Friday, 30 April 2010

Magic people, Voodoo people...

Winter has gently killed my bikes. Attrition. They all have something mildly wrong with them - worn bottom brackets, slack pedals with plates that no longer hold onto fresh cleats no matter how much you wind in the tension screw, forks that need servicing, broken spokes, wafer-thin brake pads, grips that don't....

... with one exception. Mr Wanga, with his lithe steel tubes, stainless Surly cogs and chainrings is in the rudest of singlespeed health. Admittedly that's because he's had minimal use this winter, but hey, I'm slightly scared of the evil little bastard and his surrounding invisible zone of malevolent mechanical mayhem. Lifetime ticklist includes a washing machine, two cars, numerous expensive bike components, though rarely his own and, apparently, a classic Anglepoise lamp while sojourning darn sarf.

But needs must, so out he came for yesterday's night ride. And do you know what, it was ace. I'd forgotten - again - how much I enjoy the absence of chain clatter and shifts, the focus on lines and traction and that funny thing of out-climbing geared bikes not because you want to, but because you have to. The bike made me do it, your honour.

A sweet, gritty evening made sweeter by knowing that I'm off somewhere warm and dry and friendly in just a couple of days time. Like staying with friends because it is staying with friends, ones who I've not seen for far too long.

Mr Wanga however, is staying in his bike cave.

Is it breakfast time yet?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

My gormless battle against the forces of evil...

Like the Buzzcocks said:

"Turn up early in time for our date
But then you turn up late
Something goes wrong again.
Need a drink go to the pub
But the bugger's shut
Something goes wrong again
Something goes wrong again
And again and again and again again and...
Something goes wrong again.
Ah something goes wrong again
Something goes wrong again
Something goes wrong again..."

You get the idea. But the question is, where do you cut your losses. Where do you say, that's enough and look for help. Talking bike maintenance, not life, though they have their similarities. Funny how simple faults in both escalate into WWIII. So, just for the sake of argument and illustration, it starts with a worn bottom bracket in a Cotic Road Rat, maybe a cheap Isis one that's been thrashed senseless for, oh I dunno, 18 months or so.

And the grease that it slicked through its threads has long since gone. With the result that the bottom bracket and the frame have built up a touchingly intimate relationship. You know the stuff, they are so close that they don't know where one starts and the other ends. Sweet.


So it begins. With moderate persuasion. And nothing moves. So it's out with the Plus Gas, the world's most elusive fluid, and an overnight soaking. But still nothing budges. Maybe this is the point where a sensible person says, enough and resorts to, 'professional help'. But not this idiot. Bolt the extractor in place and use a lever, a very long lever, the upright from a bike stand, erm, maybe. Not that I'd know of course.

And that sick feeling when what ought to be the bottom bracket succumbing to ungentle persuasion actually turns out to be the steel tool stripping the alloy splines from the bottom bracket. Ooops. And then you notice that the insert on the other side, that you thought was slightly truncated, has in fact sheered and two thirds of it is still screwed into the frame.

At which point anyone with half a brain would seek professional help. But, I'm quite stupid and stubborn and somehow the external bit of the bottom bracket ends up getting sawn off and chiselled. Ooops. Not a good idea. Not even sure where it came from.

And this is the defining moment, where it is, of course, too embarassing to slink off, tail between legs, to a professional mechanic and explain, haltingly,  just how it is that your frame is clinging stubbornly to the stunted, battered remnants of a bottom bracket, with no obvious way of getting it out.

But of course, that's the nub of it. Going past the point where your mistake is redeemable. Jumping off the edge. The moment familiar to anyone who's ever dismantled a transistor radio. Or a toaster. Or a VCR player. Or an STI shifter. Or an iBook for that matter. When you know, at a gut level, that if you undo those screws, it will never go back together again. But you can't stop. You have to break it. To see how it works. Or just because.

Step away from the seized bottom bracket. And think. Hard. Furrowing your brow will concentrate thought waves more thoroughly.

Anything is preferable to the humiliation of turning up at your local bike shop with a frame in which the bottom bracket is not just seized solid, but all means of turning it have been perversely removed by an idiot. You could like and say your mum / mate / the dog did it, but that's not going to cut it. They will know instinctively you are solely responsible and, as soon as the door closes behind you, the workshop will reverberate to howls of scornful laughter.

So... competing solutions. Hacksawing through a hardened steel axle - exactly how much holiday do I have left again? Then the revelation that if caustic soda can remove stuck alloy seatposts from steel frames, then maybe it can do the same - ah, good God, Keanu Reeves is a flat-faced wooden excuse for an actor, sorry, random channel hopping - to an alloy-cupped bottom bracket in a steel frame.

Nasty stuff. Chemical gloves and goggles, plasticene cups and seals to hold it all in place. The careful pouring and re-pouring for three days, watching bubbles rising and the solution turning a filthy grey. And refresh. Then one morning, the liquid's gone. Enough aluminium dissolved to let it through. Disebelief. Rinse, chisel, hammer, bang, and it's out, mostly. Paper-thin, alkali-ravaged aluminium and the mangled remnants of something that used to be and now isn't quite.

 Something that used to be...

A thorough rinse to remove the residue, which amazingly didn't kill the paintwork, then in with a new bottom bracket complete with copious amounts of copperslip. And a deep sigh of relief, because now no-one need ever know just how stupid I really am. And really, I am quite, quite stupid. But there you go. I guess most of us have done something similarly dim and maybe even got away with it sometimes.

 Caustic soda'd...

Next time, I'll know when to stop. Er, right...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The Great Smell Of Mountaineer.

Wrote this for wurk, but I like it enough to stick it on here as well:
I guess it had to happen eventually, the other day the postie rocked up with a box-full of outdoors-friendly male grooming products called, wait for it, Rockface! I added the exclamation mark by the way, it just felt right. Grrrr... Ruffty tuffty crag-friendly gels, scrubs, balms, shower gels, moisturisers and the rest.

The fantasy...

It smells like, er,  'top notes of green apple, bergamot, mandarin and coriander, middle notes of jasmine, cedar leaf and muguet and a base of precious woods, musk and amber'. So sort of fresh and well, like cosmeticy moisturising, after-shavey sort of things.

But here's the rub – and I don't mean a gently exfoliating scrub containing micro particles for deep cleansing, removing impurities and conditioning the skin – the whole point of being outdoors is not having to wash or worry about how bad you smell.
The great smell of mountaineer features top notes of semi-digested dehydrated food and unburned petrol or paraffin, middle notes of glacier cream and lip balm and a base note of powerful rancid perspiration leavened with fresher sweat, DEET and mouldering baselayer. 

But what makes it special is the unspoken pact that no-one in the group should wash until you're off the hill. Miraculously, stick to this long-established protocol and eau de grimpeur remains completely undetectable – you can share a tiny cramped tent with your mate for, ooh, a week, without the faintest awareness of your mutually dubious aromatic condition – it's God's way of making mountaineering bearable.

The reality :-/

But where it all falls down is when someone breaks the faith, washes and anoints themselves with fresh-smelling unguents. Suddenly not only are your nostrils invaded by, yes, 'top notes of green apple, bergamot, mandarin and coriander, middle notes of jasmine, cedar leaf and muguet and a base of precious woods, musk and amber', but you become instantly and uncomfortably aware of your own personal stench.

The most graphic illustration of this on a big scale was arriving at Lukla en route to Everest Base Camp after starting from Jiri. The Jiri walk-in is a glorious week-long trek through lush cloud forest and up into the foothills and washing facilities are best described as 'basic'.

The result, by the time you reach Lukla, is a satisfying ripeness and only the vaguest memory of the smell of soap and anti-perspirant. Unfortunately arriving at Lukla is like taking part in an overblown chemistry experiment.

And one more gnarly action shot for aromatic luck.

Suddenly the streams of unwashed trekkers from Jiri are mixed in the vast test tube of Nepalese streets and Tea Houses with a torrent of trekkers fresh from Kathmandu and still subtly treated with cosmetics, toiletries and, er, grooming products. The funny thing is that in the petrol-fumed streets of Kathmandu, the smell is virtually undetectable, but transplant the wearer to Lukla and...

Let's just say that I could smell the new arrivals with their clean trekking pants, newly washed armpits and moisturised, exfoliated faces from at least 20 yards away. 

Of course the effect is temporary, two days down the trail and everyone is, once more, a mass of mutually undetectable reeking trekker, but the Lukla experiment tells you one thing – there is no room for male grooming products in the outdoors... 

Saturday, 17 April 2010


Everything's gone dry. Trails that ten days ago were a mess of gritty mud have dried into rippled, rutted, fast-packed Peak ceramic. Shorts are a given and not an if. And you can almost ride and then put the bike away without washing it.

Almost but not quite because the perma-mud along the track below Derwent Edge is still fighting a valiant rearguard action against sun and drying winds. Which in a funny way just makes the rest of it even better.

A lovely ride of halves in the sun today. Started alone on familar trails unvisited for a while, tip-toeing along delicate lines, remembering how the Pace feels on hard, dry, grippy ground, consciously relaxing and letting the bike have its head down a rubble-filled toboggan run. Then gawping foolishly at the views across to Kinder before heading up again, tyres drumming on rock, legs hurting in a good way.

Then, by chance, meeting friends high above Hope and tagging along for a chattery, mellow, hour or two. Round to Ladybower for tea and cake then up the slabby climb, along and down my favourite climb. Compromised. Skimming through rock gardens and digging old lines from deep inside the reptilian, mountain biking bit of my brain.

Before saying goodbyes and winching back, slowly onto the high ground again. Enjoying the peace and the views and the sunshine. No hurry. No racing. Just a gentle roll back to the car. A happy day.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Not a number...

Very entertained by gamboling number- and colour-coded lambs on the way down from Kinder yesterday. Ewes match their lambs, colour and number. What does the colour mean? Search me, maybe they just ran out of paint. Good grief, it'll be baaa codes next. I'll get my coat...

Monday, 12 April 2010

I'm rubbish ...

Recced the Whitton on Saturday. Over Wrynose from the Langdale side, over Hardknott, then down, turn around and back up the Whitton way. Legs not working. Lungs not working. Rubbish. But the Duddon valley is still lovely.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Just Riding

Blinding ride on Monday. Straight out of the front door and into the blue. Or the grey. Pausing to meet an old and good riding mate in Royston Vasey then off for a chatty roll aong the Longdendale Trail and over - via the old railway line from Dunford Bridge - to Langsett.

I don't rate brutality. It's premeditated, a choice and I don't think the hills make choices, they just are. But the climb over Cut Gate, all five miles or so of it, was quite hard. Into a screaming headwind, ridden on sludge. The sort of day when you think, 'it's just me', then realise that your mile-toughened mate is also having something of an epic. Granny ring all the way, mostly rideable, but every so often a step or nadge where you're already at redline and there are no more revs for the step up, so you're off and walking.

The relief of the top and the familiar sight of Ladybower spread out below. Loving my bike for taking me there, then down, cautiously at first, along eroded, rutted trail, then as things firm and loosen at the same time, that mental plummet back to ground level and the roll along the side of the reservoir.  Chatting to leisure cyclist - leezure cyclists - on hire bikes, knocking along with a couple on a tandem, noticing, wryly that we're the only people there liberally splattered with gritty mud.

So the pasty and tea was earned. And needed. And go away, sharking, begging ducks. Cheek.

And after all that I nearly cleaned the Lockerbrook climb, failing mentally rather than physiologically near the top before the roll over to Potato Ally, the Roman Road, Jaggers - a familiar Peak litany - up the 'surprisingly rideable' and unsurprisingly unrideable climb to Hollin's Cross.

Just lovely to be out with stellar views across the Edale Valley to Kinder and, tucked away in the corner, Jacob's Ladder. But that's for another day. A quick conference and we opt for a headwindy roll along the road rather than the Rushup Quagmire, then right onto the Roych track, the first time I've seen it without snow drifts this year. And it's April for gawd's sake, how did that happen?

And is it wrong to laugh at a convoy of 4x4s stranded and grounded on bedrock slabs? Especially when they're so shiny.

Then it's the last proper climb out of the ford. Winching up in the small ring, head-windy miles leeching into tight calves and hamstrings and taking enough of an edge off things to make the final steppy climb over South Head a two-stage affair. Then springs unwinding on the plummet down Highgate Lane into Hayfield where the shop is shut, but the caff is seductively open.

Way too close to home, but hey, never look a gift cake in the mouth. And we do get gift cakes as well, scones which would otherwise have gone in the bin. What a great place, fab cakeage and should be on all western Peak itineraries. Mountain bikers welcome, muddy or not. Try the muffins, they rock, but then so does everything else.

And so finally limped over Lantern Pike and screamed back into sunny Glossop with legs both in pieces and reassuringly still quite functional. A lovely day with a gentle hint of spring in the air and good company. Not about the speed. Or the pain. Or the miles. Just the riding.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Mountain biker in disguise...

Walking and seeing things at a different speed. Perspectives; the layer of rubble at the base of the cross-sectioned shivering road. Mountain bike tracks in mud and lines that, to a walker, look remarkably like ruts. The tiny details you don't see from the saddle because you're moving too fast, too focussed. Strangely therapeutic. Except that I feel like an undercover mountain biker. Eyes scope bike lines. Fingers twitching for imaginary brakes. Bike envy at muddy tyre tracks. Tomorrow...

And bonus dreadflocks...

Very tired. You should get a bell for that.