So I’m currently sitting at my Mac listening to rain absolutely hammering on the windows and thinking about how this time last week the trails at Bedgebury were in near-perfect condition and riding extra fast (Fast enough for me to sneak into 20th out of 4,400 on Dads Army) Late summer & early autumn rides are usually among the best of the year. Having just been out in the rain though, my thoughts were forced to turn to the looming months of damp, darkness that we’re about to “enjoy”.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t let the weather dictate my riding. I get out on the bike in January and February when it really can be a bit “grim”, but there is something about winter than can drain the joy out of a ride. I walked up the shops in some drizzle this week, and it stirred a few memories. Memories of fingers numb with cold, the sound of hailstones rattling off a bike helmet, the damp smell of a cold, saturated riding jersey that’s clinging to your torso. Sometimes it really does take an effort of will to get out and exercise outdoors in the months where the sun sets before teatime.
I’ve not ridden for almost two weeks, and despite late August in Sussex doing a passable impression of an Indian Monsoon, it’s been work that’s kept me off the bike. Here’s a quick riding video from earlier in the month. It shows the newly opened and refurbished Genesis trail for those of you who are familiar with Bedgebury.
Just back in Blighty after an extended stay in the canary islands where I managed to cover almost 200 miles, find a few new (to me) trails and ride with some trail buddies. At the start of the summer, my Ragley Blue Pig, which lives in Fuerteventura, had clocked up 1,823 miles on Strava. I set myself a goal of pushing that up to 2,000 miles by the end of the holiday, and I’m pleased that it’s total now stands at 2,019. To be slightly pedantic, it’s only actually the frame, the brakes and the front & rear mechs which have done the full 2,019, all the other bits and bobs have been replaced at least once.
As Fuerteventura is incredibly dry and volcanic, the terrain doesn’t exactly offer perfect conditions for mountain biking. No trees, no mud, just miles and miles of loose rock and dust. So, that’s the bad news, but the good news is, you can ride pretty much wherever you like and there are lots of walking trails and dirt roads which will allow you to explore the wilderness. If you like rocks & solitude (and don’t mind wind) it’s a good place to ride. You do have to pick the right time of day though, I wouldn’t generally start a ride later than about 8.30am to avoid being baked alive in the sun. Early evening is another good time to ride, but I found myself drinking beer by the time the sun had started to set…
The few hundred miles I’ve now ridden out in the canaries have convinced me that a hardtail with 26in wheels is far from the ideal bike for the terrain on offer. 29er wheels would make the rocks seem a lot smoother and rear sus would be a big help too. Until my lottery numbers come up though, I think I’m going to have to remind myself of the old cyclists adage “the best bike in the world is the one you’re riding”.
I managed to do some serious damage to my spokes early on in the holiday and had to cough up a very reasonable 30 euros to have the wheels rebuilt. I also had to replace the bottom bracket as it was starting to feel very rough. Shimano Hollowtech BB’s are a doddle to replace though. I keep a small set of tools out on the island with the bike, so small maintenance jobs aren’t too much of a drama. I’m also fortunate to have a very handy little bike shop 200m or so away too.
The riding highlight of the trip was discovering quite a nice little descent into the village of Lajares. The trail drops about 300ft of elevation in about a third of a mile and features some narrow, sketchy, loose rocky stuff that can be fun. The first time I rode down it, a couple of the rocky step downs looked dicey enough to see me walking them, but each run down saw me gain a bit more confidence and lay off the brakes and ride faster and faster.
I took the GoPro out with me on a few rides and put together a little video. This should give you an idea of the sort of riding that’s available on Fuerteventura. Not exactly MTB nirvana, but it’s warm & dry all year round and you can cool off with a dip in the pool after your ride.
After a rush of blood to the head I decided to design a Lardy MTB logo and put it on a tee shirt. I then decided to design some other MTB-themed tee shirts and upload those too.
I ended up opening a little shop on the Spreadshirt website. They basically print, supply and ship the tee shirts with my designs on them and give me a tiny amount of money for each one someone buys.
I do like to have a bike-themed tee shirt to hand when I’m lounging around by the pool on holiday or to put on after a ride so I don’t have to sit in my sweaty riding jersey on the drive home. I always found that there’s not a huge amount out there, so I decided to make my own.
After what felt like about six months (In reality it was about a week and a half) of doing nothing with my bike except riding it up hills on tarmac, kidding myself I was enjoying getting fit, I finally had an off road ride yesterday. I felt good when I flipped the lever on the rear shock back into the “trail” position. Feels like it’s been stuck on “climb” for way too many rides.
I decided to park up in Eastbourne near the Golf Course and ride over the downs, into Jevington and onto Friston forest from there to make it a bit more “epic”, though it’s hardly wilderness riding. As tough as riding up and down the South Downs is, you’re never more than 12ft from a hiker or dog walker. You’re also never more than a mile from a climb that will make you wish you’d stayed in bed, followed by a rough, sketchy, flinty, chalky descent that will have you working your brakes to keep you under 30mph. As I rode out past the Golf Course towards the singletrack Nirvana of Friston Forest, it felt like a pleasant, warm late Spring day.
I’ve blogged it before and I’ll blog it again. The thing that always strikes you about riding at Friston for the first time in a few months is how good it is when it’s dry. If you want to fall in love with natural trail riding, I don’t know where you’re going to find a better place to do it in the South East of England. As I’ve recently got used to Bedgebury, where I’ve practically memorised every root and twist, suddenly having Friston’s twists and turns in front of me slowed me down a fair bit. I was a lot more cautious, keeping my speed down to avoid mis-judging a corner and hitting a tree. Unlike Bedgebury, I was a good 2 hour walk from the car should anything go pear shaped.
I wish I could ride at Friston once a week and get to know it’s twists and turns so I could gain a bit of confidence and ride it all that bit faster. I managed to get a little bit lost and ended up on a trail full of small jumps and doubles that really wasn’t where I wanted to be. By the time I’d found my way back to the flowy, twisty stuff, I was hot, tired and very sweaty. Half a Camelbak of water and a Kit Kat later I headed back towards the car with the sky darkening and spots of rain starting to fall. I stopped for another rest about 2 miles later, having tackled the loooooong climb back out of Jevington. By this time, the hills were shrouded in low, murky cloud, it was drizzling and my sweat-soaked riding jersey wasn’t offering a lot of protection against the chill. As I drank more water, some cows looked at me with what I could swear was contempt.
Tired and chilly, I consoled myself with the fact that it was largely downhill all the way back to the car. I made my way back to the Car, stopping only to take a photograph for some friendly hikers who had just walked the whole South Downs Way.
Below I’ve included a video which compresses the 2hr 20min, 16.7 mile ride with over 2,000ft of climbing into a 113 second video. I think the film gives an honest impression of my day, I’ve shown the bits where I was slow, cowardly, and Included some climbs. Should give you a feel for what Friston and the Downs are like.
Featuring in the video is a piece of kit I’d like to give a small mention to, my Trek riding gloves. I have no idea what they cost or what Trek call them, mainly because I have had them for somewhere between 12 and 15 years and I no longer remember. They are still better than anything I can find available to buy at a reasonable price now, so well done them…
Just over a year ago, my Canyon Spectral AL 29 6.9 arrived. I’ve done about 900 miles on it so far and I thought I’d write a bit about how it’s been to live with the bike for a year. I’d like to say that most of those 900 miles have been gnarly, off-road riding, but to be honest, it’s been about a 50-50 split between riding the roads to stay fit and riding the trails to have fun.
First up, has the bike been reliable? In a word, yes. All through last summer, autumn and winter, the bike just got on with whatever I asked it to do with the absolute minimum of maintenance and fettling. I cleaned bits, lubed bits and added air here and there, but it never really required any major work. I swapped out the grips on the bars because I love the big, fat, grippy Superstar XL grips, but other than that, for the first 11 months, the bike was pretty much as it came supplied by Canyon. By this April however, the drivetrain was starting to show a bit of wear and tear. The chain wasn’t really slipping too much and it was shifting OK so I thought I’d see how many more miles I could get out of it. Then the chain snapped, fortunately, only about a mile from home.
I did the sensible thing and replaced the whole drivetrain at once, swapping out the Race Face cranks for Shimano ones and increasing the size of the cog at the front slightly to a 32 tooth but kept the rear cassette the same spec. Not sure if it was the bigger cog that caused it, but since it’s been on the bike, I’ve managed to take some chunks out of my fastest times on my local trails. More of that later.
Other than the drivetrain, the rear tyre is now on it’s last legs, looking rather worn (I blame all the weight my fat arse puts on it) and the headset has developed an annoying creak as the bearings are starting to go. Generally though, considering it gets battered over roots and rocks with 18 stone of me on top of it, it’s held up pretty well.
In terms of how it rides, I love it, can’t really say any more than that. I’ve read tons of bike reviews in mags that go on about handling and this and that, and it makes no sense to me really. All I know is that I get on my bike and it feels good and I feel like I can ride as fast and as hard as I am able without worrying that I might be better off on a slightly different bike. I’ve never been on a mountain bike that feels as stable and as confidence-inspiring at speed, and I’m riding faster than I’ve ever ridden. Well, I’m sure 20 years ago I could ride up hills faster, but when I want to do important things, like cornering hard and maintaining speed over rough terrain, the bike never lets me down. In fact I’m sure it could corner a lot harder with a better rider than me in the saddle.
Hopefully the 2nd year of riding the Canyon will involve taking it to a few more interesting places and trying more new trails.
Still clocking up the miles (more than double the amount I’ve ridden on the Canyon) is my Ragley Blue Pig. It always feels too small and a bit dated getting on the Ragley after being on the Canyon, but the Pig still does the job. It had it’s drivetrain replaced last November, and this March I put some wider bars on it so it’s riding nicely and feeling a little less cramped.
It’s gradually making itself at home in the dusty, rocky calderas of Fuerteventura and slowly finding new trails. I managed to meet another local rider out there and there is potential to do some slightly more scary riding out in the Canaries this summer. Trail reports and injury details may well appear on this blog in August…
It’s been a slow start to 2015, this time last year, I’d ridden 477 miles, this year, 273. That’s a big drop, but I have been climbing a lot, I’ve been trying to make sure that every ride I do has at least 1,000ft of climbing involved, and I’m hoping that 12 mile rides with 1,200ft climbing will do more for my fitness than the 20 mile rides with 400ft of climbing did last year.
Though I say it’s been a slow start to 2015, I have been setting some new personal best times on some of my regular trails at Bedgebury. I’ve managed to get into the top 60 on five or six of the leaderboards. Being 51st or 56th out of 3,600-odd Strava riders feels pretty good to me. I’ve managed to do it (I think) by getting more and more confident to lean the Spectral into corners. I’ve not yet found the limits of it’s grip, and I hope I never do, because I’m not sure I fancy losing traction when leaning into a corner at 15mph, especially since I don’t wear kneepads.
The last couple of times I’ve ridden at Bedgebury it’s been in fantastic shape, really really dry, grippy and fast. Springtime also means much less foliage to whack you in the face or block your vision on corners too. Last time there I managed to do 2 laps of the singletrack for the first time ever. Very tiring, but on my first lap round, I managed an average speed of 9.5mph which is my quickest run round yet. 2nd lap was more like 8mph and very hard work, but it felt good to finally have the fitness level to actually be able to do 17 miles there at a decent pace. I even managed to lap some lads who were riding round at the same time.
Here’s a little bit of Bedgebury footage from May bank Holiday weekend…
So, it’s February and I’ve not been riding much lately. My miles per week total has fallen off a cliff since the end of September 2014 really. 2015 really hasn’t got off to much of a good start riding wise, colds, coughs, sore throats, rain, sleet. Just not been in the mood hugely.
I have been to Bedgebury a couple of times and it’s been a real slog. Not just because of my dwindling fitness, but because the parts that ought to be easy, the fire roads joining up the singletrack, have become very hard due to thick, grip-robbing, leg-draining mud.
It’s part of the joy of riding in winter, getting covered in shit, but for me, I’ll take a freezing cold, frosty, crisp day anytime over a mild, grey, wet day with mud everywhere. But still, large parts of the more man-made trails at Bedgebury are riding well, you just have to spin through all the slop to get there.
Similarly Swinley, with it’s near-tarmac trails was riding pretty well when I visited at the start of February. There are some very boggy bits, there are lots of places where the trail has had holes cut in it by “over-zealous” braking, but miles and miles of it is riding really well, as the video below hints at. I like Swinley more and more each time I go, if only it wasn’t two hours in the car. And busy ? Sheesh, on a Sunday morning in February, parts of the Red Route there felt more congested than the M25. Still, it’s worth it just for the Deerstalker trail alone…
5 months since I’ve posted on this blog. Seems a bit of a poor show really.
Things started to go awry for me and my bike after September when I got ill for a couple of weeks, then had to spend the best part of two months renovating a house (Long story, not bike related). By the time that job had been done, winter had set in and early sunsets were limiting the time I had to ride.
So, by the time I finished my 100th ride of the year on New Years eve, I’d covered 1,251 miles. Oddly enough 1,251 miles is 2,014 kilometers, 2014km in 2014. How coincidental. Glad I forced myself out for the 100th ride, but I was still well short of the 1,500 miles I had aimed to do. I was well on target till September as well. Never mind.
So, here’s a quick pictoral recap of my riding over the past 5 months I’ve been blog-dodging…
September started with me enjoying some warm, sunny cycling in Fuerteventura. Slowly getting a feel for which trails lead where out there, gradually building up my mental map of the place. September was very warm and very dry, so I stuck to early morning rides while the sun wasn’t too hot…
A lot of my Autumn rides in the UK were spent slogging up and down the one big climb local to me. It’s not even that big, but it’s local and it gives me a work out. 400ft of climbing and mostly traffic free. Part of the Brighton to Camber cycle route apparently, though the bit between Hastings and Camber is pretty lethal for cyclists as the roads are narrow and there are lots of cars, lorries and buses.
At the end of November and start of December I had another chance to ride in the Canaries. It was a lot warmer than the UK but we did get a fair bit of rain. On my first ride, I was heading along the coast into the wind with the sun rising behind me and a large rainstorm heading towards me. These atmospheric conditions lead to me seeing the most perfect double rainbow I’ve ever seen in my life. The end of the rainbow was touching the huge waves in the azure blue sea. It only needed a pod of dolphins leaping out of the water to make a perfect photo. Needless to say I didn’t have a camera with me at the time…
Heavy rain and volcanic islands are an interesting combination, the rain has nowhere to drain into so you end up with massive puddles that don’t go anywhere, you just have to wait until the sun gets hot enough to evaporate them. Very little in the way of mud, but there was a lot of a weird, sandy wet grit sprayed all over me. I had one good run with the wind behind me along the north shore of the island. A section of rough, cut up road, roughly equivalent to a fire road in an English woodland almost 5 miles long. I managed to average just under 15mph for the whole section, was convinced I’d make some sort of impact on the Strava segment, maybe a top 5, but I was 18th. Quite disappointing because the sandy, rough trail was no place to ride a road bike, so I can’t pretend I’d only been beaten by roadies on lighter bikes…
After a brief few days in the sun it was back to forcing myself out in the cold and murk to put a few miles in through December. Mostly it was typical British winter grot. Windy, drizzly, grey, I’m-only-out-to-keep-fit weather, but my last ride of the year was a real treat.
8.30am New Years Eve I got to Bedgebury with the car thermometer suggesting it was -1. As I rode into the woods it got quite a bit colder than it was on the A21 layby however so I reckon -3 is not beyond the realms of possibility. With the frost still crisp and the sun rising, it was bloody stunning though.
You just can’t beat being out when the light is this perfect really. The trails have held up very well and much of Bedgeburys red route is riding just as quickly as it would in the summer. I was breaking the ice on the puddles as I rode round so I’m pretty sure I was the first rider out that morning. Well, after I’d overtaken the first 4 or 5 riders I’d caught up with I was anyway ; )
So that was about that for 2014. Not sure what 2015 holds for me and the bikes, don’t think I will be planning to ride 1,500 miles again. I think maybe 1,000 miles and enjoying the ones I ride a bit more is a better goal for this year.
And blogging about them without a 5 month gap, of course…
After racking up a few “desert” miles on the Blue Pig, I was itching to get back on my Canyon Spectral and ride through trees on mud and over roots. Despite the fact that I’ve done about 1,700 miles on the Ragley and less than 400 on the Spectral, the Canyon is the bike that feels like “home” now. It feels as though it fits me like a glove and I love it.
So where better to take the Canyon for a spin than at Bedgebury on trails I know like the back of my hand ? August is a busy month for me, a lot of work to do, and the kids off school and needing attention. This puts a bit of a constraint on the amount of riding time I get, so quick nips out to Bedgebury and along the seafront are about as much as I can manage for the next week or two.
My first ride saw the trails a bit dusty and me a bit rusty. I definitely felt a bit slower and fatter post-holiday, that will have to be sorted gradually. My second visit to Bedgebury was with a friend who is a fair bit faster than me, which gave me that little bit of extra incentive to keep up with him. You’ll see him gradually disappearing in the video footage below.
I got to ride the newly revamped “Sweetness” trail at Bedgebury for the first time this month, it’s always been one of the best trails there, but did suffer from some very boggy patches that would become absolutely wrecked in wet weather. The trailbuilders have had to balance keeping a natural feel to the trail with solving the drainage. They’ve done this with some short sections of hard pack featuring a few switchback berms. Sweetness has always been a trail that featured very tight corners, but a couple of the new berms are ridiculously tight. They feel like they’ve been built for BMX’s rather than XL framed 29er mountain bikes…
Any crisicisms are a bit nit-picky though, it’s a lot of fun and it’ll be easier to ride through the winter than the old trail would have been. Bedgebury is in very good shape these days, here’s a short video of a few selected trail sections there.
I did also take the bike out along the seafront for a bit of an early morning blast along the sea front today. First time I’ve had a nose round my home town for a while, holiday and work have kept me away. It felt nice to smell that salty tang and to hear the gulls screeching. I’m a big fan of the little seaside town where I live. We’ve got the biggest winkle on the south coast…
Regular readers of this blog (if there are any) may remember me mentioning back in May when I bought my Canyon Spectral, that my Ragley Blue Pig had emigrated to somewhere a bit drier than East Sussex. We recently bought a small holiday home on the island of Fuerteventura and the Blue Pig now lives out there. During the latter part of July I was back riding on the Ragley exploring the north part of Fuerteventura around the town of Corralejo.
One of the first things I noticed when I arrived on Fuerteventura for the first time that there were cycle lanes everywhere. Generally these are well surfaced, wide, and sit a good distance away from the traffic. Obviously what I was most keen to find on the island was off-road riding, but the cycle lanes looked to be a good bet for getting from one town to another. There are a few official cycle routes on the island (details here) but I only rode one of these. Mostly I was wandering about, making it up as I went along. I managed 8 rides during my holiday, mostly around 10 or 11 miles, but one ride covered 20 miles. As well as the roads and cycle lanes, there are also a lot of dirt tracks on the island and most of my riding was on these.
The terrain is dry, dusty with a lot of loose volcanic rock. A lot of loose volcanic rock. Here and there I found a few short sections of what could be described as “singletrack” but not the sort of trails that have you grinning from ear to ear as you swoop along them. The rides I did would come more under the Cross Country, getting lost, taking in the scenery, style of mountain biking rather than anything adrenaline fuelled. Probably the scariest aspect of my rides was the fact that I had no spare inner tube with me and I was one unfriendly rock away from a very long, hot walk home…
That’s not to say that there’s no fun to be had, I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer and I don’t doubt that I will uncover more and more when I return to the island over the next few years. There’s certainly no lack of elevation, Fuerteventura is a volcanic island and it’s littered with steep-sided calderas. I’m sure there are some twisty descents tucked away right under my nose, just a matter of digging them out.
One of the things I noticed while riding out there was the drivers have a hell of a lot more respect for cyclists than those in England. This might have just been a bit of good fortune, I did get cut up by one motorist, but he also cut up another car and there was a strong whiff of marijuana trailing out of his window. Overall, I found my “local” area, Corralejo, Lajares, Cotillo, to be very bike-friendly, a good portion of the road network has accompanying cycling paths and when they run out there’s often a dirt track running parallel to the road.
Getting back on the Pig felt very weird. The bars felt about half the width of those on the Canyon, the pedals felt like they were in the wrong place, it just felt tiny compared to my 29er. I felt like a gorilla riding a monkey’s bike. I gradually got used to it again but I really wouldn’t fancy going back to it full time. I still think it looks good though.
Headed to Surrey today for one of the hardest rides I’ve done in a while. From Holmbury Youth Hostel, over Holmbury hill, down into Peaslake, up Pitch hill, back down Pitch hill, through Peaslake, back up Holmbury hill and back to the car. On the way I took in some superb trails, covered 15 miles, climbed 1,700ft and set 16 personal best times on various bits of single track. I also managed to climb “Drill Hill” for the first time without getting off and pushing the bike up it.
Drill Hill is a nasty fire road with a 15% gradient that takes you up Pitch hill to where the single track cris-crosses the pine trees. I was eager to get the Canyon on the trails at Surrey to see what it could do, the riding here is a bit of a step up from your average trail centre red standard trails. When you’re riding at Bedgebury you know you’re riding trails that have been designed with the Forestry Commission’s insurance policy in mind, that’s not the case here. It only takes a couple of sections of single track for those of us used to groomed trail centres to realise that you’re not in Kansas anymore… The ground here is almost 100% rock-free and very sandy, but don’t expect a soft landing should you vacate your saddle unexpectedly. The trails here are very, very rooty with lots of small steps, off camber drops and it gets very steep and loose in places.
There’s a lot more sand on Pitch Hill than there is on Brighton beach, it all dries very well, so even though we’ve had a fair bit of rain in the past 5 or 6 days, all of the trails were rolling very fast. There really are some superb bits of trail on Pitch & Holmbury hills. I’m well aware that I only really “know” about 40% of what’s available here, but there’s enough to keep you happy. It’s definitely the equal of a Welsh trail centre, but you have to work a bit harder at planning a route. Several short, hard climbs rather than one big up and one big down is what you’re looking at here.
It was too hot today, about 22 degrees, for conditions to be considered “perfect” but it was dry, the trails were virtually empty (I saw two other mountain bikers, quite a few roadies, but they don’t count) and the sun was shining, to moan about it being too hot would be churlish. Think I’ll come back early September when it’s a bit cooler…
Here’s a quick video of me lumbering around Surrey.