Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Dirty, filthy, titanium, road speed...

An ace weekend. Saturday out with my mate Steevo for one of those even-paced Peak trundles that just seem to be just right - took the Pace, so Rags could bang his headset against the bike cave door and was all the more mellow for it.

Traditional 10 o'clock start from Hope, a steady roll along the Roman Road, up the concrete switchbacks and down a water-ravaged Lockerbrook with new steps and plenty looseness. Tea and ducks at Fairholmes, then over WLT the long way up and the short way down. Riding appallingly badly, with a cracking inability to adjust to the faster steering of the Pace, but it didn't really seem to matter.

Then back to Hope via the Roller Coaster and back down the Roman Road and a fleecing at the Woodbine. Dear God that place has got stupidly expensive. Nice to catch up with a not seen enough mate and good to ride and not feel completely broken afterwards...

.... so took Mog out on Sunday for one of those ever-expanding road trundles and felt, well, not quite good, but okay. Wore, erm, shorts and a jersey and NO windproof. Five hours, some biggish climbs, some nice views and a horrendous squeal and pulsing from the rear brake that the drop into the back of Castleton finally killed. Whew...

HRV fine this morning, weather good, clocks forward. And suddenly, this evening, it all clicked into place. At last. With 90 minutes of dirty, filthy, titanium road speed. One of those rides where there seems to be a tailwind even when there isn't one, when you just fly up climbs and every flat is blur of big-ring speed. Finished over Monk's with a big grin and a soap-time view down into Glossop.

 Hello legs, welcome back.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


I've not done many group rides recently. Lots of pedaling solo, trying to feel what my legs are doing, looking at scenery, taking the odd snap, chatting to random folk along the way - 'Some weird cyclist collared me above Holmfirth and wouldn't shut up' - and hills, always hills.

But in the last week I've done not one, but two group outings, both with new people and both pleasantly enjoyable in a low-key, just rolling along sort of way. First one was last Sunday with Lowey and a bunch of STW forum users, mercifully there was no awful swapping of embarassing forum handles, which sort of happened after I e-mailed Dave to offer him the loan of a front brake.

Anyway, to cut a short story shorter, I did the human GPS gig from Hayfield, over the Roych, along Rushup then back up over Jacob's Ladder with a detour round under Kinder Low and down to the reservoir. Some slightly grumpy weather, but mostly just a really mellow, relaxed roll around with no ridiculous alpha-maledom in evidence and a gentle buzz from seeing other people enjoying new to them trails. But blimey, the Ragley doesn't really want to do 'gentle', wrong bike maybe...

And then last night, another mildly mellow Hayfield jaunt with Twisted Wheels peeps taking in the naughty side of Chinley Churn - Cracken Edge, which, if you've not done it is an ace bit of trail, but the exposed bit has almost fallen off the side of the hill now.

All good, but there was a strange relief in leaving the TW folk in the Sportsman and heading home solo over Middle Moor in a familiar pool of bobbling light. No stopping, no waiting, just me, the bike, a lot of memories, mostly good, some a little sad, and a track consisting mostly of loose rubble washed down by the recent torrential rain.

Screwed up the ford - I'd been riding like a drain all evening, too much tyre pressure, not looking far enough ahead - then rolled in a self-preserving, restrained way, down to the road and a final tarmac climb before the plummet down Chunal and home.

Rags and roll. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

A bit like spring.


Lundun, innit. People, lots and lots of people. People compressed into so small a space that they pop out of their cars and walk. En masse. But alone in their little bubbles. Squeezed into tube trains like rats. Everything turned inwards.

It's good to go back. Reminds me of why I left in the first place. The feeling if being entombed in concrete. Layers of suburb between me and hills. Remembering the train slicing through them like a drill escaping from a stack of Russian dolls.

Mine were actually bought in Russia. Thanks dad, sometimes having a Russian banker for a father was useful.

So, after a day of strategy meetings, coffee meetings, getting to know you meetings, I was tired of meetings and people. So instead of getting the tube, I walked. From the office in Islington to my mate's place in Finchley.

There's something really basic and grounding about walking through the concentric layers of city. The weird once broken regeneration of King's Cross. The tawdry plastic trendiness of Camden Town. Affluent beneath a still dirty crust Kentish Town and Tufnell Park. And then the long, long climb into the niceness of Highgate.

Before the empty moat of Hampstead Lane. People don't walk here any more. They drive or maybe run. And right into the Garden Suburb.

Where I stand gawping and open mouthed at the sheer affluence. Streets of ridiculously big, ridiculously clean and ridiculously expensive mansions. Big cars. Big trees. But not hedges or walls, I think, because the Garden Suburb won't allow them. The rich stripped bare.

And I find myself wondering what they people who live there are like. What they've done to have that much money. What their lives are like. And somewhere in the back of my mind, a small voice is asking whether in a different world, I could have sold my soul to the city. Or advertising. Or... erm, anyway.

Idle thoughts. And on across the suburb, familiar running roads. With no runners. Just big, expensive cars rushing home in a bubble of shiny luxury to slam the big, wooden double doors on the world.

Funny things legs. Much under-rated. They can take you to the top of Everest or just stand in for a tube train. Bikes are faster. But legs are somehow more grounded.

Food. Chat. Drive. Fog. Crawl. Home. Hills.

Monday, 7 March 2011

The best sounds in the world...

There are two really good noises in the world, yes, only two. One is the distinctive thunk that an ice tool makes when the placement is spot on, solid, right, in good ice. And the other is the strange hollow, crunching hum of mountain bike tyres running fast and loose over dry, hard, singletrack.

Given that Kinder Downfall thawed at least a month ago and even when it was in, looked worryingly think and brittle, no prizes for guessing that this evening's dying of the light soundtrack was the second.

But actually, what made it a really lovely ride was the company, a climby mate who doesn't ride mountain bikes much, but with a mildly broken foot ain't going anywhere fast without wheels.

It's lovely riding your local trails and seeing them, just a little through someone else's eyes. And when they're drying and fast and framed in golden late afternoon light and punctuated with incendiary grins at the bottom of every descent and hyperventilation at the top of every climb, it's just ace.

And at the end, when Danny said thanks for the ride and the loan of the bike and I said no, really, thank you for dragging me out, it was special, I really meant it. Bikes are great, but after all, they're just bikes. It's people that really matter.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Between the illness and the fitness...

Somewhere between being ill and being better are the weird shadow-lands of 'not suredness' and that's kind of where I am at the moment. Essentially I'm okay, I have the faint remnants of a cough and that slightly comatose, post illness feeling of not being quite as sharp as I ought to be.

Handy bike and rider stand courtesy of the Ordnance Survey. Thanks guys, right at the top of the climb too, which shows real thoughtfulness.
And on the bike, while I have enough base to trundle along quite happily at a sort of seven out of ten level, when I try to go that little bit harder, push over the top of a climb, boost over some technical steps or whatever, I kind of hit a rev limiter. Which is annoying and slightly disheartening.

And the funny thing is that the ithlete app is drawing an amusing, saw-blade, post-illness portrait of instability. Drops and rises in HRV are more exaggerated and a brisk night ride is enough to send me further down that it ought to.

It's funny wondering if a three-hour road ride is going to be 'too much' and wondering if I'll be able to hack the pace on a local group ride, when I'd normally simply just turn up and ride. And at the back of my mind, there's always the worry that if I do too much, too soon, I'll break myself again, go post-viral and spiral into a rubbishy trough of uselessness.

There are worse times of year to be 'not quite well' - summer for example or when the trails are cracking with deep frozen ice beneath your wheels.
So instead I'm looking at the bright side. Planning on riding places I've never ridden, but really want to - Torridon, Mid-Wales, maybe the Alps or Pyrenees on the road bike, and wondering hard about taking a bike out to Nepal in the autumn. Poring over maps spotting local and not so local trails and remembering why I ride a bike in the first place, which isn't about racing or winning or beating people, but all about just being out there, moving through beautiful places and the sensation of a body functioning efficiently and working hard.

And yeah, going fast too - fast for me that is, I have no illusions about my relative speed. All of which makes pottering through the get shadowlands of Not-Quite-Wellshire a bit depressing. But hey, it'll come.