Bike Packing – An Adventurer’s Tale

20 08 2013

A subject quietly popped up on the Muddy@rse forum over the summer – ”  Darth’s Night Under the Stars”. The premise was simple – Eastbourne local and long-time Muddy@rser Darth had dreamt up a 24 hour bikepacking adventure, where the challenge was visit a number of predetermined grid refs in 24 hours, staying out in the great outdoors in the process. Rules were minimal and based on trust. Prizes only pride and the fun of riding bikes in the hills for a day and night (and day again). A select group of adventurers took up the challenge, and here Muddy@rser Buzzard recounts his tale, which turned out to be a heady mix of low flying aircraft, foul “summer” weather and mistaken identity…

 

GO TIME.  It had finally arrived.  Sat at the Ram in Firle at 11am ready for my briefing from Darth.  Only problem was that I was the only person there.  Impatience of youth (although youth in this sense is a relative term)? Something that would be a feature of the day for me unfortunately.

Darth duly arrived about 10min later only to inform me that his bike was “knackered” and he couldn’t take part.  At this point alarm bells should have been sounding.  If the organiser and route planner is pulling out then surely I was in over my head.  A little banter with Darth ensued (including some invaluable route suggestions) and in no time at all Ray and Bob had appeared.  We discussed gear choices and routes but Bob was playing his cards very close to his chest (I would soon find out why) leaving the rest of us to wonder if he knew something we didn’t (he did).  Ray was the dark horse though manfully explaining that he would use his warm bed as his “bivvy” for the night and his local knowledge may just prove useful.

And then finally we were off.  Ray graciously showing me to the start of the coach road to Alfriston where we parted.  Bob had left after us clearly not wanting to divulge any of his top secret route choices.  Now it’s embarrassing to admit and anyone who has cycled the coach road will know why but I didn’t even make it to Alfriston before making my first Nav error.  Missing the “turn-off” by which I mean actually just getting off the clearly designated road, I ended up having to back track my way back to Alfriston.  Mildly irritated with myself already, I impatiently took my photo in Alfriston and pushed off up the SDW without taking a moment to ponder the next point (you remember I told you about the impatience).  I would later find out that Bob would see me leave and chuckle to himself knowing that I had once again made a costly error.  So I pushed off and attacked “Old Man Hill??” like a man possessed.  Topping out I realised my mistake, I had to descend back into the valley to pick up the point at the pond – the clue really should have been in the name – since when is the pond at the top of a climb.  Now having not learned my lesson I decided to take the first route down to my right – which was nothing more than a sheep track.  Had I carried on along the ridge for another 50m I would have seen the wide bridleway down but instead I spent the next 30 min fighting down the sheep track and through the thicket of thorns and brambles at the bottom of the sheep track.  Emerging scarred for life I found the pound and then made my way back up the bridleway cursing my shocking map skills.  By the time I crested and found the next trig point up top I would find a smiling Bob at the trig waiting for me, barely sweating whilst I was already a bloody, dripping with sweat, mess of a man.

Famous cliffs, “summer” sky

It was an easy decision at that point for me to tag along with Bob and hopefully gleam something from his clearly superior skills.  Unfortunately coming off the ridgeline into Jevington I seemed to lose Bob.  Gutted but sure in my mind that he had taken another one of his top secret routes I was convinced that he would once again make a fool of me and be waiting for me at the next point, but onward I pushed climbing out of Jevington like my life depended on it (something my legs would ultimately regret).  Bombing down to Beachy Head and the next point I was sure that I would find Bob tucking into lunch at the pub when I got there, but to my surprise Bob was nowhere to be found.  Deciding I was ok on bars for the moment I decided to get to Seaford (the next point) for some solid food.  So far the dark and brooding clouds had failed to materialise into rain but the wind was blowing an absolute gale and from this point on I knew I was going to be cycling into its teeth until the turn around point at the Jack&Jill Windmills.  A thought that didn’t exactly fill me with glee.  I bombed down the hill to the Beachy Head visitor’s centre where I was going to take a sneaky trip along the footpath to Seaford, but upon arrival I was told in no uncertain terms by a group of ramblers that my bike was not allowed on the footpath.  Fair dues I guess and I decided to take the road to East Dean and pick up what looked like a bridleway to Seaford.  Unfortunately when I got there it was another footpath.  I asked at the local newsagent but they didn’t think there was a bridleway that lead from East Dean to Seaford.  So I made the decision to take the road around.  Frustrated at having to resort to the road I put my head down and time trialled my way to Seaford.  Dropping off the road to pick up the navigation beacon as Seaford. There was a slight climb up to it from the car park.   As I was climbing up wondering where my nemesis Bob was when I was suddenly rattled to my core by a deep rumble and as I looked up to my left a majestic Spitfire sped up the coastline beside me close enough to touch (the Eastbourne air show? was on hence the Spitfire).  Definitely a highlight of the day, I was buoyed by the sighting and quickly picked up the nav beacon point and started on my way back.  By this stage my hunger was kicking in and I elected to head straight back to Alfriston for some real food.

Picked up the most amazing sandwich at the Alfriston deli (for £2 which was an absolutely bargain) my enthusiasm was quickly drenched when I came out of the deli to find the rain well and truly pounding the market square.  Rather than sitting in the rain I elected to get straight back on the bike and took the easier coach road back to Firle whilst I ate lunch.  At Firle I climbed back up to Firle beacon but in my post lunch daze it felt like it took forever and my already 25kg bike setup felt more like 100kg.  Once at the top I knew I was on my way to Brighton which is the area I was convinced I knew better and that Nav would no longer be my lingering problem.  Over confidence and impatience would once again come back to bite me.

I picked up the point up top at Firle beacon and although easily found the hard won trig point above Southease where the climb took me around 40min.  After dropping back down off the ridge to pick up the SDW and climb back up again to the ridgeline (Surely there must have been a better option? I’m guessing Bob found one) the real torment began.  Cycling directly into the wind and the driving rain the trip from there to the University Sports Hall at Stanmer was unbearable.  Originally intending to tag the windmills first (as the furthest point to the west on the route) and then dropping down through the Stammer singletrack,  the rain and wind (I was blown off my bike twice along here as my frame bag acted like a sail in the wind) drove me off the ridge line sooner and down to the sports hall first.  Another decision I would soon come to regret.  Once at the sports hall I took my obligatory camera pic and stood under the bus shelter finishing off the rest of my sandwich knowing that a quick climb up through Stanmer would take me to the Jack&Jill windmills and that would only leave me the long slog back to Firle having collected all the points on the intended route.

Checking in at Sussex Uni sports centre – onwards!

Now at this stage I’d been on the bike for around 6hrs and my legs did not feel as snappy as they should.  However having been forced to take the road to Seaford I didn’t want to climb up onto the Ditchling Beacon Road (the route I knew) and I elected to rather try find the path (as it appeared on my GPS) leading from the back of the university up through the Stammer forest and depositing me out on the SDW about a mile to the east of Ditchling Beacon.  This moment of madness would cost me.  I spent the next 1hr climbing through barbwire fencing, crossing fields, running (yes that’s right I couldn’t get back on my bike quick enough – need to work on my CX mount) away from dogs, staring down crazy cows and walking through what seemed like a field of brambles before finally with much thrashing and gnashing finding myself back on the SDW (although closer to three miles east of Ditchling beacon).  Mustering up the strength to get back on the bike I started heading towards the windmills.  As I crested the first small roller I could believe my eyes.  There about a mile in front of me was Bob.  I will admit it, I was completely gobsmacked.  I was shattered after my fight with the English countryside and here was Bob in front AGAIN just cruising.  I decided to get my head down and catch up to at least try to ascertain how in the hell he had managed to come across the downs so quickly.  That turned out to be harder than I imagined as he seemed to stay tantalising out of reach as I powered up the climbs and hit the descents with fervour.  I was trying to convince myself that there was no way he could have already picked up the sports hall point and that as consolation he would at least have to drop down and collect that on the way back whereas I wouldn’t.  I also knew that he would stop at the windmills and I would be able to catch him up there but for some reason I didn’t want him to get there before me (I know crazy thinking after 7 odd hrs on the bike).  So I pushed the big ring and finally started catching him up the last few little rollers before the descent to the windmills.  I was making progress which spurred me on and I got my head down and lit it up (as much as you can with a 25kg bike underneath you) but as I raised my head and the wind and rain abated for me long enough to get a clear view it became obvious that it was not Bob at all but instead Bob’s twin (Bob – sending your twin out on route to freak your fellow competitor out was in my opinion a truly ingenious plan).  Catching up to Bob’s twin I grunted a “hello”.  Bob’s twin responded by saying he saw me break out of the bushes about 4 miles earlier and was doing everything he could not to let me catch him.  Hence the full on pace and he now felt like he had blown himself trying to stay away from me (he said all this with a laugh and a smile but all I could muster was a grunt and a grimace).  In my red mist haze I proceeded to fly off down the descent and drop him immediately.  The fun was over within a minute though as I had to break clumsily to dive into the windmills car park – Bobs twin flying past me shaking his head.  To be fair,  Bob’s twin cannot have a particularly high regard for me and I wouldn’t blame him.

So having picked up the last point I was in a bit of a quandary. I wasn’t sure if I should make my way back or try to find a spot to camp.  My decision was made for me when I realized I was out of water.  I knew I would need water either way so figured I would make my way back along the SDW and try to pick up one of the taps along route before finding a sheltered spot for the night.  It was at this point that the weather conspired against me.  The wind I had been fighting all day seemed to swirl around and rather than being behind me as I expected it was bearing its teeth right at my face.  The rain stinging my arms and knees as I pushed forward.  Thirsty and tired each climb took an eternity but I was determined not to get off and push.  Once again my naivety would prove my downfall and for those of you that know clearing the two climbs through the small forestry sections (Just before and just after crossing the A27?) are brutal without the 25kg bike and the tired legs but with them would just prove silly.  I suddenly felt the dreaded twinge of cramp coming on and I was forced to hold off a little and recover.  I had managed to fill the camelback up at a tap but the rain was still coming down and the thought of trying to pitch camp in the wet was very unappealing so instead I just kept plodding along the SDW.  I knew that once I reached Southease I was virtually back at Firle and that became my goal.  That short section from the road crossing to Southease seemed to take an eternity and as darkness started to fall I wondered if I would ever get there but sure enough I was soon standing at Southese station.

Another checkpoint in the (frame) bag

By this stage I had decided to head back to Firle and get a warm meal at the Ram.  This thought alone drove me along over the last few miles.  The climb out of Southease is painful at the best of times but after 8hrs on the bike it seemed like Everest would have been the easier option.  Knowing it was the last real climb of the ride I manfully tried to clear it without dabbing and I got to virtually the crest of the grassy top when a loss of concentration meant I slid out on the slick grass and fell into the wet grass.  Tempted to just lie there I must have stayed on the ground for 10min before the wind and rain raised me to my feet.  In no time at all I was back at Firle beacon and I took the road back down to Firle standing outside the Ram drenched, sweaty and happy.  At this point I sent a text to Darth to let him know I had finished (around 8h45min or so after leaving) and I wouldn’t be around for the 12pm meet the next day.  The thought of a beer and burger prompted me into the pub with my plan to be to wait out the rain and then pitch up just outside of Firle somewhere in a sheltered spot.  Once inside I realised that my wet stinking lycra did not exactly fit particularly well in the Saturday ambiance of the local gastro pub and I felt so uncomfortable that I was prompted straight back outside with my pint into the rain.  Standing outside with no prospect of warm food and the allure of my car close by and with that my warm bed would eventually prove just too inviting.

I packed up the bike and bits and headed home happy in the knowledge that I had ridden hard, made mistakes, tested my resolve but ultimately just had a damn good adventure.

Thanks must go to Darth for setting it all up, to Bob and Ray for coming along, to Bob’s twin for pushing me along to the windmills and finally to English countryside and the brilliant summer weather without which it surely would have been far too easy??

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Muddy@rse and the Cystic Fibrosis Trust Charity Race from Ditchling Beacon to Seaford 2013

15 03 2013

Ming Reports from an epic day on the hills with a charity flavour

“After last year’s success, with a M@ victory, team leader Ash decided he needed more of a challenge so roped me into the team.  My pre-race preparations went according to plan with the usual race stress, domestic arguments caused by race stress and finding faults with the race bike on the night before the race, what else could possibly go wrong? Oh it rained, all day Friday, with nearly an inch of rain soaking what were drying trails.   WHAT TYRES TO USE?

Race day dawned cold and foggy, the usual prerace rituals of toilet visits and packing and repacking camelbak were performed and then it was off to the station to meet up with Ricky (Baby Gixxer).  As we rode up through Stanmer from the railway station to Ditchling, we disappeared into swirling fog.

Ming – as captured in many people’s minds (and cameras)

On arrival at a murky Ditchling we met up with our fellow team mates, Tim, Tez, Ashley, Steve and Rob.  Lots of pre-race banter, planning and getting cold ensued as we surveyed our mixed machinery which ranged from ally and steel hard tails, to a carbon bling 29er and carbon full sussers with various ranges of travel from sensible to silly.  The plan was for the first person to a gate to hold it open for the rest of the team and minimise stoppage time.  As we were starting last we would gradually overhaul the more fun/social orientated racers (hopefully).

Our allotted start time came and with a battle cry we launched into the mists across the top of the Downs.  The pace was frenetic and draining to start with (more laps of the car park to warm up next time), the mild down slope adding to speed and the wet surface reducing friction and grip.  Puddles and slaloms greeted us as we made our way through the gloom; ghostly figures on horseback in the nearby fields and the occasional dog walker were our only company.

The right turn down to Balmer Down was taken at a far more than sensible pace, “Damn the torpedoes, Full speed ahead”, big ring, little cog, flat out, getting locked in a tractor wheel rut bouncing off the edges I approached the next gate and a 90 degree right turn, brakes howling tyres sliding I arrived sideways and got the gate open just as the rest of the team arrived.  Multiple lines through the gate were taken with Ash and Ricky arriving at nearly the same time at very different speeds in a space big enough for only one bicycle.  All safely through the next downhill bit was very narrow with ruts, mud and barbed wire fences either side, my tyre choice proved less than optimal as I slithered down, passing Steve with a dropped chain.  The descent quickly turned into that nasty muddy zigzag climb towards the A27, we all dismounted, lungs heaving, hearts pounding and pushed up before remounting for another very slithery drop along the field edge with Ricky and Ash setting a tremendous pace towards “the steps of doom” leading down onto the A27.

Over the A27 and up the horror that is Newmarket hill and the plan began to fall apart, conditions for the first half were very muddy due to some engineering work by the railway bridge and some 100 bikes having been through before us.  We cleared that and had a quick stop to lose a layer or two as we were all well up to temperature by now and set off again.

One team member began to suffer due to the early pace and began to lag a bit meaning the gate holders began to cool down uncomfortably in the wind across the top of a now rather sunny Newmarket Hill so we became separated with Ricky, Tim, Tez and myself breaking away to try and maintain warmth and Ash (now known as Sir Alex for his motivational speaking skills), Rob and Steve bringing up the rear.

Some Downs, earlier

We sped along the top and set a lightning pace down the old concrete road towards Mill Lane.  Some fellow racers held the gate open for us as we hit the fields which the cows had nicely mashed up on either side of the next gates which I propped open to watch Ricky, Tim and Tez slide through before the short uphill slog through inches deep mud that turned into power and will sapping, bike destroying clag after a few yards.  A bit more pushing and swearing and we arrived at the Mill Lane DH.  Down we plummeted at break neck pace and I nearly came to grief on a small drop that I only saw as I arrived at it, luckily my Jedi training kicked in and I managed to get down to the gate in one piece, brakes squealing and tyres protesting.

A brisk spin along the flat bits lead us to Itford Hill and with Tez on his feather light 29er towing me along (aided by a delicious Torq Banoffee Pie gel) we attacked the climb, losing some racers who were trying to latch onto us.  I came to a few conclusions here; 29ers climb well, roll even better and Tez even though dying of Man-flu is far fitter than me!   Tez with a few kicks could put yards into me before I could start to react and rolling down from Beddingham Hill Radio Masts towards the car park, even trying to slip stream him I was still having to pedal to keep up as he rolled.

The gentle rise from the car park up to Firle Beacon was a hard slog and without Tez’s encouragement I would have sat up and slowed but we were passing racers by the dozen at this point so spurred on we kept pushing.  Arriving at Bopeep car park we turned right into the almost-all-the-way gentle downhill to Seaford.  The few small climbs along here just seemed to drain any remaining energy out of the legs and the downhill bits were fast and sideways with the track having been cutup badly.

As the bridleway finished we had a short road ride to the finish but Tez kept up the pace and I tucked in behind.  As we arrived we checked in and only had a short wait before our team members followed us in with the last rider giving the team our overall completion time.

As the team times were added up a hush descended, Team Muddy@rse was 1st again!

Big Wheels – Muddy!

Big Wheels faster!

A big thank you to Clint & Lorna Allen, their team and Mr Cycles for a great event and prizes.

We will be back next year, hopefully faster than ever.”

Happy, tired, victorious! Steve, Sir Alex, Baby Gixxer, Tez, Rob, Ming & Tim; Team Muddy@rse.





Working Bike – Life as a Courier

18 01 2013

(This is the first in hopefully what will be a series of articles about Muddy@rsers who have bikes or cycling somehow as part of their job – I’m looking to cover those fortunate (or fit) enough to ride a bike all day for a living, as well those of us who ride our bike to a desk job.  If you have suggestions and would like to write some words, the  get in touch with me (Rich_f) via the forum. Thanks!)

The other day on the forum a Muddy@rser popped up who we hadn’t heard from for a while – Steve (known as Steveonstumpy for his regular Stumpjumper bike).

Steve in MTB mode

The thread was all about looking back and seeing what mileage we all done on our bikes during 2012. As well as confirming that riding bikes is as much about the fun you have than than the mileage, Steve mentioned that he’d been working as a cycle courier for the last year.  Being the nosey type I got in touch and asked if he would mind sharing a few words about his experiences. So – let me handover to Steve to give a fascinating insight into what it is to ride your bike for a living in our capital city. Enjoy! Rich F

And Steve in Courier mode

“I have been working as a cycle courier for just over 14 months now, so whilst I’m hardly a vet I’m not a rookie either… I think!

The Job
Easy to get into hard to get out of is the oft quoted expression.
My hand was forced by redundancy and various personal issues.

Basically self-employed, to pedal. You are given a radio & XDA device for signatures, job details and so you can be tracked!! You are paid per drop, the amount depends on a number of factors (Post Code, deadline, time of day and waiting time). Some small companies pay guaranteed minimums (known as “gara”) but that is very rare.

So no parcels no money or more parcels more money, hence the rushing about!

The best guys can earn @£500pw. That’s by doing 30 drops a day every day for five days. I tend to do @ 20/25 I have managed 30 plus in a day but it’s down to luck ie where the pick ups & drops are.

The Controller
Not usually fat but can be! He is controlling around 30 riders. He knows what they all have on board he knows who his fast/slow riders are he knows all the deadlines. He controls over 500 deliveries a day on average. He also has his favourites!!!

His two aims are to get parcels delivered & make us money, He uses his knowledge of London to string runs together so that we can have more than one delivery on board (not be “one up”) I have had as many as 11 parcels on board!!! Gets your navigation skills focused I can tell you!

The Bikes
Single speed (no hills in London) two brakes for me. The hard core guys ride fixed no brakes. It makes sense on one level (I can wear out a set of brake pads in one wet day & wheel rims are constantly checked on braked bikes) but I could never do it. They get through a tyre a month usually.

The Area
I cover from E14 to W2 NW1 to SE1. If the motobike channel is quiet we can get their work & go further (more money!) I have done E14 to NW8 & I had a run that took me W2 W2 SE1 SE11 E2… Basically a lap of Inner London!
I have been to multi million pound properties (£9,000 a WEEK rent!!!) and s**t hole East London estates where you don’t take your eye off the bike!!!
London is a wonderful, wonderful place as someone once said “A man who is tired of London is tired of life”…. I’ll come back to Mr Pepys later!!!

Right – so I have a delivery for 66. Is this it , or 26? erm…

 

Health & Safety
It’s dangerous. 2 couriers have died & one has had “life changing injuries” during my time. The old chap that was killed last February was a 20 year vet.
It’s nearly always the left turning truck & buses. If you ever ride in town or fancy a Barclay bike tour get up the very front at the lights or hang back be super aware of your actions at junctions.
Watch for tourists too… they tend to be looking left as they step off the curb straight into you doing 20mph, some of my colleagues will simply get their heads down & “nut” them as the whole thing goes down. Best avoided really.
By common consensus the worst drivers in London from a cycling standpoint are

1) Addison Lee mini cab drivers

2) Black Cabs

3) buses LT or another.

Watch them all

Colleagues

London being as cosmo as it is and given the nature of the work my colleagues are a varied bunch!
Present nationalities represented are Italian, Polish, Brazilian (huge numbers in couriering), Latvian, French, South African and oddly one from Blackpool!!!
Having English as a second (or third!) language does lead to some comedic moments on our dreadful radio! The Polish spelling of Hermione over said crappy radio and the direction to Pepys Street EC3 (told you he’d be back!) from a Brazilian to a Latvian left me struggling to breathe. But I struggle with English too and it’s my only language so I have a lot of respect for these guys it ain’t easy!!

So that’s a bit of an overview hope it gives you a flavour of what I do at the moment, dunno how much longer, but the opening quote holds & the job market isn’t getting any better so who knows.

I’m off to check the winter clothing now all the best

Steveonstumpy”





Looking back and looking forwards…..

1 01 2013

Regular Muddy@rser and blog life-giver Guy reflects on what was a truly remarkable year for Sussex Muddy@rse – did we really do all that? 😀

“I don’t know about you but for me, that year seemed to just fly by.

As you may have noticed we’ve been a little remiss on keeping the front page blog properly updated. All of us lead rather busy lives both outside and inside of the club but, as it is the 1st January 2013 and the TV seems to be doing wall-to-wall 2012 retrospectives today, I thought we might as well do the same!

2012 can be split nicely into two bits: the dry start and the very, very  wet rest of it, barring the two weeks during the Olympics when for some reason it didn’t seem to rain (or is that me just looking back with rose tinted spectacles?)

We were treated to a day of deep snow in mid-January (woohoo!) and a ride around Stanmer that made up in laughs what it lacked in distance. Then a club ride on some fab singletrack in Friston later in the month. We had dusty dry trails in above Worthing in late February (Eh?) A wonderfully warm day in March where we rode the on the Downs at Firle beacon complete with heavenly hardpacked trails below and clear skies above. The year was looking good.

This was February – Really!

Then in late April two things happened to spoil this: firstly I went out and bought a road bike and secondly, some pillock decided to proclaim that we were now experiencing  a drought and enforced a hosepipe ban…the combined gods of Karma and the Met office looked down on us and decide to play an evil trick: “Oh so you want rain then?” and duly proceeded to make up for an 8 month dry spell in a fortnight.  I also seem to remember a few of us riding a bike (or was it a bar?..I can’t seem to remember but much drink was involved) around central London in the rain to Rhianna singing “under my umbrella, ‘ella,’ ella etc. etc.”

and this was April!

The April club ride led by Muddy@rser Tony, seemed to involve conditions that were “character forming”. I do remember riding on trails that were rapid flowing streams and when we weren’t riding through water we were riding in deep, claggy mud. Oh how we laughed! Well, you lot might have, I for one had a truly horrible time that involved me majorly bonking (tired, wet, cold, zero energy, empty legs, pushing the bike) on the climb up to the SDW from Plumpton to Ditchling beacon.

The Karma gods decided to give us some small hope in late May ( after having played evil muddy tricks at the halfway point on the group doing the “Cutty to Butty” ride the week before) Rich F’s ride on the North Downs around Godstone and Titsey Hill treated us to sunshine and some rare dry conditions. A classic ride ensued with a finish in a quintessentially English scene of a cricket match and a post ride picnic on a village green.

In June we saw a small “unofficial, official ride“  on the Surrey Hills with Donna and Bob: possibly the smallest club ride turn out yet!  The following week saw our now annual “Gumber Bothy Bash” which was its normal roaring success…more chocolate covered Haribo and marshmallows anyone? We even managed some mountain biking between all the food and drink!

On to July which saw the sporting event of the year, namely Sally riding from John ‘O Groats to Lands’ End!  There were another couple of events on around the same time that seemed to be quite popular but I can’t quite remember what they were…

As for July’s club ride , ably led by our friends from Evo cycles, I elected to take the easy option of riding to a café and enjoying some banter and good company whilst those feeling more energetic followed the Friston posse round the singletrack and thence on to the pub!

August saw us out with the Tilgate Posse for a delightful serving of semi urban trail sneakiness, high speed antics across a golf course and the hidden gems of Crawleys’ finest singletrack. It was only slightly muddy if I remember correctly :). August also saw a few of us get into the Post-Olympic spirit with a road ride on part of the course at Box Hill that made me remember just how fun road bikes can be and wonder whether if I shaved my legs I could go a bit faster and get into next years’ Le Tour…

the jumpier side of Muddy@rse at Tilgate

 

And so into September with the annual Brighton Big Dog race and also where a few of us decided to return to the Maxx Enduro: I really love that event, It’s such an ace night out of big mileage on the South Downs (even when some toe-rag has nicked half the signposts for it) and this year it was actually dry and almost dusty! The club ride was the regular return to the Surrey Hills with Rich and Donna,  re-acquainting ourselves with such delights as Telegraph Row, Yoghurt Pots, Deliverance (nope, I still haven’t dared try to do this) and Barry Knows Best. We did seem to miss out on the Cheese Straws at Peaslake stores though (Boo!)  though tea and cake at Leith Hill tower was a very good substitute.

October came and having missed the Halloween ride (Dammit!)  I led the club on a merry dance round a rather muddy and slippery Whiteways/Houghton Forest ride. Believe me the conditions were a lot worse on the recce where I managed to have 5 comedy crashes within as many miles.

November seemed to give us one of those perfect weekends where the Karma gods finally bu**erd off for a bit and allowed some of us to enjoy two days of excellent weather and awesome riding out on the Quantocks. Local rider and trail sage Shane (aka Sharki) was the prefect host and trail guide: great fun, knowledgeable and not too fit or fast!

Sunny riding in the Quantocks – good times!

And so finally, to December. Well, last month has been very wet, the Christmas night ride was, by all accounts, rather muddy but it did end up at a pub so that’s a positive eh? Ollie and Sally led us on a very windy (was it force 6 or 7?), muddy, hilly ride on the hills above Newhaven and Firle to help burn of the Christmas excess.   This also allowed us to get to know Simon, Dave and Karen from newly opened cycle shop Quantum Bikes and letting them get to know our ever-so-slightly cake-obsessed club 🙂

So it’s now 2013, a few hardy souls led by Bob and Dave le Trek were out on their bikes this morning watching the sun rise on a new year. As for me the prospect of a lie-in and then not wanting to get muddy meant that once the sun had been up for a few hours I managed to get in a road ride (and have a puncture with no repair kit..DOH!)

Hmm, Sun and Blue skies today… I wonder how long it will be till the trails start to dry out?

Happy New Year!





2012 in review

1 01 2013

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 16,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 4 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.





Falling in love (again)

2 11 2012

Regular MAer Guy recounts his latest love affair…

One of the odd things about getting older is I seem to keep rediscovering things that I had forgotten (and I’m not just talking about the location of my keys or wallet)

I last owned a proper road bike (drop bars, thin tyres, big wheels, 531 frame) over 22 years ago. I loved road cycling for the sense of speed, freedom and the ability to cover distance quickly that you only get when you are young, can’t afford a car and aren’t allowed to buy a motorbike (due to over-protective parents). The discovery of mountain biking when I was at college meant that the way forwards was going to be fat-tyred and roads were ignored for trails, hills and mud. As the years wore on I took the popular view of road bikes being “The Dark-Side”, a place of archaic bikes, men who shaved their legs, general boredom and the dullness of tarmac. Off-road was where it was at.

Over the last few years however, I seemed to be finding myself in cycle shops looking at new road bikes and having feelings of, for want of a better word, confusion. A loan of a mates’ bike last year slightly put my mind at rest: the frame was far too big for me and the bike also had some rather worrying crash damage too meant that I hated the (thankfully short) experience of riding it. That should have been the end of it but the interest remained.

A few muddy@rsers have been known to dabble in road biking and to be honest, peer pressure seemed to take hold. Magazines (of a non-off-road outlook) were bought, reviews read and, after a lot of faffing, earlier this year I finally decided to take the plunge and buy a roadbike. Not really knowing what to get I decided to use my Designers’ instinct and go for one that looked good. A basic but rather neat looking black and silver Specialized Allez was duly purchased from Evans Gatwick with the view that if I really didn’t like it, I could always give it back and get my money refunded.

The first ride was interesting to say the least. I hadn’t done any test rides at all and set off down my road for a quick ride round the block…the sheer shock of a modern road bike blew me away: it was fast, really, really fast (please note that this is all relative). The feeling that no effort was being wasted in fat tyres, weight or suspension, the steering though a carbon fork and narrow drop bars was super direct. The bike felt comfortable and could be thrown around a bit too. The worryingly thin tyres seemed to be able to find grip on corners that I didn’t realise was there. The ride round the block became a 5 mile evening thrash around my local roads. A longer weekend ride confirmed my first impressions, this was FUN! Different from mountain biking? Yes. But dull? Definitely not. The bike just willed me to go faster and farther. Sod the Jedis! The Darkside had ensnared me.

Recent rides have only confirmed this. A 60 mile ride in the rain with Sally and Robin showed me the delights of quiet lanes and short sharp climbs with no (well, not much) mud.

Local rides where I was able to discover lanes that I didn’t know existed and even finding the occasional side track that would need to be checked later on a map and then on the mountain bike.

 

Guy out for a training ride through Worthing (in his head)

A ride from Box Hill to celebrate Lisa and Rick’s wedding anniversary took in some of the Olympic road racing course and a 4-man team sprint with Dave, Jim and Rick on the back roads from Leith Hill to Dorking were such good fun and reminded me of when I was a kid fooling around on my first racing bike.

More discoveries have been made:

  • 45minutes free late on a weekend evening? Just enough time to blow some cobwebs away and sprint on quiet roads then home definitely beats sitting on the sofa channel flipping when there is no TV to watch. This worked very well during the Tour de France where Worthing would be treated to a bloke on a black Allez trying to do a nightly impersonation of Bradley Wiggins (only slower, slightly fatter and without the sideburns)
  • Dreadful weather all week meaning that the trails are nothing but a muddy hell? Well, the roads are dry-ish and early Sunday morning means they are quiet too.

This really does seem to have rekindled my fire for cycling in a way that I didn’t expect.  The mountain bike is appreciated more now as I ride it when I really feel like it rather than as my normal Sunday morning ritual. I seem to be a bit fitter too which is always a bonus. A recent trip to the doctor for my annual asthma check-up showed that I have also lost a little bit of weight too…RESULT!

And then we come to the next stage of succumbing to the Dark-Side: Strava.  This seems to have unleashed even more fun and stupidity in equal measure. It makes even a quick shopping trip into town a time trial where I can pit myself against a lot of unknown (and a lot fitter) local riders who I have never met.

I’ve even bought a pair of Bib Shorts for heavens sake!

So it looks like the future for me is going to be, in part at least, as a MAMIL (*)  but I don’t think I will be shaving my legs…well not yet anyway. 🙂

* Editors notes: MAMIL =Middle Aged Man In Lycra





Ming the Merciless goes to see a Jedi Master

4 10 2012

“You must go to the Dagobah system; there you will meet a Jedi Master…….”

Ok so it’s still on Earth but as it was north of the river all my satnav showed was “here there be Dragons”.  I arrived at the training ground and pulled up to be greeted by Tony Doyle of UKbikeskills (aka Jedi on just about every forum going).  Over a cup of uber coffee he asked what I wanted out of the day, now over the last few months I’ve been analysing my riding against people faster than myself, so I wanted to get some of the smoothness and grip I’ve seen people using.  I also explained that I don’t jump very well, very prone to the “Dead Sailor” or “Steve Austin” flight and also improve my roll ins to drops/holes in the ground like Deliverance and the Pit.

We started by a look over the bike, checking lever positions which were uneven, so a quick tweak of my wrist guard stops and brake levers with the Allen key sorted that out.   I then rode around logs in a figure of 8, yes I fell off!  My bunny hop/unweighting technique put my body weight in the wrong position meaning I had less control of the bike.   I had more than a few bad habits from riding fast sports bikes, duff magazine information and my “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” method of riding.  Tony carefully unpicked where I was going wrong; looking, position on bike, orientation to bike and corner.  These simple corrections and techniques were carefully explained and demonstrated and soon I was cornering harder on damp off camber grass than on dry Friston hard pack and flying off small jumps in straight level flight with no fuss and drama.

Learning to carve

We moved onto a short section of single-track with berms, speed bumps, flat and off camber corners, a minimus rock garden going into a corner (to focus past a hazard leading to a feature, very clever).  After that it was a jump and a step down into a double apex corner.  The single-track was broken down into sections focussing on one or two features at a time using acquired cornering, mass management and speed judgement skills to ride each section repeatedly gradually stringing them together into a long run.  I wasn’t perfect BUT the important thing was every time I had an unplanned trip or cockup I knew why I had gone wrong.  From my viewpoint that means I can correct my bad habits and improve my technique.

Tony noticed I was flagging a bit so we moved onto steep slopes; again body position, brake usage and looking were key, along with a bit of “headology” to stop ambition outweighing talent.  A few rolls down a bank to sort out brake usage and then we moved onto a near vertical roll in using a far better technique than my usual bum back, gonads rubbing the back wheel, arms at full stretch method.  Tony then introduced a second technique, which when he first said it was a touch Matrix “consider the spoon”.  After two demonstrations I decided I had the confidence and skill set to use this technique (to quote another Jedi Master; there is no try there is only do or do not).  I turned and rolled in and got to the bottom in smooth style (well on the second go at least).   With all that Tony teaches, get it right and there is no fuss or drama, almost an anti-climax, what was all the fuss about.

After this we moved onto the tabletop and applying skills learnt earlier approached the jump in a logical fashion, building up, correcting errors until I was clearing the top and landing on the down slope.  I then had a go at the gapped side of the tabletop clearing it with ease.  After a few goes of this and with mental fatigue beginning to nibble away at edges of riding we called it a day.

Flying high

I went out the next day in pouring rain and fell off a few times, I know why.  I carved a few hard corners on some claggy chalk, astounded at the grip and speed I could carry.  I had a play on Little D; improved body position definitely reduces the tendency to be ejected out of bottom at great if slightly uncontrolled speed.

To reiterate; Tony teaches/shows you some very simple things, but these are critical to riding well.  His methods are calm and easy going, no pressure, no beginner/intermediate/advanced; he teaches the person and gradually ingrains his techniques and sows the seeds of improvements.

Thank you Tony, a most worthwhile upgrade.