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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.

 

A great ride.

It’s easy to call a ride great when you ride Great Hill near Chorley in Lancashire. The weather has been amazing. Dry with cloudless skies. This time last year we were enjoying the coldest of springs. I think it broke records. The problem with the weather in northern England is that we often have the Jetstream lying across us. The Jetstream was only really understood in World War 2 when aircraft were flown at high altitudes across the Atlantic ocean. Since then we have found that it is the most important factor in our weather. If it’s to the north of us we get weather like the Mediterranean. If it’s to the south of us it’s more like the Arctic. We’ve had weeks of dry, mainly sunny weather and the trails are now bone dry. Things could change. Between 2007 and 2017 we only had 1 decent summer. Global warming was something we were aspiring to, not fearing. Last year, after the cold weather until the beginning of May we had the hottest summer since 1976.

Today, Good Friday, was a perfect mountain biking day. I had decided to ride Great Hill but didn’t want to try to repeat my glorious ride a couple of weeks ago when I beat the best time of this year on the Strava segment “Great Hill out and back”. I beat it by 1 second in 22 minutes 19 seconds. This was an event I’ll be boring my great grand children about, if I’m ever so blessed. I wrote about it in a previous post entitled “The World’s longest second”.

I was never going to try to repeat that time, though it should have been possible since the trail is drier now than it was then. I thought I’d just ride up the hill by a long route and come down the short way. The first challenge was to ride from White Coppice to Brinscal woods without a foot down. I made it again but still need to do it in the opposite direction. After that it’s a long climb to the top of Great Hill. It’s only technical in a few places but today I thought I’d try an alternative, more direct approach up Brinscal woods. It’s very steep and I had to walk for 3 sections. It was massively hard, not helped by a modern bike. 10 years ago we got 30 gears with a very low lowest gear. Now we are only using 1 chainring at the front instead of 3 and have lost  2 gears at the bottom and 1 at the top. This is OK on a manicured trail centre ride but on natural trails things are not so good. It cost me a lot of effort to get up the hill and I could feel the effects of the hard work as I climbed.

On top I took some pictures. It was a bit hazy and I don’t think I could see anything over 20 miles away.

 

The picture at the top of the post shows Darwen Hill with its fantastic riding and a tower which commemorates the golden jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. The last picture shows Winter Hill with its TV transmitter. The ride down is fantastic. Ever changing surfaces and enough gradient to keep the speed up. It requires full concentration and plenty of pedalling even though it’s down hill. Fortunately there weren’t too many walkers, despite it being a Bank Holiday. I slowed for walkers, especially if they had a dog. I’m a changed man compared to 20 years ago when speed was everything. It’s better this way. At the bottom of Great Hill my rear brake lever had become solid and the pads were scraping. It had over heated! At a stream crossing I dipped the caliper in the water and successfully cooled it down.

Back over Healey Nab and the trail was running quickly. I took the black route for its berms and jumps. When I got to the open field down towards town where there is a Strava segment called “Froom Street downhill” I found the gate from the woods was open. It was just too much temptation. A free head start. I was feeling the effects of 90 minutes of riding but put some effort in to the bottom where a family with 2 small children held the gate open for me. I got back home to find that out of 447 riders my time was 3rd fastest ever. At 57 years old I shouldn’t be too disappointed with that. However a bit more effort could see me as number one.

https://www.strava.com/activities/2301826865/segments/58153802332

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Finding new challenges.

Having done a hard day’s work on Saturday I decided to wait until Monday to do my next ride. I didn’t feel on top form, still recovering from working on a long garden fence but I still wanted my ride to have a purpose. It has been quite breezy today and I thought it might be exhilarating to ride to the top of Great Hill at around 1280 feet but decided I’d be better cutting down into Brinscall woods for the high quality downhill segment. First though, after a few miles of mixed road and off road riding I had the technical section from White Coppice to Brinscall woods to ride. I made it without a foot down on the Boardman FS Pro.

Then I took it easy on the steep fire road climb up the woods but in dry conditions the ride has got a bit easier.IMG_20190329_125738

Above is the climb up the woods from a previous ride. After this is a short, narrow tarmac road which ends at a gate where a gravel road climbs up the moor. Instead of going up to the top of Great Hill I turned right after a few hundred yards down a gorgeous piece of moorland single track. It was dry and fast but there are plenty of sizeable rocks in the rutted surface. You need to stay loose and let the front wheel do its own thing. If you stiffen up it could all go wrong!

Into the woods and the surface throws just about everything at you from hardpacked dirt to roots, rock and dips where puddles have dried up. It’s an exciting challenge and I got to the bottom with no real incidents. You need a good bit of experience to ride a section like this and every time you ride it you find it a little bit different due to the weather and the gradual erosion.

From the bottom of the woods it was on to the technical trail back to White Coppice. I made the first steep slope so rode on to the hardest part of all. I should have committed to my original route but was in 2 minds on my approach. I just couldn’t keep the bike going and was disappointed. I went back a few yards and succeeded on a second try. Of course this doesn’t mean I succeeded on my challenge which I set in January to ride the section in both directions but at least I know how to approach it next time.

I rode towards the back of Healey Nab and took 2 photos where I cross the dam at the end of the Anglezarke reservoir. The picture at the top shows the flank of Great Hill in the background with Brinscall woods on the horizon, just left of centre.IMG_20190415_150214

The stone wall runs along the top of the dam. Up Healey Nab the dry conditions helped me to get up quickly. I paused at the top whilst another rider set off. I gave him plenty of time before I started so he didn’t get in my way and despite chasing him hard when he came in sight in front of me I couldn’t catch him. It had, I suppose, been my intention to race him. One day I may grow up but I hope not for a long time!

Now that the open fields down towards Chorley have started to get really dry I thought it worth having a go at beating my Strava time on the “Froome Street downhill”. I was 2 seconds quicker than my last ride when I was riding the Whyte PRST4 but I felt disappointed. I was 8th fastest of all time but believe I can be number 1 on this segment. It’s a fairly gentle slope with 2 steeper, rougher sections with high speed corners. I thought that what I need to do to get faster and reduce my time from 54 down to 46 seconds is to visualise the segment before I ride it. This is the kind of thing that professional sports people do to improve. You imagine yourself riding the hill and think about what you’ll do at each point. I need to get off the mark quicker and build up the speed as quick as possible. I noticed by comparing my run to the best run on Strava that I started off quite well, only losing 1 second before the first steep part. I lost a further 4 second by not pedalling hard enough on the next part which has many dips in the surface. I’ve learned something for next time and am looking forwards to giving it a go.

It was and excellent ride and I was glowing as I rode back home gently in the sunshine. “Like” my post if you’ve enjoyed reading and feel free to leave a comment.

Trying a fast lap.

If you’ve read my blogs before you’ll have noticed that I ride Healey Nab a lot. It’s only 15 minutes ride away and has a series of man made MTB trails as well as some good natural riding. Last year I rode the red route in 11 minutes 12 seconds and one of this year’s targets is to ride in under 11 minutes. My task today was to set a fast time and see how much I need to improve. The trail conditions make a big difference to your lap times. In the winter I sometimes took over 15 minutes to complete a lap, trying quite hard. We haven’t seen rain for well over a week so the trails were bound to be fairly dry. I rode to the top of the hill and found that the trail was riding quite fast. Maybe it will get quicker as more people ride it and smooth is out, compacting the surface.

My timed segment is more about pacing yourself than sprinting but there are parts where you have to put much more effort into to keep the speed up. Once you lose speed it takes a while and a lot of energy to get it back, so it’s more economical to use your energy up a short, hard section if you preserve a few more miles per hour. You need to concentrate on your pace for the whole riding time or you’ll find your time suffers.

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Me at the trailhead after my lap.

My weapon of choice today was my Whyte PRST4. You wouldn’t expect a 15 year old car or motorcycle to be faster or more economical than a modern one but mountain bikes are developing with the desires of many riders. Plenty of people push their bikes up the hills so only the downhill performance matters to them. Suspension has got bigger and tyres have got wider as well as having a bigger diameter. All the extra rubber on the trail is bound to cause more drag. This is exacerbated by running the bigger tyres at lower pressures. You may get more grip on the corners but you pay for it on the climbs. Obviously you spend much longer climbing than you do descending so on a circuit like today’s a modern bike won’t be as quick. OK a cross country race bike may be the fastest of all but an older full suspension trail bike is closer to that than most modern bikes.

So it was riding to the start and committing. At first you climb to the trail head up a gentle but at times rocky slope. Despite a days gardening work yesterday my legs were feeling good. A flatter, rocky section comes next, followed by about 2 minutes of sinuous downhill. You lose height slowly with 2 short uphill segments. Although you’re heading downhill it helps your speed considerably if you still hammer the pedals, where possible. This is particularly important before each of the climbs since you want the momentum to give you an advantage on the way up.

Next is a section of 7 jumps. You can impress any bystanders by jumping high but if you want speed this spectacular approach is not the right way. The best way is to hit the jump with extended legs and allow the bike to rise up under you. On the back side of the jump you can  extend your legs quickly again. This pumping action is translated into extra forwards motion, meaning you’ll ride the section quicker. The trail undulates for some way after the jumps and some skill is required to keep the speed up. Then the biggest climb starts. You have to keep the effort up but not over stress yourself or you’ll slow down before the end. Some trees have fallen down near the top and there is no route which is obviously the best. I’m not sure but imagine I could have saved a few seconds with a different track than I chose today.

Another short downhill follows then a twisty climb takes you back to the trailhead. There are plenty of chances to cheat here and take short cuts. I resisted! I’d only have cheated myself. A kink to the left and a high speed series of curves takes you back to the start point.

11  minutes 34 sec. I’m happy with that and think that I’ll achieve my target as the trail improves. My time was second fastest of the year on the GPS app. Strava and 14th fastest of all time. My personal best from 9 years ago, when the trail was first built, would have put me 7th. This shows that I’ve slowed down a bit with age but fortunately my enthusiasm has not diminished. Please feel free to leave a comment or like my post.D57D9946-1099-40BE-BB1F-44E3F09AC012

Clear blue skies.

Today we’ve had fantastic weather. Not a cloud in the sky all day. Despite the popular term “April showers” it’s not unusual for us to have a good, dry month in April. Before the vegetation grows too high it can be some of the best mountain biking of the year. Today I returned to the Rivington area to try one of the challenges I set myself in January. It’s a tough hill climb up the delightfully named Crooked Edge Hill. It has 3 cairns at the top which are known as “The Two Lads”!

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Spring has sprung in our garden. Nice.

I started with about 20 minutes of road riding then I decided to do the harder, steeper way up the Rivington terraced gardens. It saves time to do the tougher climb and I rode the hard part without a foot down. It was quite breezy and as I rode up to Rivington Pike, one of the higher hills in the area, the wind was directly against me. I was already concocting my excuse if I couldn’t make todays challenge! First, though, I had to do the exciting descent with it’s rocky drop offs. I learnt on my last ride that the right hand side of the route is the most cut up by so much use. I stuck to the left and was 7 seconds faster than last time but still my time was double the fastest ever. I just put safety first on this downhill. It isn’t worth the risk of doing it quickly, at least not to me.

Then it was on to my challenging climb. The wind was against me as I ascended, which is unusual. The prevailing wind from the south west would have been perfect. It wasn’t looking good to me and I considered giving up before the first hard part but thought I should at least nail that part. It’s become easier where recent erosion has been kind to MTBers so I carried on up the easier slope. The next previously hard part was even easier so I was facing the really steep last part. You’ve already worked so hard then you’re faced with a real kick up in the gradient. 2 things stopped me. First was the wind still trying to throw me back down the hill. The second was that I haven’t tried this route for some time and had not remembered that you need to keep to the rougher grass to the left, not take the foot worn path on the right. The rougher part isn’t quite as steep and my past experience tells me that it’s possible.

I like to complain that modern bikes aren’t as superior as the MTB press would have us believe. With a modern type single front chainring my Boardman just doesn’t have as low a gear as my old Whyte JW4 with it’s traditional triple chainset. Next time the Whyte will be my weapon of choice but I know this one will always be tough. 20 years ago I could expect to ride the section on the great majority of tries. Middle age has some advantages but steep hill climbing isn’t one of them! I won’t be giving up on this one. Success will be a massive triumph for me so I’ll keep trying.

Riding down from the 2 lads is a thrill. BIG drop-offs on a rocky and rutted trail are well worth the climb. Again I was keeping it safe but let the brakes off and got some intoxicating speed up a few times. At the bottom I was near the top of the Wilderswood downhill I rode on my last ride. I knew that if I rode it again I wouldn’t be able to resist throwing myself down it a as fast as I could but with the schools being on holiday there were likely to be more walkers than usual. I remembered the other excellent route in Wilderswood so chose that instead. It’s a totally different kind of ride with a lot of roots sticking out of the ground. You really need it to be dry so today was perfect and I’m glad I chose this fabulous segment.

Today I had enough time to take in Healey Nab on the way home. It’s a few miles of mixed road and off road riding to get up the hill. I rode along the side of the Anglezarke reservoir which cut across the course of my local river, the Yarrow. The river originally ran from the hills but when the reservoir was built the water drained to fill it. There is an overflow which would run into the Yarrow but that rarely happens. I suppose that the advantage is that the river shouldn’t burst it’s banks so easily.

Back over the Nab and I was starting to feel the effort I’d put in. The final downhill still had some wet patches but Strava told me I was fastest this year. Happy with that. I don’t want to let that crown slip so when it’s fully dry I’ll give it everything. You can ride the whole way without touching your brakes but it takes a lot of bottle. Who dares, wins.

Below are some pictures I took in our garden after the ride. Today I rode 16.63 miles with 1,904 feet of climbing.

Mountain bike paradise.

Within a reasonable riding distance of my house, most riders would say that the closest to an MTB paradise is the area around Winter Hill, which is often referred to as Rivington, after the small village at the foot of the hill.

To the north of Winter Hill you can do a high level route to Great Hill, part of which I rode on my last outing. To the south east is the Smithills estate with its long single track descents. I could name plenty of other good sections of riding but for over 20 years I’ve thought that the descent at the side of Wilderswood is the best riding of all.

There’s some risk, as I mentioned in a previous post, but the reward is a thrill that many a mountain biker would go a long way to experience. Today I planned a longer ride than usual and ended up doing 14 miles. I would have taken in Healey Nab towards the end but I had to fit in some of life’s usual tedium before the end of the afternoon. My route was a road ride of under 20 minutes to Rivington then climbing the Japanese gardens to Rivington Pike which is a distinctive round hill top with a monument on it.

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There was no snow today, these are online photos. The last part of the climb is steep and I was battling a brisk southerly breeze. From the top you have a choice of descents and I chose the most difficult. It has a mixture of gravel and bedrock on a steep descent. The drop offs are over 2 feet high in places and if you approach timidly you could get thrown over the bars. You need to keep some speed up but not so much that you run out of control. Further down deep ruts cover the ground after many years of walkers, bikes and rain which scours the surface. I had one emergency braking incident but survived it with little drama. My Strava time for the segment was 45 seconds compared to a fastest ever of 19 seconds! I’d never take a risk like that. Middle aged bones don’t heal as quickly!

Then it was on to the highlight of the ride. The track down the right side of Wilderswood. It’s quite a long descent, taking over 2 minutes. After a sprint from the start on stony ground you’re into a series of fairly blind corners. The speed builds as it opens out but then the ground becomes rougher again. You can use the rain ruts to get you round a few corners but if anything goes wrong it could be painful. I took a moderate level of risk and I was loving it. I missed the tightest route on a sharp corner and lost a second or two. You’re then into a straight with some seriously pointed rocks up to basketball sized. The big ones are best avoided!

A drop off through a narrow gap had me slowing to reduce the risk but I picked speed back up on the now wider track. It twists around and has some difficult cambers to throw your wheels off line. The last few hundred yards had me reaching 30 mph on a gravel surface. My Strava time of 2 minutes 17 put me in the top 5 % of fastest times ever and the second fastest time by anyone in 2019. I keep telling myself it doesn’t matter that much. I just need to enjoy the speed, keep it pointing in the right direction and stay upright. But once the adrenaline kicks in it’s hard not to pretend it’s 20 years ago when I was quite a bit faster.

Would I like those days back? I wish I had my mate Mark who we lost to cancer 3 years ago. I wish we still all went out riding together on Tuesday and Sunday but I still love the sport and, of course, you have to keep going forwards with your life. Mountain biking is as good as it ever was in many ways and now I’m older I can find plenty of excuses for not being as fast!

I’m planning on riding Healey Nab on Sunday for my next outing. If you’ve enjoyed reading why not click “like”?

Riding back 5,500 years.

My last ride was covered in my post “The World’s longest second”. It was a frantic and successful attempt to ride a segment in less than 22 minutes and 20 seconds. I beat the time by one second. I thought today that I should do something completely different where time wasn’t important. I decided to visit some of our oldest antiquities in Lancashire which are rather remote. A mountain bike is a very good way to reach these remote locations which can only be accessed by narrow tracks. A horse could get you there or a quad bike but either could potentially damage the delicate surface.

I rode for almost an hour on a mainly road route around the back of Healey Nab and up a steep road climb. Then a gravel road which lead to the moorland. Here the surface is soft and resists your bike from making quick progress. It was hard work but I wasn’t sinking into the slop because the surface is rocky under the thin soil and peat. The vegetation is rough grass and heather which tends to grow in tufts so it’s rarely smooth. The picture below shows Winter Hill just as I turned off up the moor to my first objective.

After a slow climb I reached Pike Stones. This was formerly a long barrow. A mound of earth and stones covering the stone chamber in the other 2 pictures. Not all the stones are left. When it was excavated a large number of body parts were found in and around the mound. It is thought that bodies were left at the monument where wild animals would have consumed them, leaving some of the bones. This monument is thought to date from between 5,500 and 4,400 years ago. That’s around 1000 years older than the pyramids at Giza in Egypt. We are still recovering from the last ice age, which was at it’s coldest about 25,000 years ago so it seems likely that the climate 5,500 years back would have been colder. There would probably have been some kind of woodland over the area then. The moorland only dominates now because of the sheep which graze in the spring to autumn. They would eat any saplings. In addition the ground is occasionally burnt in a controlled way to promote the growth of grass whilst controlling the heather.

I then spent around 20 minutes riding to Round Loaf, a much later mound from between 4,400 and 3,500 years ago. It’s far more remote which might explain why it’s never been excavated. Whatever is buried under it will still be there. I had to push the bike for short distances about 3 times and at one time I had to do a downhill section where I picked up some speed and got a bit of excitement out of it. Here is a picture to show just how bleak it is up there.IMG_20190401_122711

In another direction Round Loaf had come into view.

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I got to the top of the mound and took pictures of my route up and the way back down.

The age difference between the 2 monuments is very significant. Pike Stones was built in the stone age whereas Round Loaf was built in the bronze age. They must both have been religious sites of some significance. The ride down was still damp and slow but I eventually reached the flanks of Great Hill, a superb mountain biking area. I reached some good single track with plenty of rocks, drops and turns. I did the same as on my last ride and lost balance, tumbling down a bank. I’ll be trying not to make a habit of this!

After some moorland single track I joined the noted downhill track to the village of White Coppice. It has some big drop offs and would be best avoided if you are inexperienced. You need to be confident and let it flow over the sizeable rocks. I took in Healey Nab on the way back for a bit of high speed thrill. I got back home in a little over 2 hours of actual riding. It wasn’t the most exciting ride from a mountain biking point of view but it was quite an adventure.

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The World’s longest second.

There are 60 seconds in a minute but I’ll explain later why one second of today’s ride became massively significant.

I’ve done 3 days gardening this week so I might not have been in the best condition to set any records but I felt driven. Last year I rode up Great Hill and my time on the Strava segment “Great Hill out and back” proved to be the fastest time of the entire year. I rode it again on 21st February and was 10 seconds slower but it was obviously still the fastest time of 2019. Until 2 days later when someone recorded 22 minutes and 20 seconds. A different league to my 25 minutes dead. I only became aware of this fact this week and knew I’d have to face the challenge sooner or later.

After 2 days hard work I’d at least have an excuse if I couldn’t beat the time but at least it was dry and sunny. I set off from home to ride to the start of the segment and took it easy to conserve my energy. I failed at the first hard part along the route I’ve been trying to do without a foot down (if you’ve read my previous Blogs, you’ll know what I mean.) I rode the rest clean which brought me to a big climb. In my prime it would take a good 5 minutes. Today I stopped half way to take a picture of the gradient.IMG_20190329_125738

I just spun up in my lowest gear. This woodland used to be an area of subsistence farms, surely some of the last in England. The land owner cleared them in the 1920s but a few years ago I heard that there were still people alive who’d lived on the farms when they were children. They must have been fit to climb that hill after school every day!

Then up Edge Gate Lane to the start of the segment. I took a picture of the start of the gravel road climb.IMG_20190329_131246

A gentleman with 2 dogs (the best kind) offered to take my picture with the bike.IMG_20190329_131330

Then I was off. I started the stopwatch straight away and found the dry surface felt fast. It’s a gentle climb but a long one. Half way up it becomes far rockier followed by some more technical riding over rocks and steps in the surface. I reached the top but there was no time to admire the view of Wales and the Lake District. I just spun around and started the descent. I wasn’t putting the effort in early on. I’d somehow lost my concentration but then gave it some stick!  On the rockiest part I got a little nervous. I’ve had a few punctures here where the savagely sharp rocks have blown the tyre, one time taking the rim out as well. I dabbed the brakes to take some speed off. It still felt like I was surfing over a bed of liquid rubble.

On the smoother section I spun the pedals as fast as I could but at one point I needed to change up a gear but kept pressing the wrong lever. You’d think after a lifetime of riding bikes I’d know how to change gear but I was working so hard I think my brain was losing it’s capacity. I was changing down, not up! I got back in the right gear and finished, clicking my stopwatch after I stopped. My target of 22 minutes 20 looked unlikely since my stopwatch read 22 minutes 30. Still there was a chance since I didn’t expect the segment started right by the gate. I rode down to the technical section back along the goit but stood no chance. I failed at the first climb and at the second hard part had my wheel diverted and tumbled down the bank which  is further than it looks!

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It’s amazing how a big physical effort affects you. I was bumping into rocks and failing on parts I never fail on. It was like I was drunk! I rode the rest of the way home on the road, eager to look at my record on Strava. I downloaded my ride and found the segment. My target was so much quicker than my last attempt which yielded 25 minutes dead. How could I manage 22 minutes 20? My time? 22 minutes 19 seconds! A victory by one enormous second, possibly the World’s longest.

I don’t often talk to the dog since I don’t want to appear an idiot but today I did point out to him that I was so high after my ride, I was looking down on cloud 9! I bet if you ask me about today’s ride in 20 years time I’ll be able to tell the story in the same detail as I’ve told it today.

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