Trails

The perpetual search for better skills: there’s always something to work on

The perpetual search for better skills: there’s always something to work on

As someone who makes a living from riding a bike, I am always looking for ways to be a better rider. I look after my body and I stay fit, but the things I go away and work on when no-one is looking are my skills.

Why skills?

When you see cycling on the telly it’s usually the god-like aerobic fitness that sets the professionals apart from us mere mortals. Mountain biking is different: it’s the skills that mark the difference between winners and those making up the numbers.

Yes, the professional downhillers or enduro champions are supremely fit, but what makes them so much better than me is their skillset and the ability to use it when they need to.

Rio Olympic Mountain Bike- Men

I’m a big believer in improving my skills. If I sneak off to the woods to work on something the chances are that it’s something to do with honing my skills. There are lots of reasons having a better skillset can make you better, and this is why upskilling is so important.

Just plain faster: skills to get you from A to B

Sometimes the value of good skills is that they get you from where you are to where you’re going more quickly.

The best example of this I ever saw was an enduro race a Queen Elizabeth Country park. On a particularly steep stage there was a slalom between two fallen trees that everyone dragged their brakes round, almost taking off their rear mech. Then a rider came down who used the first one as a kicker to jump over the second. He just went straight through at speed where everyone else was slowing down, gaining about 5-10 seconds over everyone else in one 10 yard section. He had the skills to see the different line and the skills to execute it. Incredible.

 

Or easier: skills to keep you fresh

I have riding buddies who are much fitter than me. They should be able to ride way from me at the drop of a hat, but they can’t (always). So how do I keep up? Application of skills at the right time means you can go down the same piece of trail at the same speed using less energy. Simple really, if you can carry speed through a corner then you don’t have to get on the pedals on the way out.

Equally there are skills that allow you to take less of a beating over rough ground, so you’re fresher when you get to the next hill.

More relaxing: skills that give you confidence

Probably the biggest advantage of a better skillset is that I am more in control more of the time and that there is more of my awareness that is available for things other than hanging on for grim death. I have a mantra about confidence:

Balance leads to grip. Grip leads to control. Control leads to confidence. Confidence leads to relaxation. Relaxation leads to enjoyment.

Wansdyke singletrack

The more you are in control of what is going on, the more you can enjoy it. I find it interesting when I ride with some people and they claim that there was no grip on a particular bit of trail. Especially when I’ve gone down it with them, at the same speed and in control. The main difference is the application of skill to give balance & grip. The same is true when I ride with people more skilful than me and I’m at the edge of my comfort zone (you know who you are).

That’s why my first though when faced with a lack of grip is to wonder what I could do to make it more grippy. The same is true of something scary: it’s scary because I don’t have the skills to do it comfortably.

Working on skills

So, when I’m out on my own, I’m usually thinking about how I can ride better, not how can I ride faster (though the two often go hand in hand). I think about how I can apply lessons I’ve seen or heard. What if I put my weight just there? What if I push here rather than there? What if I try that line rather than the usual one?

Learning or honing skills can be like night and day. There are real lightbulb moments where you suddenly think “now I get it!” or “that’s what it’s supposed to feel like.” When I apply it to my normal social or work riding it feels great because everything is easier and smoother. And I can keep up with the racing snakes (most of the time).

The most recent one was a simple comment about whether I align my body to the front wheel or the back and the difference it makes to my balance. It sounds really simple but it made a massive difference to how I think about my posture.

I know I’m not perfect. I know what parts of my skillset need work. So, I work on them. It’s what I do.

Why is this important?

One of the most important uses of my skillset is in looking after my group. If I am completely in control of what’s going on with my bike, then I have mental space to be keeping aware of what everyone else is doing. I can see what people are finding difficult or enjoyable. I use this to tailor the ride so that everybody has fun, or to make sure I can give the level of support that people need to get the most out of their ride.

Changing seasons

I can also see if people are doing things that are making their lives difficult and help them try another way.

What it all boils down to is that my skills are being put to use to make sure you have a safer, more enjoyable ride. And, before you think that I find everything easy, I am also well aware of what it feels like to be out of my depth (been there) and scared (been there too) and how not-fun that is. So, I’m well tuned-in to what it’s like for other people and how to avoid it happening.

But what about me?

There’s no time like now to think about riding skills. They make riding safer, easier and more fun. There are loads of tutorials littering magazines, have a look at them and give their suggestions a go. It’s tempting to look at “how to jump”, but you spend far more time on the ground so look, instead for tips on posture, balance and weighting the bike. They will revolutionise your riding.

Doing the left-right shoogle

Doing the left-right shoogle

So, get out there and enjoy. Or come out for a ride with BackPedalling and let me look after it all.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, Uncategorised, 0 comments

Thanks to the British Horse Society for a great course: I got schooled on Rights of Way

In July I attended a course organised by the British Horse Society all about Rights of Way

I thought I knew a lot about Rights of Way. To be fair, I know a fair amount. I have to.

But, in a full day, I got thoroughly schooled in the intricacies and vagaries of RoW legislation. It was an excellent course and comes highly recommended.

Today I received my certificate through the post: I am a happy man.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Uncategorised, 0 comments
Up and Ovington: trail of the unexpected

Up and Ovington: trail of the unexpected

Red and Gold

60’s English folk revival band Fairport Convention play a song called Red and Gold all about the Civil War battle of Cropredy Bridge, Oxfordshire, in 1644. For the last two hours of riding I’d had it rattling around my head.

I wasn’t even in Oxfordshire. I was in deepest Hampshire, somewhere just to the north of the South Downs Way near the village of Cheriton. And yet, there it was, tumbling over and over in my head. Aside from anything else, I was stunned I could remember the words: I hadn’t heard it for about twenty years.

So why was it in my head? Actually, there are a few things that need to be cleared up first.

Ovington and out

That’s right: I’ve got a whole blog post of rotten Ovington puns, so stay with me.

This ride was a recce for a ride I’m planning to lead later in the summer. The plan for the rides is simple: good rides that start and finish at good local pubs. The Bush in Ovington is a perfect candidate. It’s got loads of parking, it’s right by the Itchen, it’s got a fantastic garden, good food and, importantly, serves food. All it needed was a good ride to go with it.

A little while ago I spotted a bridleway that, on paper, had the potential to be a top-notch descent. It started off in a wood and then ran down a track almost to the back door of the pub. It looked as though it had a nice gradient and the makings of a good’un but, until ridden, it would remain Schrodinger’s descent. It could be either excellent or awful and, until the probabilities collapsed it would be both.

Linking it up into a ride from home had proven frustrating, until I realised that it would work much better as the final descent of a ride that finished at the pub. Thus, the plan was hatched. A loop that started and finished at the pub and finished with this Schrodinger’s descent.

There’s something very odd about arriving at a pub long before it opens. There I was, in the car park unpacking the car while the Wadworth’s delivery man looked on, perplexed. I was on my own. I find it’s best on a recce: that way, if it’s awful no-one else has to endure it.

So, at about half nine I rolled off along the road towards Alresford. Some rides bode well from the off, and this was one of those. It was gloriously sunny and the “quiet back road” seemed to be exactly that. I was smiling as I rode along, remembering that this was “the office” for the morning. It really doesn’t get much better.

The road to Ovington

The road to Ovington

Expect the unexpected

Sometimes, the most innocuous-looking bits of bridleway turn out to be brilliant. The bar for this was set high very early when a piece of linking path between two roads turned out to be a steep, wooded tunnel of a trail. It was maybe 200 metres but it was enough to get the “singletrack grin” out. This was looking up already.

Trails of the unexpected

Trails of the unexpected

Then there was a ford. Not a little, dribble of water across the road, bit of a splash, ford. No, this was a full on, the river crosses the road, you’re going to get wet feet if you pedal, and you’ll have pedal to get across, ford. Fortunately, I spotted a wee footbridge just before I took the plunge. And then I turned around and rode back through it, just to see if I got wet feet. Thirty seconds later, with sopping feet, I decided to use the footbridge to get back. Having said that, the temperature was already in the high 20s so there are worse things than wet feet.

The next bit of the ride pootled alongside watercress beds and couldn’t have been more idyllic. Then there was a golf course to cross. Paths that cross golf courses are always something of an enigma. They might be lovely, the might be awful, they might be fenced off and surfaced to death. Following the theme of things coming up roses, this one was lovely, a little path that snaked round the back of a couple of tees before disappearing into the woods. I did get a couple of odd looks as well as cheerful waves from the ladies on the course. I suspect there were equal levels of bafflement on both parts.

The Battle of Cheriton

One of the difficulties about route planning is choosing between a plethora of options with no obvious “right answer”. Does this bit of path justify the road detour? Is this track just a farm track or something more interesting? Is that track going to be an impassable wall of vegetation? Sometimes, the only way to find out is by trial and, often, error.

It was on one of these speculative detours to see if a trail was worth it that I happened upon a war memorial. It didn’t look anything special but, as I rode past, it turned out to be a memorial for a Civil War battle fought here in 1644. In fact, it was part of a trail of interpretation panels that told the story of the Battle of Cheriton. Serendipitously, my ride would take me past virtually all of those trail panels.

Cheriton war memorial

Cheriton war memorial

Which takes me back to Red and Gold a song about another battle in 1644.

The view wasn’t bad either, especially from the bench with a musket carved into the seat.

Historical curiosity sated, it was time to ride again.

Civil war memorials aside, this detour seemed to be coming up roses. I was riding along a field edge path, congratulating myself on having found a “really good” field edge path when the nettles suddenly got a lot bigger. I was concentrating so much on not getting stung or having the bars ripped out of my hand by the cow parsley that I completely failed to notice the bloody-great hole in the ground.

Fortunately for me it turned out to be a heavily vegetated bomb-hole but I was forced to just suck up the nettle stings to ride it out. It was better than the alternative. You know what they say about pride…The actual field edge seemed greatly preferable after all.

Lost and found

I spotted a trio of walkers coming towards me and braved myself for the usual “checks” that I was where I should be. Instead, they really wanted to have a go on the bike. “Is that some kind of suspension on the back then?” “How heavy is it?” “Is it made of carbon?” “Can I have a go?” “Those tyres are quite chunky, aren’t they?” we then swapped advice on the trail ahead before heading on our way.

Later, I met another pair of ramblers who, armed with a bad printout of the 1:50k map, had set out to walk the wayfarer’s way and, consequently, weren’t really sure where they were. So, out came the map and some hasty retooling of their route commenced. “Are you watching the tour?” asked one of them. “I’ve only started recently, but it’s fascinating, isn’t it?” It seemed that I was destined to meet only people who were cycling enthusiasts.

Still, good Samaritan work done, I had a ride to get on with it.

Green for go

Hampshire is famous for its green lanes, a series of tracks that criss-cross certain parts of the county. They are now variously BOATs, restricted byways, bridleways and footpaths but what they all have in common is that you can discern virtually nothing of them from a map. You might get more of a clue from an aerial photo but you really never know what you might find (remind me at some point to tell you about the night ride where we discovered that some gypsies had decided to use one as a corral for their horses!) on the ground. This ride was taking in a fair number of them, so it was time to press the button on the trail lottery machine. I plummeted down one that was pleasant enough without being enough to write home about (umm, what are you doing now?) and turned into another at the end.

Green lane goodness

Green lane goodness

This one turned out to be quite overgrown and a little stingy. I was having concerns about it when suddenly it opened up. For reasons unknown, persons unknown had decided to mow this bit of lane to a width of about 2 metres. It was like a lawn, and down the middle snaked a sinew of singletrack. That never happens. Never. And yet, there I was cruising along without a care in the world. It really doesn’t get much better than this.

At this point the folly of riding through the ford made itself clear. As well as getting my feet wet, I seemed to have washed every drop of lube off my chain, so very pedal stroke was accompanied by a slightly agonised graunch noise from the chain. It wasn’t awful but it was loud enough to come as a surprise after any period of freewheeling.

Probably the oddest sight of the day was when I surprised a teenager who had clearly thought he was well hidden, lying down on his garden wall, having a fly smoke! “Morning!” He nearly fell off the wall. Maybe he shouldn’t have had his headphones in: he’d definitely have heard my chain coming.

A detour through a wood brought another glorious surprise, this time one to save for later. Whilst swinging in and out of the beech trees (definitely not imagining that scene from Return of the Jedi) I realised that the ground was entirely covered with the remains of bluebells. It’s a completely anonymous bit of woodland on the edge of a field but, in April it will be a wall-to-wall carpet of blue. That’s going down in the “bluebell rides” calendar for next year.

Original Source

Before I got all distracted by the Civil War, the “object” of coming down here was to ride past the source of the Itchen. The same river as runs through the pub garden and the ford in Alresford as well as through the middle of Winchester. It seemed like a nice theme to tie through the ride. I thought it would be a nice place to have a sit down too.

Unfortunately, in the height of summer, the source of the Itchen is basically a patch of mud in wood. It’s a very pleasant wee bit of trail that rolls by it through.

It was time for a banana: all that exploring the byways of Cheriton and stopping to chat to ramblers had put me about forty minutes behind schedule and I was beginning to feel hungry. I was also uncomfortably aware that one of the highest points of the ride now lay between me and the pub.

SDW

Time to roll on. I could feel a pint and lunch calling me. Cheriton is chocolate-box in a way that only the chalk valleys of the South Downs can manage. Right down to the crystal-clear Itchen, now an actual stream, babbling through the middle of the village green. It was definitely making a babbling noise: I could even hear it above the sound of my chain rattling. I ignored the looks of the roadies at said rattling chain as they passed me.

I suppose that the name “Hill Houses” should have been a clue, still the 35 metres of climbing in half a kilometre was a rude treat. This was the first time I could feel the miles in the legs.

The lack of shade meant that I was beginning to feel the burn on the back of my neck as much as in my legs. I knew that there would be precious little shade between here and the finish. My target was the South Downs Way, the elephant in the room of Hampshire trails. Whenever you mention you ride mountain bikes the first question you get asked is “have you ridden the South Downs Way?” Telling them it’s not actually that interesting for significant chunks and that you’d rather be riding singletrack in the woods is a recipe for confusion.

South Downs Way from the woods

South Downs Way as seen from the woods

Either way, it’s a good way of covering ground and was the best way to get to that descent I was looking forward to. So, head down and get on with it. There was the brief distraction of passing the crews building the course for an international motocross event, but I was now focussed on getting to that descent and, thence, to the pub. And ignoring the increasingly oppressive heat.

It was all going so well

I should have known it couldn’t all go well.

There are some farms that just exude the feeling that they would rather people didn’t use this particular right of way. The gate into the farm at the beginning of the bridleway had two separate latches. And, in spite of being quite clean, it smelled atrocious. Still, the lane away was easy to find and not too overgrown. The gate at the end was falling apart and barely peered out from the nettles. In fact, I had to stand in the nettles to close it again. They really didn’t want people going down here.

Rolling through the woods wasn’t too bad. The path wasn’t particularly lovely and the frequent “private wood: keep out” signs didn’t add to the sense of welcome. A left turn took me off the traverse and into the descent.

Or, at least, it should have. That turn brought me face to face with a wall of nettles and cow parsley. There might have been a small cleft to indicate where the path went but I was going to get stung. A lot. Sure enough, the next kilometre was an exercise in forbearance. The highlight being the bramble that wrapped itself around my chest and brought me to a halt. At least I didn’t fall off into the nettles and brambles.

Eventually, the gradient began to dip down and I began to pick up some speed. The wood was dark enough to keep the nettles down as the sides of the path closed in to form a hollow way. Suddenly the wood was left behind and I was plummeting down the bottom of a dark cleft in the hillside. This was more like it.

Maybe I should have smelled trouble when I saw that the Strava segment was called “Temple of Doom”. Hampshire doesn’t really do committing, technical descents. Sinuous, yes. Twisty, yes. Even steep. But not really committing.

That’s what I thought anyway. The bottom of the path became increasingly rooty. With no lateral options, the only choice was what speed to hit them at. Then the hollow narrowed to a cleft and was clogged with leaves so those roots became invisible. I was taking a battering. That cleft suddenly became a washed-out ravine, a couple of feet deep and only just wider than my feet. I felt, rather than saw, the lattice of roots passing at warp speed. A part of my brain not concentrating on staying on the bike was glad I wasn’t on the hardtail.

Ovington you

Clearly, this path becomes a torrent when it rains, the power of the water turning roots into square-edged hits that neither rider nor suspension could react to quickly enough. It was a case of plough on and tough it out over and over again. A deepening of the ravine meant that I had to bail up the sides of the path onto a narrow terrace, hoping that I wouldn’t lose traction. The gradient shallowed and eventually the battering came to the end as I popped out onto the quiet back road relieved that it was all over. That meant that everything calmed down enough to notice the glow of multiple nettle stings up my arms and legs.

Was it really that bad? It was certainly a rutted, rooty horror show and the woods at the top need someone to go in with a strimmer. Maybe it was just the contrast with how amazing the rest of the ride had been.

And so, to the pub

The good news was that I was now a matter of a few hundred yards from the pub.

The pub, which had been deserted when I left, was now rammed. Virtually every table was busy as I sloped in, dirty, sweaty and tired but I managed to get a table in the shade and also managed to procure beer.

Post ride refuel: chips on their way

Post ride refuel: chips on their way

All is right with the world again.

The moral of the tale?

Expect the unexpected. Hope for good trails where there don’t appear to be any, and don’t pin all your hopes for a ride on a single bit of trail about which you don’t really know anything.

Since getting back, I have, unsurprisingly, been on Strava again. It seems all the good times on “Temple of Doom” were set before 2016. I wonder if the condition of the trail has changed.

However, the real moral of the story is that there are some fabulous trails out there in the most unassuming of places.

Ovington you: A call to action

It’s lovely that I get to sneak out on a week day and go for a ride like this, but that’s not the real reason.

The real reason is that I want to show you this ride for yourselves. So keep an eye on the calendar and you can have your very own taste of Ovington.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Reflections on Rio

Reflections on Rio

So, what has the Olympics got to do with real world riding?

[keep reading to the bottom. There’s something in it for you]

This is Nino Schurter

Nino is from Switzerland.

Nino likes to ride his bike.

Nino is incredibly fit.

Nino is a staggeringly capable bike handler.

Nino is Olympic champion.

 

I’d like to be like Nino, but the sad truth is that I am, at best a pale imitation. I’m relatively fit, I’m reasonably capable at handling my bike and I’m definitely not from Switzerland.

This is Jenny Rissveds

Jenny is from Sweden.

Jenny likes to ride her bike.

Jenny is supremely fit.

Jenny is an insanely gifted technical rider.

Jenny is also Olympic Champion.

 

I’d like to be like Jenny, but I know she is far faster, fitter and stronger than I’ll ever be. Nor am I Swedish.

 

Where I am like both Nino and Jenny is that I really enjoy riding my bike.

 

So, the Olympics then.

For years I’ve had a thing about “cross-country racing.” It somehow never really lit my fire. It seemed to combine all the least interesting bits of road cycling (weight obsession, ludicrously high fitness level, lack of technical interest) with the worst bits of mountain biking (The best bits of singletrack are no use for races because you can’t overtake and there’s no way of designing a long course that doesn’t have boring bits on it, the best bits of a ride are often the social ones). I’d kind of written it off as flat-barred cyclocross.

To sum it up I heard (second hand) someone say of XC racing: “Don’t go looking for the pain. It’ll find you soon enough.” Does that sound like any fun at all?

I heard someone say that mountain biking has more in common with surfing than road cycling. There’s some truth in this. That majority of people who ride mountain bikes have little to no interest in racing in the sense of donning lycra and standing on a start line. There’s far less of a club culture with informal groupings of riders being the norm. There’s also far more of an emphasis on exploration and enjoying the kinaesthetic experience rather than going as fast as possible towards a finish line. There’s a reason that XC racing is not a big deal in Britain.

Having said that, quote someone else: “No general rule is universally applicable.”

So I sat down and watched the Olympic mountain biking more out of a sense of obligation than anticipation. I was expecting flat-backed, lycra clad almost roadies awkwardly doing battle with a farmer’s field that had a few rocks strategically placed in it.

Peter Sagan, Tour de France stage winner and current road World Champion had decided to ride the mountain bike instead of the road race because he thought the course suited him better. Doesn’t that say a lot?

Peter Sagan

Peter Sagan

How wrong can you be?

Very, it turns out.

Something has happened since the last time I watched a cross country race. Something very good.

Riders have become more capable. Far more capable. They are no longer stiff-backed road cyclists on the wrong bike. Now they are real, genuine mountain bikers who revel in technical, demanding trails. They’re happy with their bikes in the air, they’re happy with drop-offs, they’re happy with steep rock gardens. They’re riding full-suspension bikes because they’re more capable.

This means that the course designers have had to up the level of technical difficulty to engage these riders. When I say “upped” there were several bits of the course where I thought “I’d quite like to take a look at that before ploughing into it”. I certainly would be wary of facing them when I was knackered. The course looked like a red trail centre. For the first time in years I even thought: “I’d like to have a go on that”.

In short, it’s turned into something that was recognisable “mountain biking”. These races managed to combine some of the best bits of road riding (the supreme physical effort, the gladiatorial combat at the sharp end) with the best bits of mountain biking (rewarding skill, significant technicality & speed, risk and commitment when taking on features).

It was great. I was hooked for the whole race.

To answer my original question: it’s got far more to do with real riding than I expected.

For the dedicated, here’s the entire men’s race:

And here’s as much of the women’s race as I can find:

But it’s not the be all and end all

Having said all that, you’re not going to see me grace the start line of an XC race any time soon. It did, however, inspire me to get out and ride.

If it’s inspired you, and you’ve got this far I want you to get out and ride your bike too. So here’s a little something to help you:

Here’s a 10% discount code for you. Simply enter “fiverings” on any ride for the rest of the year and you’ll get a discount. You can use it as many times as you want, on as many rides as you want.

I look forward to seeing you.

 

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments
Hunting the Trail Snark part 2

Hunting the Trail Snark part 2

This is part two. Here is part one

And then the wheels come off…

So, I’ve spent hours poring over the maps and the internet for promising looking bits of trail. I’ve managed to stitch them together into something that looks like an actual ride. That means it’s time to test it.

What does a reconnaissance ride look like?

Well, it usually comprises these elements.

A total waste of time

You wouldn’t believe how long it actually takes just to get there. The ride never starts from near home: I’ve ridden virtually everything worth riding near the house.

No, it starts from somewhere much further away.

I can ride there, but that takes time and energy. Even if it only starts 10km away, it turns a 2 hour ride into a four hour one.

Or I can drive there which means loading the bike into the car and unloading it again at the other end. More wasted time. Which has to be repeated for the journey home.

And I haven’t even begun “the ride” yet.

What do you mean, closed?

You shall not pass

You shall not pass

Apparently you can close rights of way. I recently went for an explore near Selborne to discover that a crucial bit of trail was shut and barred off. It doomed the ride I had planned before I’d got hallway round. I just stood there for a moment in stunned disbelief. Then I got the map out and redrew the route.

Bovine belligerence

Bovine beligerence

Bovine belligerence

So, you’ve found a trail through some woods, it’s rich in contour lines, it looks good on paper and you’re salivating with the prospect.

Then you see this sign: “beware: grazing cattle in this wood.” Which translates to: “beware: the ground will be churned to a depth of approximately two feet and soaking wet.” So get ready to get off and push/carry your bike through the quagmire.

And that’s if you don’t actually meet any of the cows.

Equine escapades

churned bridleway

churned bridleway

Bridleways are so called because they were originally access for horses. Which means you can often find them on bridleways now. Horses and their riders have every right to be on the trails and they are usually very friendly and tolerant.

However, they can leave problems for mountain bikes in their wake. By which I don’t mean droppings, I mean hoofprints. Hooves often cause a lot of churning, churning makes trails incredibly rough. A group of horses can turn a rip-roaring descent into something that will rattle your eyeballs out. They can turn a tough climb into a carry.

It’s not deliberate but trails that are popular with equestrians are often not great for riding. You only discover that when you get there.

Full-contact botany

Crab Wood Rainforest

Crab Wood Rainforest

One of the true joys of Britain is that it is a green and pleasant land.

That greenness is a double edged sword, especially in the height of summer. Trails everywhere are a location of lush verdant growth. I know the ecological reasons for it, but it seems perverse that the two plants that make the most of this are brambles and nettles. It is into this heady cocktail of pain that the mountain biker inevitably plunges in full flight.

And it really, really, hurts. Especially when this verdance reduces the trail to utter unrideability, and you turn around in ignominious defeat to find another way home. It’s even better when roses are added to the mix.

There’s a reason I keep a bottle of surgical spirit at home.

What’s the grid reference for the Flying Dutchman?

No, I don’t know either but I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve stood at the precise location where a trail is supposed to be and found myself scratching my head, wondering where on earth the trail is.

It’s rubbish.

It looked great on paper

Sometimes the trail is where it’s supposed to be, it’s not churned up or overgrown. Yet somehow it’s just not very good. It’s not as steep as I thought, the surface is just draggy enough to make it hard work or it’s just too straight to be engaging.

It just leaves you a bit deflated.

Back to the drawing board

Whatever the cause these promising looking trails are all for the bin and it’s back to the map.

I have one ride on paper that’s still not ready after two recce rides.

Why am I telling you this?

I love my job. I really do. I actually enjoy this because, like a prospector, sooner or later you turn up trail gold.

I’m telling you all of this because I’m giving you the opportunity to let me do this so you don’t have to. Allow me to get lost, get covered in nettle stings and bramble scars, dismiss the lovely looking trail as dull and unengaging on your behalf.

Let me do all this stuff I love so you can just ride the best bits once they’re ready. When you look at the rides I offer, remember that I’ve done all this research and exploration to make sure you get to ride the good bits.

Want to know what’s on offer? Check out the calendar

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Hunting the Trail Snark part1

Hunting the Trail Snark part1

I’ve been doing a lot of exploring lately. I’ve been out searching for new trails and putting together new rides. Exploration rides are not normal riding: you wilfully eschew known quality trails in favour of a wilful trip into the unknown.

There are two ways this can go:

Sometimes it looks like this

Happy trail finding

Happy trail finding

 

It’s a sunny day. In front of you there’s a beautiful ribbon of singletrack in front of me snaking away down a valley. The scenery is amazing. No one else I know has ridden this and I looks amazing.

This is the fourth time today I’ve seen something like this.

I’m basking in the glow of success, fabulous riding and the joy of a ride well spent.

If there were anyone else here, I’d high-five them.

More often it looks like this

Dave gets angry

Dave gets angry

I’ve decided not to go out on his usual ride but instead to go out looking for new places to ride.

I’ve spent the last hour riding through brambles on rubbish paths that don’t really exist on the ground.

I’m now late home and haven’t ridden anything that’s any fun at all.

And now I have a puncture.

I could have been having fun.

Don’t be like me…

 

…unless that is your idea of fun.

I’m being unfair

I thoroughly enjoy the process of putting a new ride together, of looking for new places to ride, of sniffing out new trails. It’s an exploration, it’s unknown and it’s an adventure. When it comes off it’s one of the best feelings in the world.

But it’s not without its perils. That uncertainty means there’s a good chance that some, or all, of what you go out to ride will be rubbish. Some of it will be unrideable. Some of it will be miserable. Some of it won’t even exist on the ground.

Sometimes, you turn up an absolute gem. That lottery is why I do it.

Poring over maps

It all starts in the living room with a cup of tea/beer, usually with an Ordnance Survey map laid out on the floor, following those green dashed lines of bridleways (as well as restricted byways and byways open to all traffic) across the map, cross referencing them with the orange contour lines and patches of wood. Looking for the combination that might indicate a good trail.

To me, this is like poring over a catalogue wondering about Christmas presents. I love it. I can (and do) spent whole evenings doing this.

Then it’s out with the laptop to check google earth for the aerial photos to see what it actually looks like on the ground (streetview can be really helpful too) which could spell success. Then check Strava because there’s a good chance someone has ridden these trails before and recorded if they’re any good.

After all that, I’ve got the outline of a route.

There is, however, only one way to find out if the trails are actually any good and the ride works: to get out there and ride it.

Of which more next time…

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Wednesday Night Club August 3rd: Not running

Wednesday Night Club August 3rd: Not running

Good morning everyone.

There is no Wednesday Night Club this week: I have a prior commitment and can’t be there.

We’ll be back on as usual next Wednesday, riding from Crab Wood. The Friday Morning Club is running as usual, riding from Crab Wood this week.

I’ll see everyone on Friday, at the weekend or next week.

Have a good week everyone and enjoy your riding.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments
Hampshire Bowman Festival Ride

Hampshire Bowman Festival Ride

Cracking singletrack, stunning views and two of the area’s best loved pubs. What more could you ask for on a ride?

This is a tour of some of the lovely trails, villages and pubs in this part of the world. What’s not to like?

This ride shows off some of the quiet green lanes and forgotten paths through Hampshire that are ideal for relaxed riding. The mix is spiced up with some lovely woodland singletrack which is lovely at this time of the year.

We’ll be setting off from the Hampshire Bowman pub in Dundridge, heading in the direction of Owslebury before swinging through Upham on the way back.

FIND OUT MORE

 Join the ride

The Friday Morning Club: Crab Wood

The Friday Morning Club: Crab Wood

Want to ride your bike somewhere really nice where there is no traffic but don’t know where to start? Then join us on the Friday Morning club.

The Friday Morning club is a fun introduction to mountain biking. It’s designed as an introduction for beginners and those who want to rediscover the joy of riding bikes. It’s all about enjoying yourself out on two wheels alongside people who share the same goal.

This week we’re riding round Crab Wood on the west of Winchester. The woods are riddled with fun riding and Andy has stitched together the best of it into a lovely ride that captures everything that’s fun about riding here.

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Hampshire Bowman Festival Ride: Sunday 31st July

Hampshire Bowman Festival Ride: Sunday 31st July

Cracking singletrack, stunning views and two of the area’s best loved pubs. What more could you ask for on a ride?

Join the ride

What is it like?

This is a tour of some of the lovely trails, villages and pubs in this part of the world. What’s not to like?

This ride shows off some of the quiet green lanes and forgotten paths through Hampshire that are ideal for relaxed riding. The mix is spiced up with some lovely woodland singletrack which is lovely at this time of the year.

To keep the adrenaline going there are a few great descents that will keep you on your toes but are a hoot whatever speed you ride them at.

You want views across the downs too? We’ve got them in spades at various points along the way.

Oh, and there are those pubs too. One of them is having a beer festival on the day of the ride.

How can you say no?

Where is it?

We’ll be setting off from the Hampshire Bowman pub in Dundridge, heading in the direction of Owslebury before swinging through Upham on the way back.

Stops in villages will depend on how the group is feeling when we get there. There will definitely be the opportunity for a pub stop at the Bowman on our return.

[Google_Maps_WD id=4 map=4]

Who is it for?

There’s a fair amount of up and down in this ride, some of it is quite steep but all of it is perfectly rideable if you take your time. So you will need to be able to ride for a few hours.

There is nothing too technical so most people with a reasonable level of fitness will be fine.

pdf Important information about the ride

How far are we going?

Expect to be riding for 2-3 hours plus a few stops.

Whilst the pubs we stop at serve food, it’s a really good idea to bring some sustenance for the ride.
Join the ride

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Rides, 0 comments