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Why I’m writing this….

I am a lifelong mountain biker who rarely lacks motivation. I had always ridden bikes off road like most kids but in 1976 I bought a “scrambler” for 70 pence. This was a bike which was dedicated to off road use. In 1977 I added a homemade suspension fork. I used the front suspension units from a Honda C50 motorcycle. I lost the use of the front brake but gained over 3 inches of plush suspension. I was the only one who had this in my area. After a few months my fork fractured but returning to a rigid fork I had plenty of off road adventures. I went to university but always promised myself that I’d build another scrambler one day, even if I was the only one doing it.

I needn’t have worried. By the mid 80s mountain bikes started to appear and in the fullness of time I got one. My riding developed with the MTB technology. I got a suspension fork (again!) in 1995 and a full suss bike in early ’97.

I’d made friends through riding and we rode regularly and pushed ourselves hard. Now, sadly, the rest of my crew have allowed age and infirmity to intervene. I’m left needing to motivate myself.

This is the purpose of my blog. By describing my regular riding you may find useful ways to get excited about the best sport there is and find plenty of reasons to get out there. I’m riding soon and will tell you all about it afterwards.

 

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Great Hill. A great ride.

Today I thought for a long time about where I should ride. I considered Rivington, which has plenty of choice of popular rides. I also thought about some other local riding, relearning some old trails ready to ride them when the weather dries up.

I finally decided to ride Great Hill because it is an open area so I thought it had more chance of being dry. I was tired after some gardening this morning and a dog walk but didn’t intend to set any records. I rode the technical section from White Coppice which I have already ridden twice recently, once with a foot down and once clean. I managed it without a foot down today so was happy with that.

I got to the start of a long climb to the top of Great Hill. A Strava segment, “Great Hill, out and back” looked like a difficult proposition but once the chequered flag dropped I started to work at it. I’ve only ridden the segment once before using Strava to log my progress and afterwards was able to check how my 2 attempts compared.

Basically I was a lot slower on the climb, due to the wetter conditions, but faster on the return. I ended 10 seconds slower today.

I avoided the technical section from the woods to White Coppice on the return because I just didn’t see me succeeding with the wet ground and my exhaustion.

It was a great ride and I can’t wait to have a go at some of the segments as the weather dries up in spring.

 

 

 

2 challenges.

It’s good to have a challenge or 2 on a ride. It adds interest and gives your ride purpose. Yesterday I tried to achieve 2 things which were to ride from White Coppice to Brinscal woods and back without a foot down. The second was to do a fast lap or Healey Nab red route.

I soon made a mistake from White Coppice. I got around the big rock but didn’t commit quickly enough when faced with a smaller rock right in front of me. After that I rode the rest of the route out but made the same mistake as my last attempt on the way back and spun the wheel on the first steep climb. I also failed on the next steep rooty section. It’s a hard challenge but I’ll have the occasional go at it without getting obsessive, I hope!

A fast ride around Healey Nab needs good pacing. You can’t push yourself too hard at any point but must have given your all by the end. I was pleased with my time which, as you can see from the picture at the top, was the fastest this year on Strava. I’ve mentioned before that sub 11 minutes is an aim for this year. It’s amazing how fully dry conditions improve your speed so I’ll keep trying.

Back to my roots!

Not a tale of my origins in Yorkshire but a great ride this afternoon to Brinscall Woods. The picture at the top shows a few roots at the bottom of a fantastic downhill section. It has loads of exposed roots and some big drop offs where the ground has eroded under the tree roots. It’s also quite rocky. Excellent riding with some real challenges. I realised when I walked my dog Freddie this morning that the conditions had dried up considerably so knew it was time to go a bit further afield on my ride and enjoy some different riding to Healey Nab and Birkacre.

I used a mainly off road route to get to White Coppice then took the very tricky trail to the bottom of the woods. Riding it in both directions without a foot down is one of my aims for the year (and every year). I did it on the way out. There is still a little dampness but nothing too difficult. The most difficult part is getting round a big rock on a steep climb with rocks on the ground to halt your progress. Below is a picture from my ride back later just as I was about to drop down past the rock which is to the right.IMG_20190215_131549

After that it’s a fire road climb through the woods, a short, steep bit of tarmac which ends where a gravel road up the moor starts. The open, treeless moor is a very British sight, caused by grazing sheep which eat any saplings. I then turned right to descend on a piece of single track with plenty of loose rocks. Exciting, high speed stuff followed by the rooty woodland downhill which ends at the top picture.IMG_20190215_131558

Back along the technical section I was feeling tired but that’s no excuse! I failed from the first steep climb, losing traction on the damp surface and putting a foot down. At least I then didn’t mind stopping to take photos.

After a mainly gravel route I went up the back of Healey Nab and found the red route downhill feeling very quick in drier conditions. Spring is on it’s way. Bring it on!

More suspension testing.

I have been trying my Rockshox Pike fork with different numbers of volume spacers in my last few ride. For todays ride I removed them all. This would give me a more linear spring rate, rather than starting soft and ramping up as the spring compressed.

The expectation is that the fork wouldn’t perform as well over repeated small bumps and may bottom out on big hits. The picture at the top shows that I used all the travel front and rear. There’s also a good picture of a finger, I’m no photographer!

I used a familiar trail and I’ll admit that the front wheel felt closer to losing grip than when I had 2 or 3 spacers in the fork. Since I’ve reduced the rebound damping close to the minimum level, though, it wasn’t too bad. What has greatly improved is the performance on rocky or technical climbs. It’s so much easier to get over repeated rocks because the fork is so much less soggy at the beginning of its travel.

I would like slightly better small bump performance, especially for when the trails are dry and fast. I don’t want the front wheel washing out then. So it appears I’ll be going full circle and returning to the way the fork originally was, with one spacer. The valuable lesson I’ve learned is that I needed less rebound damping so the whole exercise has been useful. For me it’s more important to have the bike riding well on difficult, technical sections rather than just maximising the performance on downhill.

This picture was the view in a northerly direction from the top of Healey Nab today.

 

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The white building with tower in the middle distance is a Mormon temple. On the horizon somewhere is Blackpool tower which is a poor man’s Eifel tower! The lake district would have been visible if it had been clearer. To the left of this picture I could see the hills in north Wales where there is some very good riding. I hope to ride the trail centre at Llandegla in the summer.

From 680 feet the horizon will be approximately 32 miles away. (Multiply the height above sea level in feet by 1.5 and take the square root. This means that stood on the beach the horizon is only about 3 miles away. Every day’s a school day!)

Pop!

Last year I used spacers to reduce the air volume in my forks. I had noticed that the performance on repeated small bumps wasn’t as good as my older bikes on a bike less than 2 years old. Unfortunately I made 2 changes to the fork at the same time so I never really knew which one had improved its small bump performance. In addition to adding  2 spacers I’d also reduced the compression damping by 2 clicks.

Today, having removed one of the spacers, I tested the bike and found that the rather dead feel when I tried to lift the front wheel over obstacles had improved a lot. I’d got the pop back!

I still need to get the air pressure better since I didn’t use all the 140mm of travel despite doing some jumps but since the small bump performance still seems very good then I’ve started to think that the improvement my have been due to the adjustment to the damper. I now feel like I need to try the fork with no spacers at all. This would make the spring as linear as possible rather than starting soft and ramping up as the fork compressed. With a more linear fork I will be setting the ride height higher and making more use of the full 140mm of travel. I’ll report back after my next ride.

I know this is all a bit technical so I’ll add a bit of history connected to my ride.

I started in Duxbury woods which start  a few hundred yards from home. I’ve walked the dog along a path a couple of times which I hadn’t ridden on a bike for many years so today I rode it. Duxbury means nothing to people in Britain unless they live nearby but it was the name given to the first town in America established by the Pilgrim father around 1626. The Duxbury estate had been split into 3 parts due to there being no male heir, at some point. The family of Myles Standish, the military leader of the Pilgrims, had the lower Burgh part of the estate near Birkacre, which has provided me with some good winter riding. The trail I rode today starts near the site of Duxbury Hall which was demolished in about 1950 after the structure had become unsafe. Many of the barns and out buildings are now used for businesses and a golf club. Golf is a good walk spoiled. I’d rather be on a mountain bike!

Testing and maintenance.

The recent snow has been washed away by rain so now we’re back to mud! Still that’s so often a mountain bikers life in the Northwest of England so I went out yesterday for a bit of fun.

The weather forecast suggested that today would be rainy and they were right, so I was glad to have been out the day before. I did 3 laps of Healey Nab and tested some different routes to see which was quickest. Some trees have been blown over and blocked the original trail at the top of one of the climbs. Various ways round have emerged and in my 3 laps I tried the 3 which looked best. Later, at home, I looked at my ride using Strava and found that I will be able to save a good few seconds on timed laps by choosing the fastest option. It was a good ride considering the mud which mainly affected the climbs.

Last year I noticed that the small bump performance of the fork on my Boardman wasn’t nearly as good as the forks on my two old Whytes so I did something about it. I added volume reducers to the air chamber of the fork to make it less linear. This way I could run a lower air pressure to give better sensitivity for small bumps whilst the smaller volume of air in the fork would cause the pressure to ramp up to prevent the fork bottoming out too soon. It seemed like mission accomplished on repeated small bumps but the fork had lost its “pop”. When I needed to lift the front wheel over obstacles it felt dead and much more difficult to get the wheel off the ground.

I’d gone from the standard 1 volume reducer to 3. (The maximum possible is 4.) So today I decided to remove one spacer to leave 2. It’s a simple enough job but many riders seem to have a fear of messing with their suspension. I’d like to encourage you to just give it a try, you can always return things to the way they were.

First I cleaned the top of the fork to avoid any dirt getting inside then let out all of the air. I used a 24mm socket to screw the air chamber cap off, revealing the spacers. I screwed one spacer off and reversed the procedure. I found that 65psi of air pressure gave me about the right ride height but will check this again after a little use. I’ll report back on the difference after my next ride, which I hope will be at the weekend.

 

Snow fun.

Actually, for me, it’s more like “it’s no fun”, rather than snow fun. I’ve never enjoyed riding in snowy conditions and we’ve had snow lying on the ground for the last week.

Instead of riding, to help my fitness, I’ve done some long walks with my dog, Freddie. I walked up Great Hill on Sunday with him and what is a fabulous downhill on a bike was seriously difficult to even stay on my feet. In places the trail was covered in ice sheets so, for once, I didn’t regret not being on the bike. Freddie seemed to enjoy it.

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Last night a little rain washed most of the snow away so I got a ride in. I rode over to Birkacre where I took some pictures of the trails. I then rode to Ellerbeck which was formerly a coal mine and has some good riding. The Boardman bike seems like hard work on the roads. I have a 27.5″X2.4″ rear tyre fitted and it seems to drag far more than my 26″ tyres. I’m thinking that modern tyres are going the wrong way. Always looking for more grip but not being as fast over the whole ride where we, lets be honest, spend far longer on the flat and climbing than we do descending. I’ll be doing plenty of comparative testing of my bikes when the weather improves.

The picture on the left is from the middle of the first right hander in a 3 corner section which you can enter from the downhill left hander in the picture on the right. After the first corner is a right, a 30 mph downhill straight and a terrifying fast left. 6 great corners and a fast straight in around 40 seconds with you on the limit of grip for a lot of the distance. This is great mountain biking for me. I’d rather ride on trails like this than the repeated berms of a trail centre.