Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Not Good...

I walked out of a biking film at the weekend after about, oh, seven minutes or so. It was called Not Bad, ironically maybe it was not so much not bad as bloody awful. It kind of encapsulated all that's depressing about mountain biking culture - the back story, a bunch of riders sponsored by Trek are shipped out to a beautiful, remote area of New Zealand where they behave like a bunch of overgrown teenagers.

This is a film where food fights are the height of entertainment. Where drinking beer is considered hilarious. Where words of more than one syllable are edited out so as not to alienate the audience. It is a culture utterly devoid of any sort of intelligence.

How's that happened? Is it because mountain biking grew up in a post-literature era of instant internet gratification and YouTube bike porn? Is it because mountain bikers are simply stupid? Is it because of the film-makers editing out any vestige of thoughtful reflection?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not asking for some sort of philosophical analysis of why we ride and what it all means, I'd just like to be able to watch a mountain biking film without feeling that my intelligence is being insulted. And trust me, I'm not that bright.

Oh, and one more thing, the music was bloody awful too.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Globetrotter returns...

Meet the Ragskey... as far as I know, he's one of a kind. The world's only fat curved downtube, fat headtubed, 27.2mm seat-posted Ragley Ti. Looks ace, rides even better and looks good with a Sock Monkey.

Huge thanks to Mark Lynskey and the boys over in Chattanooga, Tennessee for finally sorting out a very confusing warranty situation and taking the time and effort to make things right when arguably they didn't have to. And thanks to, to Hotlines for their part in the process. 

Not sure how I ever ended up dealing directly with Lynskey's head honcho when technically I should have been talking solely to the shop who sold me the frame in the first place, but top marks to Mark for responding so quickly and positively when I e-mailed him, explaining why the initial warranty job was as it was - smaller curved downtube, 27.2 seat tube - and for agreeing to sort things out.

It's taken a while, but it's been worth it. It looks like a Ragley Ti with a curved downtube ought to look and it rides beautifully with a sort of controlled, 'faster, faster' urgency everywhere. Stunning.

Friday, 4 October 2013

I miss my bike...

I am conflicted. I miss my Ragley Ti in a way which is not reasonable. It cracked around six months ago, went back to Lynskey to be repaired, came back looking wrong and is now back in Chattanooga, Tennessee being fixed.

And while I know that riding bikes is about riding and not owning. The process not the means. I miss the thing. Ultimately, I guess, because it's so good that it's transparent, it doesn't come between you and the riding. Which meant it was a default choice - as in, going mountain biking? Which bike? The Ragley.

Which means that now, although I'm lucky enough to have a choice of several bikes, the internal dialogue runs: going mountain biking? Which bike? The Ragley... oh :-/

Clearly it's wrong to miss an inanimate object quite so much, but here's the thing. At a point where a lot of stuff was grey and messy and painful, that bike was a sort of gleaming, uncomplicated, beacon of near perfect rightness.

Never mind.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Cut Gate By Cross Bike

Tell you what, if someone had told me, say two years ago, that I'd one day ride a cross bike over Cut Gate I'd have been extremely dubious. As in disbelieving. Incredulous. And both amused and horrified.

Which made last Sunday's 50-mile Very Stoopid Loop outing with a bunch of Three Peak Cyclocross 'we are training for' peeps a bit of a sanity test.

But actually it was fine. Okay, I crashed dramatically twice, both oddly enough trying to muscle the thing up slightly rocky climbs, okay, one big rock step, one rubbly thing, but mostly it turned out to be fine.

Part of that is that after a dry summer when it's been regularly ridden, the line on Cut Gate is nicely swept of babyheads and defined and part of it is that I'm running 700x38 Bontrager CX0 tyres tubeless converted on the Soma.

So it's sort of a monster cross or a gravel road cruiser. Or maybe just a cross bike with big tyres on, eh?

I kind of like it. You can hit rocky things hard and while it won't exactly float over them, nor will it slam the rubber against the rims and pinch flat on every vaguely rocky descent. I could run lower pressures, I think, but I also know that it's quite possible to pinch full UST tyres - thank you Ragley Blue Pig for that lesson - and that a 700x38 is only something around 1.5" - it is limited.

Anyway, it was amusing. Funny even, apart from the bit when I rolled down the steep bank of ferns and the bike decided to pursue me in a vengeful sort of way. It reminded me forcibly of riding rigid mountain bikes 20 or so years ago with a bit of all-over body fatigue. And the company was good. It also made me glad I'm not doing the Three Peaks.

So now all I have to do is convince my brain that it's okay to do Dusk Till Dawn as a fun pair without being sharp or trained or particularly motivated.

And now I'm going to eat porridge and go road riding. On my home patch. For fun.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Alpine Roadie...

Back from a brilliant 11 days in the Alps riding, mostly, up big alpine cols. What is there to say? Long steady climbs. Considerate motorists. Ridiculous full replica kit-wearing peacocks. Galibier. Croix de Feux. Alp d'Huez. Cutting hairpins uphill. And down. Birthday hotels. Wine. Croissants. Not together. French beef. Sunshine. Laughter. Tired legs. Ace company. Shazza. Mog. And a sort of half-formed plan to do the Marmotte next year. Yes together.

Top of the Col du Glandon. Relatively steep. Relatively fast. Bonkers scenic. Mogtastic descent. I love the turbine howl of Exalith in the morning.

Less scenery, more road. Love the col mentality that says it's fine to stop your car in the middle of the road at the summit of any col while you stand there taking photos. Looking at the view. Looking gormless. Must be the altitude. Gasp.

The view down the valley. That's the middle bit of the Glandon snaking away in the middle distance. Funny thing. Imagine Holme Moss plonked down in the middle of that lot, it'd barely register. Looking forward to seeing the Tour de Yarkshire peleton steaming up that next year. I can't imagine it'll take long.

And why is it that you always leave in summer and return in autumn. How does that work? 

Wednesday, 31 July 2013


I am authentically trashed. My body aches. My feet are oddly tingly. My sleep patterns are devastated. The house is a chaotic jumble of half-sorted kit and bikes. It is awesome.

Did Bontrager 24/12 solo - the 24-hour one - at the weekend and it was brilliant, not least because I actually finished.

What a cracking event as ever, the best 24-hour course bar none with a cracking mix of singletrack, climbing-track and scenic-track. The best people, I don't know why, but 24/12 folk just seem more chilled, friendly, enthusiastic and all-round happier than other 24-hour race people and an organisation that somehow blends a a laid-back casual vibe with seamless efficiency.

After last year's throwing up in the mud at 2a.m debacle, I just wanted to finish and enjoy the ride. Started steady, resisted my brain's unfortunate pull to chase other riders, sticks, sunshine etc, and mostly just kept eating, drinking and rolling.

Fittingly, for an event which is all about the people and the vibe, it was bookended between lovely first and final laps of mellow chatting with a couple of solo women - I put it down to my approachable, grand-dad like vibe - and in between it was a mix of banter, pedalling and hurtling down the techier bits.

The lightened-up Blur 4x helped with the latter too from midnight onwards. Top fun.

Mostly though it was oddly uneventful. The difficult bit, to be honest, was the fuelling. It worked, but from about dawn onwards, all I could stomach was rice pudding. I need to do some serious work on that. And at the end I felt strangely fine. Not particularly broken. Or achey or dead.

Ate food. Slept. Woke up feeling I could have gone harder, which I could have done. And could have spent far less time stopped. But hey, there's always next time to put that one right.

It feels like a hundred years since 2009 when I did the 12-hour solo there and a different world and a different me. Funny how sometimes the worst times end up being for the best.

And pedal. In your sleep.

Friday, 28 June 2013


Invented a new word, viz, 'Stravanfreude' - derived from the German, Schadenfreude it essentially means to take vicarious pleasure from the misfortune of those using Strava. Prime examples are a delight in someone surrendering their pointless KoM or QoM. People who tweet excessively about Strava segments, which is misfortune in itself. And a general amusement at the tight-lipped, humourless determination of Stravanauts as they hurtle around with pointless focus. I quite like the word.

Thursday, 13 June 2013


It's official - I'm not really competitive. Which will amuse a significant proportion of my friends. And various of my bikes. And anyone I've played Monopoly with over the years. I know this how?

I know this courtesy of work team-building games which saw groups of adult journalists, sales-people and high-ranking administrators tear-arsing around central London looking for places to buy obscure fruit and spices, a thing with feathers on that's not alive and a sports car - look, evidence.

The stakes were high - a bottle of champagne and a day's extra holiday. But honestly. The functional skeleton of stuff like this sticks out in a starving wildebeest stylee, you will learn to work together. You will develop strategies. You will get to know your colleagues in different environments. You will hang around Harrods Food Hall trying to buy exactly £1.01-worth of chirimoya and get a receipt.

Somewhere in the middle of that I realised I had a choice. I could choose to enjoy the ambience of central London, G8 riot police and all, to marvel at the new strangeness of streets I used to race down eight hours a day on a courier motorcycles more than 20 years ago and chat to the nice people I'd been arbitrarily teamed with. Or I could throw myself into the game and pretend that all this was important.

I chose rationality. I have no doubt that the folk who won the the thing and are, even now, drinking bubbly for breakfast had no such qualms.

Ironically of course, I also choose to similarly pointlessly race mountain bikes, but here's the thing, it's a better game altogether. But of course it's still a game.

And occasionally I choose to climb up big mountains in distant places. Which is a game too, but a game with proper consequences, which maybe means it's not a game at all. Or a game with very high stakes. Or 'deep play'.

Because if you decide you're not playing any more halfway up an Andean south face, you can't just stop, buy an ice cream and kickback on a park bench, because, aside from the logistical issues - carrying the bench up, sourcing ice cream and so on, you will almost certainly die.

So ironically, what I took from our urban treasure hunt wasn't so different from what I'd take from a walk in the mountains. Entertaining company and chat. Some welcome exercise with the animal feel of muscles working and feet rolling over ground. And most of all a sense of wonder at my surroundings, the sights, the smells, the noticing of small details and the people watching. We had to navigate too - hurrah for GPS.

And that competitiveness is a choice even when it's shoved ostensibly in your face. But hey, well still managed to bag a photo in a brand new sports car - result...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Not About The Bike - Whitton Content

Mog got upgraded. The original Planet X carbon fork had sort of started to disintegrate, probably mostly a cosmetic thing, but slightly unsettling nevertheless, you know, carbon eczema, and not a good look either. Cue ENVE.

And then there are the wheels, spangly, mean-looking Ksyrium SLRs with stealth-fighter matt Exalith braking surfaces. And to top it all off, clock the goldy-looking chain. And although you can't see it, a huge, Whitton-friendly 12-27 cassette, oh yes, those two teeth make a difference.

Unfortunately the rider didn't get similarly uprated. And somehow having a bike that's clearly somewhat better than you are is a little, well, unsettling. But hey who's judging? Me, obviously. 

But on the plus side, the bike rides, well, beautifully in fact. Fast, composed, with a snake-like hiss of speed on smooth rides and the balanced poise of a predatory cat on rougher stuff. And while it might be all in the mind, on fast descents, it's 'right' in a way it didn't quite seem to be before.

Which all in all, made it a good call for this year's Whitton.

I last - and first - did the Fred in 2009 on a weekend I remember now mostly for all sorts of other reasons. It was the first time I'd ever ridden over 100 miles on the road and I was pretty wary of the thing - the distance, the climbing, the other riders, despite being decently fit if inexperienced on the road. 

It was, erm, 'interesting'. I found I could climb steeps faster than most people - thank you Peak District - was crap on the flat - ditto - and utterly useless at riding in groups. Fortunately my proper roadie mate, FP Dave, saved my butt on the latter count. And it was properly epic in feel. 

Four years later, I've done a lot more road riding, have - I think - better base fitness and don't find the prospect of 100 miles plus over big Lakeland passes anything like as intimidating. What I wasn't reckoning with was freezing rain and winds and a slow puncture which had been going since gawd knows when until I finally realised somewhere below the Hardknott.

I do vaguely remember hitting something like a big hole somewhere in the first part of the ride - as does the cuffed Exalith rim - and suspect the tyre was losing air slowly from then on in. Me and Wiggo eh, like peas in a pod.

There was the bit at the second food stop where people were shivering pathetically like wet dogs where I'd happily have thrown in the towel if there was an easy option to get home, but there wasn't. A proper eat, drink, eat some more and MTFU moment.

And from then on, bar that frustratingly slow tube change, it was fine. Aced Hardknott thanks to my massive cassette, cruised up Wrynose then rolled gently home. Felt like I should have been broken, but oddly could have gone on. That's good, I think.

I found that  I could still climb steeps faster than most people - thank you Peak District - was still crap on the flat - ditto - and still utterly useless at riding in groups, not a problem as there were very few groups anyway, and those that existed exuded a sort of vibe of random danger. My descending's better though. 

Overall it felt flat. Nasty and unpleasant and unsociable on the whole. The best bit was before and after. Thank you to my support team, how about reversing the roles for next year? Always fancied being a super domestique... maybe without the 'super'. Soup? 

I dunno. Sometimes things just are. How did I become this person who thinks of a 112-mile epic thing as just another long road ride? I blame the bike.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Looking For Blur...

Frame and jacket colour match? Tick. Rider and bike match? Tick. Dry, dusty trails with good company? Tick. 

Thursday, 21 March 2013

You Can't Have Your Cake And Eat It...

... this has worried me for years. Why on earth would you want to have cake and not eat it?

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Funny thing the brain. On the one hand I know rationally that my Ragley Ti frame is simply a very expensive collection of carefully-selected metal pipes welded together in a very specific pattern, that it has no feelings, soul or other human qualities.

And on the other, cracking it made me miserable. Like proper down. Not a financial thing. Not a cataclysmic emotional disaster. No blood or broken bone. No suffering. Just a small stress-induced fracture of the downtube which could have ended badly with a detached front end and a trail-surfing session on my face.

Which it didn't, so I should be glad. And so should the trail.

But despite all that - and despite knowing that with a lifetime Lynskey warranty it should be fixed over in Chattanooga - I was proper down for a couple of days for no other reason than a small crack in a metal tube.

Which is rationally just silly. Nobody died. No-one suffered harm. Even the trail wasn't hurt.

But that's being human for you.

I guess ultimately it's about that frame riding extraordinarily well and having been an integral part of some extraordinarily good days - in the Atlas mountains, in the Pyrenees, in the Peak, the Lakes and more - and about the emotion you project onto and into it. And that oddly, it was shining beacon of metallic hope on days when my belief in humanity was somewhere below rock bottom.

Some of it as well, was a sort of irrational disbelief that it had happened to me coupled with a sort of vague, generalised resentment at the internet bores who endlessly trot out the 'bike for life' cliché with a liberal garnish of Schadenfreude and self-contratulatory glee that they've never been taken in by a promise which only actually exists in their own heads. No-one, surely, believes that a regularly ridden bike will last forever, do they?

But mostly I'm amused that despite knowing that riding is about riding, not about what you ride, I still can't quite get past that quiet indignation. And the funny thing is that despite Lynskey coming through - as they have a reputation for doing - and promising to fix the frame so it's as good as new, the quiet indignation is still lurking just out of shot.

Smile. Acknowledge. Move on. Because in a few months time, Rags'll be back. And after all, nobody (human) died.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013


Washing the Ragley down after a meandering three hours in the sunshine and found this...

It's on the underside of the top-tube on both sides and underneath along the join with the head-tube. First thoughts: glad the front end didn't rip off on a descent really. Surfing trails on your face is never much fun.

Some twonk will be along in a moment to gloat about the whole 'frame for life' thing, but actually I've cracked a ti frame before, I bought this one simply because it's an insanely good blend of lightness, suppleness and geometry, not because I thought it would live for ever like a titanium vampire. But hey, if it feeds your insatiable appetite for Schadenfreude, go ahead. Don't let me stop you.

Stripped the whole bike down to the frame in 30-odd minutes and today it's off to meet its makers via the Bicycle Doctor, appropriately enough. I'm gutted. But it's been hammered senseless everywhere from home ground in the Peak to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco via the Pyrenees and even a short stint at 24/12.

And the disappointment's tempered a little by Lynskey's lifetime warranty and, having dealt with them before over minor stuff, I know that their customer service is ace in a genuinely helpful way, so I'm optimistic that it'll get fixed. Surgery tourism for bikes - Made in Tennessee, Built To Go Fast...

And hello Bop...

Sunday, 10 March 2013

N + None...

... where N is the number of bikes I currently own.

Took the 18 Bikes demo Transition Bandit out for a five-hour test ride in amusingly bleak conditions yesterday. And I was, well, underwhelmed really. I didn't particularly like the tall Marzocchi fork on the demo bike and I didn't really trust the tyres - maybe more because I didn't know them than anything else and the bike fitted nicely, handled well and was, erm, 'capable' on the downhills, but it wasn't £1400 worth of my money 'good'.

Maybe I was expecting too much - the Bandit is, after all, the current 'Jesus bike'. Or maybe I'm not a good enough rider to appreciate its abilities fully. Or maybe it just doesn't suit my style. Or perhaps I've gradually become a hardtail rider thanks to how shockingly good my Ragley is. Probably just a mix of all of those. Oh, and a dislike of pedal strikes on rocky stuff.

I felt almost guilty at telling the guys at 18 all this. They're nice people and very considerately suggested lots of alternative options I might try, but I got the impression that normally people ride the demo then reach into their wallets, pull out a credit card and do the deal.

So that's okay then. I can just put some non-studded tyres back on Rags, stop worrying that I'm missing out on something brilliant, and just ride the wheels off the bloody thing. N + None. Where None is more time spent riding than buying and building.

Friday, 8 March 2013

When A Man Is Tired Of Bike...

As Dr Johnson once said, if one of your bikes never gets ridden, you should probably think about why you own it in the first place. Somewhere in the depths of the bike cave lurks my Pace RC405 providing a handy adventure playground for spiders and doing, well, not very much really.

The Pace in happier times with added Spanish mountains.
It's a nice bike. It used, in fact, to be my favourite ride. It has very capable Pushed Pikes, a Reverb no less, a choice of shocks - RP23 with Push and volume adjuster or original DT Swiss - proper good wheels, grippy tyres and a 2˚ slack-set.

And I never ride it. Instead I career around on the Ragley spitting stones outta the rear wheel and climbing and descending like a fiery-eyed twat or ride the road bike or drag the Soma out for a bit of something in between. Even the daft 69er mutant gets more miles.

Not sure why. Some of it is the weight, it's up around 32lb, but to be brutal, it doesn't descend like a 32lb bike should and the extra weight irks me on the ups. Also, after riding Rags it strikes pedals on rocks like a desperate survivalist trying to light a fire. Uncomfortable when most of your local trails are made of boulders and rubble.

But mostly, I guess, it seems woefully short of 'thing' - 'thing' being the hard-to-define spark of bright-eyed madness that makes you just want to hammer a bike. It's what the Ragley oozes from every titanium pore and, oddly, my road bike too. But the Pace, if it ever had it, doesn't have it any more.

Or maybe it's just that I no longer 'get' full suspension. I don't mind being slightly slower on a hardtail as long as it's more fun and more of a challenge and, to be honest, Rags ain't that much slower anyway.

So, in a selfless bid to work it all out, tomorrow I'm taking 18 Bikes demo Bandit out for a few hours around Hope. The plan isn't necessarily to buy a Bandit, though it might end up that way, more to work out if I've fallen out of love with full suspension generally or just the Pace in particular.

Watch this space I guess...

Monday, 18 February 2013

Stuff You Miss

Popped up 20 Trees above Hayfield today, primarily to take a picture of this and other stuff for work - glamorous eh...

Not complaining. There are worse places to be and the truth is that I sauntered up a trail I normally ride in jeans and trainers, basking in ridiculous February sunshine and wearing a big, fat, soft grin because it was just great to be outdoors.

It looked like this..

Which was  nice. And after taking assorted photos of things, stuff, kit, wandered very sort of carefully and mindfully back down and saw a bench for the first time that I must have ridden past over a 100 times without ever seeing it. I means actually noticing it. Which seems ridiculous, not least because it's a startlingly handsome stone bench with a sort of neolithic vibe to it.

And there's a new gate too. With the old gate sat behind it waiting to go wherever it is that retired gates go to. The great moorland meadow in the sky maybe? Must have opened that gate a few times. In fact I reached the point where I'd actually climb over the stile instead. You can kind of see why, it's seen better days. Poor gate.

And then a bit further down where I'm normally concentrating hard on the line up or the line down, there are two more neolithicesque monuments in the shape of stone gateposts... Going nowhere now.

And look, every dog sign has its day and this one has definitely had its, erm, you know, day? I love that sign. Poor faded thing.

And last but not least. That bloody great metal sheet stuck out of the ground by the gate could really hurt someone... I'd never really stopped and thought that before. Just look at the thing.

Well, that was exciting eh...

Monday, 7 January 2013

Something Like Spring...

Apparently the local sheep are confused. They think it's spring. And when sheep, arguably the most confused animals in the universe, are even more confused, you know stuff is odd and things are not entirely right with the world.

It wouldn't really make much odds, but it's January and things are meant to be deep and crisp and even, which would also have the added bonus of freezing the remorseless sludgy remnants of months of rain into Velcro-grippy, frozen, hardpack tundra. Which would be nice.

Maybe next week eh... In the mean time, it looked nice and rode okay in parts and the cloud rolling in over Cracken Edge was kind of picturesque. A good day to bimble around local trails on tired legs, chat to random friends met by chance and chase cake. Cake doesn't move fast...