constitute good reconnaissance, I need to get an understanding of how the trails fare when conditions are less than ideal. So, we set out at the start of February to stress test the route.

It was a lovely, clear day. The first thing that we noticed as we got out of the car was the wind. The bikes were hastily assembled, but we were both reluctant to take off our down jackets and set off. When Mel asked if she could ride in hers, she was only half joking.

Do I have go riding?

Do I have go riding?

We were off soon enough, only to discover that Mel’s new mudguard kept catching on the back wheel as her suspension compressed. Two stops later, we’d gone all of about 800 yards and stood in the cold for about ten minutes.

Time to get some riding in and generate some heat. Thankfully, the first climb provided a little shelter and some exercise. In order to make the most of the heat generated by climbing, I decided to take the higher of two traversing byways. I turned the corner at the top and came face-to-face with the wind with the sun hiding behind the hedge. Not a place to have a mechanical…

Just keep riding

“Oh, you can just do one!” (or possibly something much less family-friendly) came a cry from behind me. I looked round to see Mel climbing off to investigate the large stick tangled in her rear mech.

Definitely not the place to have a mechanical. Oh well. Tools out and get cracked on.

I took the stick out to discover that the stick had forced the derailleur to swing round and dig a significant hole in the hanger. This was not good. I unscrewed it and put it back in the right position, hoping that the hanger wasn’t too bent. I carry a spare hanger for such eventualities, but taking the back end of the bike apart here would take long enough for us to both get dangerously cold. It seemed straight enough to get riding and get out of the wind. So, we got on and rode off, trying to generate some warmth.

A fine place to break down. In summer

A fine place to break down. In summer

A quick drop led to a short road climb that, sadly, wasn’t enough to really get the blood going. There was a longish grassy traverse ahead that I recalled being easy rolling enough to get some rhythm going.

How wrong could I be?

This is where we came in, fighting our way through a quagmire that threatened to induce a simultaneous bike, and sense of humour, failure. I’ve ridden trails I haven’t enjoyed before, but this one, in these conditions is right up there with the best of them.

It, too, was on the crest of the ridge and wide open to the wind. The sun had gone in by this point making it even more miserable. I remember stopping just here in the summer for a drink and a bite to eat, while watching the view. There was no question of stopping now. Head down, get this over with.

Does a falling tree make noise?

It was only 500 yards long, but it took 11 minutes to get there (that’s less than 2 mph). It felt like an eternity. Still, there was a lovely bit of woodland trail to ride to take our minds off it.

Except that the winter had wreaked havoc on the woods. What had been a bit of flowing dirt trail in the summer was now festooned with fallen trees. I spent more time carrying the bike than riding it. It may have been all of 200 yards but there must have been eight or ten full sized trees across the path. This was almost as much as I could bear. This was going to be the highlight of the ride and it was utterly unrideable. This loop was going to need some serious thought. Eventually, we came out of fallen tree alley and the trail rolled downhill for a bit. It was nice but over almost before it began.

Look at the lovely scenery

Look at the lovely scenery

The rest of the ride was nowhere near as bad. There were a couple of boggy bits, but nothing as bad as that quagmire. The views were nice but we were so chilled that we didn’t linger at any of them. Another spot where I had stopped to admire the woods offered cold comfort, compared to the temptation of the café at the end of the ride. It was all pleasant, but not enough to dispel the cold or disgruntlement of bikes filled with clay.

Before the ride, there had been debate about whether to finish at the pub or the café. There was none now. Café. Bikes were stashed with a minimum of faff and barely any talking. Warm coats on and straight to the café.

But wait, there’s more

Dirty bike 1
Dirty bike 2

They didn't look like this earlier...

I’ve talked in the past about how much I enjoy cleaning bikes. Normally, the mulch-mud rinses off after being agitated by the brush. This stuff was something else entirely: I found myself racing darkness as I scrubbed thick clay off every surface of both bikes. In this case, I actually did spend more time cleaning than riding.

Closer inspection once the bikes were clean revealed the mech hanger on Mel’s bike was, indeed, a write-off. So, I’ve just ordered a replacement for it.

This afternoon I will spend some time learning the lessons from the ride and making the necessary alterations to the route to ensure it’s as brilliant as possible in April.

At this point I’m pretty confident I will need to ride it again before the day.

All this for a ride that will last about an hour and a half.

When people ask “what do I get for my money?” when coming on a guided ride. The answer is this: assurance that we’ve done all the necessary suffering to ensure that you have fun and that, should the worst happen, I can get you safely home so you can concentrate on having fun.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, Thoughts, 0 comments
Keep it Clean: the joys of winter riding

Keep it Clean: the joys of winter riding

Winter can be a difficult season for the mountain biker: it seems like the climate and the earth itself are conspiring against you. And yet, there is much fun to be had.

The dreaded winter Venn diagram

There is a legendary Venn diagram which shows the amount of time spent thinking about riding vs the amount of time spent actually riding (the point being that most bikers, of all stripes, spend far more time thinking about riding than actually riding). There is another, less well known, diagram for winter mountain biking. It shows time spent doing “bike stuff” and how little of that time is spent actually riding. There is a feeling, at this time of year, that I spend far more time cleaning my bike after a ride than I actually do riding. I spend almost as long oiling, freeing and generally fettling the bike to keep it in working order as I do with my feet on the pedals.

When I do get out and ride, trails that I love in summer verge on un-rideable. There is a particular kind of mud that inhabits the chalkland of Hampshire and Sussex. Friends from “up north” always laugh at our poor excuse for winter (of which more in a moment) and our insistence on winter tyres. At least one of them has come thoroughly unstuck, literally, when they’ve experienced it first-hand. It is a strange thing that has the ability to hold a wheel fast that is trying to move forward, and yet provide less sideways grip than a soapy eel. Thus, you spend a huge amount of effort trying to move forward and an equal amount trying not to move sideways.

It can be a dispiriting experience. It can make one question why it is that you do this stupid thing. Every week. Throughout winter.

This is what my gear looked like after a ride last week

This is what my gear looked like after a ride last week

In the bleak mid winter

And then you get to the actual weather. That poor excuse for a winter.

Here’s your choice: you can wrap up warm to stop your hands and feet getting cold, ensuring that you boil in the bag as you exercise. Alternatively, you can account for the warming up and put up with the fact you cannot feel your breaks for the first hour of the ride.

See, it’s cold enough that you need to account for it but not so cold that going out like the Michelin man is viable. The last few minutes before leaving the house are an existential crisis of wardrobe decisions. There’s a reason I own an array of gloves; shoes; different thickness shorts and tights; base layers and jerseys.

And then you need to remember to make sure that your lights are charged because, the chances are, you’re going to be riding in the dark.

So why do I bother in winter?

I’ve spoken before about the wonders of riding in the dark. I love that it changes how things look, how fast I think I’m going and what things I might encounter along the way. Only last week we met a badger on our normal evening ride on a trail we ride most weeks. That just doesn’t happen during the daytime. And as for the magic of rising along to the sound of owls hooting, it doesn’t get much better than that. I could wax lyrical but I already have.

I also have a confession: I actually enjoy all the sliding about of winter riding. It feels silly, a bit slapstick, a little “It’s a Knockout”. I know I’m not going to be challenging for personal bests on any part of the ride so I enjoy the journey. How fast can I take the corner without sliding out? Let’s find out. There are fewer more rawly kinaesthetic joys than the feeling of tyres sliding in the mud and then finding something to grip on just before you lose them. This is enhanced by the fact that, should the worst happen, you’re going slowly and the ground is soft. I have been known to lie on the floor in fits of hysterics after sliding out. Try it, it’s fun.

It’s certainly a lot more fun that being out on wet tarmac. That’s commuting, not enjoyment.

There’s also a perverse and contrary streak in me that takes people’s opinion that it’s too awful to ride as a challenge.

Much cleaner. Much later

Much cleaner. Much later

It’s not a race. Except when it is

Riding is an aerobic activity. Being fit means I can go faster. I may have been vocal about how much I hate exercise, but I’m equally keen that I’m not going to get dropped by all my mates when the weather gets better.

So, I make sure I get out in the winter which means I’m fit enough when the sun comes out. No one admits to winter training, but we all do it. I’m not going to be left behind.

And then there’s the secret winter weapon

I do have a secret weapon that I use to make winter riding better. A decade or more of riding locally has given me an encyclopaedic knowledge of the trails. It has also given me a good nose for the ones that fare better in the winter. I know which ones are like riding through a mangrove swamp, which ones are like riding across an ice rink, which ones are likely to have fallen trees on them and which are exposed to winter winds. Crucially, also know which ones are oddly dry and grippy, which ones seem not to get churned up and which ones are hard-packed enough to shrug off the worst of the weather.

While no ride can be completely mud-free, I can stitch together routes that have the minimum of unpleasantness. That’s a challenge in itself, and one I enjoy.

Those are the trails I piece together for the earlier rides of the year, for riders discovering off-road riding because they are the most enjoyable (without needing my contrary streak).

Keeping it clean

I still detest cleaning my bike. And my shoes. And my bag. And all the other bits of tedium that accompany coming home from a muddy ride.

Which is why I try to run rides that keep the unpleasantness to a minimum.

See you on one soon?

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
If it’s not on Strava…

If it’s not on Strava…

If it’s not on Strava…then it didn’t happen.

If it's not on Strava

If it’s not on Strava

This is a saying that’s been doing the rounds for a few years. In mountain biking circles it’s used in a semi tongue-in-cheek way, much like “dropping in!”.

I am here today to attest to the fact that rides not on Strava can, and in fact do, happen.

Why on earth am I doing this?

I didn’t get out for a ride at the weekend. My ankle’s been playing up and I didn’t want to risk aggravating it.

I didn’t ride during the week either. Work has got in the way of getting out in the evening.

I didn’t ride the week before. See above.

Or the week before that. See a pattern emerging?

So, I cleared the diary for this morning. I was damn-well going to get out.

When we woke up this morning we found two things:

  1. It was chucking it down outside
  2. There was no electricity
Morning brew, power cut style

Morning brew, power cut style

On the one hand, a ride that’s up to my ankles in mud has limited appeal. On the other, we had no power or heating (I even made the morning cup of tea outside with the storm kettle) so I wasn’t going to get much work done.

Thus I may as well get out and ride.

Except my phone is on its last legs and seems unable to pick up GPS, thus no Strava. Somehow, not Strava-ing a ride feels like cheating. It’s like forgetting to lock the door on the way out. It’s plain wrong.

Unfortunately, if I was going to ride, then there was to be no Strava.

“What if I go really fast and don’t get a time?” said part of me.

“Shut up and enjoy riding the bike.” Said another. I listened to that part.

Oh my, that’s muddy

I was expecting the trails to be filthy. Turns out I was completely wrong. They were beyond filthy and into minging. There was one point where I stopped every few hundred yards to wipe my glasses because I couldn’t see enough through the spray to reliably avoid obstacles like trees. It was foul.

And I had a blast.

Woods in the fog and rain

Woods in the fog and rain
courtesy of Galaxyrideruk’s blog

I was sliding around all over the show, and so covered in filth that I began to slide off my saddle. It was an absolute hoot.

I also discovered that someone had been out and chainsawed through a few fallen trees along the way that had been irksome to get off and climb over. Thanks big fella!

Clearly the riding gods were on my side this morning. The rain was teeming down, the trails were sodden and there was spray everywhere (particularly on me). It was great.

It was also time to turn home. The clock was ticking and I was getting tired.

You’re not coming in dressed like that

On my return I was asked if I would like a cup of tea and whether I would like to get undressed outside, after hosing myself down. This is what happens when one’s wife also rides.

That's muddy

That’s muddy

You. Hosepipe. Now

You. Hosepipe. Now

I duly hosed down the bike, my kit and myself (in that order) before being allowed in through the back door.

The downside of riding in conditions like this, fun as they are, is that clearing up afterward takes an eternity.

Currently there is washing on, a waterproof hanging up in the shower, shoes full of newspaper (from where I hosed my legs down) and mud in odd corners of the kitchen. I don’t even want to touch my bag until it dries off a little.

Was it worth it? Oh god, yes. I feel much better now.

It is also definitely time to winterise my bike too.

Time to fit mudguards

Time to fit mudguards

If it ain’t on Strava

I can tell you this morning’s ride may not be shared all over social media but

The photos say it happened

The coat hanging in the shower says it happened

The soggy shoes say it happened

The newspaper on the kitchen floor says it happened

The washing machine struggling under the load of mulch that went in with my clothes says it happened

And

My sense of wellbeing says it happened.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Uncategorised, 0 comments