First ride of the year, incredibly mild for January 1st, I’ve seen more mud in the middle of summer! Even though the towpath part of my route was busy with people out for their annual walk in the fresh air everyone was very cheerful and pleasant.
Now i like a solo ride, the feeling of self sufficiency and tranquility and I came up with a few ideas for future rides and promoting work so all was good. even the occasional drizzle didn’t spoil things but today I’d have kind of liked some company. last year the NWAlpsCC group seem to have lost all motivation for riding. Rides have been posted up on the Whatsapp group and either there are no replies, replies with no committal or flat out “no’s” Now i know it’s not always convenient for everyone but we’ve gone from 8 or so people out on a boxing day or new years day ride to just me on both days, even last summer and the best weather we’ve had for ages brought out very few people. I’m beginning to think it might be me! I’m hoping that there’ll be more people to ride with this year, shared trails and adventures are always more fun
It’s that time of year again when we are bombarded with “new year new me” posts on social media. Lots of people join a gym this time of year, turn up to the introduction meeting and then never go again.
I’m not going to bother with a new me, I just want to continue with the old me but with renewed energy. Last year at this time I stated I wanted to ride for 5000 miles over the 12 months, well that turned out to be a little optimistic but I got close to it. This time I’m not going to set a mileage goal. My goals are to do more of the same but broaden my horizons a little and hopefully ride in new places with new people.
But for my own benefit here are my totals since i started writing this blog and started on my journey of bicycle discovery..
It’s just a bike right? A road bike with a bit of clearance for a bigger tyre? Well, yes and no. that’s a road plus bike though…probably… or is that a touring bike? Hmmm, maybe maybe not although the gravel bike frame will probably have the ability to mount at least one rack, mud guards and multiple bottle cages. That is unless it’s a pure gravel racing bike, paired down to the bone for weight saving and the ability to move forward efficiently at top speed with scant regard for comfort.
A gravel bike will have a cyclocross tyre around 35mm, er unless it’s a 45mm tyre but then that’s a 29er XC mtb with drop bars. Phew! at last we’ve nailed it down. Oh but hang on there’s a 650b option with 2.2 inch rubber so that’s what used to be called in the days before gravel bikes, monstercross! Arrgh!
All road, adventure road, road plus, gravel, cyclo cross, monster cross, tourer, rough stuffer there are lots of fancy names and sub genres but when it comes down to it it’s just riding a bike. In fact that’s just what I’ve been doing. I have a steel mountain bike of at least 10 years vintage. It’ll take a 29er wheel and a CX/Touring/narrow XC tyre in the back, it’ll even take a 29 x 3.0 inch tyre in the front with the lovely steel fork I have fitted. But at the moment it’s got 35mm tyres that cost me £3.99 each from a well known northern online store. The tyres have a continuous centre line of rubber with a few shallow side knobs, The bike is no lightweight but rolls well on tarmac and is frankly scary on any damp surface so you can imagine what it’s like on wet trails, pretty lethal. However it’s made the bike much like HG Well’s time machine. When I ride it I’m transported back to the late 80s early 90s. a time of narrow bars, long stems and the excitement of riding local trails for the first time. The time when we went out exploring and nearly every trail you pedaled down was a new personal discovery. Bridleway signs were an invite to unseen (by me) vistas and new routes to the pub or cafe. handling was scary, brakes (canti) were frankly non existent.
The trails that you now dismiss on your fancy “trail/hardcore” hardtail as being too tame become a proper challenge again, low grip and twitchy handling just with disc brakes instead of canti brakes. except this doesn’t help as the wheels lock up easily unless you concentrate and go gentle with them rather than slamming the anchors as you would with a 2.4″ knobbly rubber tyre to bail you out. The bike skitters about like bambi on the proverbial ice, I suddenly have to pay attention to the trail ahead and actually have to plan where I point the front wheel. I’ve relearned the art of weight shifting to give some extra traction to the rear wheel and to lean on the front to get the most of the limited grip. The bike has old school XC geometry so there’s no relaxing behind a 65° head angle and letting a plush 160mm travel fork take the strain. I have to actually use my arms and legs as suspension! There isn’t even a dropper post!! The adrenaline rush is unreal as you bounce off the rock you missed when planning ahead, it’s how I imagine Danny Hart felt on his rain soaked world championship DH win, stay on your bike Danny!….ok maybe it’s not in that league but it’s the most exhilarating fun you can have at 8 mph, it just feels like 50mph and my thigh muscles are as clenched as they would be at that speed.
So, I’ve got basically a hybrid bike that I use on trails and lanes. I use it to explore. That little lane that has grass growing up the middle that you’ve never ridden up could lead to a gem of a bridleway or track that needs exploring and might link up to somewhere you know and create a great loop. You’d never go up there on a road bike, you wouldn’t have pedaled 30 miles on tarmac on an mtb to get there. The only things that I have on this bike that I didn’t have on a bike back in the day is consistent braking and bars over 600mm wide.
A gravel bike does all this; it’ll probably even have wider tyres too. It will be comfortable over long distances, be forgiving, have all the rack and bottle mounts you’ll ever require and you’ll be at the cutting edge of the latest buzz word in cycling after the “E” word. But do you really need one?
Nope, you just need to dust off that old hardtail you’ve hidden behind a pile of junk in the shed, stick on some narrow tyres, remove the peak off your helmet (not really) and hit the trails that you now ignore or avoid because they are too easy and not challenging enough for your enduro rig. Get back to basics and I guarantee you’ll have a big grin on your face and a little bit of fear in your heart as you hit that first 8mph downhill.
Would I gratefully accept a modern gravel bike over an old hardtail mtb/hybrid?
Now I love the outdoors, I love a spring morning with dew on the grass and the promise of a warm sunny day to come, I love mid summer heat and daylight that last for what seems, well days. I like autumn and it’s changing colours and musty smells as things start to decay and the seasons turn around on their endless cycle. A crisp winter day can be glorious too.
I do however object to the fact that the mild weather brings with it all sorts of drawbacks, Hay fever for one, I’m particularly allergic to grass pollen that fills the air from April to the end of May. This I can tolerate with the help of antihistamine. I suffer in extreme heat. this years 30 degree heatwave wiped me out and rides that would have been long and enjoyable became in an exercise in finding the shortest way home to try and escape from the heat and humidity. I can tailor my day though to get a ride in in the relative cool of the morning or late evening and I’m not bemoaning the fact that we’ve had a proper summer this year.
What i do object to is being victimized whilst out riding. I’m getting singled out and attacked, viciously and without warning. There seems to be no remorse from the attackers and there seems to be an unending supply of them every time I go out. They are quick and agile, they can avoid my pathetic attempts to stop them injuring me. I come home bleeding, swollen and bruised. I can change my route randomly never riding the same trail twice in one week and they still seem to zero in on me with a satellite directed accuracy. I can shout and swear and promise revenge but they still keep coming. i’m at the end of my tether and don’t know what to do about it to end these motiveless attacks that make rides a painful misery.
Does anyone know how i stop these bloody insects from biting and stinging and swarming around me?
Way back in 2010 I started a blog (blogs were the “in” thing then). to try and motivate me to ride a bike more. Over the preceeding years I’d fallen out of love with riding. Life had got in the way. a failed relationship and illness had taken there toll. I was over weight and out of practice and needed a metaphorical kick up the arse. I decided i would collate my ride and mileage count and to prove i’d actually been out (this was before Strava etc) i would take a picture and publish it on my page. I would write a very short paragraph and see how things went. you can find that blog and all the entries here a pic a ride. 8 years on I’ve lost 3 stone, ridden thousands of miles and taken 1169 pictures. Now though things have moved on, I’ve grown as a person, as a rider , changed careers and it’s time for a new focus.
I’m hoping this new venture will help inspire others to get out on their bikes and show them that you don’t have to be an incredible athlete to get out and enjoy the outside world by bicycle an ordinary person can get as much fun out of riding 5 miles along a cycle path as someone riding an epically long route or winning a race. all you need to do is keep turning the pedals and see where that bike takes you. so lets put the shoe to the pedal and see where this goes
after 3 days great riding and good weather there always has to be some payback. those trails Gods need something in return for keeping us safe and excited so one of us had to pay the ultimate sacrifice. the ceremony took place on an alter in Winlatter Forest near keswick whre we popped on our way home. a great few days with great company.roll on the next one! ride 23 4 miles Total 549
Day 2 in the big brother..no not really, Day two started with me nearly chocking on my breakfast after hearing Ben tell Ian he needed to dan his egg form touching his beans with a sausage.. “dam it with a sausage” became the phrase of the trip. Today was spooky wood day and despite Ben’s plan for him to be left on his own at the jump area we dragged him all the way up to the start. Spooky wood is always great and the berms and table tops didn’t disappoint but i always prefer the 2nd and third sections which are much more natural and rooty and rocky. the Trek i was riding was in it element and I got a super smooth ride, bettering my times from previous trips on lots of sections. We did the full red route, had a play on the jumps again, did all the blue descents and the climbs twice. after a cup of tea at the cafe Ben and Ian headed back to the B&B while Dan and i went exploring via Nashy’s cafe (OMG the leek and tattie soup!) We went looking for the Golfie trails and some of the route used by the Tweedlove Enduro, what we found we the UK Gravity Enduro routes including a still under construction stage that we pushed up. it was scary! big rocks, very tight corners after big drops and would need full commitment. i don’t mind admitting it was totally out of my comfort zone. it wasn’t long after this we got lost and had to ask some horse rider how to get home! we need a local to show us some trails to get our eye in before chucking ourselves down something completely blind. we made it back tot he B&B as a heavy rain shower started and boy were we glad to be back, a hot shower and food and the knowledge that we’d sleep well tonight! ride 22 33 miles Total 545
First day in Peebles, Scotland after a 6 hour drive. and after the previous days “easy” road ride the legs were a bit rusty up the first long steep climb to the Glentress freeride area. i took the time needed to pedal up there to dial in the demo bike I was using, I’d already added my usual saddle and adjusted the shocks to my weight so I was pretty much good to go. There are some tasty natural trains on this route up Janet’s brae and i gained and lots altitude trying the various routes. there are way too many trails built by locals to go and try them all so we stuck to the plan and after a steep pull arrived at the free ride area. I set the scene for myself by hitting the “funbox” straight away. this inspired Ian to do the same and he then confessed he’s not ridden over it before but thought if i could do it anyone could!. We filled our boots on all the choice trails such as berm baby berm and the jump section at the freeride area. after a couple of hours the fatigue of the journey caught up with us and we took the blue descent to the cafe and a reviving slice of cake. refreshed from the calories we left the trails and headed for the Cardrona pump track. a tarmac track near a posh housing estate just off a cycle route. A full suspension 29er might not be the best bike for a tight little pump track but it was great fun, even when i slipped a pedal and smashed the pins into my shin opening a hefty gash!. we began to flag a biot then and the pub was calling so we rode back to the B&B ride 21 14 miles Total 512
Off to Scotland for some mountain biking tomorrow so how about a non damaging easy ride on the road? perfect. so why did we do 26 miles at full gas into a head wind? madness! ride 20 26 miles Total 498