Monday, 29 June 2015

Light Ribbing

Regular followers of this webseries will remember I had a bit of a crash on Tuesday. Here it is in slightly more brutal slow-motion.

Well, this still hurts a lot so I was after a smooth easy ride this weekend to keep my legs working without hurting myself more. I filled myself with painkillers and set out to link up the ride from last Saturday with my usual riding areas in Hertfordshire.

It was hot and dusty out which always makes for a good day, even if adding extra obstacles in the shape of dog walkers and horse riders. It made me dream of bigger days in the mountains or flowing jumpy trails, but I made do with the dry fast lanes just north of London and made it home with pain in my chest, but having more than survived.


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Four Cross

While it could be argued that four bikes are too many, there are some occasions when it feels like exactly the right number. Within the last four days I have ridden each, and each was right for what I was doing.

On Saturday I pre-empted a boozy afternoon with a ride. The plan was to explore a new bit of Hertfordshire, slightly further away and finding new bridleways and tracks to add into the repertoire. I’d even bought a map.

The ride from Wooton Under Stone headed north across some excellent stony tracks, some fields that would be impassable in the winter, with a quick visit to Cromer windmill then it turned East on an intriguing Roman road slicing across the map. This shot me dead straight for a few miles, with that strangely reassuring feeling of rolling along where people have travelled for thousands of years. After this I headed through Nasty (there’s got to be a joke in there) and hit some excellent spots of bridleway taking me back to Wooton Under Stone in the rain.

It was highly satisfying to do a new loop to add to the list. To extend my knowledge and explore. The ride was on the hardtail as it seemed suited to bridleway cruising, and I headed back avoiding the road closures for the Women’s Tour of Britain with arms burning from the nettles.

With one bike ridden the BMX was next up and Lordship Rec was the target to blast out a hangover and get some jumping in. This went entirely well, with another double nailed and the only issue a minor crash as I landed missing a pedal at one point, bringing the weekend injury total to a couple of scraped shins.

The third bike got some time with the usual ride to work, where I was able to investigate what I see as the issue with organised events on open bridleways by looking at the Strava fly-bys from my recent ride in Shropshire on the Long Mynd. Our route is in red and you can see us leaving from Marshbrook after the event has been going for a little while.

Draw your own conclusions.

One bike left to ride, so with a friend’s fencing finished I took a day off work and headed to meet him and introduce him to the fun to be had at Swinley Forest. I took the full susser to hit the jumps and get a bit of a sunny woodland big ring bash. We rode one full loop and another shortened one and it shows how much fun the tail can be, especially when you attack it with a friend and push each other a bit to go faster and bigger.

So four bikes in four days, you could almost argue that I need more…


Monday, 15 June 2015

Breaking the Chain

Another weekend and more exciting cycling. Least interesting was my riding, I headed into the Chilterns, where I started with an long ride that I’d done in the wet before, hoping that the recent good weather would hold and that reversing the direction would help to make it better.

It drizzled in a steady non-ending way so that wasn’t a great start, but the ground had dried and was only wet on the surface so it ran faster and wasn’t the slog I’d found before. The ride also worked well in reverse, actually allowing it all to be ridden when I’d had to push a couple of climbs on the first go. Definitely solid Chilterns epic to be redone.

On Sunday I rode a favourite, acting as a guide, and at a lower speed than usual. This allowed me to hit some of the tough hills fresher and in some cases faster than ever, ending up with a riverside pint.

Then there was the pro racing scene, with drama all around.

The Dauphiné came into the final day with Froome 18 seconds behind the leader Teejay Van-Garderen after a week that had ridden him into position. With a final solid attack he made up the deficit and raced to a second title in that race. He is now targeting the Tour de France and looks to be in great form.

Then there was the third round of the Downhill World Cup in Leogang. The women’s race was a moderately predictable affair with Rachel Atherton on the top step, Tahnee Seagrave in second and Ragot in third. Manon Carpenter continued her bad luck, looking to be blown off course on the final jump, crossing the tape and ending up disqualified.

The men raced to more exciting action. Loic Bruni held the hot seat for most of the day but would not hang on for the end of the day. Gee Atherton could only get to sixth, with the big excitement in the top three. Remi Thirion took crazy line to take third, behind Aussie Kona rider Connor Fearon putting in the ride of his career so far to take second. Then it was just Aaron Gwin to come down the mountain. He powered out of the gate and instantly broke his chain, so his day was surely over?

Gwin has taken the chainless crown from Neko Mulally and showed just how incredibly skilled he is, destroying the field and powering through even the pedally middle section with flow alone.


Tuesday, 9 June 2015


The eagle eyed and detail oriented of you who are mad enough to watch nearly fifteen minutes of average riding around the Midlands yesterday will have spotted a glaring continuity error. Yes, on the section I put together of riding down Minton Batch, switching between two riders I was in different gloves from the rest of the day.

This is because the section on my bike was filmed, not at the same time, but the previous evening. I didn’t think of the gloves (and actually my top and the angle of the light) because, quite frankly I make this stuff up as I go along and it only occurred to me to tell the story like I did as I edited the video. So, anyway, sorry for the deception.

On the plus side it lets me do this like it’s one of those cool race comparison things.

I mean that makes me feel good at least…

Talking of racing there was lots of that happening on Sunday. In East London Bradley Wiggins attempted to break the hour record, and did. This came as a surprise to virtually no one even as they played up the heavy weather, but it was really nice to see him do it and to set such a margin.

Meanwhile in Scotland the Downhill World Cup circus arrived in Fort William. For the quick summary, Manon Carpenter crashed hard, but got 4th, Rachel Atherton won and then Greg Minnaar stormed the track to take the men’s race in front of Aaron Gwin. As usual the course threw up fun and games and looked to really challenge all the riders.


Monday, 8 June 2015

Midlands Motorway Loop

As ever I had a plan for a weekend of riding. The basis was a loop of motorways that would take me out to the midlands and back and fit in a bunch of great trails, both natural and man-made. There would also be a mix of known and new with the chance to explore a new range of hills. My accommodation would be a shepherd’s hut in Shropshire, giving added security and electricity over a tent but little else in the way of mod-cons. I had invited a bunch of people I’d ridden with recently, but most were tied into grown up chores like doing the garden or babysitting and couldn’t come out to play on bikes.

It would turn out to be a weekend with superb riding, but with a whole series of frustrations at every turn.

Thanks to the M1 and M6 the first stop was designed as a bit of a warm up in a way. I figured a lap of Cannock Chase would get me dialled in to ride, blow out the cobwebs and get any stupid accidents out of the way. The trail delivered well but served up the first annoyance as large sections are currently closed for forestry work, slightly reducing the fun factor as diversions take in fireroads not singletrack. However I felt I was riding well and going bigger than ever on some sections with the confidence that regular riding brings. Then I punctured.

This is unusual as the surface and style at Cannock, as with other trail centres, makes it hard to find anything to actually puncture on. After a quick change I was off again, but found the rear tyre flat again before long. Fixing it again I concluded that the issue was a worn out tyre, nursed it back to the car and bought a new tyre from the convenient trail head shop.

I chalked this up to paying homage to the mountain bike gods to ensure a hassle free trip from then, but it was not to be. I headed for Shropshire.

The campsite containing my shed was so tantalisingly close to the final loop of the ride I had planned for the morning that I couldn’t resist a quick blast once I was settled. This took me up a fireroad climb past the gliding club and then plummeting down Minton Batch, arguably the definition of brilliant British singletrack as it swoops and whoops down a beautiful valley. Perfect. Or so I thought until a loud bang was followed by my rear brake not working. Investigation found a missing retaining split pin, and a missing pad. How had it gone? A rock strike? Overheating? Bad fitting of a rear wheel earlier in the day? I eased off and got back to the campsite on just a front brake.

Friday was done and the rest of the weekend had to be issue-free, right? I fitted new brake pads and was ready to be joined by my brother for the classic triple-looped Long Mynd ride. He eventually arrived and we cruised off up the road to Church Stretton.

The trouble with a classic is that it is popular, and you expect to see other riders. I was not prepared for the hundreds of them, all with “race” numbers and filling some of the bridleways we wanted. It turned out to be the day for one of these events for people who are too unimaginative to work out a long ride alone and feel happier on their expensive bike with a pseudo race plate on the front. We undoubtedly irritated some by climbing out of Carding Mill Valley on the track they were coming down, and eventually left their route on the navigationally confusing first climb to the top of the Mynd. We’d find them crowding the first downhill as they largely pushed up but managed to scatter the walking “riders” enough to get a decent blast. Irritating as it is to find the hills full of people who need organising in a crowd to get to the hills, we did then leave them behind after this.

The road climb that I always forget is as hard as it is followed, then the payoff as you saddle the hills and contour to Little Stretton, followed by repeat of the Minton Batch loop, this time with no incidents and just pure fun. We were done and the route didn’t fail to deliver as usual.

The final day was planned to be an exploration. I’ve never ridden the Malvern Hills before and wanted to see what they had to offer. Research before heading there had thrown up some real issues with conflict between mountain bikers and other users so I was aiming to be there reasonably early. I also had a map which would turn out to be excessive as the broad theme of the ride was to follow my nose along the ridge until I ran out of hill and then head back on different tracks. The views were phenomenal and the riding a mix of solid steady climbing and the rocky descents, broadly all on wide tracks but no less fun for that. It was a stunning day and the flat land spread out beneath the hills seemed extra dramatic in the sunshine as I sweated easily higher and higher.

The frustrations here? Well I’m not sure I can count the hordes of people walking dogs and strolling and generally slow to react even when they had clearly seen me, as I was expecting to find that a problem, and perhaps half past nine wasn’t early enough to start to make the most of the hills. Instead I’ll go for my Garmin Fenix totally crashing half way up the first climb leaving me with a useless lump of metal and plastic strapped to my wrist rather than a useful tool to navigate and check progress. I had to log the trip on Strava using my phone instead. Still, worse things happen, and on the plus side I scraped together exactly enough change for the carpark and spend an hour and a half out in the sort of scenery that makes mountain biking in Britain so brilliant at times.