Desert

It is looking a little bit arid around here at the moment. Not a lot going on. Here’s a bit of virtual spindrift for you.

Part of the reason things have been quiet is that I’ve been busy elsewhere… I am writing a semi-regular web column for Singletrack magazine.

My first was on the joys of a doorstep, post-work ride in the daylight.

My most recent has been about the lure of the mountains.

While you are on the site, check out some of the other great new columns. I’ll also have a few words in forthcoming magazines, including a classic ride and other bits and bobs.

I’m also working on a few creative projects connected with fell and trail running, but can’t say too much about those at the moment, other than I’m really excited about them, and I’m looking forward to seeing them come into fruition.

Race-wise, the calendar is fairly empty until next January – I’ve had my entry to The Spine Race accepted for 2016. I’ll be doing the mini version – “the challenger”. This is still 108 miles of fell running on the pennine way, continuous, in mid-winter, with a substantial kit requirement. Not to be sniffed at or underestimated, but pretty exciting. I can’t wait.

#fromthefrontdoor project

I’m on the bed, legs covered by the duvet, feet sticking out the end. The nooks and wrinkles, under my toenails, the cuticles are stained black with mud. I did (kind of) wash them in the shower, but I was cold and just wanted to stand in the jet of warm water, carefully keeping my still icy hands out of the stream. The temperature differential meant the water felt boiling, and I did’t want to risk chilblains. It was an interim stage in finding warmth, quickly followed by dry merino and a down gilet.

Now, warm, fed and sipping a mug of tea, I can allow post-exercise hormones to wash over me – less frenetic than the water tumbling out of the shower, more like sliding into a deep, warm bath. Contentment that I can only achieve through aerobic exertion.

We have had an active Christmas – a mini-break in the Lake District spanning the 25th itself involved mountain biking, hiking and running in near-desered hills. Upon returning to Leeds, I have had solo rides, rides with friends, rides with Jenn. Each has had a similar feel, if a different route and different company. Pace has been relaxed, and duration squeezed into daylight hours – usually after a luxurious lie in.

A couple of days ago, tucked up on the sofa with a beer and a laptop, I was catching up on film-based inspiration, playing Vimeo and YouTube hopscotch, clicking from a backcountry-skiing video to a Himalayan mountaineering one, to another trail running on pristine desert tracks. Sitting in a small front room, in a small terraced house, on a small backstreet, in a suburb of a city in northern England, I felt a yearning to be out “there” – anywhere. There was maybe even a pang of jealousy, as I sat watching these people completely immersed in their chosen pass time. I clicked on a series of videos on the Arc’teryx website. As well as making very posh, very expensive outdoor kit, they have some excellent quality media content tucked away on their small corner of “http land”. Justin Lamoureux is a backcountry snowboarder, living in Squamish. After travelling the world ticking off “must do” locations, he realised he was neglecting his own backyard, and decided to set aside a season to ride all the mountains visible from his house.

It’s a nice idea, and the resulting videos are well worth grabbing a brew and a biscuit for and settling down to watch. Squamish is a pretty amazing backyard though. From my house, I can see rows of other terraced houses that’s it. There are no mountains accessible without getting in the van and driving for a few hours. I can’t run or ride a trail without spending at least some time on tarmac first. I almost started to feel sorry for myself again. A seed was planted though…

Riding with friends a few days ago gave me the chance to see my local trails with fresh eyes, share my enthusiasm for “the good bits”. We managed to string together a 25 mile loop with minimal road riding, right from home. I can hit off road trails within minutes of closing the door. Not only that, they are fantastic trails – real quality stuff. Admittedly they aren’t in the best of nick this time of year, but it just means that I can appreciate them all the more come spring. There are still trails that I haven’t explored. On today’s run, I took at least two minor detours from my usual well worn path. Road riding with Jenn a couple of days ago, I was on an under geared SSCX bike, it forced me to look up and around more than I usually would. Bare trees and bushes allow for a longer line of sight than summer. I spotted paths to explore – a few were the best kind, little snickets tucked against the wall of a house or barn, begging to be investigated further.

So, this year I will be starting my own backyard project. I will be taking the time to appreciate what I have available to me on the doorstep. Fun powered by nothing else than my own steam. I will shut my red front door, and keep exploring locally. I will be recording my experiences here, on instagram with the #fromthefrontdoor hashtag and keeping a track on the actual routes via Strava. I will savour the moments of solitude that a few square kms of woods can provide, even when it is tucked on the outskirts of a busy city. I will appreciate the joy that can be achieved by sharing the best experiences with friends. I will deliberately get lost, I will have to untangle myself from brambles, I will ride through dogshit, I will plunge into muddy puddles, I’ll discover dead ends. I’ll also touch history, take the time to stop and look, I’ll watch red kites watching me, I’ll hopefully find some gems of undiscovered trails, be able to increase the variety of “getting from here to there” options and find new “theres” to get to.

Realistically, I’ve been doing this as long as I’ve been running and riding – it is nothing new, and hey, if I didn’t I wouldn’t get to ride or run a tenth as much as I do. I just want to take the time to document it, both mentally and in cyberspace, to take a step back and appreciate what I’ve got. I want to make sure I don’t get stuck into the routine of doing the same rides and runs, forever taking the same path.

I’ll also climb into the van with riding and running kit. I’ll visit new places, I’ll savour being in hills, mountains and wilderness. I’ll travel shorter distances, to friends’ houses, to Garage Bikes, to ride the trails that are out of their front door. I will, however always come home. Local runs, rides (both road and trail) will not be training for the next adventure. They will be the adventure itself.

I’m not the first person to use the hashtag #fromthefrontdoor, and I’ve no intention of being the last. I’d like to extend the invitation to all my blog followers – show me your local trails. That patch of woods that you run past on the pavement? Go and explore. The left hand lane, when you always take the right? Take the left. The esoteric crag at the back of the guide book? Go climb it.

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What are you waiting for? Crack on.

Cross Fertilisation

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Tim was someone I knew. Actually… I didn’t know him at all. I followed him on Twitter. I read “his” blog at The North Race. I’d never met the guy, never had a real life conversation.

But, I saw that he was thinking of getting a disc-braked CX bike, and fancied a Kinesis Crosslight Pro 6. As a fellow Leeds resident, and owner of said bike, I offered to lend Tim my pride and joy, and show him around some of the local trails.

We met on a Wednesday evening – on one of those perfect late summer days. It was warm, but not oppressive, and I knew the trails would be in beautiful condition. Now, it is a bit of a cliche, and sometimes proved wrong, but I stand by the truism that the vast majority of people who ride bikes are Good People. Tim absolutely falls into this category. Very friendly, personable, and he was enthused at the opportunity to try a different kind of riding to his usual road-based and fixed gear activities.

We headed out from my house, and span and chatted our way up to the first section of singletrack. I could hear Tim giggling, whooping and generally extolling the pleasures of off-road riding just behind me, as I re-familiarised myself with the stopping properties of rim brakes (they don’t work quite as well as discs, in case you were wondering)…

Much of the ride continued like this, as we wiggled along swooping, buff singletrack, to be spat out onto roads and field edges. There are times where I am at risk of taking what I have for granted. The urban/rural cross over trails on the north edge of Leeds are not the Highlands. But, on their day they are wonderful. Seeing them with the fresh eyes of someone who has very rarely ridden off road, and lives just a couple of miles away in the city centre reminded me how lucky I am, and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for my local riding.

We continued as the sun got lower, nature putting on a perfect slideshow backdrop for our couple of hours of escapism from the city… I led us through shadowy woods and dingy ginnels and snickets, trying to eke out the very last sections of off road before we arrived back at the start. Or not quite the start, but the pub round the corner for a pint or three… for rehydration purposes, and more enthusiastic bike talk.

Tim was sold on the Pro 6 (lets face it – it wasn’t a hard sell. Great bike, in perfect conditions!) and will hopefully be picking one up in the near future. He seemed to enjoy the ride too: http://thenorthrace.co.uk/2013/09/crossing-over/

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Welcome back

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It has now been over two months since I last rode a mountain bike. Not just any two months either. It has felt like every day has dawned brightly, skies have permanently been blue, the weather always mild. My mind has fizzed with frustration, gradually eased by running, and more recentlyriding on the road (even if I did get carried away immediately take the Kinesis Pro 6 off into the woods). The reality of summer in Leeds so far hasn’t been quite so stunning, although we do seem to have faired better than recent years.

My shoulder never really hurt, at least not after the initial aches of the surgery. I have felt it get stronger by the week. This has fed my frustration, as I have had to deliberately avoid my bike, make the conscious decision not to ride, rather than be physically limited. It is still technically too soon. I have another x-ray tomorrow, and will hope for good news.

I was in the Yorkshire Dales, camping in Grinton, next to the brilliant Dales Bike Centre. Jenn was racing the ‘Ard Rock Enduro, so I thought I’d keep her company, but do my own thing while she raced. I was willing to take a calculated risk and have my first mountain bike ride. I think racing a gravity enduro would have been somewhat foolish, even if the FF29 wasn’t in rigid mile-munching mode. I must be getting sensible in my old age. Garage Bikes team mate Joe Roberts was there though, and bagged a very respectable 7th in his age group.

The FF29 was looking in fine fettle. I’d fitted some lovely new Kinesis Strut bars – the crash was heavy on my USE bars, and while I probably trusted them, they have always been a little too narrow for my taste, especially when hauling on the singlespeed. The Struts add an extra cm each end… not a huge amount, but noticeable. While fettling, I also added a nice new Charge Scoop saddle to test for Singletrack (I’ve always been a fan of the Spoon, so I have high hopes for this) and swapped my 32t front ring for a 34t Renthal offering (thanks Garage Bikes). Maybe not the best timing, as my legs aren’t exactly full of miles after the recent lay-off, but the FF29 is so light the previous 32-18 ratio always felt a bit spinny. The added benefit of a “magic ratio” and doing away with the tension was a bit of aesthetic win.

Swaledale has some impressively steep climbs, made even harder by the gale that was now blowing through the valley. Much of the morning seemed to involve cranking out of the saddle, with my nose glued down to the stem, sofa-softened legs getting a harsh wake up. The gradient/terrain never got so hard that walking was necessary, but I slowed to a trackstand in places, before finally turning over the pedals and recovering a mite of forward motion. It felt odd to be by myself having been in the company of hundreds less than an hour ago, but it felt right for the day. I think I’ve missed the solitude.

Climbing into the wind had its pay offs, as I whipped down wide grassy carpet-like descents at warp speed, trying not to think about the consequences of a hidden dip or gust of wind. Singletrack was a rarity, but the little of it that I discovered was superb. Dry, twisting, flowing, exaggerating the sensation of speed, rewarding the conservation of momentum. The FF29 revels in conditions like this. The carbon fork has enough twang to take away the immediate sting of small vibrations, it tracks well as the tight rear triangle transfers power brilliantly. Short stabs of power are rewarded with quick acceleration, belying the usual 29er criticisms.

This was a day for one-more-hill-ism. While the wind was ever present, the sun had burned through morning grey. I linked up familiar trails with new ones, found new views across known landscapes. It was the kind of mountain bike ride that I have done since I first ventured out. Bridleways, tracks, distance. Little technically challenging, or adrenaline fuelled, but just out there. It felt good, and I lost myself in riding, checking the map, and riding some more. As the ride came close to its natural conclusion I eked out one last climb/descent and rolled back into the garden at DBC, where Stu had a barbeque on the go, local beer was being served, and riders were sunbathing, full of excited tales of their day.

I wasn’t quite ready for the crowds, and could have happily turned round and headed out again. The smell of burgers cooking, and smiling friends convinced me otherwise though…

Welcome back mountain biking. How I’ve missed you.

Clean

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***written on Wednesday, so a little bit out of date now***

Last night, I cleaned my bike.

I always perform this chore in the same order. Frame in stand, top to bottom, plenty of soapy water. Remove the wheels. Get the toothbrush out for the chain and derailleurs, maybe resort to using some degreaser if things are getting clogged up. Clean the wheels, working my way round each side, quickly wiping each spoke. Scrub the cassette. Replace wheels, rinse. Air dry. Lube.

I quietly did this on the lawn. Snatched pieces of conversation drifted over from the radio in the kitchen. Dandelion seeds, carried in the gentle breeze stuck to the wet frame of my bike. The young birds that have had the garden almost to themselves for the last few weeks watched from a cautious distance.

The bike didn’t really need washing. Everything was functional, it wasn’t even dirty. There was a layer of household dust on the parts, a hint of dry salt on the top tube. The bike hasn’t been a bike for six weeks. I have sat on it, and pedalled, but it has taken me nowhere, other than away from distant mental storm clouds. Even then, the turbo will only ever be alcohol free beer, decaffeinated coffee, methadone.

The bike didn’t really need washing. This was a ritual. A clean start.

Six weeks ago, summer finally came, the memories of late snow, cold mornings and wet rides started to fade. Evening rides became something to be savoured and enjoyed, something to look forward to. Singletrack that was a joyless, muddy slog just a month beforehand was now riding perfection. Smooth, dry, fast. Buff. Each ride allowed me to lean over one more degree through bends, clip a little more foliage, carry another mph of momentum. Rides were a mix of enjoyment of the here and now, and optimism for what more was to come.

Six weeks ago, at the end of one of these rides, as we were well on our way home, I pushed my luck one too many times. Nothing crazy or stupid. Nothing I wouldn’t do again. Nothing. Except it wasn’t nothing. I fell, and as is usually the case when one falls, I landed. Quite awkwardly. On my shoulder. While lying on the floor, my mind was already racing… quantifying and calculating scenarios and consequences.

I stood up. The crack that I heard on landing was as I had feared. My left arm was hanging limply. I cupped the elbow without consciously thinking about it, concentrating on the taste of dust in my mouth, rather than letting my mind run away with the possibility that I would miss races and events that I have been planning for for the last 12 months. There was virtually no pain, just discomfort and a hollow, empty feeling.

Accident and Emergency. Pastel coloured walls. Waiting.

X-ray. Compound fracture. A trip down the road to LGI. “Major Trauma” ward. Surgery. Real pain. Helplessness.

Home. Concentrating on the day-by-day. Short scale horizons.

Walking to work, a short spin on the turbo, freedom from the sling. A short run, a longer run, an off-road run. Physio, core work. Daring to peek into the longer term. Six week isn’t long. I could have broken a leg, or my back or neck. I was lucky.

Today I took my clean bike, rolled down the road to the woods in the valley near my house. The trails were still dry and dusty. The smell of wild garlic was less pungent, but still there. I was off road for all of ten minutes, before returning to tarmac and carrying on into work. It was the best ten minute ride I have had for a very long time.

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Tom Vs The Weather

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It is beginning to feel like the weather has a personal vendetta against me.

Race weekend = biblical conditions

Mountain Mayhem 2012 – oh, the mud
SITS 2012 – oh, the mud. But enduring it lap, after lap
3 Peaks Cyclocross 2012 – wind, rain, bare-knuckle fighting with Mother Nature
Anglesey Trail Ultra 2013 – cancelled due to snow
Edale Skyline 2013 – cancelled due to snow

I was meant to be running the 20 or so miles of fell encircling Edale, in the Peak District on Sunday. I was really, really looking forward to running. My last “serious” foot race before things take a two-wheeled turn for the rest of the summer. Fit. Fast. Keen.

Except it snowed a little bit. Quite a lot actually. The Edale valley was pretty much shut off from the world. A few hardy locals headed out on Sunday, and it took them two hours to reach Win Hill. At that rate, no one would have made the cut off time at Mam Nick.

Body and mind ready to race, ready to exert effort. Sitting on the sofa on Saturday morning, enjoying a second carb-heavy breakfast, the cancellation text message came through. I was left with an emptiness and loss of purpose for the weekend. I was ready to suffer, and to enjoy the extreme conditions. I wanted to be out there and experience nature, but I wanted it because there was a purpose. I was racing. Now that was taken away. I could of course still go out, but now that there was no need to, my urgency and drive disappeared.

We headed out for a local bike ride, earlier frustration slowly melting, unlike the trails which were buried deep under a luxurious carpet of snow. Ducking between trees, drifting wheels, vague steering, effort, warmth. Never more than 3 miles from home. Viewing familiar trails in less familiar conditions. One of the lovely things about riding locally with Jenn has been that she has now explored many of these trails herself, with the eyes of an inquisitive newcomer. She’s been up the trail just up from the one I normally turn off at, and been back down my usual climb. I now get her view of “my” woods.

Sunday. The day of cancelled race. We run anyway, changing in the warmth and convenience of the bedroom, rather than contorting in the car. Closing the front door and stepping out on to the snow. Run north west, snow now stained with black-leaf-litter footprints. Out into open countryside, wind-torn fields, bare of snow. Drifts, towering high. Picking footpaths linking place names more usually visited in the car or by road bike. Eccup, Bramhope, Chevin, Menston. Climb on to Ilkley Moor. Biting wind, wild. And descend, with loose legs, on loose snow, we tumble and slide, giggling. Within minutes bleak moor becomes Victorian residential, becomes Ilkley town centre. Coffee, warm train. Home. It wasn’t “hard” in the same way a race would have been, but it was out there. It wasn’t the comfort of the sofa. It wasn’t feeling sorry for ourselves.

The weather may have a vendetta against me, but I actually still quite like the weather*

*although would be really happy if it warmed up significantly and the sun came out, please.

Yorkshire Dales Bikepacking

It was just your average weekend ride in the Dales. The four of us were lying in our bivvy bags, under a children’s climbing frame, in a pub beer garden, in Aysgarth, as it started to snow. Again.

Stuart Rider (has there ever been a more appropriate name for someone in the bike trade?), owner of Riders Cycle Centre had planned out a two-day-with-a-bivvy-in-the-middle ride, that he was planning on guiding clients on later in the year.

Rob, who I met, and rode with on the Cairngorms Loop travelled up to join us. Reprising a Cairngorms Loop foursome, including Jenn and Stu. It’s no coincidence we are all planning on doing the Highland Trail in May. Stu’s mate Simon also joined us for the Saturday section of the ride.

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Pre-ride fettling. Pic credit to Stuart

So, under a cloudy, grey sky, heavy with snow we set off from Stu’s shop. Our loop was going to be run anti-clockwise, 50-ish miles each day. Not huge, but a serious enough undertaking, and the furthest I’ve ridden off-road for a while now. We spun away on singlespeed gears (other than Stu, who runs 1×9 on his Ragley, chatting as we left Skipton, and gradually (and then less gradually) climbed our way on to the fells behind it.

The subdued green of the valleys became white, and our view was largely sepia toned, other than for our bright drybags, loaded with warm bivvy kit… and the sick green FF29 of course…

After a fast, long and cold descent to Appletreewick, complete with snow/hail stinging our faces, we hit our first bit of off-road, and steadily climbed along the bridleway to Stump Cross. Greenhow edge was appropriately bleak and buffs were pulled over chins as we cruised along the road, before diving off left for more bridleway descending to Pateley Bridge and a well earned brew and toasted teacake. Layers peeled off in the warmth of the cafe were replaced in preparation for the next leg of the ride, up the east side of Nidderdale, past Gouthwaite reservoir, before climbing higher and following the valley round to the NW, on to Scar House reservoir. The snow got deeper as we climbed, rarely so deep that it made riding impossible, but certainly enough to make things a little slower going than the last time I rode these trails, back in an early spring dry spell last year, when they were dry, compact and fast flowing. The wide trails again allowed us to talk some more as we rode, each of us tracking forward and back, sharing conversations. Often there would be one clear line, and we would drop into line. This left me in a world of my own thoughts for a while, content in the stillness, listening to 29er tyres roll over squeaky snow.

Solitude shared with great company. One of those oxymorons that mountain biking throws up sometimes.

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Just above the dam at Scar House, we waved goodbye to Simon, who was heading off back to Skipton, a family and a warm bed for the night. The prospect of a warm bed may have briefly triggered pangs of jealousy, but I was looking forward to sleeping out, and had no desire to head home just yet. The next section was a long, slow push up on to the tops.

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Pic credit to Stuart

The snow was deeper than it had been anywhere else, and the gradient was tough enough that gears wouldn’t have helped a great deal anyway. After the climb, we were rewarded with a sketchy, drifty descent in flat light, making it almost impossible to spot changes in the terrain. Often the first tell tale sign of a change in camber was finding the bike pointing towards a ditch at the edge of the trail, and showing no inclination to stop. The snow, which had stopped falling for a while, came back, accompanied by low slung, ominous looking clouds, and we were all chilled as we followed tarmac ribbons through grey looking Dales villages and hamlets. Time was getting on, and it was still only February. Daylight was still short lived. As we made our way over to Wensleydale, the clouds lifted once more, and we were treated to stunning pastel colours, and crisp skies. Onwards, and downwards towards Aysgarth. It was dark enough for me to pop my lights on for the two miles on road to Aysgarth. We climbed out of the valley floor, and our tea wouldn’t be earned without a 1:6 haul. Thankfully it was brief, and the pub lights were on.

We tumbled in, and were hit by the warmth. Layers were ditched as quickly as possible, amongst locals out for an early Saturday drink, and more suitably attired for the occasion. It felt fitting to have a pint of Wensleydale while pondering a great looking menu, and settling in, enjoying the welcoming atmosphere. As well as a great guide, Stu also does a fine line in tall tales, and kept us entertained with stories of his youth, as we tucked into big meals and more beer.

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Our pace of consumption and conversation slowed as the days efforts took their toll, and we reluctantly thought about making a move back out into the cold and setting up camp for the night. Our original plan was to bivvy near Aysgarth Falls, but it didn’t take much persuasion by the pub landlady to use their beer garden instead. A children’s climbing frame was perfect for rigging Stu’s tarp up to, and after a few swigs of Jura Superstition, we all drifted off to sleep quickly. I woke a few times in the night to snow being blown on to my face, rolling over and drifting off once again, drowsy and warm, thankful that I brought my winter weight sleeping bag.

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“Camp” Pic credit to Stuart

An unconventional breakfast of chocolate, nuts and seeds and chorizo had me ready and raring to go on Sunday morning. Actually, ready and raring is an overstatement, but “go” we all did. We would broadly be trending south and west, for what was actually going to be a longer day in the saddle than the Saturday. Our day followed a similar pattern to Saturday, with low cloud and snow showers to begin with, but it cleared significantly as the day progressed, treating us to blue skies and epic views. We picked up the Pennine Bridleway for a while, descending towards Dent. More sketchy snow. More fun. Then a bitterly, bitterly cold road descent, that had us all stopping for extra layers, and looking forward to the next climb, purely to generate some heat. The next climb would be on a familiar hill for me – Whernside, but from the north, on a trail I’ve never used. The climb was a little too steep and prolonged to make on loaded singlespeeds, but would be a good granny ring winch in other conditions. We then dropped down towards Ribblesdale, picking up the 3 Peaks Cyclocross route off the hill, popping out alongside the railway line, and following it to the hulking mass of Ribblehead viaduct. Tummies were rumbling, so Stu took an executive decision to shorten the next leg slightly by going straight along the valley road to the Pen-y-ghent cafe. Pint of tea, cheese and beans on toast, extra toast and a bottle of coke. Fuel.

The blue skies and sun beaming through the windows of the cafe gave an illusion of warmth. The reality was that there was still a chill in the air as we set off, and while it felt like the back of the ride was broken, we still had a good way to go, including a long climb up to Malham Tarn. More pushing, followed by tarmac slogging. Mastiles Lane was dealt with, fuelled by bullet-hard Skittles, a handful stashed in my cheek, gerbil style until they reached a warm enough temperature to chew.

Eventually, we popped out on to tarmac at Rylstone, leaving us with a 5 miles tarmac spin/slog/spin to get us back to Skipton. The light was fading quickly, but we were welcomed back to where we started by ringing church bells (I’ve no idea how Stuart managed to get that organised ;-)) and confirmation by Mr Rider that we had ticked over the 100 mile mark somewhere on the road stretch back to town. A couple of hours later, Jenn and I were tucked up on the sofa, eating enormous quantities of toad in the hole and mash, my face glowing with windburn and the joys of central heating.

The FF29 and bikepacking

So, I’ve established the FF29 makes a fabulous, fun trail bike. How did it cope with being loaded up and taken out on a long xc ride? Very well, actually. The light weight meant that, despite being loaded up with a bar bag and saddle roll, it felt far from sluggish. The extra weight over the back wheel actually provided a little more traction, which was handy for hauling up a few of the steeper climbs. Aluminium has a reputation for being harsh, but the FF29 was anything but. I was as pretty much as comfortable in the saddle at the end as I was at the start. Again, the carbon fork continues to astound me. It is so compliant and comfortable, it really does feel like there is a little bit of travel there, but I love the direct feel of the rigid fork. Happy days.

Thanks to Jenn, Rob, Simon and Stu for the great company. Biggest thanks to Stuart for organising, and planning the ride. He is a fully qualified guide, and can take clients on this trip, or one tailored specifically for you – longer, shorter, bivvy, hostel, hotel…

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Pic credit to Stuart

Kinesis FF29 – first ride impressions

What do I say about a bike/frame that I’ve been given to ride? What if I hate it? What if I just don’t get on with it. It just doesn’t feel right?

I did wonder that when I stood in my kitchen at 23:15 on Friday night, sipping a tumbler of Bowmore and admiring my handy work. A phone call from Al over at Garage at around 15:00 had me diving out of the office as early as I could get away with. Unpacking the frame, the bright “sick” green shone out from the cardboard, despite the opaque bubblewrap protection. It certainly isn’t subtle. Luckily, I don’t really do subtle.

Back home, after getting the bottom bracket expertly faced by Al, and the fork steerer trimmed while he was at it, I took my time assembling the bike. 6Music on in the background, a mug or two of tea, mostly new or as-new parts. Methodical, calming, fun. Brain occupied enough to forget work, yet not taxed enough to stop me daydreaming about riding on Saturday. A big group of mates, a trail centre blast, a fun-per-miles quotient maximising social ride. The weather turned out not to be ideal… Sleet, rain and the kind of grey, penetrating cold that I have grown bored of this winter. Luckily the bike made up for the disappointing conditions. First impressions don’t always mean a great deal when riding bikes. Some take a bit of getting used to, or setting up to get the most out of them. Others just seem “right” immediately. It was nice to find out that the FF29 fell into the latter description. So far, my thoughts have been:

-wow, it’s light. The full build as pictured is 19lbs.
-that lightness translates into a fantastic bike for climbing on.
-after a winter of riding 26in wheels, I’d forgotten how well 29in roll over small lumps and bumps in the trail
-this is so much more than a cross country race bike. A rigid bike, this light has no right to be so confidence inspiring and composed over quick, rough ground
-it is the most nimble 29er I’ve ridden, capable of quick changes in direction, with little effort
-it might look out of place on a the build, but the dropper seat post is a great addition. Getting the saddle out of the way really let me throw the bike around a little more, extracting as much speed and fun out as possible of every situation. I only fitted it as a stop gap while I waited for a new post to be delivered, but I’ll leave it on for for the time being
-I currently have 710mm bars fitted – wider than I anything I used until a few years ago, but times have changes. They are now the narrowest bars I own, and I miss the greater leverage of an extra few mm either side. Again, for pure xc duties, this is not an issue, but as an all-rounder, I think I want to go wider. The Kinesis Strut bars have caught my eye, and will allow me to gain the extra width without sacrificing low weight.

All in all, I’m a happy boy at the moment. I’m looking forward to a few longer rides, and some serious time in the saddle, but things have got off to a great start…

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Bikepacking the Dales

Bikepacking

Backpacking with a bike.

I’ve had a few adventures over the years which have involved riding somewhere, carrying camping gear, sleeping out, then riding home the next day. The concept appeals, not least because it allows one to explore that bit further than can be done during a day. Or, do a longer “day” route, but at a social and relaxed pace. I’m also a sucker for sleeping outside. Little differences, like the changes in sounds: no creaks and clunks of a cooling down house, no muffled traffic noise. Crinkles of synthetic fabrics, wind, rustling grass, creaking trees, the hollow echo of rain against tent/bivvy bag/tarp fabric.

May will see my longest bikepacking adventure yet. Not huge, but big enough, and with an additional time pressure. It’s an individual time trial, so while no one will be racing, it carries with it an implied goal of completion as quickly as possible. I’ve already mentioned the Highland Trail. I’m sure I will talk about it a lot in the months to come.

In the mean time, I want to be as prepared as possible. This will involve the “usual” training rides, and as much long distance stuff as I can fit in. I also want to make sure my camping routine is completely nailed, and is a “routine”, so when I’m two days in to the Highland Trail, and shattered, I know that my sleeping bag will be warm enough, where my stove is packed, etc. That means a few preparatory rides and nights out. I.e. a perfect excuse for more fun.

1st up will be later this month, with Stu Rider, of Rider’s Cycle Centre in Skipton. Stu is a top bloke – I actually met him on the Cairngorms Loop last year, and we have bumped into each other at CX races and the like since then. He is going to be taking on the Highland Trail too, so is equally keen to get some miles in. He has planned out a route in the Dales, on tarmac and less muddy sections of off-road. We’ll be over-nighting at Aysgarth, before returning home. 50 miles each day, at a social pace. If you fancy joining us, there are more details on the Riders Cycle Centre Facebook page. The route is here:

Nice news

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The kind of news that has made me feel excitable for a few days.

Kinesis Bikes are kindly giving me a FF29 to race/ride/play on this year. The FF29 is their first foray into the world of big wheels, but looking at the reviews it has received so far, they took their time to make sure they got things right.

Bike Radar
Quest Adventure
Singletrack

I will be building the frame up with Kinesis’ own IX carbon forks initially, although I may swap between them and some suspension forks as and when I feel like it. Other parts will be an eclectic mix of stuff that I already own and a few new bits and pieces. Can’t beat shiny new kit. I’ve decided to keep things super-simple to start, and run the bike single speed. Again, I’ve got a full complement of 2×10 gears to fit should the mood take me. And for some of the events, like the Highland Trail, I’m not sure if one gear will be a compromise too far for me. Riding all day on an SS is ok. Riding all day for days on end might be a bit much. We shall wait and see. Plenty of time to make up my mind on that front.

So, the next few days will be a matter of waiting for the odd parcel to arrive, doing a bit of preparatory fettling, and trying not to get too giddy while I wait for the good stuff to make its way up to Leeds.

Oh, and on a final note, the frame will be “sick green” (Kinesis’ description, not mine). I love the colour. (Un)fortunately, it will clash amazingly with my Garage Bikes race kit. I’m going to spend a year looking like a two wheeled tic-tac. I actually quite like this πŸ™‚

Huge thank you to Dom at Kinesis for the frame. I just hope to do it justice, and have fun while I do so πŸ™‚

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January

Not only has January snuck up on me, but it is now nearly the end of the month.

I’ve not raced since an ill fated Rapha Supercross in October (sticky mud and wide tyres in the CX bike were not good bedfellows). This was all part of The Plan. A rest. Time off from racing. Riding for fun. Not riding so much. This has been a mixed blessing. I’ve enjoyed some rides with mates that I might have missed out on otherwise. I’ve been doing more running (see post below). But, occasionally I have struggled mentally. I’ve missed long rides, yet not felt motivated to do them, yet beaten myself up for not riding more. Telling myself it is part of The Plan doesn’t always help.

Post Christmas and I have gradually been getting back into things. A few more miles, more regularly. A mystery New Years bug and a cold haven’t helped, but I’m slowly but surely getting fit again. I’ll need to, I’ve got some fun plans for this year.

February
-Hit the North… 2 hours intense riding. Crashed out last year. Lots of Good People going. Will be fun.

March
-City Cross… Not yet decided whether I’ll race, but should be a laugh
-Edale Skyline fell race

April
-No races planned yet, but an Easter break on Skye will involve lots of riding

May
-12hr solo champs – only two weeks before the biggie
-Highland Trail – 400+ miles of Scottish wilderness. Brilliant. Bit scary.

June
-Brisol Bikefest – so much fun in a team last year, back to do it solo this year
-Mountain Mayhem – only a week after Bristol. Maybe another team ride?

July
TBC

August
TBC… Summat big

September
-Scotland Coast to Coast. Did it two years ago. Fancy another crack
-3 Peaks CX

Out there

Saturday morning. 6am. Ouch. Dry mouth. Pain behind my eyes. Groggy. Whisky night. A monthly gathering of mates, which starts as a relatively reserved catch up, with food and sampling some of Scotland’s finest single malts. Inevitably it descends into bad jokes, wild plans and “just one more dram”. Brilliant.

I get up. Empty out the cold, damp grinds from the Moka pot and refill with fresh. Listen to the click, click, roar of the gas hob lighting. Carrying enough espresso to wake a heavy-sleeper from a coma, I sit down in the armchair. Look at the new bike, directly opposite me. Look at the smoothness of the satin finish on the carbon. Immaculate. It will never be this clean again. I imagine myself riding. Stretched out, big-ringing along wide bridleways. Powering up climbs, hands on bar-ends (bar-ends! I’ve not had those since the 90s!).

The pre-ride faffing process is longer than normal. It looks very cold out. Most of my bike kit ends up on the bed. Much of it is left there, to be put away when I get home. That Helly Hansen that is so old it has horizontal stripes on the sleeves (none of that “modern” diagonal business) is left. As is the thick softshell that is perfect for sub-zero road rides, but always too warm on the mountain bike. Decisions made, I leave the front door. The car will stay outside the house today. I’m aware that it is very cold. The retained warmth inside my jacket and cap doesn’t take long to begin to fade. I swing a leg over the bike and pedal down the road. I stop after 10metres. Move the seatpost up by a few mm. And set off. The sun is still low in the sky, but is bright. There isn’t a cloud to be seen.

10 minutes later I’m in Leeds city centre. Shit. I’ve left my ipod at home. The ever present company on solo rides. I could go back, but today, I’ll be absolutely by myself. Another 10 minutes later and I have a coffee in my hand and am walking towards the train along a quiet platform.

The journey is broken up by chatting to a guy who is off to Rochdale to collect a van. He’s travelled up from Ipswich this morning. And then two young lads with stunt-scooter things. We compared notes. How much? Is it any good? Can you do wheelies? How long are you going to be out for? How far can you ride? How many bikes have you got? Can I have a go?

We disembark at Hebden Bridge and I pedal up and out, towards Peckett Well. Turning pedals feels great. Warmth creeps through my body, despite cold air filling my lungs. I notice a glossy finish to the stone walls. Literally as though someone had varnished everywhere… ice.

The first descent proves interesting. That’s interesting as in sheet ice and slippery as hell. Slip. Bruised forearm.

I climb Midgehole Rd. Ice. Slip. No crash, but all of a sudden I’m pointing back down the hill. How did that happen? Walk.

I get to Widdop reservoir. Inch thick ice across the top of the dam. The reservoir itself is frozen. I’m using the studs at the front of my SPDs as crampon front-points. Kick, step. Kick, step. Things only get worse as I start to climb out on the Pennine Bridleway. It’s a good job this new bike is light.

None of this matters. I’m in my own world. Absorbing the environment. No thought in my actions, just moving forward. The sky has changed. No longer is it blue. It has the milky nature of an artist’s jam-jar.

Push, push. Straddle bike. Ride. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. I’m absolutely aware of every miniscule change in gradient across the trail. I drift to the lowest point as tyres slide down, like a bowling ball dropping into the gully at the side of the lane. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. SLAM. Bruised hip. Up. Slip, wiggle snake hips, stay upright. SLAM. Bruised palm.

Discretion is the better part of valor, I think is the saying. Time to head home. More slipping, more tumbles. Then a road descent to chill me to my core. The waiting room at Hebden Bridge station warms me, and I share tales with a group of pensioners who were equally enthused by their epic day out on the icy hills. “We slid down the steps on our bottoms!”

I do like being out there.

Soul riding

Sometimes, it isn’t the length of the ride. Sometimes, it isn’t the weather. Sometimes, it isn’t the speed. Sometimes, it isn’t the technical challenge. Sometimes, it isn’t the view.

Sometimes, it is riding with the right person. Sometimes, it is talking. Sometimes, it is sharing a view. Sometimes, it is sharing a pint. Sometimes, it is riding, quietly, comfortable in each other’s company.

Sometimes you experience a perfect ride. Thanks Si.