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


My sense of wellbeing says it happened.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Uncategorised, 0 comments
How can it be cheating if there are no rules?

How can it be cheating if there are no rules?

E-Bikes are taking over the world. What are we going to do about it?

What the hell is an E-bike? Sadly, they are not a range of Yorkshire bikes. Instead, they are bikes where a motor assists your pedalling. Power assisted means that the motor only works when the pedals go round. So, no pedalling=no power. Simple really.

Fat E-bike

Fat E-bike

Like it or not, if you are keeping up with current mountain biking affairs, you need to have thought about them. If you want to think of yourself as abreast of current developments, then you probably ought to have an opinion about them.

Which brings me to cheating…

Disgruntled of South Angryton

I read a letter recently in a popular mountain biking magazine on the subject. The writer definitely had an opinion on E-bikes:

“E-bikes are not real mountain bikes and the people who ride them are not real mountain bikers.”

This definition of people who are different from yourself as “not real” whatever, comes up a lot in situations far more serious than mountain biking (usually associated with unpleasantly narrow definitions of belonging and nationalism). It really raised my hackles.

It also made me think: who are you to set the rules and tell me how to ride my bike?

“Road cyclists would not tolerate their world being invaded by cheating E-bikes”

Now we come to it: they’re bad because it’s cheating. Cheating whom, exactly?

The rules

There are always rules for things. A group of roadies have compiled a set of ever-so-slighty tongue in cheek Rules for riding on the road. They’re worth reading if you haven’t already.

For the purposes of mountain biking there are rules, they come in a set of broad categories:

Safety rules

These are rules that enable you to get home in the same number of pieces as you set off. Things like: make sure your bike is working properly, have a plan for if someone has an accident, check the weather and plan accordingly, don’t ride off a cliff, don’t ride the wrong way along a trail centre trail.

They’re fairly self-evident and it’s a good idea to follow them.

Legal rules

In Britain, legal rules mostly boil down to access: where are you allowed to ride? Bridleways are fine. Footpaths are not. If it isn’t a road, bridleway, BOAT or restricted by-way then the chances are you’re not supposed to be there. You can also count things like closing gates, not chewing up trails, slowing down for pedestrians and horses.

Following these rules minimises the chance you’ll get into trouble with the law. It’s a good idea to follow them.

Social rules

Now we’re into etiquette. We’re talking about things like: be nice to each other, offer to help people who might need it, don’t go haring past someone who is slower.

These rules are there to make everyone’s life that little bit better because we’re basically being nice and looking out for each other.

Level playing-field rules

This is really what disgruntled is talking about. The bikes aren’t breaking any safety rules, they’re not against the law, social rules are largely down to the person in the saddle rather than the bike.

So what rules has the E-biker broken? They’re cheating. They’re gaining an unfair advantage. They’ve broken the rules that keep the playing-field level.


Competition. Competition is about comparing things to see which one is better. In order to make it a fair comparison you need rules to ensure that you are comparing like with like. If you are comparing how fast two cyclists are, then you need rules to ensure that you’re comparing the two cyclists.

E bikes World Championships

E bikes World Championships

This is where being motor assisted breaks the rules: It’s unfair to compare a cyclist using only their legs against one who has a motor. Motors are big news in the worlds of road and cyclocross racing.

So they’re cheating then? Only if you’re racing. Only if you want to compare one rider with another. Only if the first person across the line is important.

You might have noticed that I didn’t appear at the Olympics this year.

Rio Olympic Mountain Bike- Men

If you’re not racing then you can’t possibly be cheating

Simple really. If your bike is safe, if you’re following the law and you’re polite then you’re grand. From where I’m sitting, my charges are already cheating by not carrying the havy leader’s bag that the safety, legal and social rules dictate I carry with me.

I’m not racing. Yes, I Strava my rides but I’m not going to get that upset if someone goes faster than me because I’m really not racing. In this case, the only person I’m competing with is myself.

So, if I’m not racing then you’re not cheating on your E-bike. We can go ride together.

It’s far more important to me that you’re enjoying yourself.

So, what am I going to do about E-bikes? Go out for a ride with them. That’s what.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 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
Ride with someone better than you

Ride with someone better than you

It’s an old truism of mountain biking that the best way to improve (apart from actual coaching) is to ride with someone faster than you.

Try to stay with them, watch their line, their body position, where they brake, where they don’t, all those kinds of things.

Over the years, this informal has been a lot of fun. I remember playing ducks and rakes down some of our favourite local descents. Nothing makes you go faster than your mates right behind you. Very little is scarier than only being able to see your mate’s rucksack in front of you. Tip: don’t get too close. It works though.

Those rides seem a long time ago. These days my riding buddies are of more of a cross country persuasion. We’re pretty quick, with a bunch of Strava Kings of the Mountains between us. Great for setting a target going up hill but, when the trail points down, the story is often the same: “Andy, why don’t you go in front? You’ll only get held up.” It means I can see the trail ahead but doesn’t really improve my skills particularly.

I’m always looking for ways to improve my riding. I read magazine articles and try to put it into practice. I watch videos of the trail gods throwing shapes and try to do the same thing when I’m out. None of this is a substitute for seeing the real thing in action.

Which is why I was excited to be heading off to see my old friend Phil for a day’s riding around his local haunts in Kent. Phil and his mates are much more gravity oriented than my riding chums. At least one of them has successfully completed the Megavalanche which is a bit extreme for me. So I was looking forward to learning something new.

Here’s the Strava profile of the ride for your entertainment.

The ride was sold as “more cross country than sessioning descents” but I’d been out with Phil before and wasn’t fooled. Actually, I was. It really was more of an XC ride, but that didn’t matter. There were a few chances to watch these fellas in action. They were all quicker than me when gravity beckoned. They were definitely more skilled than me. But there I was, as close to their back wheel as I could manage (which was often not that close if I’m honest). I managed to see how they went about things, how they set themselves up, when they were fast and when they were slow, what line they took. A thousand tiny lessons. All of which will be added to my skills bank and used when I’m out here.

So what did I learn from them? What the line into a steep bend looks like. That my tyres will hold on round those bends. That brakes are sometimes my friend and sometimes my enemy.

Did they learn anything from me? Carry a spare banana. What persistence up loose hills looks like. That Hampshire riders can ride steep chalk slopes well.

Did I learn anything from the ride as a whole? No one uses Strava in Kent or I wouldn’t have got a top ten placing on a road climb riding a mountain bike. That loam is a lovely surface to ride. That a mid ride pub stop can be fraught if you’re covered in mud.

Most of all though, none of this matters if you’re having fun. So just get out and ride.

Thanks to Phil, Tom and Griz for showing me round their local woods. I’ll come back and ride them again when they’re dry.

Posted by BackPedalling Andy in Thoughts, 0 comments