Thursday, 27 May 2010

Trusting the bike that bit you...

My Voodoo bit me last week. Took a chunk out of my elbow and had a quick gnaw at my right knee for good measure. Evil little git. Cruising fastly down an innocuous, used-to-be-rocky descent, thinking how smooth and quick it is now when, POW! Front wheel smacks hard into something invisible and KERBANG, I'm flying through the air in slo-mo, with 'this is going to...' OUCH!

Followed by that cursing, near tears, two minutes of indignant pain mixed with self hatred - YOU IDIOT! - followed by limping CSI forensics. Yes, that's the gouge where the bars hit the ground. And the skid mark and, oops, that'll be two inches of angle iron poking out of the trail. Which would explain why the front tyre is flat and...

So of course it wasn't the bike's fault at all. It was mine. Predictably. And whoever stuck that bit of metal in the middle of my trail. BASTARD!

Tube replaced. Home limped to. Damage tallied and Wanga stowed in the bike cave.

And now two weeks later, scabs and bruises crisping and fading, I contemplate riding the thing again. Except now I don't trust it. Despite knowing that actually the crash wasn't the bike's fault at all, somewhere at the back of my mind, I kind of suspect that my Pace would have shrugged it all off, shivered, shuddered and carried on. But slim-tubed, steel hardtails aren't quite as forgiving.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.

And it's not rational, but somehow I feel I have to change the bike to trust it. Because it's bitten me once. So tyres that are perfectly good are about to be torn off and replaced with something else. That rear Saguaro that's always felt a bit loose in sketchy dry conditions, it's out of here - the compound's just too hard, right...  And yes, I know, it was the front tyre that did it, but what's logic got to do with it?

And the front, which incidentally has flatted again just sitting in the cupboard, a Minion DHF, that's going too. Despite me knowing rationally that nothing I replace it with is going to grip well on sharp bits of metal. But it's out of here anyway.

Because strangely, trust isn't completely rational. And it's easier to blame the bike than my own blase incompetence. Easier to assert that the Wanga is actually possessed. And evil. And new tyres? A ritual offering to appease the bloody thing.

But the funny bit is that while I know it was my fault and I know that the bike was essentially blameless, changing the tyres will make it feel better. And it'll be the first step on the ladder to rebuilding faith in the bike and, more importantly, faith in me riding it.

What tyres for trust?

Monday, 24 May 2010

Trail centred...

I've never really been a trail centre kind of guy. I'm a Peak District sort of cove, I like messy, rocky, jumbly things that make you think about lines and don't come with guarantees. Trail centres, on the other hand, always seem kind of predictable - if this is Saturday it must be Llanyafanglenerleithenbeattie, you know, the one with the bermed singletrack heading down through the trees and the rolling kickers on the final descent to the caff.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying trail centres are bad things, for starters, they keep real trails quieter and provide jobs for pixies. And I'm not saying that you shouldn't love them, just that I don't.

Or that's what I thought until Saturday. While the more skilled folk took off for an uplift day at Innerleithen, more average riders like me headed off to Glentress on a glorious, sunny day and teetered around first the black route and then, in the case of three of us, the red for dessert.

And you know what, it was lovely. No soul-destroying fire road climbs, not too many people - fear of heat stroke ain't all bad -  some lung-burning, switchbacked middle-ring drags into open-skied hill tops but best of all, a succession of swoopy, bermed, mellow, singletrack. Blimey, some of it was even starting to disintegrate for a more 'natural' sort of feel. And you know what, sometimes it's nice to have your very average riding ability flattered and kid yourself that you might be fast-ish and even smooth.

It was lovely. Not whoop out loud lovely, but warm, mellow, shared smiles at the bottom of the section lovely. And they have cake there, which is more than you can say for Cut Gate...

Hmmm... I could get used to this.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Home is where your bread maker is.

People write lots about exploration and travel and holidays, but not so much about coming back. After big trips, it's the difficult bit. The journey becomes home and you lose your connection, struggle to stop moving. But after short jaunts, the ones where you've never acclimatised fully to being away, never have to, it's just lovely.

Simple things - the taste of your own coffee, the feel of your own mugs, the mingled scents of garlic, fresh bread and chain lube. Sitting reading in your favourite chair. Radio 4 in the background. With a choice of clothes. And plants. And, of course, a choice of bikes. Erm, yes, I know. The strange warmth of familiar roads and trails. And knowing that the local phrase for 'new jockey wheels, please' is in fact 'new jockey wheels, please'.

Nice to be away, but nice to be back too. Home is where your bread maker is.

Monday, 10 May 2010

A small, familiar oasis of biking tranquility.

I remember the first time I ever visited my friend Simon in Spain. We rolled into Malaga airport, with bikes, at about nine in the evening. Strolled out into a wall of fresh, evening heat, stashed the bikes on a trailer and drove off into the night. Chugged off might be more accurate - back then, Si was driving a knackered old Mk3 Polo diesel - the passenger window was jammed open, the door was jammed shut and the whole thing was fragrant with the delicate scent of diesel.

About three hours later, we arrived. Somewhere back in time. White rounded walls, stepped alley ways and a total absence of light. Medieval. Bikes in bags dragged slowly through narrow passages and, finally, into the cool, low innards of a traditional Spanish house. Bird sounds. A lizard in the shower. And next morning, a view down to the sea that made you want to cry.

The plan was to stay for a week with Si, who'd just set up Freeride Spain, then take off for a week touring southern Spain - Sevilla, Ronda, Granada... Except that somehow the blend of hot, dusty, technical riding. Laid-back Spanish living. Bonkers strong coffee in the sun. And the best company. All those things made it almost impossible to leave.

And when, finally, we tore ourselves away, we virtually had to force Simon to take our money. The daft sod.

Since that first visit, ten years ago, I've lost count of the number of times I've been out to Spain. Through good times and bad - there was the epic week when I'd been climbing near Alicante and drove over to find Simon with a broken leg, near bankrupted by a cantankerous Oldmobile people carrier, and shivering in near freezing temperatures - riding old trails and new. Always happy to be here, always welcome.

I've watched Freeride Spain grow from random beginnings, to a small, happy, family business. Seen Simon and Emma marry. Met Maxi. And the bump to come. Got hammered hopelessly on gin and tonics. Crashed myself senseless. Laughed. Cried. Sometimes simultaneously.

And here I am again in the sun. Alternating road and trail. Missing my road bike. Loving my mountain bike. Drinking Spanish coffee in familiar bars. Stirring tea in a familiar fishy mug - the last survivor, I think, from a bulk buy of Orgiva crockery.

Feeling mellow and slightly sad for reasons I don't quite understand. And happy too. Coffee. Tapas. Groomed tarmac with drivers who treat cyclists with patience and consideration. Empty, fast, dusty technical trails. Climbs that throw you into the sky and dare you to look back. Road rides above the bluest of seas. Good friends and cold beers. A little oasis of comfortable familiarity.

I'm not sure I want to go home.

Monday, 3 May 2010


In a pre-Spanish packing frenzy - bikes, bits, clothes, sticky tyres, pads. New seals and oils in the trashed Pushed Pikes so now they're trashed, plushed Pikes. RP23 or DT Swiss for Spain? CK BB snugged up, lubed up and happy again. New P20 on the table. List of things to do on the bench. Procrastination on the mind because I hate / love packing frenzies. Hence the lap-top on the lap.

And somewhere on the edge of awareness, a quiet, warm, smile drifting into the edge of the weather map,  because... well, because I'm off to where it's warm and dry and the trails are fast and dusty and rocky. And beer comes with free snacks. And I'm going to see friends who I haven't seen for far too long.

Full circle.

Last ride before heading out, as non-Spanish as possible, so Voodoo singlespeed on illicit Peak singletrack. Lovely. Right, better do some packing. Tomorrow I wake up in the sun.