Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Ice avoidance

I woke up to icy roads after a lot of rain the previous evening, rain was forecast at lunchtime so I knew there was going to be a thaw at some point, if I wanted to ride without the risk of falling on ice (something I should have heeded the next day as I fell on black ice on my ride to work) and not get soaked by rain I’d have to time it just right.
Well I got 30 minutes of dry, frost clear riding in before it began to sleet which rapidly turned to heavy rain. The trails can’t get any wetter now so under the cover of trees it was business as usual, I was glad to be back on fat tyres though, confidence renewed. Out of the trees though things just got worse, heavier rain and high gusting winds made things most unpleasant. A ride in thick mud is a good workout though so I wasn’t too disappointed with the relatively short ride today. My legs still ached by the end, although that might be the cumulative effect of three straight days of riding
ride 19
9 miles 
total 284
commute 116 

Monday, 23 February 2015

how a fat bike ruined my riding

I’ve been riding a fat bike since October when it arrived, so for a very brief time (that I’ve now forgotten) in dry conditions and then the whole winter in wet, icy, snowy and very muddy ones. I’ve gotten used to how it handles, how heavy it is, how every now and then it needs a little man handling to get around things. At first I wasn’t convinced, I’d gone from a reasonably light, responsive 29er  hard tail to this monster truck overnight and I’ll admit I found it a bit alien. It wasn’t until I’d ridden it a few times, got the bar width and saddle height where I wanted tham that I began to enjoy it.
It’s been fun, there’s no denying it and I think I’ve benefited from pedalling what must be over 36lb of rubber and metal up all manner of hills and chucked it down some increasingly technical descents and along some very sucky tarmac too. The geometry is spot on for trail riding even with the rigid fork.
So today I thought I’d have a change, it’s as good as a rest so they say, so I took the 29er out for a spin, it was far from restful. Yes, it was quicker on tarmac and harder surfaces; it was definitely easier to pedal uphill, although I was using higher gears than usual as it seemed too easy after the fatty! Then I turned onto the dirt and this is where the fatty has ruined my riding. The 29er in the current conditions was horrendous, I was all over the place, the descents I’ve been hitting with hardly a thought on the fatty had me nervous, the bike twitchy and it simply had zero grip. It’s not until now, having experienced “normal” tyres that I fully appreciate how awesomely grippy the fatty’s tyres are. I had absolutely no confidence in the 29er rubber! Every turn had me with a foot out or with the front wheel just ploughing straight on and I was glad to get back to drier surfaces.
It’s got me thinking, can I ride the fat bike all year round? I know when things dry out the 29er will be better but I have so much more confidence on the fat bike and that might make up for the fact that it’ll still weigh a massive amount even with the more dryer condition and better rolling tyres that you can get for it. Everyone else that I ride with will be on lighter machines, can I cope with being tail end Charley just for the fun of the fat ride?
ride 18
13 miles
total 275

Friday fun

a free Friday followed a night on dark porter in the pub, and the beer intake decided the destination of the ride. An unusual one for me as it was a local trail but we used a car to get there. This was because usually by the time we ride here we are knackered and it's just a way to return home using routes we've used before. Today though we can explore a bit more.
I know a few trails but today we just followed our noses and went where the front wheel took us and it took us down some very dubious looking singletrack, very muddy, very over grown needing to dab a foot at times to stay upright but great fun. Our horsey friends had done a good job of cutting up the bridleways and this made the inevitable climbs even more tricky. Thick sticky mud was everywhere and I'm convinced it would have been a less fun experience on a skinny tyred bike. The climbs were tough, no doubt about it but the descents were rewarding enough for us not to be tooo bothered about it. You can't when the down hill bits are on sinuous singletrack whipping through trees with off camber slippery turns and slicky roots, it was fab! we made the mistake of parking at the top of the hill though so we knew that the end of the ride was going to be uphill but we did have the bonus of being next to the cafe!
ride 17
7 miles
total 262

Friday, 20 February 2015

Penrose Stairs

I didn’t intend todays ride to be quite so strenuous but like most rides I do they tend to evolve as I go along, I just pedal where the front tyre leads me and today it seemed to be pointing upwards most of the way. There was a surprising amount of grip available for those riding fat tyres, I think Ian faired less well on skinny mud specific rubber. It was definitely better to be on the bike than to walk in the mud as a few stile lifts proved. I managed to stay upright off the bike for once though which is a bonus. Another bonus was Waseley cafĂ© cake and the eating area we shared with a brave Robin. More climbing followed of course, this time with a perfectly valid excuse of trying to warm back up after sitting eating calories. Our reward were open gates at the top of the hill! We’d done the Esses climb backwards, tank slapper one way and then the other, even Bono got some two way action. The only thing we went only in a downward direction was the lost lens descent and we cooled the brakes in the stream crossing at the end (if only!)
All this up traditionally is followed by some down but somehow we followed it with some flat, some steps, a gravel motorway and then a steep off road climb past snorers cottage, I’m still not sure how we managed that feat, even the ride back to base was slightly uphill. Lionel and Roger would be proud
ride 16
19 miles
total 2 55
commute 97

Thursday, 19 February 2015

feeling smug

Cars are wonderful things; they deliver you in comfort and with minimal effort to far off beautiful places. You arrive unruffled, without perspiration, in a great frame of mind after perhaps listening to soothing music or a play on the radio.
In contrast a bicycle will deliver you, if pedalling the same distance, slightly dishevelled, sweaty and completely knackered multiple hours later, probably in the dark so there’s no view to see.
However, there’s a fly in the car’s nirvana flavoured ointment, and that insect is that seemingly every other person on the planet has had the same idea, at the same time and mostly fill that car with just the one person. Still, you are still travelling in comfort, frustration free…well, no, you have joined every other car driver in a huge car park, but sadly the car park isn’t the one next to the coast or a mountain, it’s a motorway, where speeds up to 70mph are allowed, but today 7mph is just a pipe dream. The soothing radio is telling you that the tail back you are in lasts 10 miles and is caused by road works/accident/highland cow up ahead and you are looking at the clock on the dash board, contemplating smashing your head into the steering wheel in frustration and wondering how much longer you can hold your need to urinate before resorting to filling the pop bottle in your ergonomically designed cup holder without your fellow traffic jam inmates noticing.
Suddenly the effort of cycling, with just the sound of  bird song,  the hum of tyres and the option for a cake/tea/beer/toilet stop seem quite appealing. I know which I prefer.
ride 15
19 miles
total 236
commute 97


Friday, 13 February 2015

1st road ride of 2015

It was lovely and warm in the sun today, with hardly any breeze you would be forgiven for thinking we were well into March, It was perfect for the first road ride of 2015.
I even got the carbon, mudguardless bike out and dusted it off. It felt very weird at first after the 4” tyres and 740mm width bars on the fat bike and It took me a few miles to get to grips with the fast steering and flat out speed of the road bike. It also didn’t help I was on one sided road pedals for the first time for about 7 years, It’ll take some time to get used to flipping the pedal rather than just pushing you feet in what ever the orientation that you get with mountain bike pedals. They do offer a much more supportive platform for my feet though.
We kept to quiet lanes and popped into Feckenham for a cuppa and a stem ginger cookie at the community store before the return leg. We sort of rescued a guy who was walking uphill pushing his bike, it turned out he had had an operation on his leg and this was his first ride back and he’d done too much too soon. A familiar story to me! It was a bit weird when he said to me “I know you, you’re the guy who rides the bike with the massive tyres!” fame at last eh? We rode tempo with him and chatted and once on the flat he seemed to recover a bit and we parted company as he headed for home and we had a bit more to do.
The sun was dipping as we neared home and the temperature dropped but it had been a little glimpse into the future and days riding in the sunshine
Ride 14
20 miles
Total 217
Commute 78

Spring Draws closer

I had a new windproof jacket to try out today from Surface, the clothing arm of Charge bikes. It fitted well but unfortunately it wasn’t vey windy today so on the long extended climb I actually took it off. I can say it rolls up and fits well in the back of a cycling jersey! The long climb was up the canal (around 4 miles) and as the freezing conditions had abated the surface was very sticky in places, not at all helped by the fishermen. They all seem to have massive two wheeled trollies that contains a mountain of equipment. I’m not sure you need more than a rod, bait and a warm hat and coat do you? It’s not exactly out in the wilderness and the fish are trapped between locks, shooting fish in a barrel must be harder!. The trolly wheels left deep grooves on the towpath where the tread had picked up the top most ash surface exposing the gravel below, at least the wise fat bike tyres leave almost not trace.
Last Ride, Dan tore off his rear mech because of massive mud build up on the up and over trails so I thought I’d go take a look how bad it was. The ploughed field didn’t seem too bad with minimum pick up of the clay surface and I was a bit puzzled as to how the incident occurred as it was a lot more frozen the previous week. It wasn’t until I reached the top and began going down the other side and rejoining the tow path that I realise where it must have happened, the mud was sticky and thick and soon the already large tyres seemed to double in size and began flinging great gobs of mud all over the place. Thank goodness for the mudhugger or I’d have been covered. The rear mech and all the rear of the from were plastered in the gloop, I stopped a couple of times to unclog and took it easy as I didn’t want to suffer Dan’s fate.
So, snowdrops are in full bloom, crocus and Daffodils will be next, spring is approaching but it’s bringing thawed trails and maintenance nightmares with it. I wouldn’t have it any other way though
ride 13
10 miles
total 197
commute 78

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Arboreum Fatiflorum

I was up until 0430 this morning watching a very entertaining super bowl XLIX. I always book the next day off work to recover and go for a ride and today was no exception.
It was bitterly cold today, the temperature not rising above -1 degree all day and with the windchill it was significantly colder. The benefit of this though is that the trails were hard with frost and much easier to roll over. Away from the traditional very muddy parts the grown was almost abnormally dry, like it gets in spring after a dry spell and before the foliage starts to claim back the space it lost in winter. Pine needles and leaf litter crunched under my tyres.
Did I mention how cold it was? It was colder than that! I thought twice about doing the new downhill section we found in case it was iced up but in the end I MTFU and went for a look, as I plunged down, the rear wheel scrabbling for grip and skipping off the routes all thoughts of ice were forgotten as I concentrated on piloting the fat bike around the bends, wrestling it between the off camber terrain through narrow gapped trees, around the berms and finally over the stream. It was worth the frozen feet just for that descent alone.
Taking one photo every ride is fun but there is a danger of becoming repetitive so I’m always trying to think of new locations, situations or interesting things to photograph. I’ve done tree hanging shots before and I have a preferred tree for the shoot but the fat bike proved far too heavy to lift up to that branch! So tree of choice 2 was selected. Luckily there was no one about to look at the strange bearded bloke picking the fruit of the Aboreum Fatiflorum
ride 12
9 miles
total 187
commute 40

Dan finds snow

Dan missed out on yesterdays ride in the fresh snow and there had been a thaw all day so we headed straight up to Beacon hill to see how the thicker stuff had faired over night. A light frost made the snow feel totally different to the last ride. Before it had been soft and fluffy, perfect for snowballs but today it was thinner and crunchy and very loud with a 4” tyre running over it. There was still the excellent traction properties and it didn’t seem such hard work to pedal through it, but it was worth the effort to see Dan’s face as he played in it!
There was a vicious wind today up to 30mph making the -1 temps feel more like -15 and after playing in the snow we headed for shelter and as many climbs as possible to keep warm. We “granola’d” in the park and Dan was tempted by the skate park (more to do with the fact it was kid free, so there was no one to take the piss!) pulling some moves from his BMX days. He tried to coach me over the jump but I failed miserably. The final part of the ride was an interval session up the canal, with a climb every 100 yards or so for about 5 miles, seriously tough on a fat bike into the wind!
We split at the turn off for the up and over towpath and I continued on the road, Dan chose the off road route as it was a straighter route to his house. Unfortunately it was so muddy that way that his rear mech got clogged and with the effort he was putting through it the rear mech hanger snapped off! It did it’s job and saved the rear mech and frame from damage by breaking first but meant Dan’s last few miles of the ride were at walking pace.
Ride 11
29 miles
Total 178
Commute 40

Snow finally comes to the NWAlps


I woke up at 0130 and checked outside to see if the forecast was true and yes! There was lots of snow covering the road, cars…everywhere! However, when I got up at 0630 the snow had gone from the roads and only a little lingered on cars and gardens. The only hope was that a bit of altitude at the top of the hills would ensure a slower thaw.
I dressed with multi layers and snow boots (only thing that keeps my feet warm for a reasonable ride length of time) even though they aren’t as grippy on the pedals as my 5:10s  and headed out the door.
The snow that was left on the road was soft and slushy but as I gained height the quality of the snow increased and there was significantly more of it. On Beacon hill in the sheltered spots it was 6” deep, soft and the big fat tyres excelled in it. Instead of cutting through like a normal tyre would the fatty’s floated on the top, it was still hard work to pedal but there was loads of traction even when cornering. The difference from riding on snow when I entered a wooded section was night and day as the muddy was slippy and the tyres struggled with any sort of steering input, it took a few turns to adjust my riding style to suit.
Thinking there would be just as much snow on to of Waseley hill I made my way up there on the steep farm track climb but disappointingly because of wind and the ever strengthening sun there was a lot less. Standing on this side of the M5 looking over into Worcestershire and Shropshire there was a marked contrast in snow quantities, we had clearly had much more.
So the fat bike has experienced real snow and I can now see how it excels in it, next I need to try a beach!
Ride 10
13 miles
Total 149
Commute 40