Sunday, February 18, 2007

Welsh mud

© Jeff Jones

Today was the day I went mountain biking. In 18-odd years of riding a bike, I've spent about two weeks in total riding off-road. That includes UK national bike routes. I'd have nothing against riding on those if I had a 'cross bike or a full suspension Yeti 575. Purely by coincidence, I was able to access one of those through work, as there are an unbelievable number of bikes floating around our office. As I found out, the 575 is amazing bike - somewhat of an improvement to my old GT Avalanche.

There were four of us: Sean, from John's Bikes in Bath, his mate Jim, John S, and myself. We loaded up the kit at the civilsed hour of 8:45am and Sean drove us to the Forest of Dean, in Wales. There we met Jim, who it turned out had had a bit of a big night, involving four bottles of wine and just one other person. He was able to ride fairly well, considering.

After fine tuning my machine (a bit of eyeballing of the seat height and fore-aft cleat positioning) we set off. I was immediately in trouble, trying to figure out how to ride through mud and over slippery tree roots, which there are a lot of in the Forest. Pulling my foot out, trying to get going again, not having any idea of how this bike handled. Fortunately, no-one was in a great hurry and they waited for me several times until we reached a hill, where I could comfortably keep up.

As John explained, the trick to riding on this sort of terrain with a proper bike is to just point it in the direction you want it to go, and let the suspension do the rest. So easy is it. Panic do not. That is why you fail.

The bike was that good that somehow, I did not manage to fall off. The closest I came was putting a hand down to stop myself getting covered in mud. Still, whenever we did any form of descending, I was well off the back. It's not easy to unlearn all your road habits about keeping your weight firmly on the back wheel and outside leg pointed down.

Towards the end of the ride, I was getting the hang of it a lot better, to the point where I could keep up on the tree root sections and wasn't too far back on the downhills. Of course, we weren't doing anything like racing speeds, but I was happy enough. You can do some ridiculous things on a mountain bike that are just impossible on a road machine. And despite the rear of the bike swimming around in the mud, you just keep going. You need more concentration, and you definitely need your top end power, but the adrenaline rush and the kick you get from riding somewhere completely different keeps you fired up.

I'll do it again.

Postscript: I have to say that despite not being a car lover - hell, I've never even owned one - Top Gear is a bloody good watch. I can't believe they converted a Reliant Robin into a space shuttle and actually launched it. The landing ... did not quite go according to plan.

John and Sean unload
© Jeff Jones

A brand new Yeti 575, for my riding pleasure
© Jeff Jones

Setting off at the Forest of Dean
© Jeff Jones

John and a slightly under the weather Jim take a breather
© Jeff Jones

My muddier bike
© Jeff Jones

John, Sean and Jim after the ride
© Jeff Jones

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