Monday, 28 November 2016

Anti-Clockwise

The days are resolutely getting shorter and riding bikes is a matter of finding daylight, avoiding as much mud as possible and trying not to get rained on. Riding local bridleways is still fun, but needs some added interest. One way to do this is to ride everything backwards.

I’m not talking about trick cycling but actually just going the “wrong” way round some local routes. As ever this isn’t as stupid as it sounds. Inevitably the first time you try a ride you will do it one way or the other. In my case I have a propensity to ride clockwise round a loop. I don’t know why, but as a default this just feels right in some way.

To mix things up I went and did a couple of my favourites anti-clockwise. You never know what you might find by doing this – maybe a climb is better as a downhill, or a skipping descent might be better as a climb. Maybe some corners work better the other way, and the overall feel and balance of the ride might be better.



Both rides seemed actually harder the wrong way, which might be down to the extra mud, or the balance of hills. There were bits that were fun and it’s good to see a different perspective. Perhaps due to the “wrong way round” nature of the riding I got some fast times on Strava, with less competition on every section, so perhaps that’s a secret to getting some cheeky KOMs. At the moment it’s getting dark at about 4pm so most rides end up with a bit of half an eye on the setting sun. This means riding through some of the most beautiful autumnal light, but adds a stressful element in terms of not ending up in the dark. Riding a track covered in leaf litter in the failing light is a serious challenge, but slightly safer than cruising the roads without lights as you try to make it back to the car.

Both are things I have been forced to do as the inevitable march of time and the rotating of the tilted world beat my attempts to ride over it.

A

Monday, 21 November 2016

Back to Winter Riding

At the last second I dragged the bike back into shape, got my weight back to counter the fork-dive from the heavy front braking, and narrowly avoided the trees. This wasn’t a technical section, aside from the narrow gaps between the trunks but I was riding it like I’d never been on a bike before. My balance was all off, I couldn’t find any flow and I was fighting everything. It might have been the drive in the rain up to Cannock that had thrown me off, it might have been just the build-up of work stress, but most likely it was the brutal hangover I was still feeling into the afternoon.

Riding the Chase is perfect for a wet afternoon. The built trails drain well, apart from the puddles and the main challenge is a lack of grip on the wet hard-pack. I chased the light around the red trail, forgetting how long the route is. Cannock has some technical sections and needs concentration, as well as fitness to get up the surprising amount of climbing. I was lacking a bit of both but I fought through the day, managing to make a navigational error on a marked trail, which I think shows commitment to the lack of focus.


Occasional groups of riders slowed me down and I feel any PRs here slightly flatter me, possibly more due to the large number of punctures I got last time round, or some residual fitness behind the pain, but for all that it was a good ride, wet, fast, technical and just good to be on a bike as ever. I briefly flirted with the black diversion but had to decide it was beyond me for the day leaving me with a slightly embarrassing push back up to the red trail.

Sunday was time for something a bit bigger. It’s not too far beyond Birmingham to the Peak District where I had a choice to make. Often I have ridden the same routes here, sticking to what I know is good in the bigger hills, but I was tempted to try something new. There is another well-known route form Hope around the Ladybower reservoir that I’ve never ridden and I wanted to try it out. I was concerned it would be a disappointment but I needn’t have worried.

Climbing out of Hope was a muddy slog to start with, getting firmer, but wetter as I got higher. I enjoy a wet rocky climb on grippy gritstone and it delivered that in spades. At the top the track headed downhill on loose boulders and rocks, offering another challenge that briefly went a bit wrong as I hit my knee, but continued down with wide open views. I climbed again and then was directed onto the least inspiring-looking of the tracks. With fingers crossed I rolled out along this until it started to get decidedly more interesting with another rollercoaster descent to the road and the reservoir.


Some tourist-dodging along the road took me to the bottom of a brutally steep climb that I had to walk in sections as the missing fitness and skill from the previous day returned. At the top a beautiful contour in the dropping sun and temperature was the prelude to a rolling, boggy, rock-strewn downhill over heather moorland then into a valley and rock-slabs to the road. The ride ended on tarmac for longer than ideal, but the satisfaction of the big hills and hard descents remained through the last miles and back to the car where cake and dry clothes were waiting to help with the dark motorway drive home.


A

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Making Weekend Plans

What do you do when you get to a weekend and realise you have no plans. Well the best plan in my opinion is to go riding a lot.

I was at Heathrow early on Saturday morning, so the obvious first step was to head to Bracknell, which is surprisingly close to the airport. Based on this if you are planning a trip to the UK for some riding you could do a lot worse than rebuilding the bike when your flight lands and getting a first opportunity to ride it within a few miles of the runway. I arrived at Swinley not long after the gates opened and rolled out into the misty woods as the sun slanted and spattered through the trees.

There’s not much to say about Swinley that I’ve not written before, but the ride was a nice early morning loop before it got busy, the ground well drained but damp enough to be grippy, and the morning sun lighting up the fog was beautiful. As autumn settles in the section closed all summer for nesting birds was reopened as is the old first section of the red trail, now re-signposted as the end. This is a nice swoopy scar-ride that still probably works better as the start of the trail, not an afterthought.


After the ride around Swinley it was still early, and it seemed a shame to waste the day so after setting up beers and a bed for the evening, I jumped on the M4 with an excellent podcast for company and was soon changing tops and shoes in another carpark before attacking the rocky lift up onto the edge of Blackdown. The Mendips are getting muddy and are just on the edge of being ridable before the winter makes it worth switching to the road diversion. This time I went over the top, and ploughed through the deepening peat. On top of the hill I lined up for the flowing, rolling descent that always sits somewhere in the back of my head as a benchmark for fun.


Back at the car some gingernuts made an early lunch and I settled into being a non-cyclist for the rest of the day. As ever that’s not something that lasts long and on Sunday morning I woke up in a 6-year-old’s bed (the usual occupant was camping out on his brother’s floor) next to a cuddly stegosaurus with the need to go riding back in my legs. I got up, folded back the vehicle-themed duvet and got ready to get back on the bike.

Breakfast and an hour or so later I was changing again in the third carpark of the weekend, then kicked out onto the Cwmcarn Cafall trail. Tech issues and huge groups of slow riders blighted my early climb, but both were left behind for a bit on the switchbacks. I climbed clumsily through the remains of my beer and curry hangover and got caught behind another slow group who seemed oblivious to my stalling out behind them as the inched along the trail. A muttered passive aggressive comment was all I could manage as they eventually stopped in the middle of the track with their friends and I was free for a bit of riding at my own pace, luckily dropping one rooty section next to yet another guy pushing his expensive bike down.

After this frustration I decided to take a friend’s advice and head down the hill on the Pedalhounds DH track. I have to confess to having been intimidated by the DH rating in the past due to an underestimation of my ability or an over-exaggeration of the technical level that it represented, but this DH run was well within my capabilities and was a whole load of fun. Winding between trees, dropping steep chutes, rocks, berms and a series of fast drop-offs, the track drops fast and engagingly down the valley. It’s a shorter, faster way down than the rest of the Cafall trail but it’ll be hard in future to avoid taking that option again.


Oh and for the record I beat my friend’s time down the track.


A

Monday, 17 October 2016

Opening Your Options

It’s all too easy to get in a bit of a rut with any route you ride regularly. Once you’ve gone to the effort of pouring over the map to plan it out and then riding it to find out that it works it’s tempting to keep repeating the same ride over and over again. This has advantages as you’ll navigate effortlessly round it and know what to expect, but it does mean you might have missed something great. Perhaps on rides further from home this is why it might make sense to look at what other people have done, or recommend, but on your local trails you have the opportunity to keep exploring.

Look at the map again. There are probably a few other options to take to link things together at some points. It’s worth trying them and you’ll end up with a stronger knowledge of all the ridable paths in the area and you’ll open up more variation.

I’m very guilty of this and since mapping out the ride from Watton-at-Stone I had only varied it once. Basically the ride looks like this:


It’s really not a bad ride and has a lot of good fast (albeit pretty flat) riding along the way. It shouldn’t take an irritation to change it, but there was one bit I hadn’t quite been happy with. A double-back up a field which is now ploughed over followed by lines across the middle of other fields, all with a tendency to get clogged with mud as things get damper, had the potential to ruin the ride. There was an obvious detour that could cut out that section and I decided to try it out before the conditions deteriorated too much into winter. For good measure there was an alternative end to the ride that I thought I might as well try.


The verdict? The first alternative route is much better and I think will stand up to winter a little better. To be honest it is generally better, adding in a rooty section, open field ridge, and a fast stony track to replace the slight slog before. We’ll call it now option A for the ride and retire the other version for use if I get bored or in the blazing middle of summer where carving through leg-whipping crops seems fun. The alternative ending has nothing much to recommend it over the existing option. It includes more tarmac and replaces field crossings with a stony track. In my head this is now classified as the wet-weather option and good to have in the back pocket for when the ideal option seems too clogged with mud.

I’ve come off the ride with a better understanding of the possible routes out there and that’s a good thing. The links I’ve ridden now also pull in ideas for shorter rides if they’re needed, escape routes, and other things to think about.


A